Five talking points ahead of UFC 187

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High-profile withdrawals notwithstanding, tonight’s UFC 187 is without the question the biggest card of 2015 to date. For the first time in almost four months the promotion returns to its spiritual home of Las Vegas for not one, but two, mouth-watering title-fights.

In fact, top to bottom, there does not look to be one potential dud among the 12 scheduled bouts set to be decided at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Understandably, speculation abounds, so we’ve narrowed it down to five talking points to streamline the discourse.

A new era begins at 205lbs

The dust has finally settled after Jon Jones was indefinitely suspended and stripped of his title by the UFC for his involvement in a hit-and-run incident last month. Jones was not the first champion to lose his crown outside the cage, and he’s unlikely to be the last.

Jones was initially scheduled to face Anthony Johnson, but his forced abdication has re-opened the door for the last man he beat, Daniel Cormier, thus, the latter two will battle it out for the vacated strap.

The question begs, however, can the man who prevails really be considered the champion? Jones, for all his personal shortcomings, proved himself arguably the greatest the division, if not the sport, has ever seen during his four year reign, and overcame Cormier with relative ease last January at UFC 182. How he might have fared against the unbridled power of Johnson is for now a moot point, but the suspicion remains he would have found a way.

Hypotheticals aside, in Jones’ absence, Johnson and Cormier represent the best the division has to offer. What’s more, this fight offers each man the chance to complete their respective comeback story.

For Cormier, who failed to win a NCAA wrestling title or to medal at the Olympics, all the while enduring great personal loss, being crowned champion would be the ultimate validation. Johnson, too, has overcome adversity. After being cut by the UFC in 2012 for continuously missing weight, he rebuilt his career and now stands at the threshold of something great. Should be epic.

Finally, Chris Weidman and Vitor Belfort are ready to go

For a while there, it felt like this one was never going to happen. Two injuries to Chris Weidman sandwiched Belfort’s failed drug test and, temporarily at least, indifference set in. However, as the saying goes, the time is now, and judging by their heated stare down at yesterday’s weigh-in, the fighters are chomping at the bit to settle matters once and for all.

As Chris Weidman correctly pointed out to Ariel Helwani during the week, he is the only official champion competing in the top two fights, and there is a more than plausible argument to be made that he and Belfort should have been bumped to main event status after Jon Jones parted ways with the UFC.

This, though, has done little to diminish the stature of what truly is an intriguing contest. The bookies have installed Weidman as a considerable favourite, but whether this is due to Belfort competing without the aid of TRT, other factors, or both, is only for them to know.

Belfort, who stands to become just the third man to win UFC titles in two divisions, has not fought since November 2013, when his KO of Dan Henderson capped off a year during which he doled out similar treatment to Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold. The momentum generated from those victories have now surely waned, and the 38-year-old must not only navigate a smothering champion in his prime, but his own considerable ring-rust.

Last July at UFC 175, Weidman overcome what was by far the toughest test of his career in the shape of Lyoto Machida, but Belfort’s raw speed and power represents an entirely different challenge. The same can be said for his offensive BJJ game, as Jon Jones found at UFC 152. For Belfort, and his Blackzilians teammate Anthony Johnson, shattering the consensus is the name of the game.

Opportunity knocks for John Makdessi

Such is the regard in which he is held, when news broke that injury had forced Khabib Nurmagomedov to pull out of his highly-anticipated comeback bout against Cowboy Cerrone, fans and media alike were reduced to a state of mourning.

The fight would surely have decided who the newly-minted lightweight champion Raphael Dos Anjos was to face in his first title defence, but the show must go on. After his first round TKO win over Shane Campbell at UFC 186 last month, 30-year-old John Makdessi has stepped into the breach for what could be a career-defining 15 minutes.

Time and again we’ve learned to take nothing for granted in this sport, but anything other than a resounding victory for Cerrone feels unlikely. If that proves to be case, his win-streak will be extended to eight on the bounce and the shot at UFC gold he’s long-since been craving will surely be his. Interestingly, it was Dos Anjos who handed Cowboy his last loss.

Friends become foes at heavyweight

Hitherto his chastening loss at the hands of Fabricio Werdum at UFC on Fox 11, Travis Brown was a bone fide member of Jackson/Winklejohn MMA, where he spent years shedding blood, sweat and tears on the mats with Andrei Arlovski. The defeat compelled the Hawaiian to relocate to the Glendale Fight Club, where he is now under the tutelage of Ronda Rousey’s mentor, Edmund Tarverdyan.

Having bounced back with a crushing win over Brendan Schaub, Browne can re-establish himself as a genuine contender at heavyweight by dispatching of his old pal Andrei. The same can be said for the Belarusian who, with a victory over Browne, would move to 3-0 since returning to Zuffa last summer.

It’s all go at 125lbs

In his 10 UFC bouts thus far, Joseph Benavidez has emerged victorious all but twice; on both occasions a certain Mighty Mouse Johnson proved a step too far for the Team Alpha Male standout. Benavidez, along with John Moraga, another of DJ’s vanquished foes, will kick off tonight’s main card, but it’s the flyweight showdown which directly precedes their match-up that could provide the flawless champion with his next assignment.

Returning after close to a year-long layoff due to injury, John Dodson, the only man to come close to dethroning Johnson, squares off against Zach Makovsky. Unlike with Benavidez or Moraga, there is genuine desire amongst the masses to see the dervish-like Dodson re-match the champion. A victory over his former training partner should all but guarantee him as much.