UFC 121 brings to the fans one of the best cards of the year with the heavyweight title on the line in the main event. However, there is much more on the line at UFC 121 then Brock Lesnar’s heavyweight championship: careers, contracts and the futures of many fighters will be on the line as well. There are eleven fights on this card and almost every matchup will have serious implications on the futures of the fighters. Here is a breakdown of some key fights on this card.
The main event of the evening offers fans a title fight between the champion Brock Lesnar and the number one contender Cain Valasquez. This fight has the potential to be a fight of the year candidate and one that many fans have been waiting for. After the beating that he took against Shane Carwin at UFC 116, Lesnar wants to prove to the world that not only is he the toughest man alive, but he is only getting better. A loss to Valasquez would confirm for many people that Lesnar is overrated and should not be considered among the best in the world. Valasquez, on the other hand, is undefeated in his MMA career and has dominated everybody that he has faced. A victory for Valasquez will help cement him as the best heavyweight in the world. A loss, however, would knock him back down the ladder forcing him to earn his way back up the mountain.
The co-main event of the night is in the middleweight division between Jake Shields and Martin Kampmann. Shields, the former Strikeforce Middleweight champion is making his UFC debut and he must win this fight in order to not only prove that he deserves the hype but also to earn a title shot. When Shields signed with the UFC, he stated that he wanted an immediate title shot with champion Georges St. Pierre and the only way that he is going to get his title shot any time soon is by defeating a very tough opponent. A loss in this fight would be detrimental to Shields. It would knock him down to the middle of the pack making it very hard for him to earn a title shot in a very tough division. Kampmann has gone 13-2 over his past fifteen fights and he wants a shot at the title as well. A win does not guarantee him his title shot but it will move him closer to the top of the division. A loss would put him back at the bottom of the division, keeping him at prelim and mid-card status.
Diego Sanchez versus Paulo Thiago is a must win fight for Sanchez. He is coming off of back to back losses in fights where he was completely dominated. Sanchez was dominated by BJ Penn at UFC 107 in his bid for the lightweight title and then by John Hathaway at UFC 114 in his return to the welterweight division. A third straight loss for Sanchez would be devastating for his UFC career. Sanchez has a significant fan base but he cannot afford a loss if he expects to stay with the organization.
Matt Hamill versus Tito Ortiz is a fight that Ortiz cannot afford to lose. Ortiz is 0-3-1 in his last four fights and has not had a victory in the UFC since Ortiz vs Shamrock 3 in 2006. Add that to the fact that he was forced to pull out of his fight with Chuck Lidell as well as his coaching duties with the Ultimate Fighter Season 11 and another loss will likely mean the end of his UFC and possibly his fighting career. A win for Ortiz will not bring him back to the status that he once held but it will help prove to the world that he can still compete; if he loses to a fighter that he coached during his first stint as a coach on the Ultimate Fighter he will need to rethink his career.
Gabrial Gonzaga versus Brendan Schaub is a very important fight for both fighters. For Gonzaga, it is a must win situation. Gonzaga is coming off of a loss to Junior dos Santos at UFC Live Vera vs Jones and has really struggled with the elite in the heavyweight division. A loss to an upcoming fighter like Schaub would end any hopes that Gonzaga has at making another run towards the title. Schaub asked for a step up in competition and got his wish with Gonzaga. Schaub has put himself in a position where he cannot afford to lose. A loss to Gonzaga would prove to the UFC that he is not ready for a step up in competition yet and needs to continue to work his way up to that level. A win would prove that not only does he deserve a step up in competition but he deserves to fight the best that the division has to offer.
Chris Camozzi versus Dongi Yang is a preliminary fight in the middleweight division, but it is still a very important fight for both fighters. Camozzi was a contestant of the Ultimate Fighter Season 11 before an injury to his jaw forced him out of the competition. Camozzi did earn a victory at the Ultimate Fighter Season 11 finale, but he cannot afford a loss if he wants to continue his UFC career. Yang is making his UFC debut and he will need to make an impact if he wants to a earn roster spot in one of the UFC’s most talented divisions.
Regardless of how these fights turn out there is a lot on the line for all of the fighters on the card. Many of the fighters find themselves in must-win situations, fighting not only for their place in the UFC but for their fighting lives. With everything on the line and with everything that these fighters have to lose, UFC 121 has the makings to be one of the best cards of the year.