This Sunday's UFC Fight Night 38 in Natal, Brazil, won't have a belt on the line, but there's plenty of reputation and promise up for grabs from the old guard and the newcomers.
Mauricio "Shogun" Rua could stitch a win streak together for the first time since 2009, re-establishing the bone-breaker reputation he had in the late 2000s. He surely needs the juice. After losing the light heavyweight belt to an indestructible Jon Jones in UFC 128, he lost some of the momentum that's won him five Fights or Knockouts of the Night.
Their rematch has a different feel years later. Dan Henderson, beloved veteran though he is, simply can't feel viable for much more time.
Win or lose, Henderson comes off three consecutive losses as the oldest fighter in the UFC at age 43, old enough to receive one final testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) exemption from the UFC after its Nevada criminalization. His sun is setting, and Rua is in a position to take advantage of both Henderson's age and his own return to form to rise through an opening light heavyweight division.
CB Dollaway needs a win against Cezar Ferreira to jump to the next rung on the middleweight ladder, currently stuck between the freshman The Ultimate Fighter crowd and the edges of the senior middleweight contender group. He's fought five TUF contestants since his arrival into in the promotion, more than any other fighter, and loses against the bigger names in the division such as Tim Boetsch and Mark Munoz.
A win will go a long way in banishing "stepping stone" from the mind.
Similarly, lightweight Leonardo Santos needs the use UFC Fight Night 38 to prove to the crowd he belongs in the game. Lightweight Santos is fresh off his The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 2 win. The TUF fighters often get the first-time Octagon jitters and put on a bad show, or they can fail to live up to their hype entirely. The 34-year-old Santos has plenty of proving to do in a stacked division full of younger men.
Cezar Ferreira, though not quite to the inner circle guardians of the middleweight crown, could extend his 3-0 middleweight winning streak against Dollaway in a division that needs the hype. There are vacant spots to inject new talent into for the 185-pounders, and Ferreira's nationality, fast UFC 163 submission over Thiago Santos and 3-0 inaugural UFC record poise him to take a considerable chunk of that shifting limelight.
Follow DJ Summers on Twitter @djsummersmma
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