Eight questions ahead of the UFC’s cross continental double-header

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You’ve got to hand to the UFC; they’re nothing, if not tenacious. When the curtains draw on UFC Fight Night 54 in Nova Scotia in the wee hours of tomorrow morning, it will mark the end of a colossal run which has seen them stage a staggering 21 events since May 24.

Before that, of course, Stockholm, Sweden (UFCFN 53), will get the ball rolling, in what will be the promotion’s final visit to Europe in 2014. After Conor McGregor’s antics in Las Vegas a week ago, three of his SBG teammates, Cathal Pendred, Gunnar Nelson and Paddy Holohan will look to follow his lead, as they undertake the most significant challenges of their professional lives.

Beyond the Irish context, there is plenty more to look forward to, and both cards offer myriad up-and-coming fighters an opportunity to ascend through their respective ranks. Here are some of the main questions that should be answered when all is said and done.

  1.   If Gunnar Nelson defeats Rick Story, what’s next for him?

After his submission victory over Zak Cummings in the then 02 Arena saw him go 4-0 in his UFC career, many felt Nelson’s next opponent would be one of the welterweight division’s elite. But with most of the top-tier already matched up and the brass seemingly set on not rushing him, he was instead given stalwart Rick Story for his first ever headlining bout.

Although his record has been decidedly patchy in recent times, Story is no joke, and is a handful for anyone at 170lbs. He is a quality wrestler and ferocious striker, and owns a victory over current champion Johny Hendricks. If Nelson does prevail, he’s still likely to be at least two fights from a title shot, but he’ll definitely get a top five opponent in his next fight. Paring him with the currently unattached Tyron Woodley would certainly get the juices flowing.

  1. Will a win over Tarec Saffiedine guarantee Rory McDonald a title shot?

At this point, it’s hard to say. Although McDonald has wins over Tyron Woodley, Jake Ellenberger and Demian Maia in three of his last four outings, tonight’s headliner in Scotiabank Centre, in Halifax, will only be Saffiedine’s second Octagon appearance, thus the Belgian doesn’t carry the same kind of cache as some of his previous conquests.

However, McDonald has earned his stripes, and with Georges St. Pierre still in semi-retirement, the UFC need a new Canadian figurehead, so it might just be enough.

 

  1. Will Cathal Pendred’s return to welterweight be a happy one?

The UFC’s over-populated welterweight division meant that, despite being Europe’s top 170lbser for over a year, a ticket to the big-show was not forthcoming for Pendred. Subsequently, he made the jump to middleweight to get his foot in the door, but always with the aim of dropping back down.

After a mixed showing in the Ultimate Fighter house, ‘The Punisher’ bounced back with an emphatic comeback win over the chemically enhanced Mike King, and can now finally return to his natural weight class. In Gasan Umalatov, he faces a man with a similar record and grappling-heavy style, though the Russian has not faced the same calibre of opponent as he. Pendred’s weight cut has been seamless, and extensive work with Gunnar Nelson, he says, has done wonders for his submission game.

  1. Is Bryan Caraway championship material?

Being that he is Mr. Miesha Tate and threatened to physically assault Ronda Rousey via Twitter, Caraway’s upward trajectory in the bantamweight division has been largely overshadowed. That said, he has four submission wins in his last five fights and if he manages to see off Raphael Assuncao, who has defeated current title-holder TJ Dillashaw, Dana and co. will be hard pressed to deny him a crack at the winner of Dillashaw and the resurgent Dominick Cruz.

 

  1. Is Niklas Backstrom the next European to make waves in the Featherweight division?

In Backstrom, Sweden has unearthed their very own Conor McGegor and someone whose star is on the rise. Like ‘The Notorious’, the 25-year-old is brash, charismatic and extremely gifted. Backstrom is undefeated, well-rounded and a proven finisher on his feet or the mat.

In front of his hometown crowd at the Ericsson Globe Arena, he faces England’s Mike Wilkinson, who will also be making his sophomore appearance for the promotion.

 

  1. Will the late change in opponent fluster Paddy Holohan?

The short answer; very unlikely. SBG fighters rarely pay much heed to their opponents during camp, and instead opt to almost solely concentrate on matters within their control.

So, the news that local fighter Chris Kelades had stepped in for Josh Grispi will have hardly rattled the Tallaght man, and he will proceed accordingly.

  1. Can Akira Corassani get back to winning ways against Max Holloway?

In the co-main event in Stockholm, Corassani will face a victim of Conor McGregor for the second time in a row. Most recently, a TKO loss Dustin Poirier halted a three fight win streak amassed by the Swede. Holloway’s vast experience belies his 23 years and he is undefeated since losing to McGregor, so the omens aren’t great.

 

  1. What will we do without the UFC for three whole weeks?

For those of you who have been mainlining MMA for the past four months, there’s some cold turkey and withdrawals in your near future. But never fear, it should be worth the cold sweats and increased bowel movement.

The UFC’s next show will be October 25 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as Jose Aldo defends his featherweight crown against Chad Mendes for a second time. Expect Conor McGregor to be the antagonist-in chief as he sits cage-side, awaiting to be almost-certainly announced as the next No.1 contender.