Playing for Keeps: What is on the Line at UFC 125?

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New Year's Day is right around the corner, and along with it, UFC 125.  As a fight junkie, I can't think of a better way to celebrate.  With the new year, every fighter on the card will be trying to get off to a good start, and lucky for us, most of the fights should prove to be entertaining.  There's much more than just a title being fought for on January 1st, 2011, let's take a look at the card from bottom to top.

Antonio McKee aims to prove his worth in the octagon:

One of the first preliminary fights features Antonio McKee making his UFC debut.  "Mandingo" comes into the UFC on an eleven fight win streak, and would be on fourteen if not for a draw put on his record back in September of 2004.  His last loss was against Karo Parisyan, when Karo Parisyan was on his way up, which is certainly nothing to be ashamed of.  McKee has been criticized for having a "boring" style, but in his last fight, swore that if he didn't finish the fight, he would retire.  McKee won by TKO in the first round.

This is McKee's big break, he's one of the best unknown fighters around, but will his style hinder him from climbing the ranks in the UFC?  For McKee, he's not only fighting for his first UFC victory, but to insure that all the hard work he's put in to get there was not wasted.  His fight may not be aired on the PPV broadcast, but he's certainly a fighter to look for.

Mike Brown returns to the UFC, and plans to make it a return to remember:

In April of 2004, Mike Brown fought Genki Sudo at UFC 47, losing by triangle armbar.  Now, he finds himself in a new weight class, in the same promotion.  Brown will face Diego Nunes, a featherweight that went 4-1 in the WEC, all of his fights going the distance.  Brown was once the WEC featherweight champ, and with good reason, he's got a powerful offensive game, and he'll be looking to use it at UFC 125.  Via UFC.com

"I come out aggressive and like to finish. That's what I like to do. Swing hard and hurt him. The striking opens up my submission game. If they are scared of my strikes then that gives me the opportunity to get a submission as well.

A big finish in this preliminary fight could land Mike Brown on the PPV broadcast, and move him further on his path towards another crack at current champ, Jose Aldo.  This isn't just a fight for Brown, this is a chance at redemption, an impressive performance on the biggest stage this sport has to offer.

After the jump, we get to the main card, and touch on Takanori Gomi, Chris Leben, and lightweight champion, Frankie Edgar.

Can "The Fireball Kid" continue to shine? Takanori Gomi tests his mettle against "The Carpenter":

Takanori Gomi was Japan's lightweight champion during the Pride Era, his powerful hands and exciting style made him fans not only in Japan, but across the globe.  Going 4-2 after the fall of Pride, the UFC signed Gomi, but many felt that it was too late for him to make an impact in the UFC's lightweight division.  Kenny Florian welcomed him to the UFC, defeating him soundly.  Then there was Tyson Griffin, and American fans got to witness one of the most spectacular knockouts of 2010:

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Wrestleboxer's have fallen prey to Gomi's power before, but the media was in mid-burial in the lead up to this fight.  With mouths firmly shut, we see Gomi matched with a similar fighter, Clay Guida.  The difference?  Guida has taken brutal amounts of punishment and kept coming...

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There's quite a bit at stake in this fight.  For Gomi, a win will likely put him one more win away from title contention, and is granted the opportunity to showcase his skills yet again.  For Guida, a win over Gomi is a win to be remembered, and will surely be one of the high points of his career.  The win could also see Guida fighting one of the top contenders in the division later in 2011.

2010 was good, but Chris Leben looks to make 2011 the year of "The Crippler":

Chris Leben's showdown with judoka Yoshihiro Akiyama was one of the greatest fights of 2010, with Leben not only beating Akiyama in the standup, but submitting him in the third round with a triangle choke.  He stepped into the cage having fought only weeks earlier, when he defeated Aaron Simpson.  Now, Leben is taking part in the co-main event of UFC 125, facing Brian Stann.  Stann is a game opponent, but one that plays to Leben's strengths.  Should Leben be able to win impressively, which I believe he will, he may very well be on his way towards a...title shot?  That sounds weird just saying it, but it sounds even more strange saying that he beat Akiyama with a TRIANGLE CHOKE.

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If Leben can secure a victory against Brian Stann, and make it a fight worth remembering, we may see Leben at the top of the card of an overseas PPV and fighting for a number one contender's spot sometime in 2011.  

Forget about a title, Frankie Edgar is fighting for respect at UFC 125:

Before BJ Penn lost his title, I was certain the man who would beat him could become one of the most popular fighter's inside the UFC.  Come to find out, the man who beat BJ Penn TWICE, is one of the least popular champions in UFC history.  Edgar's first bout against Penn proved to be a close, controversial decision, but the second time around, he beat an even better BJ Penn even worse than he did the first time.  Still, Edgar receives little attention from the media, and is the underdog once again as he faces the last man to beat him, Gray Maynard.

If Frankie Edgar can defeat the bigger, stronger challenger at UFC 125, he may be able to receive some of the respect he's been denied since taking the belt from BJ Penn.  Then again, his next opponent would be Anthony Pettis...maybe after that?  Doubtful.  The media's got no love for the Jersey boy, regardless, Edgar is motivated to prove that he is a deserving champion once again.  Retaining the title is merely an aesthetic bonus in this fight.  The underdog is in a familiar position, and is coming off the two biggest victories of his career, if nothing else, Frankie should be mentally prepared to take on this challenge.  

Overall, UFC 125 looks like a solid card on paper, with fights that have potential to be incredibly exciting.  Fans aren't too pumped for the main event, but the undercard should make up for anything we might have to complain about when it comes to the final fight of the evening...of course, in MMA anything could happen.  

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