The UFC is shipping back up to Boston with a stacked card at the TD Garden on Jan. 18.
Headlining the event is Irish top contender Conor McGregor, who’s looking to secure a title shot against featherweight champion Jose Aldo with a win over Dennis Siver this weekend.
While this much anticipated bout will surely be the talk of the town, there are plenty of other story lines that local MMA fans should look out for during Sunday’s fights.
Here are five things UFC fans should watch for when the world’s largest MMA promotion returns to Boston this weekend.
1. McGregor Will Secure Title Shot with Win
All eyes will be on the Irish featherweight as he looks to secure a title shot with a win over Siver.
This is a huge fight for McGregor, who’s had his eye on the title since joining the UFC in 2013. A victory will extend his win streak to four straight and finally set up a date with Aldo.
McGregor is on the cusp of becoming a superstar and pretty much every street in Boston has the man’s face plastered on it promoting the event.
There’s likely going to be a huge contigent of Irish and Boston fans at the Garden this weekend, which is exactly what McGregor wants to see.
“It is Irish America this place is to me,’’ McGregor recently told Boston.com. “It’s going to be a crazy atmosphere, the Irish and the Irish Americans all in one screaming. It’s going to be a great night.’’
Should he put Siver away, plan on an in-cage staredown between “Notorious’’ and Aldo, who will be in Boston watching on fight night.
Win or lose, it’s going to be an entertaining main event that no fight fan should miss.
2. Henderson vs. Cerrone III May Be Early Fight of the Year Candidate
For all intents and purposes it’s going to be the McGregor show on Sunday night, but hardcore fight fans will tell you that the most exciting bout on the card is the co-main event class between Donald “Cowboy’’ Cerrone and former lightweight champion Benson Henderson.
This is the third time that these guys will have faced each other, having previously thrown down twice under the now defunct WEC banner (the promotion merged with the UFC in 2010). Their first battle in 2009 for the interim lightweight strap was an instant classic, with Henderson ultimately taking the close unanimous decision victory.
You can check out the epic bout—which was named Fight of the Year by Sports Illustrated—in the video below.
While their second matchup was much shorter, it was just as exciting and ended with a wicked first round submission for Henderson.
This time around, Cerrone will have a ton of momentum behind him despite taking the bout on short notice. Currently riding a six-fight win streak, “Cowboy’s’’ been on a tear lately and will look to avenge his losses to the former champ.
Both men have promised to put on a show and it wouldn’t be a surprise if this bout ended up being an early Fight of the Year candidate.
3. Boston’s ‘Doomsday’ Howard Aims for Victory on Home Turf
UFC welterweight — and the man who broke Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s nose — John “Doomsday’’ Howard will be looking to halt a two-fight losing streak when he takes on Lorenz Larkin on the night’s preliminary card.
The last time he fought in Boston, he was a late replacement for a middleweight bout against “The Ultimate Fighter’’ finalist Uriah Hall. The fight was also Howard’s first in the UFC since being cut in 2011, and resulted in an emotional victory for the Dorchester native in front of the hometown crowd.
Larkin, who is riding a three-fight losing streak, is in a similar position as Howard, with the loser likely to be cut. Despite the circumstances, “Doomsday’’ told Boston.com that he doesn’t feel any additional pressure going into Sunday’s event and hopes to have his hand raised again on home turf.
The fight should be a fun one for the fans, though, as both men are skilled strikers. Expect a stand-up war between these two veterans.
4. Will There Be A Last Second Backlash?
The last time the UFC was in the Hub, city councilor at-large Stephen J. Murphy attempted to have a resolution passed that would ban children under the age of 18 from attending cage fighting events.
The resolution failed to come to fruition, but it left a bad taste in UFC president Dana White’s mouth. The big boss vowed that he would bring events to other areas in New England instead of Boston should resistance to the promotion continue.
“This guy’s a complete hypocrite and a total jackass. This Murphy guy is a jackass,’’ White told MMAJunkie.com in an interview prior to the Boston card in 2013. “So what he’s going to do is do this thing, and then we leave and don’t come back to Boston. So now we hold our event down in Connecticut. Right? Now we hold our event down in Connecticut, and Boston just lost us.’’
White backed up his promise by holding events in Bangor, Maine and the Foxwoods casino in Connecticut last year, but luckily for fight fans, the former Bostonian is bringing the promotion back to town this weekend.
There hasn’t been a peep from detractors yet, and hopefully it will stay that way going into fight night.
5. Rising Local Stars Look to Shine
Last but not least, there are a number of rising local stars that will duke it out inside the Octagon on Sunday night.
Team Sityodtong’s Tateki Matsuda, who fights out of Somerville, will kick off the night when he faces Joby Sanchez on the evening’s early prelimary fights on Fight Pass, the UFC’s online streaming service.
Matsuda made his UFC debut in September as a late replacement on the Foxwoods card, and put on a great performance despite ending up on the wrong side of a unanimous decision. Now that he’ll have a full fight camp going into this match-up, it should be a great showcase for the local fighter in front of his hometown fans.
He’ll also be dropping down to flyweight after previously fighting at bantamweight, so expect a leaner and meaner “Tech’’ when he enters the cage this weekend.
Another local fighter poised to make a splash in Boston is Charles “Boston Strong’’ Rosa, who’s looking for his first UFC win as well.
A Peabody native, Rosa now fights out of Coconut Creek, Florida for the famed American Top Team. At 9-1, his only defeat came to Dennis Siver in a close decision loss during his UFC debut back in October.
While it was a tall order taking on a veteran like Siver (who co-headlines the card in Boston), Rosa should be more evenly matched this time around as he takes on Rhode Island’s Sean Soriano.
Both fighters, who hail from New England, are tough, exciting featherweights that will definitely put on a show Sunday night.