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50 Things We Learned in MMA During 2012

Dan HiergesellFeatured ColumnistJanuary 12, 2013

50 Things We Learned in MMA During 2012

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    So much can happen in mixed martial arts in just one year.

    Championship belts change ownership, prospects become top contenders, veterans begin to decline and the sport itself witnesses a self-maturation.

    As we enter an important year for the fastest growing sport in the world, it's only natural to look back on 2012 and remember the valuable lessons we've learned.

    So without further ado, realizing that some key headlines will be left off this list, here are 50 things we learned about MMA over the last 12 months.

    Enjoy.

50. Joe Rogan Truly Knows His Stuff

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    Joe Rogan finally obtained his Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under the highly respected Eddie Bravo.

    It took him roughly 10 years to do it, making the accomplishment that much more personal.

    Rogan's time at 10th Planet jiu-jitsu definitely paid off. It's yet another reason why fans need to listen intently every time he offers in-fight knowledge.

49. Michael Chiesa Should Have Kept His Beard

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    After capturing glory as the new Ultimate Fighter Season 15 winner, Michael "The Maverick" Chiesa decided to shave his glorious beard.

    Now while there is no direct correlation between the two, a beardless Chiesa was unable to compete at UFC on FOX 5 in December due to an undisclosed illness.

    Sometimes it's better to leave things alone.  Like they say, "if it's not broken, don't fix it."

48. Fabio Maldonado Isn't Human

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    There isn't a doctor in the world who can explain how Fabio Maldonado was physically able to stand in front of Glover Teixeira for two rounds and take everything he had to offer.

    At times, the Brazilian looked like a bobblehead gone wrong, swaying back and forth as blood spurted out of his face.

    It was truly one of the most gut-wrenching performances in MMA over the past few years and deserves to be recognized as such.

47. Leonard Garcia Doesn't Need to Win to Keep His Job

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    After losing both of his fights in 2011, 2012 seemed like a do-or-die year for Leonard Garcia's UFC career.

    President Dana White usually doesn't allow fighters to dwindle into oblivion, but he's held his finger away from the red button regarding Garcia's future in the promotion.

    Now riding a four-fight losing streak, having dropped both of his bouts this past year, Garcia doesn't seem to need a win to maintain his employment.

    In any case, "Bad Boy" always puts on a good show and never backs down from a brawl.  That's the only reason he's sticking around.

46. Never Sleep on Martin Kampmann

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    Before getting knocked out by Johny Hendricks at UFC 154, welterweight Martin Kampmann was one of the hottest fighters in the UFC.

    He had produced back-to-back comeback victories over two of the toughest fighters in the sport, Thiago Alves and Jake Ellenberger.

    Kampmann's improbable finishes were not only highlight-reel performances, but two examples of the Dane's ability to stick around in any fight.

45. Ben Askren Is the New Lay-and-Pray King

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    It's officially time to consider Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren the newest inductee to MMA's lay-and-pray club.

    He'll join forces with Jake Shields, Jon Fitch and Georges St. Pierre (don't hate me).

    The bottom line is that Askren is unable to finish fights, assuming he actually wants to.  His lone fight in 2012 was another instance of the 28-year-old laying on an opponent for five rounds and grinding out a victory.

    Until he starts to finish worthy title challengers, the UFC probably won't be calling.

44. Ryan Jimmo Is a Seven-Second Man

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    Easily the greatest outcome a fighter could ask for in a promotional debut, light heavyweight prospect Ryan Jimmo knocked out Anthony Perosh in seven seconds at UFC 149.

    The punch heard around Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, Canada not only earned Knockout of the Night honors, but it tied the UFC record for fastest KO ever.

    Jimmo seems to be the real deal, which makes 2013 a very interesting year for one of the UFC's deepest divisions.

43. 'Big Foot' Silva Knows How to Rebound

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    Cain Velasquez was responsible for ruining Antonio "Big Foot" Silva's UFC debut at UFC 146 after beating the Brazilian into a bloody pulp for nearly four-straight minutes.

    It was one of the worst debuts in UFC history and made people start to think if Silva was worth the hype.

    Well, in his next fight opposite undefeated rising star Travis Browne, "Big Foot" went back to his old ways of being the more physically imposing fighter.

    He knocked Browne out in the first round and solidified his spot within the heavyweight division.

42. Mike Goldberg Is Replaceable

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    When Mike Goldberg was unable to provide his usual banter at UFC 155, the formidable Jon Anik stepped in and didn't miss a beat.

    Anik showcased his ability to not only play into Joe Rogan's strengths as a color commentator, but also his knowledge of the sport.

    It should be interesting to see how long the UFC sits back and keeps Anik in Goldberg's shadow.

41. Kyle Kingsbury Is the UFC's Personal Crash-Test Dummy

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    Kyle Kingsbury couldn't catch a break in 2012.

    Both his bouts were welcome home parties for UFC newcomers Glover Teixeira and Jimi Manuwa.

    Kingsbury was battered by both guys, losing to Teixeira by a first-round submission and Manuwa by doctor's stoppage after the second.

    It was a very tough year for the always entertaining 30-year-old, but what can you ask for when you're the UFC's personal doe.

40. Randy Couture vs. Steven Seagal Is a Definite Possibility

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    To quote one of the funniest movies ever, "So you're saying there's a chance?"

    That's all MMA fans need to get excited about a potential fight between one of the sport's most legendary champions and one of Hollywood's most accomplished martial artists.

    It's a matchup that could bolster any pay-per-view main card and one that would finally shut the trap of Exit Wounds finest crime fighter.

39. Cub Swanson Is Rejuvenated

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    After struggling in 2011, the very talented and well-rounded Cub Swanson is finally back in the saddle.

    With three 2012 victories under his belt, the 29-year-old is starting to make waves again within the UFC featherweight division.

    Aiming for a second chance at Jose Aldo, Swanson is hoping to prolong his success. 2012 was definitely a step in the right direction.

38. Hector Lombard Isn't a Fraud

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    After putting together one of the most disappointing promotional debuts in recent memory opposite Tim Boetsch at UFC 149, middleweight sensation Hector Lombard finally showcased his knockout potential after making quick work of Rousimar Palhares nearly a month ago.

    The finish will most certainly launch Lombard back into title contention and easily makes up for a lackluster display of striking in his first Octagon experience.

37. Jose Aldo Loves to Crowd Surf

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    UFC featherweight champion and pound-for-pound great Jose Aldo is in this picture somewhere.

    After dropping Chad Mendes at UFC 142 with a powerful knee to the face right before the end of the first round, Aldo proceeded to celebrate his title defense alongside his fellow Brazilians.

    Just another instance that proves how dedicated and loyal MMA fighters truly are.

36. Michael Chandler Needs More Recognition

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    Quite possibly the least talked-about top lightweight fighter in the world, Bellator champion Michael Chandler deserves more time in the spotlight.

    Currently undefeated in his career through 10 fights, Chandler made quick work of MMA veteran Akihiro Gono in his only fight in 2012.

    It wasn't a title defense, but Chandler's 54-second finish easily displayed his worthiness as one of the best 155-pound fighters in the sport.

35. Urijah Faber Is over the Hill

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    It's been a long time coming, but Urijah Faber is officially slipping off the bantamweight throne.

    Faber has always been a fan favorite and even a guy that many MMA enthusiasts considered the best 135-pound fighter in the world, even though he didn't hold a belt.

    Well, now fighting in an era that features a more evolved and physically dominating class of contenders, Faber's title hopes are slowly dissipating.

    It may be time for him drop down to flyweight so he doesn't have to get beaten up by lengthy strikers like Dominick Cruz and Renan Barao.

34. Pat Barry Doesn't Disappoint

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    Whether or not you consider Pat Barry a top contender in the UFC heavyweight division, it's practically impossible to argue that he isn't entertaining.

    Win or lose, a Barry fight is going to feature either razor-sharp head kicks, chin-cracking hooks or an improbable comeback.

    This was never more true than in 2012, as Barry was involved in three fights ending before the third round by way of knockout or TKO.

33. Demian Maia Has Found a New Home

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    With a welcomed move to the welterweight division, the highly respected submission specialist Demian Maia is making an instant case for future title contention.

    No longer incapable of controlling stronger strikers and well-established wrestlers like he struggled to do at 185 pounds, the Brazilian should be able to build off his 2012 victories over Dong-Hyun Kim and Rick Story.

32. Michael McDonald Will Become the Youngest Champion in UFC History

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    Michael McDonald only fought once this past year, but it was a fight that encapsulated his future within the UFC bantamweight division.

    His first-round knockout of the always formidable Miguel Angel Torres provided an insight into how good McDonald can be as a power-striking title contender.

    As long as he can keep his hand healthy, Renan Barao will find it difficult to contain the 21-year-old phenom when the two meet next month.

31. Matt Brown Has Finally Made It

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    Ever since his stint on The Ultimate Fighter, fans have wanted Matt Brown to evolve as a complete fighter.

    Well, after struggling to prolong his success from 2010-2011, Brown's dedication to the sport he loves finally came to fruition in 2012.

    He totaled four victories (most in the UFC), with two TKO finishes and one brutal knockout over a hungry Mike Swick.

    It looks like Brown has finally made it and should give most top welterweights problems entering 2013.

30. Cung Le Is Not to Be Messed with

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    From landing devastating spinning kicks to Patrick Cote's sternum to knocking out Rich Franklin with one swift punch, Cung Le is becoming a UFC middleweight menace.

    Even at the age of 40, Le was still capable of producing beastly performances in 2012, including the previously mentioned Franklin finish that earned Knockout of the Year.

    As long as he continues to compete, he's a dangerous entity.

29. Luke Rockhold Is Untouchable

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    Strikeforce champion Luke Rockhold is physically superior and skillfully potent when compared to other middleweights in MMA.

    He rarely seems flustered inside the cage and never really falls behind in a fight. 

    By maintaining this dominance, Rockhold was able to capture two victories in 2012—one over Keith Jardine by way of TKO and the other over the extremely tough Tim Kennedy back in July.

    Right now, it's possible that Anderson Silva is the only middleweight capable of defeating the 28-year-old.

28. B.J. Penn Should Have Stayed Retired

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    B.J. Penn was absolutely picked apart by Rory MacDonald at UFC on FOX 5.

    From getting tossed around like a rag doll to holding on to dear life whenever MacDonald put the pressure on, Penn never looked like his old self.

    The MMA legend ultimately came out of retirement to defend his legacy, but his efforts in his lone 2012 fight suggest he should have stayed in Hawaii.

27. The UFC Featherweight Division Is Growing Exponentially

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    2012 was an exceptional year for the UFC featherweight division.

    Jose Aldo retained his title with a devastating knockout of Chad Mendes. Chan Sung Jung and Dustin Poirier produced the Fight of the Year. Cub Swanson resurfaced as a top contender, and Dennis Siver continued his featherweight dominance.

    Not to mention Frankie Edgar and Clay Guida announced they are moving down from lightweight to make a run at Aldo's hardware.

26. Johny Hendricks Is Ridiculously Strong

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    Not only is Johny Hendricks making quick work of the best welterweights in the world, but he's doing it in devastating fashion.

    His November knockout of Martin Kampmann looked like something out of a video game as a Hendricks left hand sent the Dane sliding across the Octagon.

    At this point, Hendricks' power seems capable of winning him a title sometime in the near future.  Sorry, George.

25. Boxing Isn't Everything

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    In the aftermath of Junior dos Santos being obliterated by Cain Velasquez on his feet and on the ground, boxing is going to be scrutinized accordingly.

    It's more than useful, but no longer can people point at dos Santos as an example of how dominant the art of punching can be in a sport full of mixed martial artists.

    Guys like "Cigano" will have to evolve as complete fighters and learn how to use other techniques that ultimately enable their boxing to take over.

24. Glover Teixeira Was Worth the Wait

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    Two victories, one by submission and the other by doctor's stoppage, surely make the wait worth it in the case of UFC light heavyweight newcomer Glover Teixeira.

    Teixeira's arrival to the big show was one that was supposed to happen much earlier in his career, but visa issues closed that window.

    Now able to compete in the United States, the Brazilian took advantage of his newly found freedom and grabbed 2012 by the horns.

    Rampage Jackson is officially on deck.

23. Rory MacDonald Needs a Title Shot

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    It makes sense why Rory MacDonald would never want to try to knock UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre off the divisional throne.

    They both hail from the same camp and use each other to train for their fights.

    With all of that said, the work that MacDonald put in in 2012 deserves to be rewarded.  It's time to throw their friendship overboard and let skill take over.

22. Chael Sonnen Is a Man of His Word

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    Chael Sonnen made it very clear before trying his luck opposite Anderson Silva for the second time this past July that he would leave the division if he lost.

    Well, in what can be considered the most hyped fight in MMA history, Sonnen lost and was forced to eat his words.

    In true American fashion, the world's greatest trash-talker kept his promise and moved up to light heavyweight.  Luckily for him, a Jon Jones title shot was waiting for his approval.

21. Stefan Struve Has Finally Rounded out

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    The tallest man in the UFC is finally figuring it all out.

    No longer is Stefan Struve struggling against strikers and no longer is he feeling like the weaker fighter. 

    Struve has become a dangerous fighter in any facet of a fight and should make quick work of Mark Hunt in March like he did Dave Herman, Lavar Johnson and Stipe Miocic in 2012.

20. Chris Weidman Is a Beast

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    Despite prolific injuries toward the end of 2012, Chris Weidman's efforts last year were that of an animal.

    Out of nowhere, Weidman catapulted himself into title discussion after knocking off Demian Maia on 11 days'  notice and Mark Munoz without being hit once.

    They were two of the most impressive displays of raw talent throughout the entire year and earned Weidman the reputation for having the perfect recipe to dethrone Anderson Silva.

19. Demetrious Johnson Is the Fastest Fighter Alive

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    Demetrious Johnson fought Ian McCall twice and Joseph Benavidez once in 2012.

    In each of those fights, "Mighty Mouse" showcased what can only be considered the quickest Octagon movements to date.

    From his outstanding footwork to his mind-blowing punches, Johnson did everything in his power to break the sound barrier.

    Consequently, he became the first flyweight champion in UFC history.  Quite a year for one of the smallest guys in MMA today.

18. Benson Henderson Will Remain the UFC Lightweight Champion in 2013

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    With title defenses over Frankie Edgar and Nate Diaz to round out 2012, it's becoming more and more evident that Benson Henderson is relatively unbeatable.

    He was able to solidify his first victory over Edgar by beating him again the second time and was able to showcase his raw strength as he threw Diaz around like he was a bantamweight.

    Through it all, Henderson remains the lightweight champion, one who decisively defended his belt three times in a matter of 10 months.

17. Daniel Cormier Belongs on the Big Stage

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    Daniel Cormier did this to a 250-pound Josh Barnett.

    Can you imagine what he'll do in the UFC as a light heavyweight?

16. Ronda Rousey Has Changed the Game

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    Ronda Rousey is officially the first women's champion to throw a UFC belt over her shoulder.

    She did it on the back two first-round armbars in 2012 and a groundbreaking contract with UFC president Dana White.

    In any case, Rousey has become the standard for MMA females everywhere and has done very well for herself over the past 12 months.

15. Nick Diaz Just Can't Win

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    Like a salmon swimming up stream, Nick Diaz has done everything in his power over the past two years to go against the UFC flow.

    But what makes his decisions during that time even worse is that he was suspended in 2012 after testing positive for marijuana metabolites following his fight with Carlos Condit at UFC 143, according to mmafighting.com.

    He's become the bad boy of the industry despite not even fighting in the past 12 months.  Let's hope 2013 will be a different story.

14. Alexander Gustafsson Is the Real Deal

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    Key victories over Mauricio Shogun Rua and Thiago Silva in 2012 have made Alexander Gustafsson an immediate option to take on the winner of Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen fight for the UFC light heavyweight championship.

    The 25-year-old Swede has displayed world-class striking and a budding tenacity to inflict pain on opponents within the promotion's deepest division.

    Stylistically, Gustafsson poses the greatest threat to Jones.

13. Pay-Per-Views Can Be Skipped

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    There's really nothing to be said about UFC 151.  It was the first time in the company's history that an entire event was cancelled.

    Due in part to Dan Henderson's injury and Jon Jones' indecisiveness to face Chael Sonnen on short notice, everybody involved with the pay-per-view was forced to pack up and leave.

    Undercard fighters didn't make a dime and fans were left wanting at least a parking lot street fight.

12. Alistair Overeem Is Who We Thought He Was

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    Following his destruction of Brock Lesnar at UFC 141, which consequently retired the bruising WWE superstar, everybody thought Alistair Overeem would run through the division and ultimately dethrone Junior dos Santos.

    However, a month before meeting dos Santos at UFC 146 in May, Overeem failed a pre-fight drug test for elevated testosterone levels, according to ESPN.com, which more than doubled the legal limits under Nevada State Athletic Commission rules.

    After that news, it was evident that Overeem wouldn't compete at all in 2012.

11. Superfights Are All the Rave

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    For some reason, everybody in the business was, and still is, gung ho about discussing UFC superfights in 2012.  This includes the improbable showdowns of Anderson Silva vs. Georges St-Pierre and Jon Jones vs. Anderson Silva.

    To be honest, the talk about these fights became rather annoying.

    Let these pound-for-pound greats compete in their own divisional championship pictures and stop trying to set up fighters for failure after recently returning to action (GSP).

10. Jon Jones Isn't Perfect

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    Vitor Belfort nearly broke Jon Jones' arm when the two met at UFC 152.  Jones most certainly wasn't going to tap, but a break would have forced the referee to stop the light heavyweight title bout in favor of "The Phenom."

    Well Jones' arm didn't crumble, but what crumbled was the notion that Jones is unbeatable. 

    Coming into that fight nobody had ever pushed Jones to the point of collapsing before, which is a group that includes the very best fighters on the planet.

    Regardless, Belfort put forth one submission attempt that will change the way people think about Jones as a fighter on Anderson Silva's level. That is until he comes back next time and topples Chael Sonnen.

9. TRT Usage Remains an Issue

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    Fighters that are legally granted the usage of testosterone-replacement therapy are in fact cheating the system.

    Or are they?

    The issue of TRT was heavily discussed in 2012, including a rather unpredicted rant on mmajunkie.com by one of the most outspoken fighters in UFC history, Tito Ortiz.

    As long as officials continue to grant fighters like Forrest Griffin, Frank Mir, and Dan Henderson the legal capability of enhancing testosterone levels for rehabilitation reasons before and after fights, creating an unfair playing field, this issue will never go away.

8. Cain Velasquez Is Back

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    Cain Velasquez is back, to say the least.

    After putting Junior dos Santos on his back for five straight rounds at UFC 155, Velasquez has regained his status as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.

    His decisive finish over the presumably unbeatable dos Santos proved that power wrestling can still win fights at the highest level of competition.

7. Interim Belts Are Useless

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    Interim belts are starting to be tossed around like candy.

    Guys like Carlos Condit and Renan Barao were granted interim titles in 2012, chipping away at the prestige and glorified meaning of actually being a true champion.

    Now these guys are downright dominant, even though Condit lost to Georges St-Pierre at UFC 154, but everybody knows who the true champions are.

    Interim will forever be a useless term in MMA.  Why not consider these "champions" the outright No. 1 contenders and make them defend that title?

6. Bellator Is a Serious Contender

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    With a new contract to showcase events on Spike TV, as well as possessing champions like Michael Chandler and Pat Curran to bolster ratings, Bellator Fighting Championships is gracefully making its transition into mainstream MMA.

    The UFC isn't going to be shaking in its boots, but it's interesting to see another prominent organization make some noise on national television and display worthwhile fights.

    It just means more entertaining action for fans.

5. Title Shots Are Becoming a Popularity Contest

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    Instead of giving rematches to Mauricio Shogun Rua, Lyoto Machida or Rashad Evans, the UFC decided to hand Chael Sonnen a free chance to take Jon Jones' elusive title.

    Now while this fight has yet to take place and Sonnen is a very respectable contender, the guy hasn't done anything to deserve it.  The last time he competed as a light heavyweight George W. Bush was in his first term.

    The bottom line is that 2012 proved to be a year that the UFC decided to start handing out title shots based on potential sales and ratings instead of giving it to the guys who have actually put in the divisional work to deserve it.

    They're playing a very dangerous game.

4. Strikeforce Couldn't Handle the Heat

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    Strikeforce simply couldn't handle the pressure of producing significant ratings while being overshadowed by big brother company UFC.

    The promotion most certainly had relevant superstars like Daniel Cormier, Luke Rockhold, Nate Marquardt and Josh Barnett, but specific differences between the promotion and Showtime in 2012 have crippled Strikeforce's longevity.

    Now uncertain what the future holds beyond Saturday night's final event, Strikeforce fighters are seemingly competing for a spot on the UFC roster.

3. GSP Still Has It

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    Despite all the speculation and understandable concern regarding his rehabilitation, Georges St-Pierre was able to come back strong and put an end to Carlos Condit's reign as the interim UFC welterweight champion.

    GSP didn't quite look like his old elite self, almost getting finished by a Condit head kick, but he did enough to satisfy nearly every naysayer.

    Given more time to shake off the ring rust and plan for another healthy title reign, the Canadian seems ready to regain his dominance.

2. Anderson Silva Is Defying Father Time

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    Anderson Silva's evolution in the sport of MMA has never been in question, but at the same time it seems nearly impossible for him to do what he is doing.

    Having recently signed a new 10-fight contract with the UFC following his playground romp with Stephan Bonnar back in October, the Brazilian plans on fighting until he's at least 42.

    At this point, considering how good Silva still is and most likely will continue to be, it's evident that the laws of time and physics don't quite apply to a human spider.

1. Injuries Are the New Trend

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    Mixed martial arts, more specifically the UFC, struggled considerably with injuries in 2012.

    Just to name a few, guys like Dominick Cruz, Jose Aldo, Dan Henderson, Chris Weidman, Frank Mir, Georges St-Pierre, Shane Carwin, Gray Maynard and Anthony Pettis all missed time for the UFC this past year with significant injuries.

    Main cards were changed as much as the weather and profits were most certainly affected in a negative fashion.

    However, with the great depth in all eight explosive divisions, the UFC was able to overcome its struggles and put together worthwhile premier fights.

    Going into the future, it's going to be interesting to see if these injuries continue to happen.  As the sport grows, so do training camps and the intensity with which fighters train.

    If camps can't keep fighters healthy and available when they're asked to perform, 2012 will ultimately repeat itself.

     

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