Each year, it is good to take a step back and look at the sport of mixed martial arts as a whole. 2008 has been another exciting and unpredictable year and 2009 will likely be no different.
As a fan of the sport first and foremost, I see there are always things that can be changed, tweaked, or removed altogether.
The following, in no particular order, are 10 wishes I hope will be granted sometime during the upcoming year.
1) The UFC continues to acquire top-level talent.
If you examined the top 25 heavyweights and lightweights in the world, you would find that the majority are non-UFC fighters. Not only could those two divisions be bolstered but the UFC should continue to pursue fighters from all weight classes.
This means going after the likes of Fedor Emelianenko, Shinya Aoki, Jake Shields, Eddie Alvarez, Joachim Hansen, Robbie Lawler, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Kaz Misaki, and Gesias Calvancante (when they are no longer contractually obligated elsewhere).
It is a crime that UFC fans do not get to see these world class fighters up close and personal on a regular basis. Squaring off the best fighters in the world against one another not only is great for fans but it is also good for the sport in general.
2) Anderson Silva is challenged before he retires.
By challenging Silva, I do not mean throwing him the biggest names in the sport just to accumulate pay-per-view buys or pitting him against a fighter who does not pose more than a puncher’s chance at pulling off a victory. Give him a contender who actually poses a legitimate threat.
A rematch with Dan Henderson is intriguing. After all, he is the last man to win a round against Silva when he did so at UFC 82. A rematch with Nate Marquardt is also a possibility, but both matchups will likely end in similar fashion.
The ideal opponent in my eyes is arguably the best jiu-jitsu fighter in the UFC in Demian Maia. I’d even be mildly happy with Thales Leites. Just don’t give him Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell, Rich Franklin, Patrick Cote, or Michael Bisping.
3) Kimbo Slice fades into the abyss.
I have not heard a peep from Slice or his representatives since his embarrassing TKO loss to Seth Petruzzeli in October on national television.
Now that EliteXC has essentially gone under, will another organization take a shot on him? I certainly hope not. I would be completely happy if we never see him inside an octagon ever again.
He has been nothing short of a lightning rod for controversy and a sideshow circus that left a stain on the sport of MMA. His 15 minutes of unwarranted fame are up and he should stick to unsanctioned backyard barbecue brawls.
4) Technical stand-up skills improve across the board.
Technical strikers are few and far between in the sport of MMA. This is one reason why hardcore boxing fans do not appreciate the sport, and to a certain degree, they have a point.
For every precision striker like B.J. Penn, there are 10 other guys who continually demonstrate wild striking, minor head movement, poor footwork, bad angles, etc…
Too many times I see fighters swinging for the fences trying to make a highlight reel. Then they’ll catch a shot on the chin because their hands were down or they simply could not pull off a minor slip to avoid damage. It gets old to watch at times.
Rashad Evans is a prime example of a guy who has put in the time in the gym and improved his stand-up tremendously. When it gets to the point where it is evident to the naked eye that a fighter’s stand-up has improved you know he has come a long way.
It takes years to perfect good stand-up skills but when it all comes together it is beautiful to watch.
5) A 195-pound “super middleweight” class is added in the UFC.
The UFC middleweight and light heavyweight divisions are stacked with plenty of quality fighters, especially the light heavyweights. They are also chalk full of established, marketable names like Wanderlei Silva, Quinton Jackson, Rich Franklin, and Michael Bisping.
Adding another weight class with a 195-pound limit would allow for the possibility of one of the other big names to be champion and create an endless amount of intriguing matchups.
There are also some guys who get caught in between the 185- and 205-pound gap like Dan Henderson. He continues to go back and forth between the two weight classes not truly knowing where he belongs. There are many others who fall into the same boat.
While adding too many weight classes is one of the reasons for the decline of boxing, I would be open to adding one weight class and then stopping altogether.
6) The UFC receives sanctioning in the state of New York.
New York is a potential gold mine that has yet to be tapped into. The UFC has tried numerous times and has been unsuccessful so far in its attempt to gain sanctioning in the state.
New York City, after all, is the most populous city in the United States and holds many existing and potential mixed-martial arts fans.
An event held in New York City would not only be great for the bottom line of the UFC but it would also be beneficial for the state of New York
In the article, “UFC Pushes for New York Approval” written by Tom Hamlin of mmaweekly.com, he cites a study put together for the UFC by HR&A Advisors that states, “an event in New York City, presumably at MSG (Madison Square Garden), could generate $11.3 million in economic activity and $917,000 in tax revenues for the state.”
It seems as if there is really no downfall on either side of this issue, however, there still seems to be some opposition within the state legislature.
Bill 1-11485-A, which is a proposal to sanction MMA in the state, will once again be up for a vote in January 2009. Keep your fingers crossed.
7) The 2009 Abu DhabiCombat Club (ADCC) Submission Wrestling World Championship tournament is broadcast on television.
The ADCC tournament is the premier submission grappling spectacle in the world and takes place every two years in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Athletes from across the world converge on Abu Dhabi to find out who the best grapplers on the planet are.
The problem is that the tournament results are traditionally heard but never seen. This means that the crown jewel of grappling is never exposed to martial arts fans anywhere across the world.
Traditionally this tournament has been dominated by jiu-jitsu-based competitors, however, there have been past exceptions like Mark Kerr (Wrestling) and Sanae Kikuta (Judo).
Other notable past winners include Robert Drysdale (2007 Absolute division), Fabricio Werdum (2007 over 99kg), Demian Maia (2007 under 88 kg), Jeff Monson (2005 over 99 kg), Ronaldo Souza (2005 under 88kg), Dean Lister (2003 absolute), and Ricardo Arona (2001 absolute and under 99kg).
The 2009 ADCC championship will again be a star-studded affair with the addition of Fedor Emelianenko and Gegard Mousasi to the tournament roster.
Can the Sambo-based Fedor impose his will? Will the boxing and kickboxing-based Mousasi be able to hold his own against a field of jiu-jitsu aces? Could they meet each other in the absolute division or run into others like Ronaldo Souza or Robert Drysdale along the way?
I would certainly ante up the pay-per-view fee to see how this tournament plays out.
8) DREAM and Affliction remain alive and well.
Competition is a great thing to have in MMA. It brings out the best in each organization and the ultimate beneficiary is the fans.
DREAM’s niche is their grand prix tournaments. The 2008 lightweight and middleweight grand prix tournaments were two of the best events in all of MMA over the past year. The tournament format coupled with an incredible crop of fighters seemed to a perfect storm that produced some of the best fights of 2008.
The middleweight grand prix featured one of the best knockouts of the year in the finals when Gegard Mousasi knocked out Ronaldo Souza with an upkick in the first round off his back.
The lightweight grand prix was home to the 2008 fight of the year so far when Eddie Alvarez and Tatsuya Kawajiri went back and forth in a knock-down, drag-out fight in the semifinals that could have easily been won by either man (Alvarez eventually won via TKO).
Affliction’s first event did not disappoint either. Although the actual production of the event needed some work, the fights that were put on were impressive. The fight card included many big names including Fedor Emelianenko, Tim Sylvia, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Josh Barnett, Vitor Belfort, Andrei Arlovski, and Matt Lindland.
Affliction’s second event, scheduled for early 2009, looks like it will be another impressive night of fights and should be another can’t miss MMA event outside the realm of the UFC.
9) Female fighters join the WEC.
UFC President Dana White has argued in the past that he would not be able to sustain a women’s division due to the lack of quality fighters.
Frankly, I do not agree with that sentiment whatsoever. The world is stocked full of quality female fighters. If the UFC does not think they can find enough of them, they are not putting forth enough effort scouting talent.
Simply scour the top gyms around the country, martial arts tournaments, and events both domestically and abroad like they do with male fighters.
The WEC would be a perfect fit to implement a women’s division. They have nothing to lose by experimenting either. They also have an established star in Gina Carano and could have an instant must watch superfight between her and Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos right off the bat. What’s not to love?
10) The UFC does a better job of marketing up-and-coming fighters.
The UFC does a fantastic job at making stars into superstars. On the other hand, it does a poor job of marketing fighters on the brink of success who are quickly climbing up the ladder.
The result is a negative one. It typically leads to a bigger name, who may not have the best resume, getting a title shot instead of a more deserving fighter whom mainstream fans cannot identify with.
Exhibit A is Jon Fitch. He had to tie Royce Gracie’s all-time record of eight consecutive UFC wins, including victories over top contenders Thiago Alves and Diego Sanchez, before getting a title shot.
He was barely on the radar of mainstream fans even when he was granted the opportunity to face Georges St. Pierre for the title.
The UFC simply did a poor job of marketing Fitch, which handcuffed them to a certain degree. They essentially had to wait for him to make himself marketable, which is certainly not part of his job description.
Going forward there are a slew of fighters who need to be on the radar of mainstream fans as soon as possible including Goran Reljic, Shane Carwin, Luis Cane, Junior Dos Santos, Cain Velasquez, etc…
In reality, mainstream fans have no clue who these guys are, where they came from, whom they’ve fought in the past, or what their potential could be. That is a problem.
Derek Bolender covers mixed martial arts exclusively for TopGunMMA. Send Derek a question, comment, or suggestion to firstname.lastname@example.org.