Last year sucked for the UFC.
While there were still plenty of entertaining fights and quality cards, injuries decimated the roster and laid waste to event line-ups, sparing almost no one. Add in a pair of superstars being sidelined by suspensions, and you have a year that Dana White and company were happy to be done with come January 1.
But for all the misery and frustration that 2012 caused, the UFC ended on a high note.
December’s UFC on FOX event in Seattle averaged 4.4 million viewers, both of the Ultimate Fighter finales delivered some entertaining fights, and UFC 155 gave us a late entrant in the Fight of the Year race and a new heavyweight champion. Thus far in 2013, the company has been able to maintain that momentum.
Vitor Belfort put an end to Michael Bisping’s title chances in impressive fashion, and this past weekend, the first UFC on FOX event of the year exceeded the overnight ratings of the December event, with flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson successfully defending his title against John Dodson in the main event. Even The Ultimate Fighter debuted to strong ratings and positive reviews, with plenty of people (myself included) ready to return to the long-running reality TV competition full-time after a couple of years of casual consumption.
And now for the extra cherry on top of the cherry that is already on top of the awesome sundae that has been the UFC over the last two months: the best is yet to come.
This weekend’s UFC 156 main card is the best five-fight collection the UFC has put together in some time.
Joseph Benavidez and Ian McCall open the pay-per-view portion of the evening with what is likely to be a flyweight title eliminator, and are followed by Jon Fitch and Demian Maia in an intriguing welterweight scrap. Before anyone bemoans the presence of Fitch or complains about the potential for this to turn into a boring grappling match, go watch Maia’s last fight with Rick Story and Fitch’s UFC 153 tussle with Erick Silva and tell me you are not entertained.
(For the record: if you try to tell me you didn’t enjoy those two fights, I’m either going to strongly recommend that you just start watching boxing or kickboxing. Or WWE. Seriously. Both fights were great.)
In the middle of the excellence is the return of Alistair Overeem, who comes back following a nine-month break for having the testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio of 14 normal men after his quack doctor allegedly gave him a “get well soon” injection containing synthetic testosterone without his knowledge. With his troubles behind him, all that stands between the hulking former Strikeforce champion and a shot at UFC gold is Antonio (Bigfoot) Silva, a formidable threat who has vowed to put a halt to Overeem’s march towards the top of the division.
Former light-heavyweight champ Rashad Evans takes on durable veteran Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in the co-main event, and the crown jewel of the card is a featherweight title fight between champion Jose Aldo and challenger Frankie Edgar. Just last year, this was a dream match-up for a lot of people, and now we’re only a couple days away from seeing it take place.
Watch four televised UFC 156 preliminary fights Saturday at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT on Sportsnet East, Ontario, West and Pacific. Prior to that, catch two bonus early prelims on Sportsnet.ca at 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT.
Guess what? There’s still more.
After taking a one-week break, the Octagon goes across the pond to London, England, where Renan Barao will defend the interim bantamweight title against 22-year-old standout Michael McDonald. Though an injury changed the composition of the co-main event, we might have ended up with a better fight, as featherweights Cub Swanson and Dustin Poirier will pair off for what should be an early Fight of the Year contender.
But wait — there’s still more.
A week later, Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche make history as the first female tandem to throw down in the UFC when they headline UFC 157 from the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. Not only are they the first two female fighters to step into the Octagon, Carmouche is also the first openly gay fighter in UFC history, a fact and accomplishment that should not be overlooked in the preamble to their punch-up.
That five-fight main card is pretty powerful as well, with light heavyweights Dan Henderson and Lyoto Machida squaring off in the co-main event, and perennial title contender Urijah Faber taking on Canadian (by way of El Salvador) Ivan Menjivar in a bantamweight rematch. Add in Chad Mendes facing Manny Gamburyan, and veteran welterweights Josh Koscheck and Robbie Lawler trading leather, and you’ve got yourself a nice little collection of contests.
It just keeps going too.
March features a pair of events, including the highly anticipated showdown between Georges St-Pierre and Nick Diaz at UFC 158, while every weekend in April comes complete with a solid UFC event starting with Alexander Gustafsson facing off with Gegard Mousasi in Sweden, an outstanding UFC on FOX card in San Jose, and ending with Jon Jones facing Chael Sonnen at UFC 159.
Even though a lot can change between now and the end of April, you have to admit — that’s a pretty stellar schedule with a whole slew of must-see match-ups.
As much as last year sucked, this year has started out awesome, and fingers crossed, it doesn’t look like it will be slowing down any time soon.