After peering into the future and offering up my thoughts on who will rule each division at the end of the year, which fighters are capable of breaking out and what current free agents could be impact additions to the UFC in 2014, let’s end the series with some bold predictions.
With a busy year in front of us, it will be interesting to see how many of these come to fruition and how badly others miss the mark.
No GSP in 2014
"Will he or won’t he?" — that’s the question on everyone’s mind as 2014 gets underway. In fact, it applies to both Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre. While I’m confident that Silva will attempt to return this year (and definitely fight again in the UFC), I’m not so sure when it comes to GSP.
At the very least, I don’t see his departure being a "back in six to nine months" kind of thing -- you don’t give up a championship you worked hard to earn and defend just to take a short break. As I said earlier in the month, I think St-Pierre’s sabbatical will extend beyond this year and could be indefinite.
While Silva feels like he has something to prove, GSP was thinking about pulling the trigger on this move for some time and isn’t likely to reverse course any time soon.
Big name defection
If you’re a pro wrestling mark like me, you remember when Scott Hall and Kevin Nash started showing up in WCW and how big of a shift that was in the Monday Night Wars. I think we’re going to see something similar in MMA this year, with a major name that’s still highly competitive opting to take their talents to Bellator.
We’ve seen fighters get cut by the UFC and land with the Viacom-owned organization, but given Bellator’s increased spending from last year and the greater potential for exposure and success their smaller roster and shallower talent pool presents, don’t be surprised if at least one fighter finishes their contract with the UFC and chooses to sign with Bellator instead.
Rousey versus Cyborg
This is going to happen. As much as there are several fighters queuing up to challenge the reigning UFC women’s bantamweight champion, a bout between Ronda Rousey and Cris Cyborg has massive potential. The UFC will find a way to put it together.
There are barriers to this fight taking place -- discussed in greater detail in this feature -- but none of them are deal-breakers. With the loss of two major pay-per-view stars, the UFC will be looking for ways to increase returns this year and a super-fight between the two most dominant forces in women’s MMA would do the trick.
The Ultimate Fighter 20 is awesome
I just don’t see how the upcoming all-female season doesn’t end up being the best season in quite some time.
For starters, the competition means more than ever. Not to diminish the six-figure contract that is awarded at the end of every other season, but these ladies are fighting for a championship belt this time which ratchets up the interest and intrigue.
Secondly, the cast is a collection of the best fighters in the world in the women’s 115-pound weight class, not the UFC version of "The Island of Misfit Toys." The competition is going to be legit and the fights should be exciting.
Lastly -- and I say this in the most non-sexist way possible -- you have to imagine a house filled with ultra-competitive women is going to yield at least some quality drama. I mean, the men usually do a good job in that regard and I expect the ladies to bring it even better later this year.
Start of "The Second Boom"
The first boom came in the days of Chuck Liddell and dude-bros that "trane UFC" wearing Affliction T-shirts with skulls, bones and a little bit of shimmery glitter. It was a weird time, but a prosperous one for the UFC. The company and the sport as a whole, made headway -- nuzzling up next to the mainstream, growing the fan base and establishing themselves as a permanent presence on the sports landscape.
A second boom is coming.
Between international expansion making the UFC a greater global force and Rousey generating the same kind of crossover buzz Liddell carried in his heyday (if not more), it feels like we’re at the onset of another period of growth for the UFC.
That’s hard for people that are passionately connected to the sport to accept because we see declining pay-per-view numbers and more shows with less name-brand talent, but North America is only a small part of the equation. The UFC (and MMA as a whole) is growing around the world. With that will come another period of growth and rabid interest in the UFC.
It just may not come from here at home.