ATLANTIC CITY - The Ultimate Fighting Championships is returning to its roots tonight.
The UFC card at Revel represents a homecoming of sorts for the organization. Although it's based in Las Vegas, it began to build its reputation as the top-rated mixed martial arts company in Atlantic City 12 years ago, just after brothers Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta bought the UFC and hired Dana White as the president.
The UFC held six shows in Atlantic City from 2000 to 2005 after the New Jersey Athletic Control Board established the unified rules that are now used in all official MMA events.
"I'm so excited to be back in Atlantic City because this is exactly where it all started for us," White said Thursday at Revel's Ovation Hall. "Atlantic City, especially Donald Trump, took a chance on us when no one else even wanted us."
The UFC hasn't staged a card in town in seven years, however. After UFC 53 was held at Boardwalk Hall in 2005, the organization expanded as the sport began to gain acceptance in other states and countries.
White indicated that it won't take another seven years before the next show in Atlantic City.
"Now that we've been pretty much everywhere else, it makes sense for us to come back," White said.
An ideal scenario would have the winner of tonight's main event between lightweight contenders Clay Guida and Gray Maynard eventually meeting former lightweight champ Frankie Edgar at Revel, Boardwalk Hall or maybe even Bader Field.
Edgar, a Toms River native, has a rematch with Ben Henderson in Denver on Aug. 11. He has made no secret of his desire to fight in Atlantic City, something he hasn't done since he joined the UFC four years ago.
"I hope I get to fight here soon," Edgar said Thursday during a question-and-answer session with fans at Revel. "I haven't fought here since 2007 (for another organization). I'm definitely overdue."
Edgar, who wrestled at Boardwalk Hall as a wrestler for Toms River East High School, will be joining a sellout crowd of more than 5,000 tonight at Ovation Hall to see a 13-fight card that is stacked with talent.
Guida (29-9) and Maynard (11-1-1) are both ranked among the top 10 155-pound fighters in the world. Tonight's winner would move into position for a fight against another top contender such as Nate Diaz. More success would bring a title shot.
Simply winning a five-round decision won't be enough to merit a promotion. White, who makes the decisions regarding who gets title shots, is impressed by dominant performances.
"The lightweight division is so stacked right now, I think it is safe to say I've got to knock Gray out to get a title shot," Guida said at Revel. "There are five or six guys right now at 155 pounds who are all one big punch or one big kick from being the No. 1 contender.
"Winning isn't enough for any of us. (UFC matchmaker) Joe Silva and Dana White have a very tough job and I want to make it easier for them by not only winning this fight, but also winning in a way so fans want me to get (a title shot)."
Their bout potentially becomes more interesting because it's scheduled for the championship distance of five rounds instead of three.
Maynard is considered the more well-rounded fighter, but Guida's relentless style and stamina could give him an edge if the bout goes the distance.
"Winning won't be enough for me," Maynard said. "It wouldn't hurt, but I can help myself a lot more if I take his head off."
Both fighters are competing in Atlantic City for the first time tonight. Maynard, a former standout wrestler at Michigan State University, now lives in Santa Cruz, Calif. He made his first-ever visit to the famed Boardwalk last month, when he stayed at Revel while making an appearance at Egg Harbor Township High School.
Guida was last in town in 2005 when he watched his brother, Jason, compete in an MMA fight.
"I remember he won by TKO," Guida said at Revel. "I'd love to continue the family tradition and get a knockout (tonight)."
Punchlines: Tonight's card, portions of which will be shown on Facebook, FUEL TV and FX, features a potential "Fight of the Year" candidate. Lightweights Sam Stout (18-7-1) and Spencer Fisher (25-8) will be fighting for the third time.
"Being that I'm 36 years old, I can't do this forever," Fisher said at Revel. "At my age, the chances of me fighting for a title are not good. But I'm not in this for titles. I want this to be a fight that people remember for a long time. I'm going to be swinging for the fences and letting it all hang out."
Doors to Revel's Ovation Hall open at 4 p.m. with the first undercard fight scheduled for 5 p.m. FX will start its broadcast at 9 p.m. and will be showing three fights.
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