HOUSTON -- Several fighters on the UFC 166 main card Saturday night have a lot to lose. But none has more at stake than Daniel Cormier.
Sure, a strong case can be made for main-event participants Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos -- there is the matter of the heavyweight title being up for grabs. But even the loser is expected to remain high on the contender list.
Cormier, on the other hand, has no room for error. He not only needs to beat Roy Nelson in the co-main event, but must do so in impressive fashion. Anything less and Cormier, who plans to begin competing at light heavyweight after the bout, will be forced to make major changes to his master plan.
Despite being ranked No. 3 among heavyweights by ESPN.com, Cormier is opting to leave the division because he wants to become a UFC champion. And he vows never to fight Velasquez -- a close friend and training partner.
So Cormier is heading to 205 pounds to realize his title dream. But at 34, time isn’t on his side.
An upset loss to Nelson will greatly diminish his chances of landing a title shot anytime soon. Even a lackluster performance Saturday night could do harm to his title bid.
"This is the most important fight of my career," Cormier told ESPN.com. "I know the Josh Barnett fight was important because I needed to win that [Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix] tournament. But in terms of importance, in terms of keeping my momentum, keeping things rolling in the right direction, this is the one.
"I’ve got to find a way to get through Roy Nelson in impressive fashion, so that I can take the momentum that I’ve built over the past four years and take it with me down to the lower weight division.
"If I don’t do what I’m supposed to do Saturday night, everything was for nothing. It’s back to the drawing board and revamping my plan."
MAYWEATHER’S RETURN GIVES NELSON BOOST
Nelson looks fit and trim heading into his heavyweight showdown with Cormier. But in this case, the looks are definitely deceiving.
The weight loss isn’t the result of physical changes Nelson made, but the stress he felt during camp because of concerns over the health of his trainer, Jeff Mayweather.
"I was more concerned about Jeff Mayweather and the people in my camp," Nelson said. "This has been the crappiest camp that I have ever had. It is what it is.
"When I get depressed I don’t eat. I lost Jeff about two weeks into camp; he was in the hospital. I just tried to make do with what I’ve got."
Mayweather has fully recovered from the rapid heartbeat he experienced after consuming an energy drink. And Nelson couldn’t be happier. He has regained his appetite, which could mean the return of his usual round figure.
"About two days ago [Monday] was the first time that Jeff was back, so I’m eating again," Nelson said. "Maybe I will be 280 pounds and cut weight to make 265."
MELENDEZ TO BEGIN BID FOR TITLE SHOT
While a setback will drop him a few notches in the 155-pound rankings, Melendez doesn’t seem to be feeling a sense of urgency heading into the fight. Even if Sanchez is able to pull off an upset, Melendez believes he will remain in the title picture. It's one of the benefits of competing in the talent-rich lightweight division.
"There is no pecking order in this division right now," Melendez said. "The No. 10 guy can be the champ any day of the week; the No. 1 guy can lose any day of the week."
Melendez, however, makes it clear that he has no intention of falling victim to Sanchez. He not only expects to have his hand raised afterward, but plans to use this bout as a springboard to start his title-shot campaign.
"It definitely comes down to my performance and what the fans want to see," Melendez said. "If I do well I will definitely be campaigning for that shot."
DODSON NO LONGER GIVING SECOND CHANCES
How could they not be? Dodson spent a lot of time during the early rounds of that fight admiring his work. Rather than put the finishing touches on his potential masterpiece, Dodson opted to watch the champion recover.
That proved to be a huge mistake. Johnson would rebound, eventually take control of the fight and retain his title. What took place during that fight remains firm in Dodson’s mind.
He was in position several times to lift the belt from Johnson, but failed to capitalize. Dodson blames no one but himself and says he has learned his lesson. Never again will the man in the cage with him -- starting with Saturday night’s opponent, Darrell Montague -- be let off the hook.
"I have to make sure that I go out there and not watch my handiwork," Dodson told ESPN.com. "I watched me hit him, I watched him fall and then I watched my chance to win the title slip through my fingers. I can no longer allow that to happen."