January 21, 2011

He's not a main event fighter, never has been, at least not in the big show. He's not even part of Saturday night's co-main event -- you know, the other fight the UFC has chosen to trumpet on its poster for Fight for the Troops 2. That distinction goes to the big boys, Matt Mitrione and Tim Hague, probably because heavyweight bouts always make us sit up straighter in our seats.

But Mark Hominick, a featherweight, is the fighter with the most to gain among all those who'll step into the octagon set up in a helicopter hangar at Fort Hood in central Texas. His glorious future is all laid out for him. His possible future of glory, that is, the only impediment being one tiny yet humongous word: if. UFC president Dana White is on record as saying that Hominick will get a shot against champion Jose Aldo if he beats George Roop on Saturday night in front of a crowd of some 6,000 military men and women, plus millions more following the fights at home on Spike (9 p.m. ET) and, in a sign that even the ancient art of fighting can evolve with the times, Facebook (8 p.m. at the UFC fan page).

Need another example of how neatly things have been laid out for Hominick? He doesn't even have to watch videotape of his opponent to prepare, because he's sparred with Roop probably hundreds of times. Both Hominick and Roop train under striking coach Shawn Tompkins, who for this bout will be in Hominick's corner, since he and Mark have worked together longer. Advantage: Hominick.

Of course, plenty of fighters have been promised a title shot, then gotten the Curly Howard treatment ("I'm a victim of soicumstances!"). A couple of recent examples: Junior dos Santos and Anthony Pettis. One minute dos Santos was training to challenge Cain Velasquez for the heavyweight belt, and the next minute Cain was on an operating table and Junior was prepping for six weeks of reality TV taping followed by a fight with his co-star, Brock Lesnar. As for Pettis, winning the WEC lightweight belt in spectacular fashion earned him the promise that he'd get the winner of the Jan. 1 Frankie Edgar-Gray Maynard bout for the UFC title -- except there was no winner ... and next thing he knew, "Showtime" was matched with Clay Guida -- no day at the beach -- while waiting for Edgar and Maynard to go at it one more time. The risings and fallings along the MMA food chain are no exact science.

Hominick actually was rumored to be slated for a fight with Aldo on the UFC's New Year's night card, but when the Brazilian's first title defense was officially announced, it was Josh Grispi who was named as his opponent. That made sense, though, since Grispi had choked out Hominick in the first round when they met back in 2008. But then Aldo was hurt in training and had to pull out, and Grispi was upset by New Year's fill-in Dustin Poirier. Hominick suddenly was back on the top of the pile.

And White's title fight promise is no vague declaration. The UFC officially announced this week that Aldo, who held the WEC title before that smaller-man organization was beamed onto the mothership, will defend his new belt April 30 at UFC 129 in Toronto. As an Ontario native who still trains there, Hominick would be a neat fit for the organization's debut in the province, an event headlined by a Québécois, Georges St-Pierre, who'll defend his welterweight title against Jake Shields. All Hominick has to do is win. A nice position to be in, eh?

Dana White actually likes Roop's position even more. "He knows what's on the line for Hominick," White said this week, "and he wants to be the Jets. You know what I mean? Roop wants to go in there and ruin it for Hominick." Ah, spoken like a true New England native, stewing in his own bitter juices. "I mean, I had no [expletive] idea the Jets were going to beat the Patriots, did you?" Let it go, Dana. Just let it go.

Really, it's Hominick who has more in common with the Jets now. And with the Steelers, Packers and Bears as well. Like all of those NFL playoff survivors, he is one win away from a shot at the championship.

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