There’s a lot at stake at UFC 155 beyond the main event, which features the heavyweight title bout between champion Junior Dos Santos and challenger Cain Velasquez.
A number of fights stick out as potential show stealers, but when it’s all over somebody has to win, somebody has to lose, and now we take a look at the five fighters at UFC 155 who are in the biggest must-win situation.
1) Cain Velasquez
Without a doubt the fighter who needs a win the most at UFC 155 is main event fighter and former heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez.
The truth of the matter is Velasquez may very well be the No. 2 heavyweight in the world, and an absolute wrecking machine that tears through the rest of the division, but if he loses for a second time to Junior Dos Santos on Saturday night, his prospects of getting a third crack at the Brazilian fall somewhere between slim and none.
There’s a list of fighters who have fought for the belt a couple of times against the same champion, and if there’s one indisputable truth that continues to show through it’s that a third shot will almost never, ever happen.
The toughest part about this rematch is that it comes only a year after the first fight when Dos Santos flattened Velasquez with strikes just over a minute into the first round. Since that time both fighters have only fought once, both picking up dominant wins, but now they are back together for the rematch.
Velasquez has to know that this fight is “win or go home” in terms of his championship dreams in the division so long as Dos Santos is holding the belt. In terms of “must win”, Cain Velasquez is by far at the top of this list.
2) Tim Boetsch
Middleweight Tim Boetsch was originally scheduled to fight at UFC 155 against fellow top ten opponent Chris Weidman in a bout that would almost guarantee the winner a crack at Anderson Silva in 2013.
Unfortunately, Weidman suffered a shoulder injury that put him on the surgeon’s table instead of inside the Octagon, so now Boetsch faces Costa Philippou instead.
Make no mistake, Philippou is a dangerous opponent with very good boxing and knockout power, and Boetsch has to be wary of facing a guy coming in on short notice with nothing to lose in this fight. The short notice isn’t even really short notice because Philippou had been training and preparing for a fight at UFC 154 that didn’t happen due to his opponent pulling out because of illness just 24-hours away from the event, so he’s been in shape and ready since that time.
Meanwhile Boetsch has everything to lose if he can’t come out on top in this fight. He has a chance to make a big statement to everyone in the division if he can put Philippou away early or dominate him for three rounds.
Anything short of that or a loss will move Boetsch back to the end of the line in the middleweight title discussion, and names like Michael Bisping become the clear cut favorite to get the next shot at the belt when Anderson Silva returns next year.
3) Chris Leben
Former Ultimate Fighter competitor Chris Leben has gone through personal trials and tribulations that most competitors wouldn’t wish on their worst enemies. Obviously Leben has to take ownership for much of the misery he’s gone through over the past few years, but that doesn’t take away the fact that he’s had to suffer through it all.
Now Leben returns off of a one-year suspension following a positive drug test for painkillers when he took on Mark Munoz in 2011. This isn’t the first misstep Leben has made during his career, but he’s vowed that this is his chance at redemption after cleaning up his life, and now walking the straight and narrow.
It all comes down to the fight at this point and Leben takes on late replacement and Strikeforce transfer Derek Brunson. On paper, Leben is the decided favorite, and has more fights in the Octagon than Brunson has in his entire career.
Leben needs a win here because while it doesn’t erase his past misconduct, it at least puts him on the right path and focuses our attention back on his fight career and not his personal life. A loss following a one-year suspension not to mention to a fighter who is taking this bout on a week’s notice would be devastating to Leben’s chances at another big comeback moment.
4) Leonard Garcia
UFC 155 fighter Leonard Garcia comes into Saturday night on a three fight losing streak with some people thinking he should be working on a six-fight losing skid.
Regardless of close decisions or split decisions, Garcia is still just 3-6-1 in his last ten fights, and as exciting as he’s been throughout his career, a fourth loss in a row at UFC 155 would almost decidedly end his stint in the Octagon.
It doesn’t help matters much that Garcia is facing a very tough opponent in young Hawaiian Max Holloway, who took this fight on short notice, and comes in with a nasty striking game and an arsenal of weapons that could win him the fight in impressive fashion.
Garcia has to know his back is against the wall and anything short of a win here will likely land him with a pink slip to start 2013.
5) Todd Duffee
The saga of Todd Duffee has been told a thousand times from his record knockout in his first UFC fight to the miraculous comeback that saw him lose in his second trip to the Octagon. Duffee was then released from the UFC from what many called a bad attitude that UFC President Dana White no longer wanted to deal with.
Since then, Duffee has only fought a handful of times, and relocated to San Jose where he now trains with the American Kickboxing Academy. He’s got a second chance to prove himself to the UFC, and prove that he’s a different guy than the one that got booted from the organization after only two fights.
He’s on the Facebook prelims for the night so the pressure is low based on his placement within the card, but Duffee knows he needs a big performance to show the UFC they made the right choice in bringing him back.
Every fighter, young or old, deserves the chance to show a little maturity and this is Duffee’s shot. A loss doesn’t necessarily mean he wouldn’t get another crack at a UFC fight, but it certainly doesn’t help his cause. If Duffee can come out and look like the blue chip prospect he did when he obliterated Tim Hague in only seven seconds, then the past couple of years spent outside of the UFC can become a bit of an afterthought.