Prognostication is typically a precision art.
When trying to peer into the future, it’s better to do it through a sniper’s scope than a wide-angle lens. Sometimes, though—particularly around the holidays—we soothsayers start feeling a little squirrely.
Why be content with boldly predicting what is going to happen at a single MMA show (like we normally do) when we could make a from-the-hip shotgun-blast at the entire next year?
2013 was wild, so what the devil are we to expect from 2014, anyway? Glad you asked. Here are our best guesses, as Bleacher Report MMA lead writers Chad Dundas (that’s me) and Jonathan Snowden make some bold predictions for the calendar year 2014.
What could possibly go wrong?
Jonathan Snowden: Sports fans are a fairly forward-looking bunch. Sure, there are pockets of fans steeped in nostalgia, mostly older men draped in Louisville Grays jerseys and staring wistfully at their baseball card collections. Or, in my case, writing about the glorious days of yore when men were men and prone to prolific bouts of face punching.
But more common are those asking "What's next?" The grown men obsessing over high school athletes, hoping beyond hope that they become college stars. In fact, ranking high school kids has exploded to the point that you can't even call it a cottage industry anymore. When high school football games end up on ESPN, that's not a cottage industry. That's just a plain old industry.
MMA fans are guilty of this, too, always looking for future champions and breakout stars. The year 2014, though, it's going to tell a different story. During this calendar year, the old guy is going to rule. Robbie Lawler, Vitor Belfort and Urijah Faber will all strap UFC gold around their waists. Perhaps Josh Thomson will as well. Men who have come close to making it—only to fall just short of their goals—will finally reach their professional destiny.
And, as a man approaching 40 and a sentimentalist at heart, I will enjoy the journey right alongside side these grizzled Octagon warriors. Enjoy the limelight, boys. You've earned it.
Chad Dundas: It would warm many a longtime MMA fan’s heart to see Lawler hang welterweight gold during 2014 after spending a little more than eight years away fighting in EliteXC, Strikeforce and even Pride. Faber, too, would make something of a feel-good story if he finally managed to win a UFC title and snap his 0-5 slump in championship bouts.
Both those guys face considerable uphill hikes, though. Lawler will have to face Johny Hendricks, a guy with equally heavy hands and far superior wrestling. Faber will put his four-fight win streak on the line against Renan Barao, who has competed in 32 straight bouts without a loss.
I’m not sure either oldster can do it, though if they do, I’ll be right there celebrating with you. At least until my back and knees force me to go lie down.
Sadly, the “retread” with the best chance to actually capture a championship is probably Belfort, and we all know he’s damaged goods. His title victory would be nothing to celebrate at all, unless you work in the pharmaceutical industry.
Dundas: With apologies to people who are all in a titter about the prospect of seeing Jon Jones throw down with Daniel Cormier, that fight never happens. At least not at light heavyweight. At least not in 2014.
As the last of the UFC’s male superstars left standing, Jones has a tremendous burden to carry this year. With both Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva out, the fight company will need all the help it can get from the world’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter.
That includes helping matchmakers book the last superfight within reach. After Jones disposes of Glover Teixeira and Alexander Gustafsson this year, he’ll succumb to the pressure to chase the biggest, most super fight of them all: a New Year’s Eve bout against Cain Velasquez for the UFC heavyweight title.
Velasquez will be at loose ends after spending much of 2014 rehabbing a shoulder injury. For most of the year, MMA fans will soldier on blindly in the belief that he’ll take on the winner of Travis Browne vs. Fabricio Werdum when he returns. Unfortunately, Browne is also injured en route to his victory over Werdum, and the UFC is forced to scrap those plans.
After a year of slumping pay-per-view numbers and an inability to transform Fight Pass into a workable commodity, the organization will want to end 2014 with a bang. And it does—oh, does it ever—when just over a million people shell out $59.95 to watch Jones take the title from Velasquez in a stunning, high-definition upset.
Now, who’s ready for 2015?
Snowden: What will be great about this, beyond the pleasure of getting to see Jones test himself against Velasquez, will be the sheer idiocy of the fans who will accuse him of ducking Cormier. Never mind that Jones has fought five former light heavyweight champions in the course of his young career. Those kind of facts will never save you from the boo birds in the UFC's Internet Greek chorus.
The thing is, I would have been more keen to see Jones test his mettle against the heavyweights before the Gustafsson fight. After that fight? He suddenly doesn't seem like such a man amongst boys. He, for the first time since Chael Sonnen broke his toe with the power of telekinesis, looked potentially vulnerable.
That's why a return bout with the biggest Swedish sensation since ABBA is a more compelling fight to me than Cormier or Velasquez. Let's get to the rematch already! Haven't we waited long enough?
Snowden: Ronda Rousey made a quite an impact in just 12 short months as a UFC fighter. She defended her world bantamweight title twice, dismantling both Liz Carmouche with her cartoonishly clever judo game, but more than that, she defended the right for women MMA fighters to exist on the same platform as their male counterparts.
Rousey wasn't just a great fighter—for a girl. She was a great fighter in 2013. Period. End of thought. I named her my 2013 fighter of the year. And though I took some flack for that, I think it is an honor well deserved. Rousey could have easily stepped into the Octagon and set women back 10 years with an embarrassing performance. Everything was riding on how she rose to meet the challenge. And, not only did she win, she smashed opponents in a way even the most hardened sexists couldn't deny was impressive.
Along the way, Rousey also became one of the sport's most electric stars. Her presence pushed UFC 168 past the magical one-million pay-per-view barrier, making her one of the UFC's best-drawing cards. More than that, Rousey's ubiquitous presence in the media, magazines and in motion picture films coming to a theater near you made her one of MMA's most compelling crossover stars.
And in the end, that's what will pull her away from this sport. The siren call of the movies will be too strong, the money too good, the hassle of dealing with all the fight game's quirks a little too much for her to bear. Rousey may come back now and again for superfights if the timing is right. But this will be her last year as a full-time pro. When you see her fight in 2015, it will be on celluloid.
Dundas: For much of 2013, the idea of Rousey walking away would’ve filled me with trepidation about the future of women in the UFC. Now? Not so much.
In the early days, UFC brass clearly only had eyes for Her Rowdiness, but then she and her female cohorts hipped the entire industry to our sport’s best-kept secret: Women’s MMA is awesome. Now, female fighting is in the Octagon to stay and the weirdsmobiles who used to fill our timelines with misogynistic garbage about how they “weren’t interested” have largely taken the hint and shut up.
I will never begrudge anyone for having an exit strategy from MMA. This is a dangerous, unforgiving sport, and if Rousey can make sums of money that are greater than or equal to what the UFC pays her by doing a job that is better for her brain and skeletal structure, I’m all for it.
While I can’t say I’m quite as bullish on her prospects as a movie star as some people, I hope it works out for her. If it does, she can confidently leave this sport better off than when she found it. If it doesn’t, she’ll always have a home here.
Dundas: Yeah, I get it, you’re tired of reading about testosterone replacement therapy. You just want to watch dudes spin-kick each other in the face and not have to think about it. Believe me, I’m tired of writing about it.
But see, that’s the beauty of this prediction. After 2014, we won’t have to worry about TRT anymore, because it’ll be gone.
At some point next year, the camel’s back will snap on all this business of professional fighters shooting themselves up with extra doses of male growth hormones. In a perfect world, it won’t take an ugly, high-profile incident or scandal to spark the reform, but, whatever the impetus, it’s going to happen.
One of America’s major state athletic commissions (maybe Nevada, maybe New Jersey) will step in and say, no mas. There’s just no reason to go on justifying medicinal steroid use. The risks to competitors, users and combat sports in general are just too great.
In doing so, MMA’s chief regulators will be drawing a line in the sand. They’ll be saying that any fighter who can’t compete without TRT will have to retire. Any athlete who can forgo a previous TRT exemption and fight without the stuff? Well, he was just cheating all along, right?
Maybe commissioners will also be daring somebody to sue them over this move, but you know what? Nobody will.
Eventually, promoters will be forced to follow suit, disallowing testosterone users from working for their companies at all.
And then we’ll finally, mercifully all be able to get back to the business of being fight fans.
Snowden: What if we lived in the kind of world that saw state regulators do the right thing because it was the moral choice, the only defensible choice in the eyes of reasonable people everywhere?
In that grand world, filled with sugar plumbs and gum drops, Chad wouldn't have needed to write this entry. He wouldn't need to discuss it weekly on the Co-Main Event podcast with USA Today's Ben Fowlkes. And I wouldn't be writing this fanciful response.
Because, in that world, the idea of a cage fighter getting a permission slip from the government to enhance his already scary physique with additional testosterone would be preposterous. But we don't live in Chad's world—let's call in Earth C. We don't live in my world, either, a glorious place where Pride is still alive and Rumina Sato is defending his bantamweight title for the 15th time.
We live on Earth Prime. And it's gritty and corrupt, beyond even Oliver Stone's twisted imagination. On our world, the government does allow what Fight Opinion's Zach Arnold calls a testosterone hall pass.
And on our world, that's not likely to change any time soon.