With three events already in the bag in 2014, the Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to its Pay Per View roots on Saturday, February 1, for UFC 169 (10 P.M. EST), where two championship belts will be on the line at Newark, New Jersey's Prudential Center.
Headlining one of the biggest fight cards of the year are bantamweights Urijah Faber (30-6, 6-2 UFC) and Renan Barao (31-1, 1 NC, 6-0 UFC), who will square off for the second time, after Barao took a unanimous decision in their first meeting to earn the promotion's interim title at UFC 149.
Currently riding four-fight win streak, Faber comes in on three weeks notice as a late replacement for former strapholder Dominick Cruz, who was forced to withdraw from the bout with a groin tear, relinquishing his belt to Barao in the process.
Faber has looked impressive of late, submitting three of his last four opponents, but Barao, a winner of 21 straight contests, is a dynamic mixed martial artist, who has looked unstoppable with his combination of crisp striking and world-class Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
An intriguing battle of two of the UFC's most talented and consistent athletes at 135 pounds, the UFC 169 main event has many wondering if Faber will finally hoist UFC gold for the first time in his storied career, despite losing his last five title fights. But in the end, Barao's pedigree will prove to be too much; Barao will again top Faber by decision.
Co-main event: Jose Aldo vs. Ricardo Lamas
Few fighters have looked as dominant and impressive as UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo (23-1, 5-0 UFC), a winner of 16 straight contests spanning eight years. A quick and crafty striker known for his vicious leg kicks, Aldo is unbeaten under the Zuffa banner heading into his UFC 169 showdown with Ricardo Lamas (13-2, 4-0 UFC).
In Lamas, Aldo will face another BJJ black belt, and a wrestler with violent ground-and-pound ability. And while Lamas will present a solid challenge for the 145-pound title, Aldo will out-class his American counterpart en route to a second or third round KO/TKO victory.
Having cleared out much of the featherweight division, Aldo will next be forced to contemplate a move up to lightweight.
Frank Mir vs. Alistair Overeem
Two years ago, after easily disposing of former champion Brock Lesnar, Alistair Overeem (36-13, 1 NC, 1-2 UFC) looked primed to make a run at the UFC heavyweight title. But a failed drug test and the nine-month suspension that kept him sidelined for 2012, combined with a pair of knockout losses in 2013, have Overeem fighting for his job at UFC 169.
Standing across from the Dutch kick boxer will be Frank Mir (16-8, 14-8 UFC), a former UFC heavyweight champ, and a loser of three straight contests.
Much has been made of this matchup, as the loser may be released by the UFC, but with one of the very best strikers (Overeem) and one of the greatest heavyweight grapplers (Mir) going head-to-head, expect a phenomenal fight with a fantastic finish.
Overeem takes this one via KO in the first round.
John Lineker vs. Ali Bagautinov
Before Lineker (23-6, 4-1 UFC) and Bagautinov (12-2, 2-0 UFC) even step foot inside the octagon, all eyes will be on the Brazilian to see if he can make the 125-pound limit, after failing to make weight in three of his last five contests.
Bagautinov, on the other hand, has had no trouble on the scale, and has looked impressive in his two UFC fights, most recently taking a unanimous decision over Tim Elliott at UFC 167.
With both fighters preferring the standup game, this contest looks to be a punching showcase with the occasional takedown and scramble.
After fifteen minutes, Bagautinov should score the decision victory and be primed as the next challenger for Demetrious Johnson's flyweight title.
Jamie Varner vs. Abel Trujillo
Returning to the octagon less than two months after his TKO victory over Roger Bowling, Abel Trujillo (11-5, 1 NC, 2-1, 1 NC UFC) is a rising lightweight with excellent wrestling and violent striking tendencies. Varner (21-8-1, 2 NC, 3-3 UFC), a former WEC champion, comes in following a split-decision loss to Gleison Tibau at UFC 164.
A contest of well-rounded 155-pounders, this matchup will move all around the octagon at a frenzied and frenetic pace, as both fighters will use their punches to set up takedowns and look for the submission victory.
In the end, Trujillo's athleticism will prove to be the deciding factor, as he scores the decision win.