10 Must-See Fights in 2013 for the UFC
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After a disappointing 2012 season for the UFC, many possible major fights have been rumored already this New Year along with some fights already being announced. With more Strikeforce fighters coming into the UFC, we’ve seen fights like Benson Henderson versus Gilbert Melendez and Frank Mir versus Daniel Cormier be put together, creating star-studded matchups for the newcomers.
With 2012 being haunted by constant pre-fight injuries, suspensions to the likes of Alistair Overeem and Nick Diaz, then an actual PPV in UFC 151 being cancelled, it showed how much of a disaster 2012 was for the company.
It was very difficult to make an awards list from last year, because there really wasn’t much to look back on compared to 2011, which had far more highlight-reel knockouts and submissions. That is why it’s better to look to the future and plan to see what special matchups there could be for 2013.
I’m going to make a list of 10 possible major fights that could happen this year. It will be broken down into two fights from each major division. The divisions will be from the lightweight to heavyweight division.
I’d like the predictions to have more variety with actual great matchups and for it to actually have a chance of happening this year along with not being booked yet. This isn’t in order of the most must-see fight either, it’s from the lightweight division all the way to the heavyweight division.
Benson Henderson vs. Anthony Pettis
Could Henderson bounce back from his loss 3 years ago against Pettis?
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With Frankie Edgar dropping to the flyweight division and Nate Diaz dominated in his last fight, I’ve been concerned that there aren’t many legitimate challengers to Benson Henderson. I’m expecting Gilbert Melendez to be a force, but there is one fight I’ve been waiting to see.
After the infamous “Showtime kick” where Anthony Pettis rocked Henderson after jumping off the cage, many people have been waiting for Pettis to eventually face Henderson again. He has gone through some injuries in the past year, but now he’s fully healthy and in position to challenge for a lightweight title shot.
Only two things would have to happen for this fight to be made official, which is Pettis beating Donald Cerrone this Saturday, which seems likely. Then Henderson would have to beat Melendez in April before there could be a title fight possibly in the summer.
I’ve always felt that Pettis is the biggest threat to Henderson not only because of the win in 2010, but he has the size to counter Henderson’s athleticism and wrestling. Diaz and Edgar never had that, along with knockout power that Pettis possess with his kicks. The rematch is long overdue and it could be the first of a series for years to come within the UFC between Pettis and Henderson.
Nate Diaz vs. Diego Sanchez
Diaz is at his best facing pure strikers like Cerrone.
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This fight may not be the blockbuster main event that you would expect, but this is a matchup in the lightweight division that could get a lot of buzz. Many people are excited to see Diego Sanchez return to the lightweight division after having the most success in his career in the lightweight division.
Sanchez may not be the star that he was three years ago, but he continues to put on fight of the night worthy performances and has shown that he can still fight at a high level. The connection with Nate Diaz, which would make this a very popular fight is based off a twitter rant from Sanchez calling out both Diaz brothers but it highlighted Nate.
It was from last November and he referenced how he beat Nick Diaz in 2005 in The Ultimate Fighter finale, which led to Sanchez wanting to fight him again since Diaz is a big star in the division.
Now, Sanchez will have to face Takanori Gomi in March to prove if he can be a threat in the lightweight division. If he wins that fight, it will probably lead to him calling out Diaz and that could lead to them fighting in the summer.
After the humbling loss in December, Nate Diaz would look to shut Sanchez up and get back on track for a possible title shot in the future. It would be very hard-hitting fight that could end up going to the ground where both fighters excel in.
Diaz would be the heavy favorite, especially with Sanchez’s tendency to leave his face too open in stand-up. Despite the past issues, I sense a rejuvenated Diego Sanchez that is capable of a major run in the lightweight division.
Nick Diaz vs. Rory MacDonald
MacDonald is the next welterweight star in a stacked division.
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It would be pretty interesting to see Nick Diaz face George St Pierre’s training partner along with facing St. Pierre in the same year. This fight may be a stretch to happen just because Diaz tends to only fight when he wants to. I’m not sure if he would be interested in fighting Rory MacDonald, but MacDonald has shown that he’s not afraid to call someone out.
The result in MacDonald’s next fight against Carlos Condit wouldn’t mean much unless he lost in dominant fashion. If he wins or stays competitive, his stock will still be high and could still face a high-profile fighter like Diaz. It would be a great contest with two amazing strikers that both can go to the ground and submit anyone.
I’m pretty confident that Diaz will lose to St. Pierre, even though you should never count out Diaz in any fight regardless of the opposition. This would be a great main event to put on a Fox with two aggressive fighters that are probably the best all-around strikers in the division along with Carlos Condit.
Some would say Johnny Hendricks should be mentioned, but he’s doesn’t use kicks very often so that takes him out of the running for that. Overall, this fight would get major steam since both guys have shown that they don’t mind trash talking and don’t shy away from the fight. It may be a stretch since Diaz is so unpredictable in his career choices, but if it were to happen it would be special.
Georges St. Pierre vs. Anderson Silva
St.Pierre proved that he’s back after a dominant victory over Condit.
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
This is a common prediction and it shouldn’t surprise anyone. This fight has been long overdue of happening and this may be the year for it to happen. With the welterweight division not having many great potential matchups, I felt that this would be the perfect time to put the catch-weight fight in. Both fighters will be booked for most of the year, but this could happen in November or December of 2013.
Anderson Silva will have to defend his middleweight title at least once this year, while Georges St. Pierre will face Nick Diaz in March and most likely Johnny Hendricks in the summer. The timing may not be in their favor but if there is an opportunity to book it, you know Dana White will do it in a heartbeat.
The fight in itself will be legendary with two of the most dominant fighters in their respective divisions for the past five years. It will be a test for Silva to see if he can last against St. Pierre’s takedowns along with countering his ground-and-pound if he were to be taken down. Meanwhile, Silva’s knockout power will be the major concern for St. Pierre.
It will be a clash of styles along with history being broken in just about every business aspect for the UFC. Hopefully both fighters can stay healthy and can get at least eight weeks of preparation. Some may complain that this should have happened in 2009 or 2010 when they were in their primes, but regardless, when it happens everyone should enjoy it for what it is.
Michael Bisping vs. Hector Lombard
Lombard ground & pound will be a great test for Bisping
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A new rivalry has emerged in the middleweight division after an interview with Hector Lombard on Ariel Helwani’s fantastic MMA hour show. According to Lombard, a handshake between Michael Bisping and him led to Lombard dissing his small hands. There has been history with them when Bisping was annoyed that Lombard would get ahead of him for a potential future title shot.
With their past problems, this is easily one of my most confident predictions. If Lombard gets past Yushin Okami, which will be a challenge but Lombard has the jiu-jitsu and judo background to dominate Okami. If he wins, then we'll probably see a fight between them since Lombard is rising up the middleweight ranks.
After the crushing defeat to Vitor Belfort last weekend, Bisping’s career is once again in limbo and he’ll need to get on another hot streak to be near title contention, especially with the new middleweight signings from Strikeforce. If he were to beat Lombard, who is another fighter with a lot of buzz to him, then it would get Bisping’s career back on track.
It would be a true test for Bisping, since he’s never had a good chin and tends to struggle against all around strikers. Lombard is a genetic freak, but he is very versatile, which could challenge Bisping’s wrestling ability. It’s not a main-event caliber fight, but this would be something many hardcore fans would love to see.
Anderson Silva vs. Rashad Evans
Anderson Silva will be in at least one super fight this year.
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This is another stretch pick and another catch-weight fight, but you know how it is with Anderson Silva. The best fighters will face Silva, as long as they are near the weight class. I was going to pick Chris Weidman, but Silva seems more willing to face someone on the level of Rashad Evans and Weidman won’t be able to fight until the summer.
Even though Silva wants to fight in spring, it wouldn’t surprise me if Evans fought Silva in May. It would give Evans enough time to prepare after his fight on Super Bowl weekend against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. I’m expecting Evans to win and with his tendency to be outspoken, it could lead to him possibly calling out Silva, which could lead to a superfight.
The middleweight division is a mess right now with Michael Bisping losing last weekend and Weidman being injured. Evans could step in and be a formidable opponent to Silva in what would be a dream fight for Evans.
After his loss to Jon Jones, I don’t see much of a future for Evans in the light heavyweight division. He could do plenty of damage in the middleweight division and possibly fight the greatest fighter in the world today.
In the fight itself, Evans would have to use his wrestling to defeat Silva. Evans can use some nasty elbows in ground-and-pound that could give Silva serious problems. Silva will still be a heavy favorite, but Evans is always a threat in the Octagon and is one of the best light heavyweights ever. It’ll be interesting to see how long Evans will stand up with Silva before eventually taking it to the ground.
I’ll be very shocked if Anderson Silva doesn’t fight either Georges St.Pierre or Rashad Evans in 2013.
Alexander Gustafsson vs. Glover Teixeira
Gustafsson has gotten plenty of buzz recently, but don’t forget about Glover.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
With the light heavyweight division being so stacked, it’s easy to forget about some fighters. It took some time for me to make some potential matchups, then I saw two fighters that have been on impressive winning streaks. Alexander Gustafsson and Glover Teixeira are two rising stars in the light heavyweight division that could be in prime position for a title shot by the fall of 2013.
Teixeira is fighting Rampage Jackson on Saturday and that will likely be another victory for Teixeira. His knockout power and ground game will be too much for Jackson. That would be three straight victories for him, which would set up another possible major fight. It could lead to facing the possible loser of Machida versus Henderson, but it would be better to see two fighters with momentum.
Unlike Teixeira, who is 33-years-old, Gustafsson is only 26 years old and has a great future ahead of him. He’ll be facing Strikeforce star Gegard Mousasi in April, which will be a tough opponent that is very identical to him. It will be a fight based on kickboxing, but both guys have proven that they are talented on the ground. If Gustafsson can get through him, it would have to put him in position for a No. 1 contender title shot.
Both fighters are similar in height, but they are very different. Teixeira is more aggressive and tends to always be near his opponent. Gustafsson is craftier and picks his spots, which was shown against aggressive fighters like Thiago Silva and Shogun Rua.
It would come down to Gustafsson chin lasting against Teixeria’s vicious strikes because we haven’t seen him really take much damage in his fights. Both fighters have a lot to prove before this fight would happen, but it would be a very intriguing matchup.
Jon Jones vs. Dan Henderson
Jones will try to continue his dominant title reign.
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Some of you will be disappointed in this prediction, which is understandable. There have been links to there being a possible fight in the fall between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier. I’m aware of that being discussed but that seems highly unlikely for it happen this year.
The reason for that is Dan Henderson and Lyoto Machida both have been in the position to challenge Jones for the title. After Chael Sonnen skipped them both over and got the opportunity, it was a major outrage to Henderson that he had been skipped. Do you really think Henderson would be skipped again if he beats Machida?
Dana White is always thinking about putting out major main events, but I highly doubt he would skip over Henderson again. Cormier would be a major challenge to Jones, but for now it seems like 2014 would be the most likely scenario for them to fight. For now my bet is on Henderson challenging Jones in the fall for the title, and that would be a massive fight.
The fight would have just about everything that you see in the Octagon. They are both fantastic wrestlers, but they both can knock people out as well. Henderson has the dangerous hook, while Jones has those devastating knees and spinning back fists.
Even though he may be in his 40s, Henderson can still go and I’m really looking forward to seeing him prove that he’s worthy of a title shot after beating Machida.
Cain Velasquez vs. Alistair Overeem
Velasquez will look to take Overeem to the ground similar to Dos Santos.
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This is the most predictable matchup, but I’d still classify it as a must-see fight. As long as Alistair Overeem beats Antonio Silva next weekend, then this fight will be finalized. Even though Overeem facing Junior Dos Santos would have been more exciting because they are two of the best strikers in the heavyweight division, Cain Velasquez is a worthy champion and it will still be an excellent battle.
Overeem is coming back from a long ban due to violating the drug policy in 2012, which prevented him from fighting. Now that he’s back, I’m expecting an even more aggressive Overeem after the long layoff. Ever since he left Strikeforce, I’ve felt that he is the best heavyweight in the world regardless of not being champion. It didn’t surprise me at all to see him dominate Brock Lesnar like he did.
Velasquez bounced back from a bad 2011 that involved a major injury and a crushin first-round knockout defeat to Dos Santos. He shut the critics up about being a one-hit wonder and dominated his way back to winning the championship.
His superior wrestling skills have really helped him become champion again, but his cardio seems to be forgotten about. For a big guy that isn’t necessarily ripped, he never seems to stop moving and is always staying aggressive.
It would be the biggest challenge in Velasquez’s career and that includes him being a major underdog in 2010 when he faced Lesnar. Velasquez hasn’t faced someone like Alistair Overeem that is so massive and athletic. Overeem is a K-1 champion along with being so well-rounded as a fighter.
Obviously Velasquez would try to take him to the ground, but it will be a challenge. Velasquez has proven critics wrong twice now, being ruled as the underdog, but I’m pretty skeptical that he could do it a third time.
Daniel Cormier vs. Junior Dos Santos
Dos Santos will be tested once again on the ground.
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Even though he won’t be able to fight Jones this year, please don’t think that Daniel Cormier won’t land two major fights this year. He already has one with Frank Mir this year and I consider that a major fight. Mir might be older and not the star he once was, but he’s still a threat. As for the second fight, it comes as a surprise but I think it will come to fruition.
Junior Dos Santos is probably going to take a long break from fighting after that tough loss. He’ll be waiting for a major opponent and probably watching the Mir versus Cormier fight closely.
If Mir were to win, he would probably ask for a rematch against Dos Santos especially after losing to him last May. Dos Santos probably hasn’t forgotten that Mir ripped on his ground game after the loss to Velasquez. I still would choose Cormier to win that fight though.
Dos Santos is looking for a big fight to rebound from and there aren’t many fighters that are open to fight. Fabricio Werdum would have been an excellent choice, but he’s doing The Ultimate Fighter season with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. With Cormier unable to get Jones or Velasquez for a possible title fight, he’ll take the next best option, which is Dos Santos.
This fight would be a pure war with two pure boxers that have one-punch knockout power. The big difference between them is that Cormier is a wrestling machine and Dos Santos was just thrown around by a wrestler in Velasquez.
It would be another tough matchup for Dos Santos, where it will show if he improved his takedown defense and ground game. Overall it would be a fight everyone would be excited for and there is a possibility it could happen.
Look for Johnson to regain his flyweight championship on Saturday.
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Those are 10 fights that I can see realistically happen that would be must see for at least most fans. Some of them wouldn’t be main events but they would be great fights to end their feud, such as Sanchez versus Diaz or Lombard versus Bisping.
As for the UFC on Fox, my quick predictions are Demetrious Johnson submitting John Dodson via rear-naked choke in the fourth round. Then it will be Glover Teixeira knocking out Rampage Jackson in the first round. Some may feel that it’s too early, but I see nothing in Rampage anymore that would make me think he can last even five minutes against someone like Teixeira.
The fight that I’m looking forward to the most is Anthony Pettis versus Donald Cerrone. Cerrone is really tough and doesn’t get knocked out often, but I’m going with Pettis to win via TKO in the third round due to excessive blood making Cerrone incapable of fighting back. In the other fight, I have Erik Koch beating Ricardo Lamas by decision.
The card is pretty weak and I’m not expecting a lot out of it, but UFC 156 should make up for it with a fantastic slate of fights. I’ll be back to preview that one next week. Thanks for reading and hopefully some of these fights do happen in 2013.
Allen Strk is a columnist on Bleacher Report. You can read more of my work atTJRSports.com covering NFL, NBA and MMA. You can follow me at @Allen_Strk on Twitter or e-mail questions/comments at AStrk19@gmail.com.