Have you had your fill of the Ultimate Fighting Championship yet? Well, the company isn't about to let their fans take a break. The UFC presents their fourth card in the past four weeks with UFC 76: Knockout, live from the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. This show looks to be one of those sleeper shows, where you look at the card and aren't impressed at first glance, but then look deeper and see the potential for an intriguing show.
Here are eight items worth following come Saturday night:
1. What's up, Chuck? "The Iceman" Chuck Liddell (20-4) is coming off the highest-profile loss in North American MMA history. UFC 71 drew more attention than any event the company has offered. Hundreds of thousands of newcomers watched Liddell get taken out in rapid fashion by Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. Those fans didn't know much about how Chuck held the light heavyweight title for more than two years, and finished seven consecutive opponents before the loss. Can Liddell get back on the path to a title shot, or is his day in the sun done? Liddell takes step one on the road back when he faces "The Dean of Mean" Keith Jardine in the main event.
2. Can Jardine hang? Jardine (12-3-1) is well aware of the talk. People are wondering whether the big banger from Montana by way of Albuquerque deserves a spot in the main event. Jardine caught everyone's attention back at UFC 66 with his thrashing of Forrest Griffin, but was on the wrong end of just as strong a tail-kicking when he faced Houston Alexander at UFC 71. Jardine knows the only way to silence the critics is to go out and prove he belongs, in the biggest spotlight of his career.
3. Diego's redemption? Diego Sanchez (17-1) appeared well on his way to a welterweight title shot, until he put in a listless performance in a unanimous decision loss to Josh Koscheck at UFC 69 in April. Since then, Sanchez has moved on from Greg Jackson's camp in New Mexico and has aligned with Saulo Ribeiro's University of Jiu-Jitsu in San Diego. With the 170-lb. title picture more crowded by the day, can Sanchez take out Jon Fitch and re-stake his claim among the top contenders?
4. Can Fitch step up? Fitch (14-2), meanwhile, is finally getting the sort of opportunity Sanchez has long been given. The former captain of the Purdue wrestling team garnered a rep as the guy no one wants to fight at 170 pounds. Fitch is so sound on the ground that big names have been afraid to take him on and get trapped. But Fitch forced the issue by winning all six of his UFC matches (13 overall), most in convincing fashion. Now he finally gets his chance in a second-billed attraction.
5. Enter the Shogun Light heavyweight Mauricio "Shogun" Rua makes his UFC debut amid as much fanfare as any fighter who has debuted in the octagon in recent months. And it is for a good reason: The Brazilian Chute Boxe standout is ranked No. 2 in the Y! Sports September monthly poll. His record is 16-2 and he's finished 14 opponents. But so far, Pride graduates haven't quite torched their way through the UFC the way it was long imagined in hardcore fantasyland. Will Rua prosper like Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, or will he falter like Mirko Cro Cop?
6. Can Forrest Griffin hang with the big boys? Forrest Griffin has himself a nice little niche in the UFC. With his Ultimate Fighter 1 fame, off-kilter personality, and most importantly, his reputation for putting on one exciting fight after another, Griffin has become one of the UFC's most popular fighters. But despite his popularity and fan base, the Georgia native has yet to beat a top name. Can Griffin deliver against one of the biggest names in the sport?
7. How good is Tyson Griffin? Tyson Griffin (9-1) made his UFC debut a year ago Saturday at what was then known as the Pond in Anaheim, where he ran over David Lee. A year later, he returns to the building with a reputation for tremendous action. Griffin's decision loss to Frank Edgar at UFC 67 is on the short list of 2007's best fights. You can also say that about his controversial split-decision win over Clay Guida at UFC 72. His long-term future is secure due to his penchant for putting on a show for the fans, but will he be able to break through the pack in the lightweight division? He'll take his next step against undefeated Brazilian Thiago Tavares (13-0), who looked sharp in dispatching Naoyuki Kotani and Jason Black on successive Ultimate Fight Nights earlier this year.
8. How much is too much? The UFC has given their fans plenty to watch over the past four weeks. It started with Randy Couture's stirring win over Gabriel Gonzaga in the main event of UFC 74 on Aug. 25 in Las Vegas. Then came the much-discussed UFC 75 in England on Sept. 8 on Spike TV, which featured Jackson's unification of the light heavyweight title with his decision win over Dan Henderson. Wednesday night features Ultimate Fight Night 11, with a stronger card than a standard UFN show. So, after getting a Couture win, a title fight on basic cable, and another free show, will fans shell out $40 to see a card with no title fights? That, quite literally, is a million-dollar question.
More UFC 76: Kevin Iole says don't expect Chuck Liddell to change.