Light heavyweight contenders Lyoto Machida and Phil Davis know what's at stake Saturday night in their UFC 163 co-main event, and each man is confident he will leave the cage with an impressive victory.
Under normal circumstances, a win Saturday at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, would seal the deal for a title shot. But in the back of their minds, Machida and Davis know there is another fighter -- someone not even in the top 10 of the 205-pound rankings -- hatching a plan to push them aside.
And neither Machida nor Davis likes it one bit.
Highly ranked heavyweight contender Daniel Cormier told ESPN.com on July 22 he intends to make his light heavyweight debut early next year and wants it to be in a title bout -- whether or not current champion Jon Jones is still wearing the belt.
Cormier knows he will ruffle the feathers of more than a few light heavyweight contenders if his plan comes to fruition, but he couldn't care less. If he defeats hard-hitting Roy Nelson in October at UFC 166, which is expected, it is goodbye heavyweight and hello 205 with the likelihood of an immediate title fight.
"What I will be asking to do at the beginning of next year is something that is going to make a lot of people mad," Cormier said. "I'm going to ask to cut the line at 205."
Despite being the likely choice to get the winner of the third fight between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos, Cormier has already made up his mind to turn that offer down. He will never fight Velasquez, who is a close friend and training partner. And Cormier has no doubt that Velasquez will be UFC heavyweight champion for a very long time.
It's heartwarming that Cormier (12-0) is willing to abandon a shot at the heavyweight title and attempt to cut lots of weight rather than fight a very special friend. But Machida and Davis aren't feeling the love. In fact, neither will stand quietly and let Cormier push them aside.
"I believe there's a ranking and it should be followed. There are a lot of guys in line right now in this weight class [waiting] to fight for a title," Machida said. "I've been waiting in line, there's Glover Teixeira, there's Phil Davis; so there are a lot of guys in there, in the mix.
"If [Cormier] is going to move down to 205, he needs to put a couple of fights in or at least get a significant win in a big fight. I don't think it is right for him to just come in and cut the line. He's going to have to show he deserves that title shot."
Machida's point is well-taken. After securing the No. 1 ranking in February with a split decision over Dan Henderson, the former light heavyweight champion began eyeing a rematch with Jones. But Machida's hopes were dashed when Jones, upon recovering from a foot injury, opted instead to fight Alexander Gustafsson on Sept. 21 at UFC 165 in Toronto.
Being bypassed in favor of Gustafsson makes Machida a little antsy. He believes, however, that an impressive win over Davis, who is ranked seventh among light heavyweights by ESPN.com, will strengthen his case for another shot at Jones, who submitted Machida in the second round at UFC 140.
Davis is equally determined to make his case Saturday night for a title shot. He has lost just once as a professional, when former 205-pound titleholder Rashad Evans earned a unanimous decision against him in January 2012.
A highly skilled wrestler, Davis has significantly improved his stand-up skills. He is 2-0 with one no-contest since the loss to Evans.
A signature win over Machida could catapult Davis to the top of the 205-pound rankings. And he is not in the mood to simply let Cormier cut in front of him. Davis intends to upset Machida on Saturday in eye-opening fashion, thus ending all talk of Cormier getting an immediate light heavyweight title shot.
"What it really comes down to is being able to sell the fight and being able to perform [well]," Davis said. "After this fight, I think fans are going to be begging for me to fight for the title. It's as simple as that."