With 2011 coming to a close, the UFC is undergoing an unprecedented amount of change going into the new year.
With the addition of the brand-new flyweight division and a monster deal with FOX set to start on the first of the year, 2012 is set to be the biggest year in the promotion's history.
But as changes seemed to overwhelm even the most in-tune fans this year, we were also treated to some epic rematches that brought us back to as far as five years ago in some cases, and these fights ended up headlining quite a few cards in 2011.
Battles between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard are considered a couple of the best of the year, as was a UFC 132 title fight between Urijah Faber and Dominick Cruz.
In other cases fighters ended up avenging previous losses or disparaging performances, as evidenced by huge fights like Rashad Evans vs. Tito Ortiz, Anderson Silva vs. Yushin Okami and Forrest Griffin vs. Shogun Rua.
Some of the best and most anticipated fights of 2011 were rematches, and if the UFC is smart, which it has proven it is, 2012 should be ripe with rematches as well.
The final fight in WEC history between Benson Henderson and Anthony Pettis was already an instant classic going into the fifth and final round, but Pettis and his “showtime kick” pushed the bout into uncharted territory for a WEC fight.
With Henderson set to fight Frankie Edgar for the lightweight belt at UFC 144 and Pettis taking on Joe Lauzon earlier on that same card, these two could easily find themselves fighting for a much bigger prize the second time around if they are victorious in their next bouts.
After months of trash talk and an entire season of The Ultimate Fighter that pushed their rivalry even further, Matt Hughes and Matt Serra finally got to fight at UFC 98.
The fight itself was extremely entertaining, as the two battled to a close decision at ultimately went to Hughes.
With both fighters nearing the end of their respective careers, this could be a nice fight for both men to take before they decide to walk away for good, and they’ll be able to avoid the upper echelon of the division, something that both guys desperately need.
Dominick Cruz suffered the only loss of his career to Urijah Faber clear back at WEC 26, and he was hell-bent on avenging that loss when he fought Faber at UFC 132 last July.
The two bantamweights went to put on one of the best fights of the year, but in the end Cruz evened the score, as he earned a close decision win over “The California Kid.”
This is the only fight on the list that is guaranteed to happen at some point in 2012, as these two have already been selected as the coaches on Season 15 of The Ultimate Fighter, and the winner of their subsequent fight will have full rein over the 135-lb division.
I’ve been calling for this fight for months, and hopefully it gets done at some point in 2012.
At this point in their careers Griffin and Bonnar are practically a matchup waiting to happen, with Griffin slowly falling out of contention at 205 and Bonnar trying to make his way into it.
The first fight between these two was one of the important fights in UFC history, and while the second fight was a little disappointing, a third fight has the potential to reignite the brilliance of the first bout.
Other than Frankie Edgar, no fighter has given Gray Maynard more trouble than Nate Diaz.
The lanky fighter from Stockton has given Maynard all he could handle on two separate occasions, the first of which came during the semifinals of TUF 5, where Diaz submitted Maynard with a triangle choke.
The two met once again at UFC Fight Night 20 back in January of 2010, where Maynard won a very close split decision, and the win is what catapulted Maynard into title contention.
Now with Maynard needing quite a few quality wins in order to get back into the title picture and Diaz looking to move up the lightweight ladder as well, a rubber match between the two TUF veterans is as intriguing a fight as there is in the 155-lb division.
The biggest possible fight the UFC could make at the moment, a rematch between Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen would draw insane PPV buys and would once again give Silva a true test in the middleweight division.
Sonnen’s potential trash talk makes this fight a must see by itself, but if he is able to rough up Silva like he did for the majority of the first bout, we could see one of the biggest fights in MMA history take place in 2012.
After fighting to one of the closest decisions of all time at UFC 104, where Machida won a controversial decision, the two fighters were matched up once again at UFC 113.
This time, Shogun used his knowledge from the first fight to expose Machida’s chin and knocked him clean out in the very first round, taking his light heavyweight title away in the process.
A third fight between these two actually makes a lot of sense considering they both lost their last bouts, and a rubber match would be a nice way to break the tie.
These two fought in what was once of the most anticipated heavyweight matchups of all time this November on what was the inaugural UFC on FOX card, and dos Santos made quick work of the then-champion Velasquez, winning the title with a well-aimed right hook in the first round.
This fight probably wouldn’t be able to take place until late 2012, and both fighters would need to win their next few fights in order for it to happen, but the ending of the first bout was a bit anticlimactic, and fans would love to see a rematch.
After Chris Lytle was forced off the UFC Fight Night 19 card with an injury, little-known Jake Ellenberger stepped in to fight former WEC champion Carlos Condit on short notice.
Some saw Ellenberger as a sacrificial lamb going into the bout, but he gave Condit all he could handle, and the “Natural Born Killer” barely escaped with a split-decision victory.
Since that fight both men have gone undefeated and have quickly ascended the welterweight ladder, and if Condit is able to win the interim title in February, Ellenberger could easily be his first challenger for the belt.
The buildup to this fight was one of the best marketing jobs the UFC has ever done, but the fight itself was lackluster in every sense of the word.
Other than an early knockdown by Rashad and a late flurry by Rampage, the majority of the fight was a combination of clinch work and struggling for position on the ground, which Rashad controlled.
After seeing Rampage’s improved takedown defense against Jon Jones and Matt Hamil this year, there is a much better chance that the fight remains standing the second time around and we will get the slugfest we paid to see the first time.