For Lyoto Machida, Gegard Mousasi and Jacare Souza, Saturday's fight card in Brazil will be an audition of sorts.
UFC president Dana White is notorious for not wanting to make matches before he has to, but he's already said publicly that the winner of Saturday's bout between Machida and Mousasi will likely get a shot at the middleweight title in their next bout.
That would come against the winner of the main event of UFC 173 between champion Chris Weidman and top contender Vitor Belfort.
Machida would appear to have the inside track with a victory. He's a former light heavyweight champion and has the best list of victims on his track record.
Mousasi, though, doesn't get enough credit for the caliber of his competition. He's always been a small light heavyweight and is now easily making middleweight, but he has a win over gargantuan heavyweight Mark Hunt among his 34 professional victories.
And Souza, who faces Francis Carmont in the co-main event, can't be ruled out as a possibility. Souza was stopped by an upkick from Mousasi in a 2008 match in the Dream middleweight grand prix finale, but he's caught White's attention with two quick finishes in his two UFC appearances.
"Jacare, he's a bad dude," White said. "He's been awesome, man."
So there is pressure in a sense to not only win but to win impressively.
And that is the area that doesn't play into Machida's style. He's patient, never over committing, and always waiting for his opponent to make a mistake and give him an opening.
He'll take as long as necessary, which in the past has frustrated White. But when the opportunity presents itself, Machida is lethal, as he showed in his light heavyweight title victory over Rashad Evans in 2009 as well as in a dramatic knockout of his close friend, Mark Munoz, in October.
Mousasi is a terrific standup fighter who posseses an excellent jab. Machida, though, is one of the best defenders in the UFC against the jab so it figures to be a tactical fight.
And true to form, Machida isn't planning any changes.
"I have a lot of respect for this guy because he has fought in so many organizations around the world and done very well," Machida said. "He's a dangerous guy with a lot of experience and I have to stick to my plan."
Mousasi said controlling the distance will be a key to the outcome. That is an area he has excelled at throughout his long and stellar career, though he hasn't faced anyone like Machida.
But Mousasi is good enough on his feet that he considered, albeit briefly, taking a shot at making the Netherlands' boxing team for the 2012 Olympics in London.
"I would have liked to have tried it, even though I know it would have been very difficult, but it didn't work out," Mousasi said.
He hopes to be able to use his hands to get to Machida and to ultimately give himself the defining victory of his career. He's still not among the UFC's biggest names despite his long run of success, but part of it is because he hasn't been active much recently.
The UFC, though, showed what it thinks of him by its matchmaking. He was supposed to fight Alexander Gustafsson last April, but Gustafsson was injured and pulled out. Now, they've pitted him with Machida in Brazil.
Plus, the lure of a title shot is dangling in front of him.
"I went to middleweight because it is a better weight for me and I'm not facing these guys who are that much larger than I am, but also because I wanted to fight for the title," he said. "So it's good that I could get that possibility. It's my goal, but I have learned you don't think ahead in this sport.
"You win the fight that you have and everything will work out if you do."
Machida echoed those sentiments, but the presence of Jacare on the undercard and White's enthusiasm for him has to make both Machida and Mousasi a bit uneasy.
It wouldn't be a shock at all that if Jacare wins in spectacular fashion and Machida-Mousasi is a slow and technical affair that causes White to change his mind and give the next title shot to Jacare.
Machida understands what is at stake.
"I don't worry about the future, and right now, my only thought is on Mousasi," he said. "If I win, experience tells me that things will work out."
- Sports & Recreation
- Martial Arts
- Lyoto Machida
- Gegard Mousasi
- Dana White