UFC Fight Night 39: 3 Fighters with the Most to Gain in Abu Dhabi
The UFC returns to Abu Dhabi this week for the first time since Frankie Edgar's improbable 2011 lightweight title win, offering up a card headlined by two solid heavyweight veterans for its Fight Pass audience.
In the main event Roy Nelson will attempt to derail the great Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in a bout between two of the toughest, most durable athletes MMA has ever seen, while Tatsuya Kawajiri and Clay Guida will lock horns in the co-main event.
As with any UFC event there are stakes for those entering the Octagon, and Fight Night 39 is no different. Here are a few guys who stand to gain the most with a good showing in the desert.
The Gain: The big upset
Trevor Smith will take on Thales Leites at Fight Night 39, a former middleweight title contender and legitimate jiu-jitsu expert who's won five straight. He's finally starting to put it all together in his athletic prime, and it won't come easy if Smith is to best him.
For his part, Smith is a gritty Strikeforce import who's gone 1-1 since joining the UFC. He's not afraid to make things a little messy, but he may need more seasoning to overcome someone as technically capable as Leites.
If he does, it's likely he'll make a little jump in competition and perhaps lodge his name in the minds of fans trying to differentiate the guys in the middle of the pack at 185.
The Gain: A full-on resurgence
John Howard has been back in the UFC since his 2013 hometown win in Boston over Uriah Hall.
He's since toppled Siyar Bahadurzada in a return to welterweight, where he initially gained traction in the UFC. With a win at Fight Night 39 over Ryan LaFlare, he could have claim to a top-10 opponent next time out.
Howard has always been a fearless, fun guy to watch. With better application of his grappling skill, his most recent UFC run has seen him have more success. He's showing talent on the mat that many didn't know he had, but he's using it only in the measures required to keep him in a position to pace his fights.
Tough, credible and fan-friendly are all nice to have on a resume in the UFC, and they're further accented by winning. Three in a row in less than a year for Howard and we've got a full-blown career resurgence on our hands.
The Gain: One last shot at the big time
Tatsuya Kawajiri has been crushing it outside of North America for a long time. He's beaten up the best that promotions like ONE FC and DREAM have to offer, and he collected scalps in PRIDE as well.
However, on the big stages on this side of the pond, he basically hadn't done anything until 2014. He'd suffered one nasty rout at the hands of Gilbert Melendez, but that was pretty much it.
That was the last time he lost, though, and it was all the way back in 2011.
He's since collected his first UFC win—in a bout in Singapore earlier this year—and will take on Clay Guida at UFC Fight Night 39. A win might confirm his last shot at relevance at the highest level.
To be this close to making an impact on the UFC as he travels the final miles of a long, storied career and let it pass would be horrible. At 35 years old, he likely won't get another chance this good.
It's a major stake, a big gain, but it's in the hands of a capable veteran. It will be interesting to see what he does with it.