2013: The Year That Changed Everything for the UFC
With the last UFC event of the year behind us (UFC 168), the time has come to look upon what has happened over the past 12 months and take a moment to quantify it all.
A great deal happened in 2013, much of which will see the UFC forced to make some changes in order to adapt to the new landscape. Two of their its marketable champions seem to be gone for some time, while other fighters are on the rise.
Granted, at the end of the day, the business at hand for the UFC has not changed; it is still a fight promotion that is looking to promote fights, and as long as it has a stable of willing athletes, the more things change, the more they will stay the same.
But 2013 saw many things realized with true gravity, be they good or bad.
The Departure of GSP
After six long years as the UFC welterweight champion, Georges St-Pierre stepped away from the sport, leaving his title behind in order to find balance in his life.
One of the company’s biggest stars, GSP was the key for the expansion into Canada and was involved in some of the biggest pay-per-view successes in the history of the sport.
If he does not return, 2013 will mark the departure of a pound-for-pound great and a marquee name that was one of the UFC's top PPV attractions. When coupled with the probable permanent loss of Anderson Silva, a world without St-Pierre may be costly for the UFC when it comes to selling PPV cards.
And when you consider that the UFC put on its biggest event at the Rogers Center in Toronto, Canada at UFC 129, putting more than 55,000 fans in the seats thanks to the power of St-Pierre’s name, his departure hurts the company all the way around.
For everything there is a season, and without GSP, the winter may be long and cold for Zuffa.
The Fall and Fracture of Silva
At UFC 162, when Chris Weidman stopped Anderson Silva in the second round, it shocked many fans; Silva had always seemed unbeatable, and then suddenly he wasn’t.
But at UFC 168, the rematch came to a shocking close, much like the slamming of a door.
When Silva dropped to the floor in the second round at UFC 168, you knew it was bad. As the replays confirmed our dread, many fans felt that this could be the swan song of the greatest fighter in the history of the UFC.
The injury that Silva suffered wasn’t just bad, it was horrific—as in the kind of injury that ends careers. Given that he will be 40 once he is cleared to begin training, the odds of Silva deciding to come back to the sport seem slim.
He has been at the top of the championship heap at 185 lbs and the top of the mountain in the pound-for-pound rankings. He’s seen it all and done it all, and it would be shocking if Silva got lost amid the hoopla of trying to regain that which is forever fashioned in his image.
He is going to be the standard bearer for greatness in MMA for many years to come; if anyone knows there is something to be said for aging gracefully, it’s Silva, and that is why it seems highly unlikely that he will come back.
But if anyone can do it, it would be him, much to the delight of the UFC and MMA fans everywhere.
Mir and Barnett Succumb to Age
With the downfall of Frank Mir and Josh Barnett, it appears that another era of fighters are succumbing to the heavy taxation of the cage and Father Time.
Mir went 0-2 for the year and is riding a three-fight losing streak; Barnett went 2-1 in 2013 but has not fared well against the next generation of younger fighters. Both men took a beating in their last fights. In a sport that pauses for no one, it appears their relevance is coming to a close.
Out of the two of them, Barnett has the better chance of turning things around, but he took a pounding at the hands of Travis Browne. It was only his second fight with the UFC in many years, and if he wants to contend for the title, it’s going to be hard keeping up with the younger lions.
At age 34, Mir has 24 fights on his record, while Barnett has 40 bouts at age 36. While it would be nice to believe that every fighter can defy age and the wear-and-tear of fighting, the Randy Coutures of this world are few and far between.
On the biggest stage in the sport, neither man is going to be getting any soft touches from here on out; it is to their credit that they wouldn’t have it any other way.
While neither man looks to go quietly into that good night, where once there were numerous windows of opportunity in the room, now there is a door that leads to retirement, and it is opening wider and wider.
Jon Jones Looks Human
In 2012, Georges St-Pierre, Jose Aldo, Anderson Silva and Jon Jones looked simply untouchable. In 2013, we saw that change dramatically.
Silva was knocked out by Chris Weidman, GSP was sorely tested by Johny Hendricks, and Jones faced his first moments of true adversity against Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 165.
To say it was a close fight is an understatement: Jones saw his takedown game nullified and got his face badly busted up. In fact, many think that the fight could have gone either way. Jones was busy with kicks all night and landed some nasty elbows, but Gustafsson seemed to be the better boxer, sending Jones to his corner with a bloody face more times than not.
We had never seen the champ really pushed before. The closest thing to it was his five-round decision victory over Rashad Evans in a bout that was hardly taxing for either fighter.
But this was a different kind of beast—a grueling fight with the outcome very much in doubt, moment by moment, all the way up to the end.
And now that we know Jones is human and very touchable, watching him fight has become more compelling than ever.
Nick Diaz Walks Away, Again
Nick Diaz is a puzzling man.
It doesn’t seem like it was all that long ago that he was all about the business of making a buck in the sport. Now, instead of taking advantage of youth and opportunity, he’s deciding to sit things out, evidently confident that if he holds out, he’ll get called up for some big fights.
Maybe against Anderson Silva or whoever, but Diaz just doesn’t love fighting enough to do it anymore unless it’s against a big name in a big fight.
Sadly, he hasn’t won a fight since 2011. While that would be devastating to some careers, Diaz only fought once in 2012 and 2013. Both were title fights, and both times he lost via decision.
So, he is 0-2 over the past two years, but he sits on the sidelines, waiting for the big call and the big money he believes he is due.
Given that he’s done this before, what makes this time different?
All the big names he was looking at seem to be vanishing. St-Pierre has stepped away, and Silva is badly injured and may not return. Diaz isn't interested in Michael Bisping, he’s far too small to face Jon Jones, and everyone else who would make a good opponent is either too small in name or too problematic in style—fighters with a strong wrestling base.
To use a baseball adage, sometimes it’s better to swing and miss than to simply let the ball sail on by. Odds are Dana White is only going to pitch to Diaz a few more times before he moves on.
JDS Title Aspirations Trampled
For the majority of 2012, Junior dos Santos was the reigning UFC heavyweight champion, and many fans and writers were saying he was the greatest heavyweight champion in the promotion's history.
And this was after just one title defense.
Now, after having the title ripped from his grasp by Cain Velasquez at UFC 155 in December of last year and getting another savage beating by the champion at UFC 166, dos Santos looks like a great fighter who will never be champion again.
Styles make fights, and it seems that Velasquez is tailor made to best dos Santos. He’s a better grappler with excellent takedowns, he punches hard and often, he’s tireless and courageous, and above all else, he’s not intimidated by anyone.
Unless someone else dethrones Velasquez, dos Santos isn’t going to be winning the belt anytime soon.
Rampage Jackson Is Released from the UFC
For the first time since the acquisition of Pride FC, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is not a UFC fighter.
Now fighting for Bellator, he seems adrift. He is a fighter without much passion, passing the time and cashing his checks as long as his name still carries some heft.
It’s strange to see a fighter go from the big shows of Pride to the UFC, become a champion, star on two seasons of The Ultimate Fighter as a coach and then talk himself into being released, so he can toil in a lesser organization.
But that is what Rampage did, and every man has the right to decide his own future. Hopefully for him, he is getting all that he wanted. For a personality so vibrant and large, he suddenly seems small.
But they say the lure of a quiet life finds all men eventually.
The Belfort Buzzsaw Cuts Them Down in Brazil
Fight fans have always loved a dramatic finish. It is the ultimate resolution when it is done right, and in 2013, Vitor Belfort did it right three times, stopping Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold and Dan Henderson via KO/TKO.
But it wasn’t so much how he finished the fights that now poses a problem, but the means by which he equipped himself to do so. All three of his bouts happened in Brazil, and for each one, he was using TRT (testosterone replacement therapy). In fact, he says he’s been using it for three years, per MMAJunkie.com.
Thanks to his success, Belfort is now slated to face reigning middleweight champion Chris Weidman in a title bout that will also bring the controversy of TRT front and center.
With all the negative association tied to TRT, a Belfort victory may end up tainting the title, no matter where the fight is held. Some will say the Brazilian had an unfair advantage in working his way up the ladder, even if he is cleared by the NSAC and tests within the limits of exception.
While his victories in 2013 were exciting and ferocious, as long as he is using TRT, questions will linger, no matter how loudly Dana White claims that Belfort’s TRT use isn’t a problem because it’s not abuse.
None of this is to point a finger at Belfort for the end of crying foul. But no matter how legitimate or honest, TRT exceptions in the combative sports have been abused in the past.
Now, they are seen by most as just another chemical advantage for pro athletes, who believe that the ends justify the means. It’s a debate that could possibly explode if Belfort wins the title.
Rousey Makes First UFC Appearance, Puts WMMA in the Octagon
At UFC 157, Ronda Rousey, the woman responsible for bringing women's MMA into the UFC, stepped into the Octagon and defended her title for the very first time, securing yet another victory via first-round armbar.
With the victory, she gave substance to all the hype that was afforded her thanks to her time as an Olympian and her short but sweet MMA career. It may seem insulting to some to say that one woman can serve the cause of WMMA by serving herself first, but in the case of Rousey, that seems to be true.
In record time, she has become the name of note for women in the sport, and the growth of her stature lends a legitimacy to the ladies in the cage.
Call it trailblazing or whatever you wish, but Rousey is the reason why women are now on the biggest stage of the sport. It is because of her that the UFC had the first-ever season of TUF that featured women alongside men. It was a shocking development when you consider that not all that long ago, White had said that WMMA would never find a home in the Octagon.
Some things start quietly, and other times they start with a bang. In her case, Rousey kicked down the door to the UFC, and now a flood of female talent is getting some long overdue recognition.
Griffin and Bonnar Are Inducted into UFC Hall of Fame
It seems like we were being introduced to Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar just yesterday via the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, but it was actually eight years ago.
Since then, both men realized their dreams of fighting in the UFC. They both fought 14 times in the Octagon (including two title fights for Griffin), and based on the strength of their epic first bout, they were inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame.
While the selection process of induction has always been “flexible,” it’s hard not to appreciate the reasoning behind their selection. Granted, Bonnar never fought for a title, but there are no hard and fast rules about the process. If Dana White thinks you deserve it and he likes you, then you are inducted.
While I have often taken issue with the UFC Hall of Fame based on who has not been selected (Frank Shamrock, anyone?), those men who have gotten the nod honestly seem to deserve it, even if it was because of one incredible moment in time.
And their fight at the TUF 1 finale was incredible.
The Return of Robbie Lawler
At one time during the reign of Matt Hughes, Lawler looked like was one of those rare fighters who was exciting enough to fight anywhere but had no place to go.
After his loss to Nick Diaz at UFC 47, he started to flounder. He got choked out by Evan Tanner at middleweight in a fight he seemed to dial i,n and the next thing you know, he’s bouncing around the fight circuit, doing time in smaller organizations.
Now, he’s back in the UFC as a veteran who has seen it all, and he looks better than he ever has.
When the UFC announced he was going to face Josh Koscheck for his first return fight to the promotion, most thought it was going to be an easy win for Kos. Instead, Lawler won via TKO in the first round, and his comeback was under way.
Now, after three victories in 2013, he’s going to be fighting for the vacant UFC welterweight title against Johny Hendricks in 2014.
That is the perfect definition of “coming full circle.”
TUF 1 Notables Fade Away
While Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar were getting inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame, Josh Koscheck and Chris Leben found themselves struggling to stay relevant in a sport that can be cruel to anyone standing still.
Koscheck was winless in 2013, losing to Robbie Lawler and Tyron Woodley via KO/TKO in the first round of each fight. Leben also went 0-2 and ended the year on a four-fight skid that saw him quitting on the stool after a tough first round against Uriah Hall.
Should either man (or both) be cut or retire, then the only remaining fighters on the UFC roster from the first season of The Ultimate Fighter will be Mike Swick and Diego Sanchez.
It's hard to believe they have come and gone so quickly.
Hendo Gets KO’d in Worst Year of Career
2013 was not kind to Dan Henderson—not in the least.
The possessor of “The H-Bomb” went 0-3 in the year before suffering his first-ever knockout loss against Vitor Belfort in Brazil at UFC Fight Night: Belfort vs. Henderson.
At 43 years of age and after accomplishing so much in his storied career, Henderson has little chance of acquiring the final jewel for his crown: a UFC title.
If he cannot be a fighter of note, he won't want to continue as a stepping stone for other younger fighters who are looking to make a name at his expense.
If he loses his next fight, a retirement announcement seems inevitable.