With the UFC announcing that there will be 34 events in the 2012 calendar year, up nearly 30 percent from 2011, there are sure to be plenty of big fights we will see next year. These not only include the announced title bouts and No. 1 contender fights already scheduled for the first quarter of next year, but other brawls that are sure to bring fireworks as well.
Take a look at five that I think will happen before the summer of 2012.
After Dan Henderson's epic battle with Mauricio "Shogun" Rua this past weekend, it is hard to think of not letting the former Strikeforce champion have a crack at the UFC light heavyweight belt.
Not so fast, my friends. Patiently waiting in line for the same strap has been Rashad Evans and although Dana White has mentioned that Henderson is a contender for the middleweight belt as well, Chael Sonnen is the best bet to challenge Anderson Silva, business-wise, for the UFC at this time.
Given the fuzzier picture in the light heavyweight division, the Evans vs. Henderson fight would clearly determine the No. 1 contender for Jon Jones' belt and quiet all the critics of who is next in line.
We all know that Briann Stann was handled rather easily by Sonnen and his great wrestling, but let's not forget that Stann is still a top seven middleweight who would be a legitimate test for another middleweight contender trying to get a chance at Anderson Silva's belt.
Enter Mark Munoz.
The Filipino Wrecking Machine has rolled off four straight victories since his split-decision loss to Yushin Okami, knocked out heavy-handed Chris Leben along the way and is in need of fighting a top-notch middleweight like Stann before he can ask to headline an event versus Silva.
I see this fight happening at UFC on Fox 2, coming up January 28th in Chicago.
The UFC's most polarizing welterweight, Josh Koscheck, has heard the same comments over and over again. "He's already fought GSP twice." "He needs to reel off a few wins before he can ever contend for the belt again." "Until he fights teammate Jon Fitch, he will never be the true No. 1 contender for the belt."
Well, truth be told, he was out of action for the majority of 2011 with a gruesome eye injury, he knocked out a legend in Matt Hughes and is now scheduled to face former No. 1 contender Carlos Condit.
Assuming he wins that fight, which is no easy task, the next fight for him would be versus the new talk of the welterweight town, Jake Ellenberger. Ellenberger has reeled off five straight wins, four by stoppage, and is in need of facing one more top contender before he gets a shot at GSP's belt. This one is sure to be fireworks because both are great wrestlers with heavy hands.
Nick Diaz's first stint in the UFC was mediocre, but after making his rounds in EliteXC and Strikeforce, he came back to the UFC in impressive fashion, bloodying BJ Penn and earning a fight with Georges St. Pierre.
Regardless of what happens in that fight, he will have to continue to fight the cream of the crop, including fellow Bay Area resident Jon Fitch. With Fitch only losing once in his career, a decision to GSP, he has gone six fights without a loss and is ready to contend once again.
Assuming he handles Johnny Hendricks in his next fight, it only seems appropriate that he fights Diaz to see who continues to stay near the top of the welterweight heap and who no longer remains in the top five.
Gilbert Melendez, one of the most articulate and soft-spoken fighters in all of MMA, has been quietly lobbying to come over to the UFC and be thrown in the ring with a top five lightweight. He has asked to fight Frankie Edgar and been called out by former Bellator champion Eddie Alvarez, all while feeling like his work is finished in Strikeforce.
Considering that he has a fight coming up with Jorge Masvidal in December and the UFC brass has essentially required former Strikeforce champions to fight once in the UFC before making a run at the belt (see Shields vs. Kampmann, Diaz vs. Penn and Henderson vs. Rua), it seems fitting that Melendez will need to fight a top-five UFC lightweight before getting a crack at the winner of Edgar and Ben Henderson.
Why not put him in the ring against the winner of Melvin Guillard and Jim Miller? The fight would establish Melendez as a contender for the belt or show the rest of the UFC that the recent losses by Guillard and Miller were just hiccups along the way to one of them earning a title shot.