Aspiring stars vie for UFC title shot

It is not often that a matchup of unbeaten contenders in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s premier weight class can slip under the radar.

But to the casual mixed martial arts fan, the matchup between light heavyweights Lyoto Machida and Thiago Silva tonight has registered as little more than a blip.

That’s because BJ Penn and Georges St. Pierre are meeting in a highly anticipated rematch for the welterweight title.

Machida views all of the attention on the main event as a positive.

"That’s a huge fight, and it will sell a lot of pay per views," he said through an interpreter. "It’s two champions fighting, and that doesn’t happen very often. It’s an honor to be on this card, and I think a lot of eyeballs will be on me because I’m fighting just before the main event."

Exactly what Machida and Silva are fighting for is up for debate. It would appear the winner will be in prime position to challenge for Rashad Evans’ light heavyweight title.

But former champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson also would have a good case to face Evans if he beats Keith Jardine in March.

Machida, 13-0 with five UFC victories, says he deserves a chance to fight Evans.

"I believe it’s a decision for the UFC if I get a title shot, but I believe I’m ready," he said. "I’ve been ready for a while."

Silva, 13-0 as a professional with four UFC wins, also has his eyes on fighting Evans.

"I think the title is the objective of any fighter that comes to the UFC," Silva said through an interpreter. "I’ll wait for (management to decide), and I’ll fight for the title."

Despite Machida’s success, he continues to absorb criticism for his lack of exciting finishes. Four of his UFC wins have come by decision.

"I sometimes get a little bummed, but it’s hard to please everyone at all times," he said. "I’m trying to improve, and hopefully each time I go in the octagon, I get better and better."

If Machida is craving a more exciting bout, he might have the perfect opponent in Silva, a fellow Brazilian. Silva has gone to a decision only once, and only one foe has gotten past the first round with him in his last nine bouts.

"I’m not going to run away from (Machida)," Silva said. "I’m going to come to fight."

So are Penn and St. Pierre, and so are the fans if Friday’s weigh-ins were any indication. A capacity crowd of about 6,000 turned out at the MGM Grand Garden, and hundreds of other fans were shut out.

The masses made quite a bit of noise for Clay Guida and expressed derision at Nate Diaz when the two lightweights took the scales. A welterweight matchup between former St. Pierre challenger Jon Fitch and Akihiro Gono that is not even scheduled to be televised appears to be another fan favorite.

Also, Stephan Bonnar returns from a knee injury to face Jon Jones, and Karo Parisyan will meet Dong Hyun Kim.

Contact reporter Adam Hill at ahill@ or 702-224-5509.

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