Once a season, the Ultimate Fighting Championship visits “Big Fox” -- the prized platform the UFC acquired when it signed with the Fox family of networks in 2011. The Octagon makes its biggest splash on Fox during football season, pulling some mainstream NFL viewers into the UFC’s happenings. Lightweight has been a prominent weight class on Fox, so it seems fitting that the last UFC event on the network in 2015 features the third 155-pound title bout to hit the channel. Bud Light-drinking, Bud Light-sponsored American contender Donald Cerrone looks to avenge his most recent defeat by toppling lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos in the UFC on Fox 17 main event on Saturday at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla. The Brazilian’s workman-like ascent to the top of the division has a chance to garner the recognition it deserves if he prevents the fan-favorite Cerrone from capturing the title in a banner year that has seen the promotion crown seven new champions.
HOW WE GOT HERE: Now that Jose Aldo has fallen from the UFC’s featherweight perch at the hands of Conor McGregor, only two Brazilian champions remain in the Octagon: dos Anjos and heavyweight Fabricio Werdum. The common denominator between the two Brazilians is the Huntington Beach, Calif.-based, Rafael Cordeiro-led Kings MMA camp. Dos Anjos extended his winning streak to four fights and shut down cutting-edge champ Anthony Pettis at UFC 185 in March. Three months later, Werdum submitted Cain Velasquez to become the sport’s top big man. Dos Anjos cemented Kings MMA’s status as a top-shelf camp and earned Cordeiro his first homegrown UFC title. While Cordeiro fashioned the 31-year-old dos Anjos from a serviceable competitor into a UFC champion, Cerrone responded to an August 2013 decision defeat to the Brazilian with his current eight-fight winning streak. That landed him the opportunity to compete for UFC gold against an opponent he believes should not have been able to beat him on his best night. Cerrone has struggled against the always-a-bridesmaid-never-a-bride perception that has resulted from his three failed title bids in World Extreme Cagefighting. Going into their clash, dos Anjos has beaten three men who enjoyed major success against Cerrone: Pettis, Benson Henderson and Nate Diaz. Injury kept dos Anjos from defending his belt sooner and capitalizing on the moment from his victory over Pettis, but facing a surging “Cowboy” stands to raise his stock. Cerrone had hoped to become the No. 1 contender against Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 187 in May. However, Nurmagomedov dropped out due to an injury, leaving Cerrone to continue his winning ways against late replacement John Makdessi. One of the sport’s most active fighters, Cerrone has finished five opponents, two of them on Fox, during his eight-fight tear while also posting key wins over Henderson and Eddie Alvarez. The 155-pound weight class has a long tradition of tooth-and-nail action in championship fights; it is a division that never slows down. Whether or not the throne is a better fit for the fast-riding “Cowboy” or the steady-yet-tireless dos Anjos remains to be seen ... Former UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos and onetime Strikeforce titleholder Alistair Overeem, two passing ships in the night during their careers, finally meet in the co-main event. In a division where one strike can end it all, dos Santos-Overeem stands out for its potential explosiveness. The UFC has tried repeatedly to book this fight in the past, and for whatever reason, it has always fallen through. It has been a year since dos Santos competed. In victory, “Cigano” defeated Stipe Miocic across 25 grueling minutes. It has become the Brazilian’s M.O. over his last three or four appearances: Win or lose, he endures much punishment. The 73-plus minutes he spent in the cage with Velasquez and Miocic remain a key part of the dos Santos legacy but may have altered his ability to stay at the top level of the sport. Overeem has picked up on the trend in dismissing dos Santos. However, he has been knocked out three times in the past two years. The UFC heavyweight championship will be contested in a rematch between Werdum and Velasquez in February. With the right timing, either dos Santos or Overeem can secure a title shot in 2016. Their name value and past history leaves them one big punch away from vying for UFC gold. However, in trying to get past one another, they must do so while convincing viewers they are not one punch away from their careers being over.
RETURNING IMPACT: Former lightweight title challenger Diaz has been on ice. He last competed in a losing effort against dos Anjos a year ago, earning a disclosed $16,000 for his troubles. It was his third fight on the Fox network in four outings. Despite Diaz’s regular main event or main card presence, UFC President Dana White buried him before the dos Anjos bout, saying he was not a “needle mover.” Yet Diaz’s return from a year off due to disputes with the promotion finds him back on Fox. Known for his middle-fingers-in-the-air style, the Stockton, Calif., native could not be better positioned to make some noise, as he meets the top 10-ranked Michael Johnson. “The Menace” put together a stellar four-fight winnings streak, only to have it halted in a controversial split decision loss to Beneil Dariush in August. The Blackzilians representative can revive the momentum he lost by spoiling Diaz’s return. Both men have plenty to say in a matchup that pits two of the lightweight division’s best boxers against each other. They may exist in a crowded division, but this platform provides Johnson and Diaz with the chance to put past missteps to rest.
PRELIMS MAIN EVENT: It is not every day that the Smartest Guy at the Bar dips down into the undercard. Former lightweight prospect Myles Jury’s decision to drop to 145 pounds to meet Charles Oliveira gives us a reason to dive in the prelims pool. Oliveira, 26, is returning from a freak esophagus injury that halted his four-fight winning streak and put a scare into everyone. Jury went 6-1 at 155 pounds, losing to Cerrone to kick off his 2015 campaign. He ditched Alliance MMA in San Diego and, along with former Bellator MMA champion Michael Chandler, moved his training to Power MMA in Arizona, home to Ryan Bader, C.B. Dollaway and others. Jury’s new weight class and camp raise questions that Oliveira will try to answer.
SAY WHAT: “This is my response to Conor [McGregor]: I’ve got an ass to whip on Saturday. After that, I’ll talk all the Conor talk you guys want. I keep getting people telling me I’m sidetracked. I’m not. I’m coming to win that belt,” Cerrone said in an interview with ESPN.com’s Brett Okamoto, discussing a hypothetical matchup with the newly crowned featherweight champion.
AWARDS WATCH: “Fight of the Night” lands at featherweight with Oliveira and Myles Jury. “Performance of the Night” bonuses for dos Santos and Cerrone should make for a memorable one-two punch to close the show.
Danny Acosta is a SiriusXM Rush (Channel 93) host and contributor. His writing has been featured on Sherdog.com for nearly a decade. Find him on Twitter and Instagram @acostaislegend.