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UFC Live tops weekend's action

Are you ready for a big weekend of mixed martial arts? What, you weren't aware? Hey, just because a Countdown to UFC Whatever hype-it-up preview show hasn't been replayed over and over on Spike, Versus and all 32 flavors of ESPN throughout the week doesn't mean the cage is empty. There's Strikeforce on Friday, the Bellator Fighting Championships on Saturday and the UFC on Sunday. Clear out the TV room.

Of course, Friday's fights are under the Strikeforce Challengers banner, a kind of minor-league show for up-and-comers. Sunday's are a UFC Live event that falls between the more star-studded ones that are adorned by numbers in the title. And Bellator is, well, Bellator.

But if you're more than a casual MMA fan, one who embraces quality most of all but enjoys the bounty that quantity can bring, this is a good weekend to sit in front of the tube with a big bucket of Xyience's new energy popcorn. There's something worth watching each night.

The weekend's main attraction, naturally, is UFC Live: Marquardt vs. Story (Versus, Sunday at 9 p.m. ET, prelims streaming on the UFC's Facebook fan page at 6). That's not simply a rote acknowledgement of the overall supremacy of Dana White's fight promotion. This second-tier card in Pittsburgh actually is bursting with intriguing fights and fighters, starting with a main event in which former middleweight contender Nate Marquardt drops to welter and faces fast-rising Rick Story.

Back in 2007, Marquardt was the first to challenge Anderson Silva for the middleweight belt. He was overwhelmed and lost by TKO. Marquardt then scored three straight TKOs and appeared poised for a second shot at "The Spider," but in a No. 1 contenders showdown he ran into the takedown machine known as Chael Sonnen and dropped a unanimous decision. From there, it's been up and down: a win over Rousimar Palhares, a loss to Yushin Okami and a win over Dan Miller. Even after that latest "up" performance, Marquardt decided to go down -- to a weight class he believes is natural for him.

It had better be, because Marquardt's 170-pound welcoming committee is a fighter on an impressive roll, a roll that doesn't take rest stops or even slow down. Story last fought less than a month ago, in fact, outmanning former top contender Thiago Alves. It was his sixth straight win in the Octagon, a streak that also includes victories over two-time NCAA Division I wrestling champion Johny Hendricks and Brazilian jiu-jitsu virtuoso Dustin Hazelett. Story is an unrelenting attacker who seems comfortable wherever a bout goes. He's a handful for anyone, even a guy nicknamed "Nate the Great."

The UFC card also has a couple of don't-blink heavyweight bouts, most notably Pat Barry vs. Cheick Kongo. Both are predominately kickboxers, which is to say if you see someone end up on the mat, he probably didn't go there willingly. Even the seven prelims are filled with notable fighters: Manny Gamburyan, who was last seen challenging Jose Aldo for his featherweight belt; Charles Oliveira, a 14-0 rising star at lightweight before he ran into the buzzsaw known as Jim Miller last December; Michael Johnson, runner-up on Season 12 of The Ultimate Fighter; Season 2 TUF winner Joe Stevenson, who is dropping to featherweight; and Joe Lauzon, who's won a Fight of the Night or Submission of the Night bonus in each of his last four bouts, five of his last six and six of his last eight.

In other words, if you log on to Facebook on Sunday evening, you could very well be updating your profile status to "Holy crap!"

Now here is the part of the story where, if this were a TV infomercial, a slick, smarmy guy would intone, "But there's more!" Indeed, we've barely mentioned the weekend's other offerings, from Strikeforce and Bellator. (Both come with a free set of Ginsu knives.)

At first glance, Friday's Strikeforce Challengers: Fodor vs. Terry (Showtime, 11 p.m. ET) might seem to be the highlight of the weekend, at least in the eyes of a casual fan. I mean, the Kent, Wash., card has a guy named Fodor in the main event and also features a fellow by the name of Couture. But that's lightweight Caros Fodor, with an "o," not the Russian heavyweight (with an "e") who competes in Strikeforce's big show. And the Couture is Ryan, who will be quick to tell you that he is not his dad -- and, if he's in a mirthful mood, he might add that he's the only active fighter named Couture now that Randy has retired. Ryan (2-0) also is the only unbeaten Couture, but he won't be the only unbeaten lightweight in his bout with Matt Ricehouse, who is 4-0.

The next night, the Bellator 46 (MTV2, 11 ET) launches the promotion's first featherweight tournament with four quarterfinal bouts in Hollywood, Fla., including the U.S. debut of Marlon Sandro. The Brazilian has built a 17-2 record while fighting in Sengoku, Pancrase and Shooto, Japanese promotions that might as well be held on Mars for the notice they get from all but the most devoted American fans. Still, before losing his last bout, Sandro was high in many media outlets' featherweight rankings, most of which are filled with UFC talent. He solidified his standing with a pair of 2010 knockouts, one fight taking just nine seconds and the other lasting an eternity of 38. Sandro faces countryman Genair da Silva, who is, um, well, someone I know nothing about except that his nickname is "Junior PQD" -- which isn't much, since I don't know what "PQD" stands for. Sorry.

I do know another name on Saturday's card, though. Pat Curran was the winner of last year's Bellator lightweight tournament, which earned him a shot at champion Eddie Alvarez. Curran lost that April title bout by unanimous decision, but now is hoping to make Luis Palomino the first steppingstone on his way to a shot at featherweight belt-holder Joe Warren.

Then again, everyone will be trying to make someone else a steppingstone this weekend.

Questions? Comments? To reach Jeff Wagenheim or contribute to the SI.com MMA mailbag, click on the e-mail link at the top of the page.

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