In the bright lights of Vegas, MMA awaits brave new dawn

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The UFC is gearing up for the most seismic week of activity in the organisation’s short, explosive history: three events, two venues, thirty-three fights, all culminating in a pay-per-view (PPV) card that has the potential to outshine any of its predecessors.

Fight week promises to be a relentless rollercoaster of interviews, weigh-ins and, by the time Bruce Buffer clears his throat for the main event of UFC 194, some of the most extraordinary athleticism this wonderful sport has to offer.

How appropriate that it should take place in Las Vegas, a city where time and sunlight are often rendered unimportant. This week more than any other, sleep will be a luxury, Adrenaline a mandatory.

The volume of talent on view in such a short timeframe is truly unparalleled.

Paige “12 Gauge” VanZant takes on Rose “Thug” Namajunas on Thursday’s UFC Fight Pass offering from the Chelsea at the Cosmopolitan. The popular consensus is that both VanZant and Namajunas have the potential to follow the trail blazed by Ronda Rousey to the pinnacle of the sport. Those are weighty expectations, though not without merit. This fight offers a glimpse into the future of the strawweight division and may see the victor anointed as the heiress to the throne of women’s combat.

On Friday’s The Ultimate Fighter 22 Finale, at the same venue, we witness what promises to be a pulsating featherweight clash between Frankie Edgar and Chad Mendes. Edgar’s staying power at the elite level of MMA is inspirational. The New Jersey native is closing on a decade of service within the eight walls and continues to defy our preconceptions about longevity in this unforgiving trade. His highly-anticipated clash with the sheer muscularity of Mendes will make compelling viewing.

When the action switches to the MGM Grand for UFC 194, we’ll be treated to the familiar sight of Urijah “The California Kid” Faber, as he takes on Frankie Saenz. Faber remains the UFC’s most popular bridesmaid. A phenomenal, charismatic athlete who has had his fingertips on championship gold on numerous occasions, only to have it swiped from his grasp by the cruel hand of fate. Also on the undercard is Joe Lauzon, a fearless attacking force who cares less about rankings than giving those who paid their ticket price a rollicking night of entertainment.

All being well, the collective pulse of the MMA world will peak on Saturday night stateside when two fierce rivals finally take centre stage.

In one corner is the undefeated quiet man from Brazil. Jose Aldo has spent an entire career ducking the spotlight. The harsh reality of life in the favelas necessitates humility and the Brazilian refuses to adhere to the bombastic stereotypes of combat sports champions.

Were he blessed with the sales patter of a Floyd Mayweather, this prodigious talent would surely be a PPV commodity of the highest order. This is, after all, an industry where razzmatazz and riches habitually go hand in hand. Instead, Aldo shuns the spotlight, emerging from the shadows periodically to do what he does best: impose his will on the latest in a long line of challengers. We’ve not seen him on Octagon duty for fourteen months and goodness me, how we’ve missed his own brand of aggressive artistry.

In his absence, an arch-rival has emerged; a polar opposite in every sense.

The name Conor McGregor has commandeered millions of online clicks in an age where, more than ever before, recognition equals revenue for headline writers. Much has been said about his verbal prowess and no one denies that the Dubliner stands tall as the greatest salesman of his generation. McGregor’s unique fighting style, with his chin high and his arms low, was previously seen by some of his competitors as a weakness. His destruction of Chad Mendes silenced the doubters. The clash of styles between his unorthodoxy and the textbook striking of Aldo is one of the many reasons that this fight should be an instant classic.

In the promotional video we see the legendary Las Vegas strip shut down momentarily whilst McGregor and Aldo lead their respective tribes forward for a final confrontation. It is romantic nonsense, of course. The steady stream of chancers who descend on Sin City, hoping the dice roll in their favour, ensures the neon lights will shine on regardless of what happens when the bell rings.

Yet such is the magnitude of this week that our parameters for what constitutes excellence and entertainment at the elite level of this sport may never be the same again.

Start the ride. We’re ready to go.

By RalphWelchMMA

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Ralph Welch has had his work featured on BT Sport, The Mirror and UFC.com amongst others. Follow him on Twitter at @RalphWelchMMA

Owner/Editor of SevereMMA.com. Writer, Podcaster, Producer of 'Notorious: Conor McGregor' film, 'Conor McGregor: Notorious' TV series, 'Ten Thousand Hours', 'The Fighting Irish' and more documentary films.