UFC: Things to Be Thankful for This Thanksgiving Season

Matt Molgaard@MattmolgaardCorrespondent IIINovember 16, 2012

UFC: Things to Be Thankful for This Thanksgiving Season

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    It’s been a roller coaster of a year. We’ve seen a few thrilling battles take place in 2012, a few letdowns and the outright "Attack of the Injury Bug."

    There are a handful of impressive cards lined up to usher 2012 out the door, and with the end of the year comes the hope that 2013 produces fewer injuries and failed drug tests, and far more fireworks inside the cage.

    Everyone has something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving season: these are just a few of the things that leave me tipping my hat in respectful acknowledgment.  

The Year’s Almost Over

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    2012 is finally winding down, and that means hope.

    Specifically, that means hope that in 2013, injuries won't be as prominent. That marquee champions aren’t sidelined for extended periods of time. That maybe, just maybe, the trendy fad of failed drug tests will subside.

    2012 has been a tough year for fans. Already deemed the “Year of the Injury," countless fighters have been forced out of highly anticipated bouts.

    Jose Aldo was bumped from a potentially amazing fight with Frankie Edgar, Mark Hunt was forced out of an intriguing bout with Stefan Struve that could have produced another contender, Dominick Cruz blew his knee out, halting his third clash with rival Urijah Faber, and recently, Shane Carwin pulled out of his scheduled meeting with TUF Season 16 coach Roy Nelson.

    Believe me, these are just a few of the victims of the injury bug. 2012 saw a certified injury outbreak, plain and simple.

    Looking beyond the injuries, Alistair Overeem’s suspect test results killed the hope of one of the biggest heavyweight fights in the sport’s history when plans of putting together a title fight pitting the dangerous Dutchman against current champion Junior dos Santos were pulled.

    The Ultimate Fighter produced another failed matchup, and the series’ lowest ratings, in history.

    Pay-Per-View numbers have sunk dramatically.

    It’s been a bad, bad year. Perhaps 2013 holds the key to happiness. And some measure of positive consistency.   

UFC 155

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    The UFC will wrap the year with a riveting card that will emanate from Las Vegas, Nevada. UFC 155 looks stacked, with a handful of fights bearing strong divisional relevancy and a hefty load of star power on tap.

    Junior dos Santos will look to create a carbon copy of his first fight with Cain Velasquez, Forrest Griffin returns to attempt to thwart the ascent of Phil Davis, Chris Weidman and Tim Boetsch will toe the line in a fight that will likely align a future title challenger and Joe Lauzon will bring his aggression to the cage once more when he meets last-minute replacement Jim Miller (yes, Gray Maynard caught the injury bug as well).

    And those are only a few  of the main card fights. Toss in appearances from Yushin Okami, Alan Belcher, Brad Pickett, Eddie Wineland, Chris Leben and Leonard Garcia and you’re eyeing one of the year’s best cards.

    That’s a fine way to bring 2012 to a close. Let’s just hope everyone remains healthy!

Divisional Clarification

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    A sizable load of key fights wait on the horizon. Ideally, the rest of the year should be important in regards to divisional champions.

    In addition to the upcoming meeting between Chris Weidman and Tim Boetsch, pay attention to the Belcher/Okami collision. Don’t get confused: Yushin Okami is far, far away from title contention.

    But Alan Belcher isn’t.

    If Belcher can pick up a win over Okami, it will make five consecutive victories for the Roufusport representative. With nods over perennially feared Rousimar Palhares, and former challenger Yushin Okami (if Belcher grabs a W), it’s hard to simply dismiss “The Talent’s” presence in the middleweight division.

    Chad Mendes will have a chance to put himself back in the hunt at 145 when he meets once-beaten Hacran Dias. UFC on FX 6 and UFC on FOX 5 will give us two bouts that could determine a future opponent for two separate champions when Mauricio “Shogun” Rua tests the mettle of surging prospect Alexander Gustafsson and B.J. Penn faces the increasingly brash Rory MacDonald.

    We haven’t even gotten to tomorrow’s card, which will play host to the two most significant fights in the welterweight division today: the title fight between Georges St. Pierre and Carlos Condit, and a number one contender fight between Martin Kampmann and Johny Hendricks.

    This season is producing some fine treasures.

The Signing of Hector Lombard

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    Hector Lombard will be back in action just three weeks after Turkey Day, and while he failed to impress in his Octagon debut, this man is still a serious force at 185 pounds. We should all be thankful that one of the finest competitors at middleweight is officially a part of the UFC’s roster.

    It’s impossible to deny the disappointment that followed the former Bellator champion’s debut against Tim Boetsch, but “Lightning” deserves a little slack.

    Regardless of how long a fighter’s been competing, setting foot inside the Octagon for the first time must be a nerve-wracking experience. There is no bigger stage to fight on in North America.

    The atmosphere is so charged it’s hard to imagine that first time flirting with the truly bright lights being anything other than an energy-sucking encounter. As it is, many felt Lombard did enough to exit the cage with a W, although the judges saw the fight in the UFC vet’s favor.

    Lombard still has plenty to offer, and he’ll showcase that at UFC on FX 6 when he meets Rousimar Palhares.

The Return of B.J. Penn

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    It’s no secret that B.J. Penn’s finest days are behind him. It’s unlikely we’ll ever see this rugged Hawaiian competing for a belt again. But “The Prodigy” is still a blast to watch.

    The man’s got a head made of cinder block, and a submission savvy that goes nearly unrivaled. This means he’s in the fight until the gas tank runs empty. You can’t count the man out of a fight, as he simply refuses to quit.

    A mean offense and propensity for fast finishes only adds to the unique aura that follows Penn at all times.

    It’s been well over a year since Penn last competed. Seeing the former two-division champ return at UFC on FOX 5 should be a welcome treat.

The Potential Final Hurdle

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    Tomorrow night Georges St. Pierre and Carlos Condit will tangle to determine who will be the true, undisputed welterweight champion.

    If GSP exits the cage still holding gold, we could possibly see the dream fight so many have been clamoring for: a catchweight contest pitting GSP against middleweight ace and top pound-for-pound candidate Anderson Silva.

    This proposed bout has been guaranteed by Dana White, but both GSP and “The Spider” have exhibited inconsistent thoughts on the fight. GSP has remained fairly unwavering in his decision to avoid meeting the subject, but Anderson’s been off and on. One day the man is making his desire to fight GSP well known, and the next he’s disregarding the bout and basically chalking this super fight up to improbable banter.

    White’s pushing hard to make this happen, so if GSP gets past “The Natural Born Killer” tomorrow night, it won’t be too startling to see Anderson Silva finally challenge the Canadian in official fashion.

The Emergence of Bruce Leeroy

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    Sometimes big surprises come in the smallest packages.

    Two years ago, nobody knew the name Alex Caceres. Today, he’s a blossoming 135 pound prospect who should be riding a five-fight win streak.

    The only loss on Caceres’ record in the last year is a split decision defeat to Edwin Figueroa. That loss, however, was anything but career-damaging.

    Caceres actually won the bout fairly handily, but one too many errant kicks to the groin of Figueroa prompted a massive brain fart from referee Herb Dead, who, after a pair of warnings, decided he’d deduct not one, but two points from “Bruce Leeroy”.

    The decision was preposterous and all but sealed Alex’s fate.

    The great thing about that fight is the fact that anyone who witnessed it knows the truth of the matter. The L didn’t hurt Caceres’ stock in the slightest. In his last four fights, he’s picked up a couple very impressive victories over Cole Escovedo, Damacio Page and Motonobu Tezuka.

    Alex Caceres has managed to emerge as 2012’s biggest surprise, and you can bet UFC brass have their eyes on the man. Expect “Bruce Leeroy” to step up and begin fighting the division’s elite next year, which should prove highly entertaining.

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