#UFC Fight Night 123 #UFC 218 #Brian Ortega #Cub Swanson #Conor McGregor #Lomachenko vs Rigondeaux #UFC 217 #Francis Ngannou #GLORY Redemption #Alistair Overeem

Two former champions with something to prove face off in the main event of Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 116.

In one corner, former UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold returns to action for the first time since losing his title to Michael Bisping in June 2016. Opposite Rockhold, former two-division WSOF champ David Branch looks to rebound from a lackluster split-decision win over Krzysztof Jotko in May.

Rockhold is anxious to get back to action and put the Bisping loss behind him.

“I’m (expletive) tired of waiting,” Rockhold told MMAjunkie Radio. “I’m not (expletive) around. I’m tired of this (expletive). I’m tired of talking about it. I’m coming with a vengeance.”

Branch is also motivated to return to the octagon.

“Yo, Lucas, man – the (expletive) is you talking, man? Huh? I heard your little punk-ass (expletive) interview on Ariel Helwani,” Branch said in a Twitter video. “Hmm? Mother(expletive), what the (expletive) is you talking about, man? I ain’t lost a fight in five mother(expletive) years. You can’t box, and you ain’t got no (expletive) chin. You getting in a mother(expletive) cage with me? You stupid? Man, you cold fronting man. I’m going to beat you like you stole something. Watch what I do to this mother(expletive).”

In the co-main event, rising welterweight powerhouse Mike Perry looks to add a fourth knockout win to his UFC record against late replacement Alex Reyes.

UFC Fight Night 116 takes place Saturday at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, and it airs on FS1.

Here are 10 reasons to watch the event.

1. Don’t look back

After losing to Bisping, Rockhold fell to No. 2 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA middleweight rankings. In those same rankings, Branch was at No. 11, while then up-and-coming Robert Whittaker held the No. 12 spot.

Today, Whittaker is the interim champion and ranked No. 2, Rockhold (15-3 MMA, 5-2 UFC) is No. 4, and Branch (21-3 MMA, 3-2 UFC) comes in at No. 7.

Neither Rockhold nor Branch were happy with their most recent performances. After his loss, Rockhold said he took Bisping “for granted.” Branch, who returned to the UFC after six years outside the organization, said he felt he performed at “about 20 percent” of his capabilities in the Jotko fight.

Expect Rockhold and Branch to be very motivated to put their recent disappointments behind them.

2. You know the gameplan

Three days before UFC Fight Night 116, Thiago Alves withdrew from his fight against Perry. A few hours after news broke that Alves (22-11 MMA, 14-8 UFC) was out, Reyes (12-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC) agreed to face Perry (10-1 MMA, 3-1 UFC).

The good thing for Reyes, who usually fights at lightweight, is he knows precisely what Perry brings to this contest. Perry’s gameplan is to walk forward, take whatever his opponent has to offer and come back with strikes of his own. Defense is an afterthought when it comes to Perry, whose throwback style has made him a fun fighter to watch, despite some questionable behavior outside the cage.

Between them, these two have only heard the final bell twice. All of Perry’s wins have come by knockout, while Reyes has 12 consecutive stoppage victories.

3. Big name hunting

Anthony Smith had a one-fight stint in the UFC in 2013. He lost that bout by submission. After his release, Smith ran up a 7-1 record and claimed the Victory FC middleweight title with a TKO win over former UFC fighter Josh Neer.

Now back in the UFC, Smith is 3-1 with knockout victories in his two most recent fights.

Smith (27-12 MMA, 3-2 UFC) gets the biggest opportunity of his career in Pittsburgh, where he faces former Bellator middleweight champion, Hector Lombard (34-5-1 MMA, 3-3 UFC), who is currently on the worst run of his career. He’s lost three straight since he served a one-year suspension after he tested positive for desoxymethyltestosterone, a designer steroid.

Smith and Lombard are both powerful punchers, combining for 32 knockout victories. The key to this fight may be Smith’s seven-inch height and five-inch reach advantages. If Smith uses those physical assets effectively, he has a chance to extend Lombard’s losing skid.

4. More than a wrestler

Gregor Gillespie is a former four-time All-American wrestler. That background showed in his UFC debut. In that bout, Gillespie attempted 19 takedowns on his way to a decision win over Glaico Franca. In his second UFC contest, Gillespie didn’t need to attempt any takedowns: He knocked out Andrew Holbrook in 21 seconds.

The unbeaten Gillespie (9-0 MMA, 2-0 UFC) faces Jason Gonzalez in Pittsburgh. Gonzalez (11-3 MMA, 1-1 UFC) earned a submission victory over J.C. Cottrell in his most recent outing.

The odds indicate this lightweight matchup should be a showcase fight for Gillespie. Gillespie, the self-proclaimed, “best fisherman in MMA,” has been working a lot on his striking. Expect Gillespie to showcase his development in that department. If his striking fails, Gillespie can always rely on his high-level wrestling.

5. Overflowing with confidence

Five fights into his UFC career, Kamaru Usman thinks he is “one of the top two, top three best in the world right now.” Before he gets the opportunity to prove that, Usman (10-1 MMA, 5-0 UFC) must get past Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Sergio Moraes (12-2-1 MMA, 6-1-1 UFC).

The ultra-confident Usman is a well-rounded fighter despite his limited experience. Usman has excellent takedowns, and his strength allows him to control opponents both against the cage and on the mat with relative ease. The one knock against Usman is his four straight decision victories. However, Usman has shown significant progress in his striking, so finishes might be on the way for the rankings honorable mention.

If Moraes, unbeaten in seven fights as a UFC welterweight, does manage to defeat Usman, it will be the biggest upset of the night.

6. From snubbed to signee

UFC president Dana White passed on signing heavyweight Zu Anyanwu after he saw Anyanwu earn a TKO win during the filming of an episode of “Lookin’ for a Fight.” White also passed on Anyanwu after he stopped Greg Rebello on a “Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series” card. Despite those snubs, the UFC signed Anyanwu this week to step in to face Justin Ledet as a late replacement.

Anyanwu (14-4 MMA, 0-0 UFC), the winner of seven of his last eight fights, has his work cut out for him against the unbeaten Ledet (8-0 MMA, 2-0 UFC), who has gone the distance once in his career.

Ledet, a promising young heavyweight, submitted Mark Godbeer in November. Ledet’s long break between fights was due to an injury and a four-month USADA suspension.

7. Looking for a breakthrough

The bout between Olivier Aubin-Mercier and Tony Martin is an excellent matchup between two unranked lightweights. Aubin-Mercier has a strong ground game. He has eight submission wins, seven via rear-naked choke. However, Martin’s (12-3 MMA, 4-3 UFC) reach advantage and striking may present a problem for Aubin-Mercier (9-2 MMA, 5-2 UFC).

Aubin-Mercier and Martin have both shown progress in their recent fights. Martin might have a slight edge in his overall MMA game thanks to his recent strides in the striking department. Aubin-Mercier has the advantage on the ground, but he may find it difficult to get Martin to the mat.

8. Let’s try it with a full camp

Daniel Spitz took a short notice fight against Mark Godbeer at UFC 209. The lanky Spitz looked good early, but as the fight progressed, he ran out of gas and ended up on the wrong side of a decision.

At UFC Fight Night 116, the largely unproven Spitz gets a chance to show what he can accomplish with a full camp behind him.

Spitz (5-1 MMA, 0-1 UFC) faces Anthony Hamilton in this heavyweight bout. Hamilton (15-7 MMA, 3-5 UFC) has been on the losing end of two consecutive “Performance of the Night” fights. Hamilton has solid wrestling, but his striking can be over-aggressive and sloppy at times. With a UFC record of 3-5, it’s going to be interesting to see how Hamilton approaches a fight against an opponent who has a massive experience disadvantage.

9. Time to get it right

Uriah Hall has been one of the more enigmatic UFC fighters. At times Hall has looked like a world-beater; on other occasions he’s been average, at best. Currently mired in a three-fight losing streak, and with a 2-4 record dating back to mid-2015, Hall has never been in a worse position.

That said, Hall has handled his losing skid with aplomb.

“I have a lot of kids that are looking up to me, so what kind of example would I set by just quitting? I’m going to keep doing it until I get it,” Hall told MMAjunkie after his most recent loss. “I’m going to fail sometimes, but I’m going to keep doing it until I get it.”

Hall (12-8 MMA, 5-6 UFC) faces No. 9-ranked Krzysztof Jotko in this middleweight bout. Jotko (19-2 MMA, 6-2 UFC) lost a split decision to David Branch in his most recent fight.

10. Hard times

Gilbert Burns began his UFC career with three victories. Burns, a world champion in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, earned “Performance of the Night” bonuses in two of those bouts. Those wins gave Burns a record of 11-0 and earned him some buzz in the lightweight division, but things have not gone well for Burns recently. He’s dropped two of his past three fights. Both of those losses came at the hands of strikers.

The good thing for Burns is that he faces fellow Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Jason Saggo in Pittsburgh. Like Burns (11-2 MMA, 4-2 UFC), Saggo (12-3 MMA, 3-2 UFC) lost his last fight.

This is Burns’ first bout in a year. It would not be a surprise if Burns used that time to shore up his striking game and his takedown skills. A win over Saggo won’t reestablish Burns as a fighter to watch, but it will be a step in the right direction.

And for more on UFC Fight Night 116, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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