Another International Fight Week is upon us. This one might not be as big as last year's iteration that featured three cards, but it's always going to be a big deal when there are multiple UFC events in one weekend, one of which is a pay-per-view.
And this weekend's duo - the #TUF25 Finale and #UFC213 - are certainly no joke. There are two very compelling title fights atop the latter card, massive hitters scattered across both slates (Thiago Santos, Alistair Overeem, Yoel Romero, Amanda Nunes, Marc Diakiese, Justin Gaethje anyone?), and the redemption story of the latest season of #TheUltimateFighter.
Ahead of International Fight Week's main attractions, here are the five most important storylines to watch:
1. Will All The Big Fights Hold Together?
To this question, we can already kind of say 'no'. This weekend has already lost fan-favorite, and male romper enthusiast, #AlanJouban, the heart attack-inducing #RobbieLawler vs. #DonaldCerrone barnburner, and #CodyGarbrandt and #TJDillashaw's grudge match. But that pales in comparison to what happened at #UFC200 last year.
The #ConorMcGregor vs. #NateDiaz rematch was originally supposed to headline the blockbuster, landmark event, but it was notoriously pulled from the event because McGregor decided not to show up for a press conference, months in advance.
But the real debacle was in the days leading up to the event itself.
New headliner #JonJones was forced to withdraw from his title-unifying grudge match for the ages with #DanielCormier because of a failed drug test. The headliner ended up being #AmandaNunes challenging #MieshaTate for the women's bantamweight title, a fight that would never be expected to headline such a monumental card. More on Nunes in a moment.
And UFC 200 turned into an even bigger fiasco in the aftermath. #BrockLesnar also failed a drug test and Jones was stripped of his interim title. So a major narrative to watch this weekend is whether all the scheduled fights, particularly the marquee ones, can go off without a hitch. We've seen what can happen when they don't. What would the UFC's frantic scrambling produce this year?
2. Is The Interim Middleweight Champion The Best 185er On Earth?
A major storyline of this year - nevermind this weekend - is the cluster atop the middleweight division. Cinderella champion #MichaelBisping captured the title last summer and has defended once since then, but against a barely ranked, retiring, way-past-his-prime #DanHenderson. "The Count" was then linked to a fight with #GeorgesStPierre. But after GSP stated he would only return to the Octagon in November, Bisping was believed to be taking on the number-1 contender, Romero, before knee problems put him on the shelf.
While all this is going on, top-ranked middleweights such as Romero, #JacareSouza, and #LukeRockhold have been lambasting Bisping - and in some cases the UFC itself - calling him scared and the situation a farce.
And many fans agree ...
Bisping is a divisive figure in MMA, but not too many were genuinely displeased when he pulled off an incredible upset - by essentially one-punch knockout, something he is decidedly not known for - to take the strap. And most understand that it makes sense for Bisping, near the end of the proverbial road himself, to take as many big-money fights in which he is not a massive underdog as he can. Many people don't begrudge Bisping that. But fans generally want to see the best fight the best and for title belts to rest upon the shoulders of the undisputed greatest fighter at that weight.
That is what UFC 213's co-main event represents to a great many fans and pundits. Though it is for an interim belt, whoever emerges victorious - Robert "Bobby Knuckles" Whittaker or Yoel Romero - will be viewed as the best at 185 pounds.
3. Can Amanda Nunes Launch Herself Into Super Stardom?
As previously alluded to, Nunes will be headlining her second straight International Fight Week this weekend, and, in the interim, she mercilessly bludgeoned superstar #RondaRousey. But she still doesn't feel like a huge star herself yet.
Part of the reason for that is that she was hardly promoted ahead of either fight. Yes, her scheduled title shot against Tate went off as scheduled, but it was supposed to be the third or fourth fight on the card, not the headliner. And ahead of Rousey's return at #UFC207, nearly all the promos were of the former champion, with Nunes receiving very little shine.
But after back-to-back dominant performances in highly viewed spots and another coming up, this time with more of a promotional push, can Nunes rocket herself to superstardom? She'll have to get past challenger #ValentinaShevchenko first, no small task. But if she can author another brutal stoppage victory, she should be on her way.
4. What Will Be "TUF 25: Redemption's" Legacy?
The "Redemption" angle of this latest season of TUF was an interesting one in the buildup prior to the season. But while watching it weekly (yes, I'm one of those that still do, on DVR at least), I couldn't help but feel that it was business as usual, at least in terms of the actual competition.
Yes, it was cool to see some of these guys come back and get a second chance, particularly talents who really blew their first shots (Jesse Taylor) or weren't quite ready for primetime (Eddie Gordon, Dhiego Lima, Hayder Hassan). But the format of the show still makes it hard to tell and follow compelling stories week to week.
With a fight at the end of every episode, most of the time is spent on only those two fighters, discussing their background, personal life, and training. But after they fight, it's on to the next two, and the last two are quickly forgotten. Usually, stories that permeate an entire season are when a guy is a loose cannon and does crazy stuff the whole time, or when bad blood fuels a season-long rivalry. For the fighters in the house, all of them going through this for the second time, there was almost none of that. They've learned lessons or matured since their first go-round, and so we get pretty ho-hum drama.
Obviously, if this season is remembered for anything, it will be the #TeamAlphaMale vs. #TJDillashaw rivalry. The only thing that might trump that would be if Taylor winds up winning and then goes on a real run, truly representing the redemption theme of the season. But otherwise, the constant trash talk, the infamous throat-grab, the incessant snake allusions, and the unflattering way #CodyGarbrandt and much of the rest of TAM were portrayed will be the lasting memories people take away.
And, unfortunately, much of that hype and momentum is lost with Garbrandt's back injury and subsequent withdrawal from the fight. So despite the format shakeup, TUF 25 looks a lot like business as usual for the franchise. On to season 26!
5. What Is Justin Gaethje's Ceiling?
Lastly, a teak-tough, relentless, reckless, brick-fisted free agent makes his UFC debut as part of the TUF 25 main event, and the prospect has many hardcore fans frothing at the mouth.
Former #WSOF lightweight king #JustinGaethje will be welcomed to the big show by fellow hitter #MichaelJohnson, and one of their 0s seems destined to go. Gaethje is undefeated and MJ has never been knocked out. With five rounds to throw bungalows at each other, it seems unlikely that their bout will see the scorecards.
But regardless of the outcome, Gaethje is a fascinating new addition to the best division in MMA. He has made some wild public statements since signing with the UFC, like he wants the opponent that will embarrass him the most and he fully expects to get knocked out in the UFC. His live by the sword/die by the sword mentality is what makes him so hotly anticipated by fans, but it doesn't seem to be a recipe for a long or particularly successful career at the top of 155 pounds.
His slugfest with Johnson on Friday should give us an idea of what Gaethje can do against top-flight competition.