As 2012 quickly comes to a close, huge news and announcements have not slowed down in recent weeks for the mixed martial arts world.
Despite this year having been marred by injuries and cancellations for some of the sports top promotions, I can't help but feel optimistic that 2013 will be a much bigger and better year for MMA—and for a ton of good reasons. With the UFC poised to add a women's division led by champ Ronda Rousey, bad boy Nick Diaz and behemoth Alistair Overeem set to make their respective Octagon returns and Bellator making the move to Spike TV, there will be a lot of news to look out for in the year to come.
More importantly, however, MMA fans should pay attention to how these issues will impact the sport on a larger level.
Here are five stories to keep an eye on going into 2013.
Injuries, suspensions and a myriad of other issues made 2012 a tough year for many of the sport's top fighters.
Luckily, next year will mark the return of some of MMA's elite as fan-favorites such as Alistair Overeem and Nick Diaz are due to come back from their lengthy suspensions. UFC featherweight champ Jose Aldo will also be returning to action in the early part of next year when he's fully recovered from his injuries and takes on Frankie Edgar at UFC 156.
It will be interesting to see how these fighters respond to the long layoff and how they will affect the title picture in each of their divisions.
The only fights that can make more noise than the return bouts featuring "the Reem" or Nick Diaz would be superfights between the UFC's top champs.
Rumors have swelled in recent months about the possibility of welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre facing middleweight king Anderson Silva as well as the possibility of "the Spider" taking on light-heavyweight champ Jon Jones. While no date has been set for any of these fantasy bouts, I expect the talks to only intensify going into next year.
Who knows if any of these fights will actually happen, but don't expect the rumors to stop any time soon.
While we can't guarantee a superfight in 2013, there are two things that you will definitely see next year: the death of Strikeforce and the start of the first women's division in the UFC's history.
UFC President Dana White has already confirmed that Ronda Rousey will take her Strikeforce crown with her as she becomes the first women's UFC champ, pretty much leaving Zuffa's soon to be dead promotion with one, final injury-ridden event.
It will be interesting to see how the UFC handles having female fighters on the card as well as how they deal with integrating Strikeforce's roster when the promotion folds next year.
I believe that the women's division will help take the UFC to a new level, as long as the promotion puts its faith in it and promotes it properly.
As the UFC continues to grow and explore newer territories, MMA's budding promotions are also starting to build some mainstream steam.
Bellator will finally be coming to Spike TV in 2013 and will look to battle with the world's top MMA promotion on the mainstream stage. With plans of adding its own reality show, Bellator plans to take on the UFC in all aspects of the marketing game.
Earlier this year, the World Series of Fighting debuted on NBC Sports with a pretty successful show, so another popular former broadcast partner may be added to the list of cable competitors to the UFC.
With organizations like Invicta FC, ONE FC and more continuing to grown in their respective markets as well, 2013 may be the the year of extreme growth for some of the sport's budding promotions.
Above all, one story that fan's definitely need to keep an eye on is the continued overseas expansion of the UFC.
While American fans may think that MMA's zenith would be reached by becoming the top sport in the United States, the real power comes from it's popularity on a global scale. The UFC realizes this and has an intricate plan in place to growing overseas.
The promotion has already implemented country specific versions of The Ultimate Fighter with plans to add even more editions next year. With more international events and even smaller, regional shows planned for countries around the world in 2013, the UFC plans to dominate the global MMA market.
If MMA is to really achieve mainstream acceptance, the UFC's work in overseas markets will play a huge role in that.