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To a certain way of thinking, a win is a win and a loss is
a loss. But while it is true that every fight matters, some
feel as if they matter more, for any number of reasons. In
some cases, the elevated stakes are easy to quantify. Picture the
fighter on a losing streak who knows he or she is likely fighting
for their job; or conversely, any matchup on Dana White’s Contender Series, where two
hopefuls know that the brass ring is within their reach if they can
win impressively. In other cases, the sense of heightened drama
comes from factors that are harder to quantify, but no less real.
Whether it’s the symbolic heft of being the first title challenger
from one’s country, or the simple added spice of two fighters who
really hate each other’s guts, that fight means just a little
more.

This Saturday, UFC Fight Night 187 features several fights
that carry that kind of tension for one or both participants. Here
are the fighters from “UFC Vegas 21” who are under just a little
extra pressure to stand and deliver.

You Can Still Do This, Manel
Kape

Over the years, the Ultimate Fighting Championship has signed many
champions or former champions from other promotions who entered the
UFC with championship-level expectations, only to lose their
Octagon debut. Some of those ex-champs dusted themselves off and
ended up doing just fine: Mauricio
Rua
, Anthony
Pettis
, Eddie
Alvarez
and Luke
Rockhold
, just to name a few who went on to win UFC gold as
well.

In contrast, here’s the list of champions and ex-champions from
other promotions who lost their first two UFC bouts, then
went on to experience success with the promotion: [NO
RESULTS FOUND]

I’m inclined to give former Rizin Fighting Federation flyweight champion
Kape a do-over on his debut at UFC Fight Night 184 last month,
during which he appeared fairly flat in a unanimous decision loss
to Alexandre
Pantoja
. There were numerous factors working against the
27-year-old Angolan. First-time Octagon jitters are a real thing.
So is ring rust. Kape had not fought in over a year leading up to
his debut, and speaking of rings, that was Kape’s first fight in a
cage since his pre-Rizin days. Also, Pantoja happens to be a Top 5
fighter, the toughest opponent Kape has faced outside of Kyoji
Horiguchi
.

Kape certainly wants to get rid of the taste of his UFC debut, and
stepping in for Tagir
Ulanbekov
on just six weeks’ turnaround sounds like a perfect
palate cleanser. However, he has another tall task ahead of him in
the form of Ulanbekov’s originally scheduled opponent, the
returning Matheus
Nicolau Pereira
. The 28-year-old Pereira (15-2-1), already the
owner of a 3-1 UFC record, has not fought since August of 2019, but
looked at that time like a future contender. If Kape can turn
things around against Pereira, that will be an impressive win and a
measure of redemption. If not, the weight of historical precedent
is very much against him, in terms of making an impact in the
UFC.

We All Must’ve Forgot, Leon
Edwards

“Rocky” has been the most egregiously ignored title contender in
the UFC for so long that it’s a little shocking that he’s still
only 29 years old. Detractors will point out that Edwards’s fights
are not always riveting viewing, which is another parallel between
him and the only other man to string together eight consecutive
wins in the UFC welterweight division without a title fight,
Jon
Fitch
. Like Fitch, Edwards’ streak features some quietly
impressive wins. Albert
Tumenov
has won five straight in Absolute Championship Akhmat since his loss to
Edwards, and is absolutely better than at least half the
welterweights in the UFC right now. The supposedly washed-up
Donald
Cerrone
won his next three fights after being dominated by
Edwards, and Rafael dos
Anjos
also appears to have more tread left on the tires than
his lopsided loss to the Brit made it appear.

All of this is simply to say that Edwards is not smoke and mirrors;
every time out, he handles business like the Top 5 fighter he is.
Yet even now, on the cusp of breaking Fitch’s record, we have to
ask, “If Edwards beats Belal
Muhammad
on Saturday, now will he get a title shot?”
Part of the problem is his long layoff; it will have been 21 months
since the dos Anjos win. By way of illustration, Muhammad has gone
3-0 since Edwards’ last fight, elevating himself from fringe
contender to just plain contender in the process. The UFC often
seems bent on forgetting Edwards and sweeping him under the rug,
and his nearly two-year layoff allowed the promotion to do just
that. The UFC already tried matching him with red-hot prospect
Khamzat
Chimaev
, a man whose UFC welterweight résumé consists of two
dazzling wins over horribly overmatched opponents. Only COVID-19
prevented the organization from making one of its most laughably
unbalanced matchups in years, in terms of risk and reward for the
fighters involved.

Now Edwards has the chance to remind his bosses — and the fans,
whether they love or hate him — just how good he is, how hard he
has worked and how much he has accomplished. If he wins on
Saturday, ending Muhammad’s four-fight win streak while extending
his own streak to nine, expect public outcry for his long-delayed
title shot to be granted. (Among those already calling for it are
the last man to beat Edwards, welterweight champ Kamaru
Usman
.) On the other hand, the welterweight division is the
most unforgiving in the sport, a true shark tank, and a loss to
Muhammad would give the UFC the only excuse it needs to do exactly
what it wants to do with Edwards: nothing.

In December 2018, just over two years ago, Frey was on top of the
world, or pretty damned close. She had just defended her Invicta FC atomweight title successfully
against Minna
Grusander
, and was one of the four or five best women in the
world at 105 pounds.

What a difference a few years make. Since then, Frey has gone 1-3,
and in the lone win during that stretch, she missed weight, causing
her Invicta title to be vacated despite beating Ashley
Cummins
for a second time. More worryingly, Frey has now lost
two straight since joining the UFC as a strawweight. In that time,
she has given a boost to two women more than a decade her junior in
Kay
Hansen
and Konklak
Suphisara
. This weekend, the 35-year-old Texan will take on yet
another young up-and-comer in debuting Dana White’s Contender Series alumna Gloria de
Paula
. “Glorinha” is promising, but less heralded than Hansen
or “Loma Lookboonmee.” Is this matchup a chance for Frey to bounce
back, or is it one last setup for a younger fighter to use the
veteran as a stepping stone? The answer to that lies with Frey, but
she must be aware that she is probably fighting for her job on
Saturday.


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