The Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to the FX network Saturday with a live broadcast from Sydney, Australia, headlined by an international welterweight showdown between Thiago Alves and Martin Kampmann.
The event also marks the organization’s first step toward crowning a 125-pound flyweight champion as a four-man tournament kicks off with Demetrious Johnson taking on Ian McCall, while Joseph Benavidez meets Yasuhiro Urushitani.
Here’s a closer look:
Thiago Alves (19-8) vs. Martin Kampmann (18-5)
In the main event, the Brazilian muay thai specialist Alves takes on the dangerous Dane Kampmann in a key welterweight matchup.
After a tremendous 2008 campaign that saw him earn victories over Karo Parisyan, Matt Hughes and Josh Koscheck, the 28-year-old Alves fell short against welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre, losing all five rounds due to his inability to stuff relentless takedowns.
Alves rebounded with a unanimous decision win over John Howard before dropping a decision to emerging contender Rick Story at UFC 130 last May. Most recently, Alves submitted UFC newcomer Papy Abedi at UFC 138 in November.
A product of American Top Team, Alves is known for his vicious kicks and knockout power, but his submission game is also solid as he holds a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Ricardo Liborio.
Alves has struggled when superior wrestlers press the action, but he remains one of the most seasoned strikers in the promotion.
The 29-year-old Kampmann rebounded from controversial back-to-back decision losses against Jake Shields and Diego Sanchez with a hard-fought win over Story this past November.
Formerly a middleweight competitor, Kampmann has performed well at 170 pounds, even outpointing current interim UFC champion Carlos Condit in April 2009.
Anchored at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, the Danish kickboxer is armed with a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt under Robert Drysdale.
Kampmann often elects to stand and trade with his opponents, but he may need to utilize his superior wrestling against Alves. Kampmann couldn’t withstand Paul Daley’s firepower when they clashed in 2009 and Alves is an equally dangerous striker.
On paper, both fighters possess similar traits. However, Kampmann’s ability to control the clinch and secure pivotal takedowns will be the difference-maker.
After an evenly contested bout in which both fighters trade heavy blows, Kampmann’s takedowns will be critical as he ekes out a tight decision, moving one step closer to a shot at the welterweight title.
Verdict: Kampmann via decision
Joseph Benavidez (15-2) vs. Yasuhiro Urushitani (19-4-6)
In a flyweight tourney bout, the former two-time WEC bantamweight title challenger Benavidez greets the debuting Shooto kingpin Urushitani.
Benavidez, 27, has not fought since last August, when he earned a decision over former WEC champion Eddie Wineland. The nimble southpaw has lost only two fights in his career, dropping decisions against UFC bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz.
In winning efforts against the likes of Wagnney Fabiano, Miguel Torres, Rani Yahya and Jeff Curran, Benavidez has exhibited a tremendously well-rounded arsenal.
Benavidez has the ability to stick in move, implementing an effective striking attack while also threatening with takedowns and tight chokes. Fabiano and Torres are esteemed Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts, but they had no answer for Benavidez’s suffocating guillotine choke.
Based at Team Alpha Male in California, Benavidez trains alongside Urijah Faber and Chad Mendes. He can finally realize his dream of becoming a UFC champion as the organization introduces a division that suits his 5-foot-4 frame.
Urushitani, 35, makes his UFC debut riding a five-fight winning streak, including victories over Ryuichi Miki and Yuki Shoujou.
The judo specialist is a technical striker with a wealth of experience. In November 2004, Urushitani earned a decision over John Dodson, who recently won "The Ultimate Fighter" reality show.
The Japanese sensation likely will have his hands full against Benavidez, who is a significantly better fighter than his recent opponents overseas.
Benavidez will press the action and overpower his adversary before sinking in his patented guillotine choke, moving one step closer to UFC gold.
Verdict: Benavidez via submission, Round 2
Demetrious Johnson (14-2) vs. Ian McCall (11-2)
The second flyweight semifinal pits recent UFC title challenger Johnson in his 125-pound debut against Tachi Palace Fights torchbearer McCall.
Johnson, 25, is coming off a unanimous decision loss to Dominick Cruz this past October. The student of Matt Hume has some of the quickest takedowns in the fight world, which were integral elements in his wins over Miguel Torres, Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto, Damacio Page and Nick Pace.
Johnson has little-to-no visible weaknesses as he has struggled primarily due to his lack of size at bantamweight. The 5-foot-3 "Mighty Mouse" can finally realize his potential by fighting men his size in the newly formed flyweight class.
McCall, 27, submitted Darrell Montague last August to win the Tachi Palace Fights flyweight title. The organization was known for its elite 125-pound division, and McCall set himself apart from the pack with his wins over Montague, Dustin Ortiz and previously top-ranked flyweight Jussier da Silva.
The WEC veteran dropped fights to Cruz and Charlie Valencia during his short-lived stint with the now-defunct promotion and he’s come into his own at 125 pounds.
The Team Oyama-trained McCall could be a dark horse in the flyweight tournament field, but Johnson’s elite level of competition over the years will be highly beneficial as he mixes up his offensive assault and cruises to a convincing unanimous decision.
Verdict: Johnson via decision
Court McGee (14-1) vs. Costa Philippou (9-2)
Rounding out the televised card is a middleweight pairing between "The Ultimate Fighter" winner McGee and Serra-Longo Fight Team member Philippou.
McGee, 27, a former heroin addict, is coming off wins over Dongi Yang, Ryan Jensen and Kris McCray in the UFC. His lone professional setback was a December 2007 decision loss to mixed martial arts pioneer Jeremy Horn.
A dangerous striker who threatens anywhere the fight goes, the Victory MMA member McGee is fighting his toughest opponent in recent memory.
Philippou, 32, a native of Cyprus, knocked out Jared Hamman in devastating fashion at UFC 140 this past December. The New Yorker was coming off his biggest career win as he defeated Jorge Rivera at UFC 133 last August.
Much like his opponent, Philippou’s greatest threat is his heavy-handed striking. However, being surrounded by stellar grapplers at Matt Serra’s academy has surely guided Philippou’s career down the right path.
Both fighters are adept at the submission game, but they likely will engage in a fan friendly firefight. It will be an evenly contested affair unless one fighter lands the decisive blow. Coming off a career highlight win, Philippou will be gunning for his first "Knockout of the Night" bonus Saturday night. However, McGee’s granite chin should sustain ample punishment as judges have the final say after three competitive rounds.