2010 was a great year for mixed martial arts. We saw multiple champs emerge in Cain Velasquez, Frankie Edgar and Jose Aldo. We saw absolute wars like Sonnen/Silva and Leben/Akiyama. Needless to say it was very nice to be an MMA fan in 2010. With only WEC 53 left on the docket it's time to turn our attention towards 2011. Everyone always attempts to predict the future so let's all get out our crystal balls and see what we have to look forward to in the coming year. Inside are 25 predictions for 2011, in no particular.
The 265-pound behemoth was an instant star with the paying customers. His seven second knockout of Tim Hague and his Hulk-like muscles brought him instant fame in his UFC debut. Many immediately pegged him as a future title contender based solely on that one seven second fight.
Then came his second appearance for the promotion, a complete domination of Mike Russow until he was knocked out by a harmless jab in the third round. The hype train had been derailed before it even left the station.
What followed was a tour of negative comments and bad publicity as Duffee criticized both the pay and the lack of fights within the UFC. Uncle Dana didn't take too kindly to that and released the once promising prospect.
I expect Duffee to pick up two or three wins in smaller regional promotions and be invited back to the UFC. Dana White will claim that he learned his lesson and welcome back the fan favorite. Duffee is too skilled and too popular to stay out of the organization for long.
Randy Couture and B.J. Penn have already proven that fan favorites get rocketed toward title shots a lot faster than your average fighter. I expect Lesnar to be given the same treatment.
The former WWE wrestler can almost guarantee 1 million pay per view buys every time he steps inside the Octagon, and that means a lot to the UFC. Another title shot would be a huge pay day for Dana White and company.
I look for Lesnar to run through two middle tier opponents in 2011 and be pegged as the next title contender in the heavyweight division, with the fight scheduled for either late 2011 or early 2012. White will push the fact that Lesnar has improved in every aspect of MMA and is coming in a much better fighter than at UFC 121.
After his stunning title run in the K-1 World Grand Prix, Overeem officially accomplished what he set out to do and that was to win a kickboxing title. He was already the Strikeforce heavyweight champion, so not much is left for the Dutch striker.
A move to the UFC would earn him a ton of money, his vicious striking and chiseled frame are just screaming to be promoted. Fights against Shane Carwin, Brock Lesnar, Cain Velasquez, and Junior Dos Santos could do over a million pay per view buys easily.
Overeem is friends with Dana White and has publicly stated in the past that his ultimate goal is to join the UFC. The exclusionary clause in UFC contracts wouldn't have allowed Overeem to compete within the K-1 tournament but now that he has claimed the crown, I doubt he would mind not being allowed to compete again.
Really the only thing standing in the way of seeing Overeem competing in the Octagon is the championship clause in his Strikeforce contract.
The one time dream match-up seems to almost be reality. Both fighters are one mere fight away from totally cleaning out their divisions and Uncle Dana has been steadily warming up to the idea of seeing his two superstars duke it out in the octagon.
With Georges St. Pierre's victory over Josh Koscheck, all that stands in his way of completely owning the division is a date with Jake Shields. Shields is but a minor road bump considering St. Pierre's striking, wrestling, and jiu jitsu. White has publicly admitted that after that GSP would have totally wiped the welterweight division off the map.
A February 5th fight against challenger Vitor Belfort is all that is left for the Brazilian striker before he too has cleaned out his division. Silva is often regarded as the best striker in all of MMA, which leaves little hope for Befort considering his strength has always been his boxing.
If Silva and St. Pierre both take care of business it's clear that we could be witnessing the biggest mixed martial arts fight of all time. A fight that would do record numbers and could potentially fill up Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, Texas. It would be a pay day that not even White could turn down.
Rumors are swirling that a planned press conference on Thursday in Rio will consist of Dana White announcing a future card that will take place down in Brazil. The South American country houses some of the best talent in mixed martial arts including Shogun Rua, Lyoto Machida, Anderson Silva, Jose Aldo, and so many more. Common sense would indicate that a show in Brazil could do huge numbers when you look at the draws present in the UFC and love for the sport down there.
The UFC has not made a trip to Brazil since 1998, which is way too long. Brazil is home to the Gracie family, the family that help make MMA what it is today. It is home to Brazilian jiu jitsu and the champions in the 205, 185, and 145 weight classes in the UFC. A card down there would be met with great enthusiasm from the population and media. I look forward to seeing what the UFC can cook up.
The UFC has recently signed Japanese stand outs Kid Yamamoto and Michihiro Omigawa. Combine them with Asian superstars Takanori Gomi, Yoshihiro Akiyama, and Yushin Okami and you have a pretty solid foundation for a potential show over in the East. The impending collapse of Japanese promotion DREAM willalso leave the region ripe for the picking.
The UFC would be very wise to slowly begin expanding into the Asian market as they continue their quest for global recognition. China is home to the world's largest population and Japan has always housed one of the biggest MMA fan bases in the entire world. A card probably won't materialize but I would be seriously surprised if feelers hadn't at least been sent out to Asian markets in the hopes of bringing a card to the area sooner rather than later.
The news of Bellator's recent TV deal with MTV2 was a very promising sign for the young promotion but further signs point toward their impending collapse. The simple fact of the matter is that Bellator is still losing money on every event it puts on, and that is just NOT the way to run a business.
The promotion had phenomenal production, exciting fights, and a great model with their tournaments but it looks like it will still not be enough to save them. It just goes to show how tough it is to survive if UFC isn't plastered all over the fights. PRIDE was sold, EliteXC went out of business, Affliction went belly up and it seems as if Bellator is next in line.
Luckily for the fans it should allow stand outs like Hector Lombard, Eddie Alvarez, Cole Konrad, and Ben Askren to make the jump to the UFC. After all someone always gets richer when someone else fails.
Rumors are swirling that the next season of the always popular reality TV show The Ultimate Fighter will be coached by middleweight contenders Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva.
Chael Sonnen has inserted himself into every fight fans mind after his inspiring trash talk leading up to his battle with Anderson Silva at UFC 117. His verbal jabs and witty banter have led him to garner a ton of publicity and a ton of fans. Recently he has set his sights on Wanderlei Silva. A recent twitter message directed at Silva stated "Wand, you might as well fill out your own toe tag. Where it says "Cause of death," just write, "I pissed off a Gangster."
Never one to back away from a good verbal sparring Silva responded in typical Axe Murderer fashion with "Sonnan you start tolk about me, becarful or you go need call to your dentista." Needless to say the seeds have been planted for what should turn out as a ridiculously exciting season of The Ultimate Fighter. If Dana White knows what's good for business he will book these two as coaches.
Chris Leben had a pretty good 2010. He reeled off three straight wins, including two when he was down on the scorecards a mere two weeks apart. Who would have thought that the ultimate bad boy from the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter would have turned himself into a complete mixed martial artist?
Leben was able to come from behind against Aaron Simpson on the eleventh edition of the Ultimate Fighter Finale and TKO the promising wrestling prospect after losing the first round. Leben again showed off his indestructible chin against Japanese star Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 116. Down with only 20 seconds left in the final frame, the Crippler locked up a beautiful triangle choke to force the tapout.
Few know where The Cat Smasher will end up during 2011. I look for him to continue his resurgence in the middleweight division while also putting on entertaining fights for the fans. His reign continues New Year's Day as he faces off against Brian Stann at UFC 125.
Stephen Bonnar, Sean Sherk, Chris Leben, Chael Sonnen, and Nate Marquardt have all tested positive for performance enhancing drugs at one point or another in their careers. However no big name fighters have ever popped a positive test. The closest we have come would probably be Sonnen earlier this year after his battle with Anderson Silva at UFC 117.
With the increasing amount of competition in the mixed martial arts world I expect fighters to continue looking for the most minute of advantages entering fight night. Some will go on strict diets, some will do strange yoga exercises, and some will turn to banned substances.
At one point or another a major star in the UFC will piss hot and the reaction will be out of this world. I expect that time to soon come..
Without a victory since 2006, Tito Ortiz is skating on thing ice. The one time dominant champion is facing a stark difference from the days when fans both cheered and jeered him at the same time. Fans have turned largely apathetic to the Huntington Beach Bad Boy as he has gone from title holder, to title contender, to gatekeeper, to well we don't quite know.
Ortiz is slated to face Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 128 in March, I expect that it will be the last time he enters the Octagon. A long and bountiful career is about to enter a close and love him or hate him one has to respect what the man has accomplished. The first true dominant fighter, Ortiz imposed his will on fighters during the beginning of the UFC. He is one of the last links to those days past of public banishment and underground fame.
Win or lose I hope everyone can appreciate how Ortiz oversaw the sport from its infancy.
Edson Barboza, the next big thing out of Brazil, had a dynamite UFC debut when he TKOed Mike Lullo via leg kicks. Yes by leg kicks. His stand up is Jose Aldo-esque. He is viciously quick and hits to knock his opponents head into the stands.
His jiu jitsu seems good enough to save him from tough spots. Barboza's only weakness so far has been his takedown defense and considering the upper echelon of the lightweight division is filled with fighters like Frankie Edgar, Gray Maynard, and Sean Sherk takedown defense is a must.
If Barboza can stop takedowns he will quickly enter Phil Davis territory, as a promising young fighter on the verge of a title shot.
I know I have already touched upon Overeem, but I believe that other staples of Strikeforce will slowly be coming over to the biggest mixed martial arts promotion on the planet. Ronaldo Souza, Jason Miller, and others have already expressed interest in the UFC and I'm sure the UFC wouldn't mind having them in their stable of fighters either.
When Jake Shields defected into the UFC it opened up the possibilities of teammates Nick Diaz and Gilbert Melendez also joining him in the near future.
Strikeforce may have just put on one of the most exciting fight cards of the year and they may be gaining popularity but at the end of the day the UFC is still king. The exposure, sponsorships, and money are all greater. I hope to see the top dogs of Strikeforce competing in the Octagon very shortly.
I don't know how the Russians continue to get away with it, but Fedor Emelianenko and his promotional company continue to swindle Strikeforce out of massive amounts of money. Between his contract and the co-promotion with M-1, Strikeforce pays them a tremendous sum of money just to have the greatest heavyweight of all time fight for them.
Fedor continues renegotiations with the company despite having lost his last fight to Fabricio Werdum in June. Somehow his management company still has all of the leverage. They continue to believe that they are not getting their fare share of the pie even with all of the concessions Scott Coker and Strikeforce are making towards them.
With all of the red-tape and negotiating I feel like we will only see the most dominant heavyweight of all time once in 2011.
Lingering knee issues plus a year long layoff plus past trouble with wrestlers equals a new light heavyweight champion when champ Mauricio Shogun Rua and Rashad Evans meet in March.
Shogun Rua has not fought since he won the belt from Lyoto Machida this past April at UFC 113 because of knee surgery on a recurring issue that has plagued him for quite some time. The time away from the game coupled with the rehabilitation process makes this one tough match up for the champion.
Evans comes into this bout stronger than ever. Sure he has had roughly the same time away but he was not dealing with injuries throughout the dormant period. His wrestling should come in handy against the dangerous Rua. I like Evans to be able to take down Rua throughout their title affair. If Evans corrects his past cardio issues, he should walk away the new light heavyweight champion.
Jon Jones trains with Rashad Evans and have become close friends. This is unfortunate. If Evans takes the title away from Shogun Rua, like I think he will, Jones has vowed to not fight his teammate and friend.
It's unfortunate because one of the budding young talents will be denied his shot at fame due to his teammates success. It's understandable to a degree but one would think that the opportunity to be crowned world champion would override any personal sentiments. After Jones demolishes Ryan Bader in February, one could make the argument that the 23 year old would be primed and ready for a title shot.
Unfortunately he won't be getting one until Evans loses.
The Hawaiian native has always been one of the more fiery competitors in the UFC. A skilled jiu jitsu black belt with some serious boxing skills, Penn is a handful for anyone he steps into the ring with. Those skills and his legion of fans will lead him to another title shot in 2011.
After consecutive losses to Frankie Edgar at 155 many feared that Penn would enter the dreaded Rich Franklin category, a clear second fiddle to the champion of the division. Instead Penn leaped up to 170 and knocked out Matt Hughes in 21 seconds. What materialized next was a shot at Jon Fitch, the clear cut number two welterweight since Georges St. Pierre took the title.
If Penn can get past Fitch, which I think he will, it sets himself up quite nicely for a title shot. Who knows if it will be at 170 or 155 but it will happen. He puts butts on the seats and gets fans to order pay per views. A fighter with either St. Pierre or Edgar will be a hard sell considering he is 0-2 against both, but if St. Pierre moves up to 185 to tackle bigger challenges I expect Penn to be the first in line to take his belt at 170.
With a whole cast of talented fighters and a bunch of promising fights on the dock, Strikeforce looks to continue it's surge in the MMA market in the coming year.
They closed out 2010 with one of the best fight cards of the year with Henderson vs. Babalu, which featured a ton of vicious knock outs, something every casual fan loves. Outside of the Nashville card debacle that saw all three title fights go on for five boring rounds, Strikeforce has been putting on high quality, entertaining fights for a long time.
Their roster of fighters continue to grow and improve. Quality names like Nick Diaz, Gilbert Melendez, Dan Henderson, Antonio Silva, Mike Kyle, and many more allow the promotion the ability to promote a ton of different guys and a ton of different styles. Strikeforce is finally hitting it's stride and I look forward to seeing where they go from here.
Not many people paid much attention to the former NFL player when it came to actually fighting during his season on The Ultimate Fighter. Meathead got all the attention for all of the wrong reasons. His antics stirred up controversy in the house and he could just be flat out crazy at times. Well somewhere along the lines a legitimate mixed martial artist emerged.
Mitrione has gone 3-0 in his UFC stint so far, which includes every single professional bout of his career. That says a lot about someone who was able to come into the reality TV show with no prior professional fight experience and do as well as he did. His natural athleticism can truly shine in a sport like MMA.
With his improving skill set, down to earth personality, and candid demeanor Mitrione is quickly becoming a fan favorite. He should keep stringing together wins this upcoming year and become one of the more popular heavyweights in the UFC.
It says a lot about someones abilities when his biggest hindrance in developing as a mixed martial artist is the fact that no one will face him. Thus is the plight for Daniel Cormier, a 6-0 heavyweight who was also a NCAA champion wrestler who medaled at the World Championships.
Cormier has one of the best training teams behind him at AKA, where he trains with current UFC heavyweight Cain Velasquez on an almost daily basis. His world class wrestling needs little training but being around guys like Velasquez has worked wonders for his stand-up and jiu jitsu.
A budding young star, Cormier already has one fight lined up against Devin Cole on January 7th. Hopefully others will soon step up and allow Cormier to continue his ascension to the top.
Maybe it started during the later rounds of his fight with Demian Maia. Or maybe he was really just showboating. Maybe we saw the beginnings of it during his battle with Chael Sonnen. Or maybe that was just a result of his rib injury. Whatever it may be, I think the dominance of The Spider is slowly coming to an end.
This is all really expected as Anderson Silva turns 36 in April, which is almost ancient for a fighter. An entire strategy based around speed and quickness turned almost ineffective as the body refuses to pounce like it was once capable of doing.
Now I still don't think Silva loses in 2011. He has been far too dominant for far too long and still has some left in the gas tank. But I think we start to see some chinks in the armor if you will. He beats everyone he faces, outside of a superfight with GSP, but not nearly in the spectacular fashion we have become accustom to.
I have already mentioned the recent signings of Kid Yamamoto and Michihiro Omigawa by the UFC for their newly created bantamweight and featherweight classes. They are both highly exciting fighters who should bring legions of fans but ultimately I think that neither lives up to expectations.
Yamamato is a 33 year old dropping down to bantamweight for the first time in his career in his UFC debut at UFC 126 in February. The Japanese stalwart is coming over to fight for the first time his career outside of two fights in Hawaii early in his career. I suspect that it's just a little too late for Yamamato who won't be as effective as he once was.
On the other hand Omigawa was a former UFC washout at lightweight before dropping down to fight at 145. He experience a career rejuvenation down there, going 8-1-1 fighting over in Japan. I think Omigawa is highly competitive in his new UFC career but will never reach the level of success many followers already expect him to reach.
There is a reason that former WEC lightweight champion and current contender Jamie Varner got cut from the UFC after a loss to Hermes Franca, he wasn't good enough for the promotion. Now with the winner of Thursday nights Henderson/Pettis showdown guaranteed a shot at the winner of the Frankie Edgar/Gray Maynar fight I question whether either truly deserves it.
The UFC is a different animal all together from other promotions. The fighters are bigger, stronger, faster, and more skilled. I'm sure the top tier guys like Henderson, Cerrone, and Pettis can survive in the UFC but I question their ability to ever truly contend.
You know you have a bright future when you invent a submission while fighting in the UFC. Phil "Mr. Wonderful" Davis was a wrestling stand out at Penn State before making the switch to mixed martial arts. Unlike most wrestlers, who try and become boxers or ground n pound fighters, Davis has taken a different approach, submissions.
He has drilled jiu jitsu since entering the fight game, and it's paid off. His win over Alexander Gustaffson by anaconda choke was a thing of beauty. The recent fight against Tim Boetsch was where he invented the Wonderbar, a hybrid kimura/armlock that he used to stop the fight.
Between his wrestling, jiu jitsu, and always expanding striking Davis will be a serious threat to those fighting at 205 very soon. I look for Davis to string together multiple impressive wins in the upcoming year and thrust himself directly into the limelight.
Cain Velasquez has it all. He has the striking to defeat most standing and the wrestling to take down the others. Between those strengths, his jiu jitsu and cardio I see him holding onto the heavyweight belt for a long time.
Silva has demolished the middlweight division for many years and I don't expect that to stop now. Between his unparalleled striking and dangerous submissions, I like him to keep his streak of title defenses alive. Outside of GSP, I see no one beating him.
GSP further clarified his place in MMA history after the beatdown that he put on Josh Koscheck this past Saturday. He has now effectively cleared out the welterweight division outside of Jake Shields. He has dominated Koscheck, Alves, Hardy, Fitch, Hughes, Penn, and so many others.
Frankie Edgar has gone from unknown to world champion almost overnight with his victories over B.J. Penn. He uses his quickness, boxing, and wrestling to fluster opponents. I like his chances in a rematch with Maynard, as I believe that he has developed a lot more than The Bully has.
Finally Jose Aldo, the 145 pound wrecking machine. He has deadly muay thai. Just google Urijah Faber's leg if you don't believe me. The scary thing is many training partners laminate the fact that he is just as good, if not better with his jiu jitsu. Needless to say I don't think he relinquishes the belt anytime soon.
I can't predict a champion at 135 pounds. I think the match-up on Thursday between Dominick Cruz and Scott Jorgensen is a very close fight and I look forward to watching it.