2013 promises to be a big year in MMA. As the sport continues to expand into the mainstream, big fights and events will dominate the sports world and bring us title bouts we constantly think of.
There are already several UFC title bouts scheduled for the first quarter of 2013. In fact, the next event, which ends 2012, hosts a heavyweight title bout between Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez, proving that title fights are just on the horizon.
Here is a schedule that UFC champions will potentially face in 2013.
Note: The women's bantamweight championship will not be explored, as there are only two women currently on the active roster.
On deck: John Dodson
In the hole: Ian McCall-Joseph Benavidez winner, John Moraga-Chris Cariaso winner
The flyweight division is up and running, and there is really no clear top contender because the division has lacked a quantity of fights.
Right now, Demetrious Johnson meets John Dodson in January on the Fox card in Chicago. Whoever wins that fight has a number of potential opponents that could step up and fight for the title.
The first option would likely be the Joseph Benavidez-Ian McCall winner. Both were in the flyweight tournament, but are still atop the rankings at 125.
Another fight to keep an eye on is the upcoming John Moraga-Chris Cariaso scrap at UFC 155. Moraga is the dark horse of the division, while Cariaso quietly has put together a great resume.
On deck: Michael McDonald
In the hole: Eddie Wineland-Brad Pickett winner
In reserve: Dominick Cruz (injured, champion)
With Dominick Cruz still on the shelf, interim champion Renan Barao will likely have to defend his belt more than once, assuming he wins.
He already has Michael McDonald on his plate. The two headline the UFC on Fuel card in the United Kingdom in February.
Whoever wins that fight will likely have to take another before Dominick Cruz recovers from his knee injury. The best candidate for that could come from this weekend's UFC 155, as the winner of Eddie Wineland-Brad Pickett would be more than deserving of a title shot.
On deck: Frankie Edgar
In the hole: Chan Sung-Jung, Dennis Siver-Cub Swanson winner
In reserve: Benson Henderson (UFC Lightweight Champion)
Early February is the date when featherweight king Jose Aldo will meet former lightweight champ Frankie Edgar for the 145-pound strap. It is a highly anticipated fight and the biggest test to date for Aldo.
Then the winner of that fight has several options. Obviously, timing has a lot to do with who gets a title shot.
Chan Sung-Jung is a guy that has been put to the side, despite the fact he has done enough to earn a date with the champion. He is currently without an opponent, so it may work out well for him.
There is also a big-time featherweight bout co-headlining the Fuel card in the UK between Dennis Siver and Cub Swanson. Both men have looked like world beaters as of late, so the winner of their fight (a week after Aldo-Edgar) could also emerge as the top contender.
If Aldo impressively downs Edgar, he could challenge Henderson for the lightweight belt. It would be an opportunity to make history and hold two belts at once.
On deck: Donald Cerrone-Anthony Pettis
In the hole: Gilbert Melendez
In reserve: Jose Aldo (featherweight champion)
There are a lot of fights in the upper echelon of the lightweight division that will go down in the next couple of months, but the most deserving of a title shot would be the winner of Donald Cerrone and Anthony Pettis.
Pettis is the last man to beat Henderson in the WEC. Cerrone has fallen to Henderson twice, but has vastly improved and been an ironman in the UFC so far.
Both men provide exciting matchups for the champion and they are both marketable fights.
Plus, whoever would win that fight could take on incoming Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez. He is considered a top lightweight in the world, so an immediate title shot (after Cerrone-Pettis winner) would make sense.
As mentioned before, a superfight between Henderson and Jose Aldo is also an idea for 2013.
On deck: Nick Diaz
In the hole: Johny Hendricks-Jake Ellenberger winner
In reserve: Rory MacDonald-Carlos Condit winner
Georges St-Pierre will finally meet former Strikeforce champion Nick Diaz, a fight that is more than a year in the making. That fight will go down on St. Pierre's home court of Montreal in March, but whoever wins should have at least another fight in their tank for 2013.
Also at UFC 158 is Johny Hendricks vs. Jake Ellenberger. Hendricks is likely the No, 1 contender to the welterweight strap, but was passed over for Diaz.
Should he beat Ellenberger, Hendricks should be next in 2013. If Ellenberger wins, I would not have a problem giving him a shot at St-Pierre either.
If all that falls through, the Rory MacDonald-Carlos Condit winner would be a good candidate. MacDonald probably would not fight St-Pierre due to the fact they are close and teammates at Tristar, but after Condit's performance against GSP at UFC 154, I think a rematch would be a great idea.
On deck: N/A
In the hole: Chris Weidman, Michael Bisping-Vitor Belfort winner
In reserve: Tim Boetsch-Costa Philippou winner, Alan Belcher-Yushin Okami winner
Every time someone says that Anderson Silva has cleaned out the middleweight division, I laugh knowing there are several different guys that are being overlooked.
Silva is not scheduled to fight in 2013 yet, but there is no shortage of fights he could take.
Once Chris Weidman recovers from injury, he has to be considered a top contender. If he is still mending, the winner of a January encounter between Michael Bisping and Vitor Belfort on FX would likely be the way to go.
If that fight would not materialize, there are several UFC 155 fights that could provide a top contender. With the exception of Yushin Okami, who just got spanked by Silva, Tim Boetsch, Costa Philippou or Alan Belcher could step up and fight the champ.
Silva could end up having a very busy 2013.
On deck: Chael Sonnen
In the hole: Dan Henderson-Lyoto Machida, Alexander Gustafsson
In reserve: Superfight
Jon Jones is first scheduled to fight in April 2013 when he takes on rival Ultimate Fighter coach Chael Sonnen in New Jersey.
Many expect Jones to take that fight. Nevertheless, whoever comes out the champion has a couple of options.
Alexander Gustafsson just beat Mauricio Rua, and many consider him to be the next top contender. It's hard to argue, given the path of destruction he has carved out at 205.
However, I think the best option comes from a UFC 157 encounter between Dan Henderson and Lyoto Machida. Henderson was supposed to fight for a title in 2012, but was forced from the bout due to injury.
Machida and Henderson present the biggest obstacle to whoever the champion is when the dust from Jones and Sonnen's encounter settles.
In reserve, there is always the thought of a superfight. However, those come very rarely, especially with able bodies that could challenge for the title immediately.
On deck: Cain Velasquez
In the hole: Alistair Overeem (if he gets licensed/wins), Daniel Cormier
Saturday will decide if Junior dos Santos continues his championship reign or if Cain Velasquez gets back his belt.
When that is decided, 2013 has a murky picture in the heavyweight division. Alistair Overeem, should he get licensed for his fight with Antonio Silva and win, would obviously be the top choice to fight for the title.
After that, it gets even more murky. There are not really any outstanding figures that could bring us a definitive top contender.
Most people would likely want to see Strikeforce import Daniel Cormier try his hand when he transfers over to the UFC. If there is nobody that is an outright top challenger, that wouldn't be the worst idea.