The UFC has taken the proverbial melting pot and came up with UFC 174 for Saturday night from Vancouver.
The card features a world championship match between flyweight titleholder Demetrious Johnson and Ali Bagautinov; welterweight contenders Rory MacDonald and Tyron Woodley; name-brand light heavyweights Ryan Bader and Rafael Cavalcante; and the return of former heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski against Brendan Schaub.
While some have yet to embrace the flyweight division, “Mighty Mouse” has done everything he can to prove they are here to stay. Johnson is coming off back-to-back finishes over Joseph Benavidez and John Moraga, and hasn’t lost since a 2011 decision to then-bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz.
Bagautinov sports an impressive win streak of his own, along with three wins inside the Octagon.
Here’s a look at some of the more interesting storylines heading into the card:
Is it time for a new leader at flyweight, or is “Mighty Mouse” here to stay?
As previously mentioned, much talk surrounding Johnson has him gaining ground in terms of best-of-the-best talk. However, like with Renan Barao, all it takes is one bad night and things can change.
Bagautinov has all the tools to make DJ work hard for another victory, and possibly even pull off the upset. The 28-year-old looked unstoppable against John Lineker and finished Marcos Vinicius in his debut last year.
But Johnson is a different beast. Just ask Benavidez or Moraga or John Dodson. Since finding his home at flyweight, he’s looked the part of a champion. By continuing to develop his power and striking, Johnson has the skills to finish his third straight opponent and solidify his standing in the pound-for-pound Top-5.
Will MacDonald or Woodley do enough to gain the status of No. 1 contender?
Most feel the winner of Robbie Lawler-Matt Brown later this year will find themselves in the role of No. 1 contender to Johny Hendricks for the welterweight title when he returns, but the stage is set for either MacDonald or Woodley to shine bright in Canada.
MacDonald will have the backing of his home crowd, competing there for the first time since a 2011 win over Nate Diaz. He’s coming off an impressive victory over Demian Maia, but did fall to Lawler just under a year ago by split decision.
Woodley has rebounded from a split decision loss to Jake Shields by finishing both Carlos Condit and Josh Koscheck. His current run speaks a little more for a title shot than that of MacDonald, but a big win – and a stoppage – could change all that.
What “Pitbull” shows up to face Schaub?
Arlovski hasn’t fought inside the Octagon since 2008. Over the past few years, he’s had his share of up-and-down moments.
He’s earned two straight wins, but was also handled by Anthony Johnson despite holding a significant weight advantage. In 2012, he fought rival Tim Sylvia to a no-contest after an illegal kick.
From 2009-11, Arlovski went 0-4, losing to Fedor Emelianenko, Brett Rogers and Sergei Kharitonov via first round knockout. In Schaub, he’ll be facing a tough opponent who has spent his time since The Ultimate Fighter competing against the best of the best in the heavyweight division.
Will one of the light heavyweights make a bold statement?
The 205-pound division features a very top-heavy list of strong fighters, bu that doesn’t mean someone else can’t build off a few wins and make a move.
One of the four competing on the card – Bader, Cavalcante, Ryan Jimmo and Ovince St. Preux – would like nothing more than to steal the show.
So, which one can do that?
Bader has the best chance, as the former TUF winner has looked strong since 2012 outside of losses to Glover Teixeira and Lyoto Machida. Remember, he hit Teixeira a few times and appeared to have the former No. 1 contender rocked for a brief moment.
As long as he can execute his plan and keep the fight standing, “Darth” should be able to use the force and control Cavalcante.
The best of the prelims?
Mike Easton and Yves Jabouin should be able to steal the show early on, as the bantamweights love to stand and trade. Both of these men have big-time weapons and can highlight the FX prelims.
Other than that, look for Daniel Sarafian to get back on track and Kajan Johnson to have a good showing against Tae Hyun Bang.
As a reminder, FightLine will have complete coverage, including play-by-play, of all the action Saturday night.