Without doubt, 2011 was memorable for fans of mixed martial arts. The sport’s premier organization, UFC, continued its quest for worldwide dominance, enthralling fans across the globe with captivating fights, almost on a weekly basis.
A sport already on the rise, MMA and the UFC, especially, enjoyed a meteoric rise in terms of attracting new spectators. The popularity of the Zuffa owned company is set to continue growing in ascendancy due to increased exposure, courtesy of the long term Fox deal, which was signed in 2011.
The turn of a new year normally heightens the senses of fights fans, who begin dreaming of super fights and clamor for organizations to alleviate the debate that exists when it comes to who the superior fighter is in the Octagon?
So, what will 2012 bring and who will captivate and enthrall the masses?
These are five fights that this writer cannot wait to see in 2012.
Rashad Evans v Jon Jones
I remember being at UFC Expo in London, England, which preceded the organization’s 120 event at the O2 Arena. At the time, ‘Suga’ Rashad Evans and Jon ‘Bones’ Jones were devoted prodigies of Greg Jackson at Jackson’s MMA camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
It was a time of harmony for the Jackson camp as both fighters spoke of each other with no malevolence in their voice towards the other. Instead, both fighters painted the perfect picture of a united camp and refuted any scenario that somehow put them at opposite sides of the cage against one another.
That was then and this is now and how times have changed. Jones’ sudden-yet somewhat expected ascension to the light heavyweight throne left former champion Evans alienated from the Jackson camp.
Once Jackson’s champion student, Evans felt betrayed as Jones showed no remorse for stepping into the void left by Evans to easily wrestle the UFC title away from Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua.
A war of words began which lead to an estranged Evans departing the Jackson camp in search of a new home.
All the while, Jones further flourished under the tutelage of Jackson. The feud has reached boiling point multiple times, over twitter and in the cage with Jones claiming that Evans ruined his “special night” on two separate occasions, by entering the cage after Jones was victorious.
Of course, Evans has to go through Phil Davis first in order to set this match up once and for all as it has been delayed and postponed a number of times now.
But with real animosity and a tendency from both fighters to talk openly and freely about the weaknesses of the other, this one has real marketing power for the UFC and is one that fight fans should want to see.
Chael Sonnen v Anderson Silva – The Rematch
Hated, adored, but never ignored. That sums up the self proclaimed “undefeated and undisputed UFC middleweight champion” Chael Sonnen, who is one win away from getting his hands on his arch-rival and greatest nemesis Anderson ‘The Spider’ Silva once again.
Everyone knows the story of the first Silva-Sonnen bout as Portland, Oregon’s own was one minute and 50 seconds away from securing the UFC middleweight title and thus ending the greatest win streak in UFC history.
That all ended when Silva trapped Sonnen in a triangle armbar, but the defeat has not silenced the outspoken Sonnen, who instead has intensified his verbal efforts on Silva over the past 12 months, no more so than after his last fight in the Octagon when Sonnen defeated Brian Stann in emphatic fashion.
When asked to comment on the fight by Joe Rogan in the moments after, Sonnen instead chose to go for the jugular of the champion as he fixated his glance on Silva.
With one over the top, yet legendary promo, he all but set up a rematch with the champion when he issued his WWE style “loser leaves the UFC” challenge, amidst wild jubilant roars from the crowd after he told the champion that he “absolutely sucked.”
It was a highlight reel moment for the UFC, one that didn’t involve a strike or submission, but instead, it was one of the greatest verbal knock outs in history and put Sonnen in line once again to try and dethrone the champion.
With Sonnen’s verbiage on Silva clearly in overdrive, the pre-fight build up would be immense, as well as the action inside the cage itself.
There’s one man though who could derail the hype for this match and his name is Mark Munoz, who Sonnen faces at the end of January for UFC on Fox 2. However, if Sonnen gets past Munoz, then his greatest challenge will await him; Anderson Silva in his homeland of Brazil in a soccer stadium, which would easily smash the UFC’s 55,000 capacity record from UFC 129 at the Rogers Centre in Canada.
Junior dos Santos v Alistair Overeem
Fight fans love nothing more than a mouth-watering heavyweight contest and right now, this is the fight worth salivating over in the monstrous heavyweight division.
It pits the undefeated, undisputed, UFC heavyweight champion of the world, Junior dos Santos, against the Strikeforce heavyweight champion, Alistair Overeem.
The division’s finest boxer versus the grade’s most accomplished striker is a fight that will certainly need no thrash talk in order to deliver a substantial PPV number.
Dos Santos, with his easy going, laid back demeanor is never going to come out and drop some verbal bombs on his opponent. It’s not his style and it’s not the way he is structured. However, close the cage door behind him and the smile disappears as a predator awakens in him. So far, he has closed in and picked apart every bit of prey that was thrown before him.
Overeem though is a different animal and certainly does not think of himself as the next piece of meat for dos Santos to feed on. A carnivore in his own right, he recently disposed of Brock Lesnar, sending him into retirement, but despite this, ‘The Reem’ still has his detractors who question his credentials.
If anyone is going to test him, then it’s the new UFC heavyweight champion who will be looking to defend his title for the first time in the summer against the Dutch super striker.
Both are more than capable of delivering a knock out from evidence on previous occasions inside the cage, making this clash of the behemoths an unmissable event in 2012. With the size, strength and power involved, this could be another blink and you will miss out event in the heavyweight division.
Carlos Condit v Nick Diaz v Georges St-Pierre
This writer has not lost all his marbles and is calling for a WWE style triple threat match between the three (no matter how interesting that would be).
Rather, I cannot decide which fight is more appealing as every pairing from this permutation is something that I would literally give a limb to see.
Condit v Diaz v GSP is something that has played with the emotions of fight fans for months now. It has also affecting thepsyche of all the fighters involved. First, it was GSP v Diaz, then GSP v Condit, then GSP v Diaz again, only for it to suddenly become the equivalent of a mash-up, with Condit v Diaz now booked for February.
For the first time in a long time, I’m torn as to what fight I want to see the most. Actually, I would love to see all three combinations somehow come to fruition, all inside the 2012 calendar.
When Nick Diaz brazenly bashed GSP with words following his win over BJ Penn, it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back as the normally temperate and reserved French Canadian exploded with rage, vowing to put a severe beating on Stockton’s finest.
A knee injury scuppered the plans of Pierre and offered Condit a reprieve, albeit against a different opponent, but still, Condit v Diaz is an incredible fight for fans.
The fight was already a powder keg waiting to explode, when suddenly the stakes were raised to a near nuclear level when it was announced that the winner would be crowned the new interim welterweight champion of the world.
After years of watching GSP go the distance with fighters, the title picture of the welterweight division is about to enter a new era when Condit or Diaz emerges with the gold in February.
For the winner, the domineering GSP awaits in what will surely be another explosive 170lb battle. However, this writer is still undecided as he wants to see all of the three possible combinations pan out in 2012. Is a triple threat match really out of the question?
Frankie Edgar v Jose Aldo
Yes, two giants such as Overeem and dos Santos certainly gets the blood up as it’s a prerequisite of fight fans to love two heavyweights bash it out with one another.
However, on the opposite side of the spectrum, there is something artful about two smaller fighters battle it out inside the cage.
The anticipation of a knock out in a heavyweight fight creates much of the allure around the contest, much like a lightweight or a featherweight fight has fight fans gearing up for a potential 25 minute war.
Two fiery, unpredictable fighters such as Aldo and Edgar clashing certainly conjures up the image of a five round war, a battle for the ages and one which would leave a permanent imprint on a viewer’s mind.
Before I state my case for this match-up, let me first say that I certainly champion Frankie Edgar’s case to stay at 155lbs.
He’s the undisputed lightweight champion and deservingly so. He’s beaten BJ Penn twice and finally ended the trilogy with Gray Maynard by knocking out ‘The Bully’, one of many highlights from 2011.
He’s got heart, determination, resilience and a sackful more of characteristics, all of which combined, make him a terrific fighter, who proudly sits aloft the division as champion.
In years gone by, light heavyweight was the stacked division in the UFC, but ever since the WEC merger, the landscape at 155lbs is filled with several dangerous fighters, many of whom are in contention for a crack at Edgar’s gold. He’s a marked man and next in line is Benson Henderson, a fight scheduled to headline UFC’s return to Japan.
Whether he wins or loses, Edgar’s future belongs in the lightweight division, but there is certainly a case for him to test himself against Aldo at some point in his career and also a possible champion versus champion dream match.
Aldo has not shown his WEC form yet inside the Octagon, with a below par performance against Mark Hominick and Kenny Florian in 2011. There has been no highlight reel finishes and no stand out moments of awe from the Brazilian, but all that could change if he was paired with Edgar.
A super fight of epic proportions, this one would certainly satisfy UFC supporters as well as possibly deliver a long awaited champion versus champion match, if both men are still champions in their respective weight classes come fight night.
Again, I believe Edgar should stay at lightweight for the remainder of his career, but if he can dispose of Henderson and perhaps one more top contender in 2011, then a drop down for one fight to featherweight for a super fight with Aldo certainly should be on offer for ‘The Answer’.
Fight fans would have to fasten their seat belts for this one, not blink an eye and try to enjoy the ride in what would surely be a fight of the year contender.