2011 was a crazy year in the UFC. In fact, perhaps one of the biggest years int he promotion’s history. We saw the integration of the WEC fighters, including the start of the bantamweight and featherweight divisions. We saw the Zuffa acquisition of Strikeforce. We saw several notable Strikeforce fights such as Nick Diaz, Alistair Overeem, Cung Le, and Dan Henderson transition in the UFC. We saw the UFC ink a deal with Fox and their first show on network television. UFC was not the only promotion making news as we learned that Bellator was purchased by Viacom and will move to Spike in 2013. It is hard to imagine how 2012 could ever top 2011 as far as news is concerned. However, we can be certain that every new year brings some type of big news in the sport of MMA. 2012 will be no different. The UFC plans on hosting 34 live events on PPV, Fox, FX and FUEL TV. Also, they plan to change the format of the Ultimate Fighter to showcase live fights on Friday nights. In addition, Strikeforce will host 8 live events on Showtime. At the very least, MMA fans will be kept busy between Strikeforce and UFC. Also, Bellator will return at the start of 2012 for their sixth season of tournaments.
While predicting the future in a unpredictable sport is a nearly impossible task, we will attempt to predict what will take place in the MMA world in 2012.
- We will see the Ultimate Fighter go international. This is not new news to anyone. UFC already plans to host an edition of the Ultimate Fighter Brazil. Casting has already begun and the Brazilian version of the reality show will air in March 2012. However, I believe that we could also see the show spread to other countries. Dana White has said that they will have Ultimate Fighter shows in Canada, Australia, U.K. and even the Philippines. He has been saying that for a while and nothing has materialized yet. However, I believe 2012 will see the addition of at least one more international Ultimate Fighter.
- Several notable UFC fighters will retire from the sport. We may see the end of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Tito Ortiz, Forrest Griffin, and a few other notable fighters. Also, we may be nearing the end of Anderson Silva’s career.
- UFC belts will exchange hands. As we enter a new year the UFC belts seem somewhat secure. However, every year belts exchange hands. It is not bold to predict that a champion will fall, but which one(s) will it be? My prediction is that the most likely belt to be lost is Frankie Edgar’s lightweight belt. I think it is very possible that Ben Henderson tops Edgar.
- UFC will sign several new fighters. If history repeats itself they will sign several high level prospects, but they will also sign a few top level established fighters. I predict that UFC signs Shinya Aoki, Eddie Alvarez and Hector Lombard in 2012.
- Despite claims from Zuffa brass that Strikeforce fighters will stay put, I would expect a few Strikeforce guys to make the move over to the UFC. This may be via some sort of roster trade or it may be due to their Strikeforce contract being fulfilled. For example, King Mo Lawal has one fight left on his Strikeforce contract. It is very likely that UFC would sign him after his January fight. Gilbert Melendez has three fights left on his Strikeforce contract, which he could fulfill by the end of 2012.
- Bellator’s ratings will improve. 2012 is a transition year for Bellator as they prepare to move to SPIKE in 2013. They will be moving their events from Saturday to Friday nights. The one problem is that they will be competing with the Ultimate Fighter on a weekly basis. I don’t believe their ratings will sky rocket, but I do believe they will trend upwards.
- Strikeforce ratings will be disappointing. I do not know what will change in Zuffa’s marketing plan of Strikeforce, but since the Zuffa take over the Strikeforce ratings have been bad. In reality, the quality of the fight cars has improved, but it has not translated into ratings. Strikeforce has re-signed with Showtime for two additional years, so we will see if they market the Strikeforce brand more vigorously. My guess is that ratings won’t be very good at all,. Part of the reason why I feel ratings will be poor is because fans as a whole don’t want Strikeforce aroud any more. Most fans thought folding Strikeforce into UFC was the best bet.
- Both Nick and Nate Diaz will fight for UFC belts in 2012. It is evident that Nick Diaz will fight for the interim UFC welterweight title on Super Bowl weekend, but I also believe that Nate Diaz is in contention. By virtue of contenders losing, Nate has a chance to earn a title shot by eating Donald Cerrone on December 30th. It would be interesting to see a set of brothers get title shots within the same year.
- I think we will see some of the talent from Russia and eastern Europe move stateside. Many of the best talents are locked down in promotions like M-1. I look for some of those guys to break free from M-1 and move to U.S. based promotions. I expect guys like Alexander Sarnavskiy and Andrey Koreshkov to go to either UFC of Bellator. There is tons of talent in that region hat has not been used.
- They flyweight division will take off in the UFC and will be full of excitement.
- Zuffa will go to war against Bellator. Previous,Zuffa had insisted that it wouldn’t go after Bellator the way they did EliteXC and some other promotions. However, the war is already on. Bellator is owned by Zuffa’s former partner, Viacom. Viacom has billions of dollars to throw at Bellator. Interestingly, it is Viacom that is hitting first. They seem to be counter programming everything the UFC does on SPIKE. You can rest assured that UFC will see this as preemptive strike. Look for them to go to war in 2012.
- I also predict that Zuffa will disband a second division in Strikeforce. Zuffa made the decision to disband the Strikeforce heavyweight division in 2012 at the conclusion of their Heavyweight Grand Prix. UFC will absorb their heavyweight talent. If you remember, division by division the UFC absorbed the WEC. They decided to slowly eat up WEC rather than to do so in one swoop. I believe this is how Strikeforce will end. I have no clue what division will be next. My guess is it will be either the lightweight division or the light heavyweight division.
- Let me throw out a few names of fighters in the UFC that I think will emerge into legit contenders by year end: Edinaldo Oliveira, Alexander Gustaffasson, Chris Weidman, Rory MacDonald, Edson Barboza, Ross Pearson, and Michael McDonald
- UFC Champions Predictions: Junior Dos Santos (Heavyweight), Jon Jones (Light Heavyweight, Anderson Silva (Middleweight), Jake Ellenberger (Interim Welterweight), Georges St. Pierre (Welterweight), Ben Henderson (Lightweight), Jose Aldo (Featherweight), Dominick Cruz (Bantamweight), Joseph Benavidez (Flyweight)
- Strikeforce Champions Predictions: Gegard Mousasi (Light Heavyweight), Tim Kennedy (Middleweight), Jordan Mein (Welterweight), Gilbert Melendez (Lightweight), Cris Cyborg (Women’s 145), Rhonda Rousey (Women’s 135).