Ronald Reagan said "while I take inspiration from the past, like most Americans, I live for the future."
For most fans of mixed martial arts, while they too muse the past, really, hope lies beyond the horizon.
2012 promises some epic fights, which include the long-anticipated Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen rematch along with a grudge match between Jon Jones and Rashad Evans. Junior dos Santos vs. Alistair Overeem also promises to be a doozy.
But what about beyond the horizon, behind the sun? Will there be any fights of cataclysmic proportion? Let's look way to far into the future to see if 2013 will be a stud or dud when it comes to marquee fights.
Starting at the top and working our way down the divisions:
It has been confirmed that Junior dos Santos will defend his heavyweight belt against Alistair Overeem at UFC 146, Memorial Day weekend. Both are coming off resounding shellackings of their respective opponents—Cain Velasquez and Brock Lesnar—and the winner will certainly be regarded as bona fide champ.
So who would the winner face?
It appears Velasquez vs. Frank Mir is signed, although no date has been rumored. Given how porous the heavyweight division is, it's all but a given the winner would be the No. 1 contender. And, barring any unforeseen circumstances, a title fight between the dos Santos-Overeem winner and the Velasquez-Mir would happen before the end of 2012.
So what title fights lay beyond the horizon of 2012?
Perhaps Fabrico Werdum makes a run? It's possible that undefeated Strikeforce fighter Daniel Cormier gets by Josh Barnett, if those two ever face off in the Grand Prix finale, and enters the Octagon a force to be reckoned with. Beyond that, the heavyweight division doesn't have much to offer, so it may come down to Jones Jones moving up in weight to see how he can hang with the heaviest hitters.
Speaking of Jon Jones, does anyone pose a threat to him at 205? He made former champs Shogun Rua, Rampage Jackson and Lyoto Machida look like chump change next to his hundred-dollar bill.
Up next is another former champ, Rashad Evans. Assuming Jones licks "Suga," he will get a face one last former champ in the form of Dan Henderson. That fight would most likely take place before the end of 2012, laying waist to the division in the process.
With Phil Davis having to get back in line, there is little waiting in the wings for Jones, save maybe Alexander Gustafsson if he gets by Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
Like the heavyweight division, the dearth of competition in the lighter version is is receding in a hurry. Given that, it is highly unlikely the UFC would allow Jones to move up in weight.
2012 will give us the much-anticipated rematch between Silva and Sonnen. If Sonnen wins, it certainly shakes up the division and perhaps Sonnen vs. somebody other than Silva can sell. If Silva defends his belt, up next would be...
And there in lies the problem—there are no legitimate contenders left at 185 unless Michael Bisping can pick up a win while waiting and they stick him in.
Another option is to put the Vitor Belfort vs. Wanderlei Silva winner into a title fight, which very well may be what is in store for the winning coach of TUF Brazil. That fight would certainly sell well down in Brazil and be enough to headline. But that fight would happen in 2012, leaving 2013 wide open.
Georges St-Pierre is coming back to a division he hardly recognizes, and with Nick Diaz stuffed out of the title picture for the foreseeable future and possibly not coming back, there are no big-money fights for GSP.
Carlos Condit, Jake Ellenburger and Johny Hendricks are all waiting in the wings, with the latter two being likely 2013 opponents. A title fight with Carlos Condit should happen by end of '12. Hopefully, whoever is waiting for GSP in 2013 will have build up enough cache to help carry a big fight.
Lightweight and Lighter
Beyond welterweight, nothing south of it has never really labeled as marquee other than fights that had BJ Penn starting in them. That is no knock against Frankie Edgar, who is not only one of the best and most exciting fighters in the UFC, but also someone who could be very marketable based on in personality.
Featherweight champ Jose Aldo is essentially a no-name outside of hardcore fans, and while Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber is all but guaranteed to produce fireworks at UFC 148, it is just not something that is going to get people talking, again, beyond the hardcore fanbase. And that is about as big as it gets for a lighter weight fight.
The fight game will always struggle to build up and maintain enough big-name fighters to feed us a steady stream of high-level fights. It's an ebb-and-flow business.
Growing up, I always waited for the music industry to simply run out of good songs, figuring at some point there would be no more good lyrics, beats, etc. (and maybe that has in large part come to pass). But the hits kept coming and so it shall be with MMA.
The UFC must continue to refine how they go about promoting their fighters in order to make them household names...it's encouraging to see them ahead of the curve with social media.
Individual sports do not have the same built-in advantages as team sports. Alumni will always root for their alma mater and cities usually rally behind their professional teams. Individuals come and go within team sports, but the teams, for the most part, remain the same and provide built in stability.
In MMA—like boxing, tennis and golf—individuals matter much more and often carry the sport. Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather, Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal and Tiger Wood vs. the field can single handily prop up their respective sports or push them to a new level, and when they fade into the sunset, leave things are always colder in their absence.
With the UFC on FOX, the future has never looked sunnier for the sport of mixed martial arts. But stars have carried this sport in large part. From Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz to Brock Lesnar taking the sport to a new atmosphere, transcendent names simply matter.
Dana White once said “If you take four street corners, and on one they are playing baseball, on another they are playing basketball and on the other, street hockey, on the fourth corner, a fight breaks out..where does the crowd go? They all go to the fight.”
While that is certainly true, you have to give the lion's share of the credit for the crowd going to the fight to visceral nature it "breaking out." In MMA, fights do not "break out;" rather, matches are made far in advance. It much easier to capture the attention of a crowd when a brawl happens impromptu. It is like being a spectator of a car wreck...which, in fact, do happen in NASCAR and other car-related sports.
So what marque fights will happen in 2013? Your Nostradamus "edumacated" guesses are as good as anyone's. Plan on some big fights finding their way onto the docket, but don't be shocked if there is less than meets the eye.
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