MMA Bold Predictions: What Will the 2nd Half of 2014 Bring for UFC, Bellator?
The first half of 2014 has been an uneasy time in mixed martial arts.
Over in Bellator? Things were typically atypical. America’s runner-up MMA promotion soared to new heights with its first pay-per-view event and then almost immediately fired its longtime powerbrokers.
What will the second half of the year bring? Glad you asked.
Here, Bleacher Report MMA lead writers Chad Dundas and Jonathan Snowden take their best, boldest guesses.
Prediction: The Second Half Will Be Bonkers
Jonathan: While much has been said about oversaturation and a lot of it is devastatingly on point, there is something undeniably positive about the UFC's expanded schedule. There will be more great fights in the second half of this year alone than in almost any other year in MMA history.
Yes, the sheer number of shows means the UFC swings and misses more than ever before, too. Spillage is impossible to avoid when you drop gallons of testosterone-flavored greatness on the world. But the insane schedule means more opportunities for fighters to excel as well. For every Brendan Schaub vs. Andrei Arlovski, you get a John Lineker vs. Alptekin Ozkilic.
That's a trade I'll make any day of the week.
And, while the glut of shows may make the sport increasingly hard for the average fan to follow, that's not really my problem. Fans who don't want to devote their lives to lightly regulated fisticuffs will have to pick and choose which shows are worth their time. It's our job in the media to help them choose wisely. If you missed the show this week on Fox Sports 1, for example, you chose...poorly.
I was born a hardcore, and I'll die a hardcore. I'm watching regardless, even if my Twitter account makes it seem like the worst of Dante's nine circles. It's a golden age for fight nerds. I'm just happy to be living in it. You should be too.
Chad: I love the enthusiasm, and part of what Jon is saying makes a whole lot of sense. One need look no further than July’s stellar headlining fights to be struck dumb by the unbridled fury the UFC is capable of unleashing when it feels like it.
Chris Weidman vs. Lyoto Machida? Awesomeness. Donald Cerrone vs. Jim Miller? That was hot fire. Robbie Lawler vs. Matt Brown? Probably gonna rip the tops of our heads clean off.
Then again, you also don’t have to peep much further into the future than the UFC’s tepid August lineup to realize there will also continue to be some terrible doldrums.
Ryan Bader vs. Ovince Saint Preux? Huh. Benson Henderson vs. Rafael dos Anjos? Cool, but probably not main event-worthy. Michael Bisping vs. Cung Le? Wait, say what now? T.J. Dillashaw vs. Renan Barao II? Now they’re just messing with us.
So, will the second half of 2014 be bonkers? Some of it, maybe. The other parts will just keep feeling confusing and subpar—like they probably belong on a Friday night AXS television broadcast.
Prediction: Bellator Begins Poaching UFC Talent
Chad: Bjorn Rebney is out, and Scott Coker is in over at Bellator, which means America's second largest MMA promotion got a lot less gaunt and a lot more interesting last month. What he lacks in personal zip, the Cokeface Killah will make up for in actually knowing how to run an MMA organization.
Provided he gets the proper financial backing from the Viacom overlords (and his mere hiring indicates the media giant may be rededicating itself to the sport), don't be surprised to see Bellator start creeping on a come-up during the second half of 2014. It might not be able to immediately wrangle away a UFC champion, but fighters on the Luke Rockhold, Phil Davis, Jim Miller level? Those guys may suddenly be in play in a way they haven't been for years.
By the end of the year, I'm betting you see one, maybe two fighters currently thought of as solid, mid-level UFC mainstays cross the aisle in search of bigger paydays and more opportunity over in Bellator.
Game on, fellas, game on.
Jonathan: Poaching will just be the start. By the end of the year Bellator and UFC will be engaged in cold war like no other in MMA history.
It will begin on September 5, when the two companies will compete for television viewers and local fans in Connecticut, holding shows just miles apart in the Northeast. It will end in proverbial bloodshed, with counter programming and every dirty trick you can imagine.
For boxing or pro wrestling fans, this will be nothing new. We've seen WCW and WWE do battle for ratings and talent and smacked our heads against the wall every time Top Rank and Golden Boy refused to work together in a way that makes boxing better. Even in the formative days of MMA, the UFC and Extreme Fighting went head to head for fighters and media favor. At the turn of the century, it was Pride's turn to do battle with the lads in Las Vegas.
Neither side, at the time, had firepower that could approach what Bellator and UFC can conceivably bring to the battleground. The UFC has the vast Fertitta fortune backing it, and Viacom's pockets, as you may have heard, are deep. That means this conflict may very well be a war of attrition.
The best news? The beneficiaries will be the fans (courtesy of increasingly dynamic fight cards) and the fighters (thanks to their suddenly increased market value). Sounds like a win/win to me.
Prediction: TUF 20 Will Be a Star Maker
Jonathan: Right now, for better or worse, to most UFC fans women's MMA begins and ends with Ronda Rousey. ESPY-approved and undeniably remarkable, Rousey isn't just the most popular woman in MMA—she's quickly becoming the face of the whole sport.
But that, soon enough, will change in a major way. While The Ultimate Fighter isn't event television for MMA fans the way it once was, the 20th season of the beloved (and despised) reality show will be the first in years to make a major impact. A new weight class—women's strawweights—will be introduced, and for the first time ever, the competitors will truly be world class, the best of the best.
For fans, there will be an adjustment period. After all, it's been hard for many to accept 125-pound men as legitimate badasses. Women who weigh less than many elementary school students may end up being a bridge too far for some of the most macho.
That will be their loss.
Those who stick around will see buzz saws like Tecia Torres and wrestling standouts like Carla Esparza. The skill level and nonstop action will be undeniable.
Tournaments, familiar and easy to follow, are a great way to introduce new talent and crown a champion. It's the fail-safe method of choice for almost every major sport. The historical track record in MMA is undeniable. With this approach the strawweights will enter the UFC in a full sprint. By the end of the year they will have left established divisions like flyweight and bantamweight in the dust.
Chad: Yep, I’m in.
UFC fans—at least the handful who are currently shelling out the bucks to watch Fight Pass prelims—got a small taste of the 115-pounders on Wednesday when Claudia Gadelha and her insane abdominals defeated Tina Lahdemaki in the first strawweight fight in UFC history.
TUF 20 is going to be out-of-control amazing, and anybody who either doesn’t realize it or forgets to set their DVRs will forever live with the shame
You want to know the weirdest part? I think given enough time to grow the division (and to allow Rousey to shuffle off to her second career as an International Movie Star) the 115-pounders could end up being more popular than their 135-pound counterparts.
Prediction: No More UFC Title Changes in 2014
Chad: It has not been a great time to be a UFC champion. Slippery. Uncertain. Dangerous. Dating back to July 2013, four of the company’s nine titles have found new homes. These days, young bucks like T.J. Dillashaw, Johny Hendricks and Chris Weidman are running the show, having forced fairly unexpected but tectonic shifts at the top of their respective weight classes.
You know what? Enough. No more.
From now until the end of the year, there will be no more UFC title changes. Neither Chad Mendes nor Fabricio Werdum—or The Young Dinosaur or anyone else—will prove up to the task of wresting the straps away from the current crop of titlists. That’s bad news for Brazil—which can claim just one, oft-injured UFC champion these days—but good news for all the people who are still trying to figure out who all these whippersnappers are and what they want.
Jonathan: MMA breeds chaos, in part because the potential combinations for reprehensible violence are endless. Sickos that we are, that's why we love it. If boxing is a meat-and-potatoes sport, MMA is gumbo—punches, kicks, elbows, knees, throws, twists and chokes of all kind, tossed together in a particularly spicy stew.
It's this delightful anarchy, however, that makes MMA so darned unpredictable. While our old friend Jack Slack may occasionally wow with his prognostications, even landing one squarely on the nose now and again, even the best would admit they have no idea exactly what's going to happen on a given night.
It's this predictable pandemonium that makes me wary of Chad's claim. Anything can happen—and that includes a champion coming up short. My money, short as it is, is on Johny Hendricks. You?