Predicting the UFC Champions of 2012
Over the past five years, some things have drastically changed while others have stayed the same in the world of mixed martial arts.
Pride went from the top organization in the world to non-existent. Strikeforce went from a contender to challenge the UFC for MMA supremacy to Zuffa's latest investment. During that time, some UFC belts have stayed in the same hands for years while others have traveled the world.
Anderson Silva has been the UFC middleweight champion since October of 2006. Georges St-Pierre has had his belt nearly the same length of time minus the first title defense vs. Matt Serra. The lightweight belt stayed in B.J. Penn's hands for two years after he defeated Sean Sherk in May of 2008. Frankie Edgar has had it in his possession since defeating B.J. Penn in August of 2010.
Now on to the less predictable weight classes. There have been seven light heavyweight champions over the last five years. Jon Jones has recently become the first fighter to defend the belt more than one time since Chuck Liddell.
The heavyweight belt has moved around quite a bit as well. There have been five UFC champions and three separate interim heavyweight champions during that time period.
In November of 2010, the bantamweight and featherweight divisions were introduced to the UFC after the merger was complete with the WEC. Jose Aldo has been the featherweight champion while Dominick Cruz has been the bantamweight champion since the merger took place.
But who will be the seven UFC champions one year from now? How many times will the belts change hands in 2012?
Here are my predictions for the fate of the seven UFC belts over the next 12 months.
Bantamweight: Urijah Faber
It has been a while since "The California Kid" was on the winning side of a title bout, but expect that to change in 2012.
Urijah Faber and Dominick Cruz are going to coach the next season of The Ultimate Fighter and will complete their trilogy at the show's conclusion for the bantamweight championship.
Urijah won the first meeting by guillotine choke in 2007. Cruz simultaneously avenged that defeat and defended his title this past July by defeating Faber in a unanimous decision. Toward the conclusion of the fifth round, UFC commentator Joe Rogan said, "I'm not sure who is going to win this fight, but I want to see it it again." The UFC listened.
Although there isn't much to suggest that their third fight will be different from their second, I believe Faber has a greater chance of finishing the fight by submission or TKO. Cruz's movement and allusiveness makes him a tough puzzle to crack, and would probably have the advantage again if the fight goes to a decision.
But who wants to predict a decision?
Featherweight Champion: Jose Aldo
Jose Aldo has dominated the featherweight division since he entered the WEC in July of 2008. He won ten straight fights in becoming the last WEC featherweight champion and the first UFC featherweight champion.
Aldo always wins in impressive fashion. Urijah Faber could literally not stand up the last two rounds against Aldo in their final WEC bout. Faber had to be helped by his corner men just to stay on his feet during the decision.
Aldo looked equally impressive in his five round domination over Kenny Florian. Although his February fight versus team alpha male's Chad Mendes should be exciting, I expect Aldo to hold the belt throughout 2012.
Lightweight Champion: Gilbert Melendez
Dana White insists that he wants to keep Gilbert Melendez in Strikeforce, but I'm not buying it.
After Melendez's dominating victory over over Jorge Masvidal on Dec. 17, I'm predicting a title shot versus Frankie Edgar will happen sometime in 2012.
Edgar's last two fights against Gray Maynard were epic. In each fight, Edgar got rocked early and seemed to be on the brink of being put to sleep at any second during the opening round.
But Edgar did his best Rocky impression and took the repeated blows and came back to force an unlikely five round draw in Edgar vs. Maynard 2 and then win their third bout in Round 4 by TKO in dramatic fashion.
I think Edgar's magical run will stop versus Melendez. Like everyone he faces in the lightweight division, Edgar will be undersized vs "El Niño." Edgar walks around at 145 pounds. Melendez will learn from Maynard's mistakes and be more tactical versus Edgar if he has him stunned.
If the fight goes five rounds, Edgar's superior conditioning will give him a major advantage. However, I am predicting a Melendez win by TKO before the fight gets to Round 4.
If he loses the lightweight belt, don't expect Edgar to go anywhere. He already walks around at featherweight's size and could cut to 135 if necessary. Could he someday become the first person to the a championship in three UFC weight classes?
Welterweight Champion: Nick Diaz
Georges St-Pierre won the UFC welterweight championship in dramatic fashion in 2006 with his TKO victory in Round 2 over Matt Hughes. St-Pierre won in flashy style while utilizing his superior athleticism and throwing punches and kicks that resembled the style of Jon Jones.
Then came his loss to Matt Serra in his first title defense. Although St-Pierre has won nine in a row since that defeat, his paths to victory have been routine and at times, boring. St. Pierre has not finished a fight in nearly three years since his TKO corner stoppage victory over B.J. Penn after Round 4 in January of 2009.
If Nick Diaz can take care of Carlos Condit, he has the perfect style to defeat Georges St-Pierre. Diaz's awkward yet effective punching style is tough for any opponent to figure out and Georges St-Pierre will be no different.
This fight will truly feature the good guy versus bad guy. Diaz will talk smack before, during and after the fight and St-Pierre will be the quiet, humble champion that he is.
Would I be surprised if St-Pierre wins? Possibly even stops Nick Diaz? Of course not. But I'm still picking Diaz.
Middleweight Champion: Anderson Silva
Not too exciting of a pick here. Of all the bizarre fights Anderson Silva has had over the past two years, there has been one consistency. "The Spider" won.
In April of 2010, Anderson Silva defeated Demian Maia in a fight which he dominated the first three rounds and then decided to talk and run away from Maia during the last two rounds rather than engage in the fight. That fight improved Silva's record to 11-0 in the UFC with nine title defenses. Still, UFC President Dana White threatened to cut him if he ever acted like that during a fight again.
Then the trash talking tables turned for his next fight.
Chael Sonnen talked "cartoonish trash," as UFC announcer Joe Rogan said, for weeks leading up to his fight vs. Silva in August of 2010. He stated that he was going to "throw him on his back and punch a whole through his face." Among other comments.
For over four rounds, Sonnen kept to his word. He dominated the first 22 minutes of the fight until Silva, almost nonchalantly, put Sonnen in a triangle choke and submitted him in the final round.
Could Silva have done that at any point in the fight and he was just toying with Sonnen? Who knows?
Silva's two fights following the Sonnen fight were won in much more impressive fashion. Silva knocked out Vitor Belfort with a kick to the face and then thanked Steven Segal for teaching him the kick.
After that, Silva went to his native home of Brazil and earned an impressive victory over Yushin Okami, the man who had given Silva his most recent MMA loss in January of 2006. That loss was also due to disqualification by an illegal kick.
2012 will probably see Sonnen vs Silva 2. Chael Sonnen looked impressive in his recent victory over Brian Stann. He called out Silva after the fight, saying, "Anderson Silva, you absolutely suck." Then he said that if he loses, he will leave the UFC forever. But if he wins, he wants Anderson Silva to leave the division. Not sure if Silva has agreed to Sonnen's request.
I don't think Silva waits till Round 5 in the rematch. I see another Steven Segal kick ending this one early.
Light Heavyweight: Jon Jones
Not much drama involving this pick either.
Jon "Bones" Jones burst onto the MMA scene in route to becoming UFC lightweight champion. Jones had one of the best years in MMA history in 2011 with victories over Ryan Bader, Mauricio Rua, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Lyoto Machida.
For the first time in his career, Jones looked human against Machida. Machida got the best of Jones standing up during Round 1. In Round 2, Jones reminded us why the sports is called mixed martial arts. Jones dominated Machida on the ground and eventually put him to sleep with a standing guillotine.
The only threat to Jones' title in 2012 would probably be if Anderson Silva agreed to the bet Chael Sonnen offered him, and Sonnen won. Silva has won several fights at 205 lbs and a superfight between "Bones"and "The Spider" would be epic.
Will it happen? Probably not.
Heavyweight Champion: Alistair Overeem/Cain Velazquez
Remember a few years ago when the UFC division was considered weak and depleted? And Tim Sylvia was the champion?
Times have changed.
Thanks to the demise of Pride and Zuffa's purchase of Strikeforce, the UFC heavyweight division is stacked. 2012 could go in a number of directions.
Junior Dos Santos could hold the belt.
Josh Barnett could finally be in the spotlight and win the title.
Another WWE fighter could come to the UFC and win the belt. OK, probably not that.
But here is my prediction.
Alistar Overeem will defeat Brock Lesnar to set up a championship fight vs. Junior dos Santos. Lesnar has shown that he struggles with talented stand up fighters, and fighting the former K-1 superstar isn't Lesnar's ideal matchup. I don't see this one going past Round 2. It may not even go a full round.
That will set up a fight between dos Santos and Alistair Overeem. Junior dos Santos has been successful because of his superior striking and conditioning for a heavyweight. But he has never faced anything like "The Demolition Man." Overeem will knock out dos Santos and silence his critics by winning the UFC heavyweight championship.
Then he will face Cain Velazquez. If Cain approaches this fight with a different game plan than versus Dos Santos, he will try to take the fight to the ground. Otherwise, he will get knocked out.
I see Cain bringing down Overeem and winning by submission.
But then again, anything can happen inside the Octagon. But it is fun to make predictions anyway.