A fight between Urijah Faber and Renan Barao may not have been the first choice for the main event of UFC 149, but the two fighters are determined to make their battle in Calgary a memorable affair.
Faber and Barao will close Saturday night's card, and the winner will leave the Scotiabank Saddledome with the interim UFC bantamweight title.
"The reason people are going to be tuning in is to find out if he's better than I am," said Faber (26-5), a native of Sacramento, Calif. "I don't think that he is and he thinks that he's better than I am. We're going to beat the crap out of each other and find out. I plan on winning."
Also on the main card, middleweights Hector Lombard and Tim Boetsch will go toe-to-toe, while heavyweights Cheick Kongo and Shawn Jordan will square off.
Brian Ebersole takes on James Head while Chris Clements of London, Ont., will battle Matthew Riddle in welterweight fights.
"Not only are these fights good fights, but they mean something," said UFC president Dana White. "The two guys fighting in the main event are fighting for the title to see who fights Dominick Cruz for the undisputed champion."
Earlier this month at UFC 148, Faber was supposed to fight Cruz, who had to bow out due to a knee injury. The winner of Saturday's fight between Faber and Barao will get a shot to take on Cruz once he recovers.
Barao (30-1-0), of Rio de Janeiro, has gone 29 fights without a loss and he's confident he can extend that impressive streak against Faber.
"I feel fine, I feel comfortable and I'll be ready for Saturday," Barao said through an interpreter. "I've been working very hard for such a long time. I'm very happy and grateful for this opportunity and I'll make the most of it."
This is the first-ever UFC event in Calgary, and White has vowed to arrange another fight card at the Saddledome for as early as next year.
"I've been waiting to come to Calgary for a long time," White said. "Canada has been a mecca for mixed martial arts for a long time. I love coming up here. I love Canada. It's a great, great country."
When it was announced in May, the UFC 149 main event featured Jose Aldo taking on Erik Koch for the featherweight title, with Mauricio Rua battling Thiago Silva in another featured bout. After Aldo and Silva went down with leg and back injuries respectively, the busted card had to be re-jigged.
"This is the business we're in," said White, while adding that there was never any discussion of cancelling the injury-plagued event. "This is what we do. We put on fights. The day we can't put on more fights, we might as well pack up the tents and call it a day."
Michael Bisping, Thiago Alves, Yoshihiro Akiyama and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira also dropped out with injuries, resulting in even more changes to the card.
"It's a testament to these guys and to the sport," White said. "When things fall apart and we have to make some moves and everything else, these guys have no problem. Whereas boxing would have to cancel an event, our guys are dynamite. Not only do they adapt and move their camps and do everything that they need to do, but they deliver every time they get in there and they'll deliver on Saturday night."
Saturday's preliminary card will feature Canadians fighting in all four bouts. Bantamweight Mitch Gagnon of Sudbury, Ont., will kick things off with a fight against Bryan Caraway before Edmonton's Ryan Jimmo will battle Australian Anthony Perosh in a light-heavyweight bout.
After Roland Delorme of Winnipeg takes on Francisco Rivera in a bantamweight bout, Calgary's Nick Ring will trade blows with Court McGee in a middleweight matchup.
"As a Calgarian, fighting in Calgary at the UFC, it's an incredible feeling," Ring said. "This is the Olympics of my sport. The level doesn't get any higher than this."
The pay-per-view events on the main card will then get under way with Clements up first in a welterweight bout against Riddle.
"I'm blessed for the opportunity," Clements said. "I'm just pumped and excited to go out there and prove that I deserved it."