What lies ahead: UFC 2013 burning questions

January 1, 2013, 3:40 PM

After a “very weird” 2012 in the UFC, we take a look at what lies ahead in 2013 after some strong momentum to end the year.

5. Will the GSP-Silva super-fight happen?

It was talked about plenty in 2012 and there’s little doubt it will be again in 2013: Will the much-discussed super-fight between Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva happen? We know the UFC desires it, Silva said that’s the fight he wants next and many fans would love to see it.

Of course, we know it isn’t taking place in May like UFC president Dana White declared it would if GSP beat Carlos Condit in November. St-Pierre did, but then the welterweight champion said now wasn’t the time to make that fight happen.

Instead, he’s defending his belt against Nick Diaz at UFC 158 in Montreal in March. Meanwhile White has declared Silva will next fight Michael Bisping if the Englishman beats Vitor Belfort later this month. (Yeah, we know what happened to White’s last declaration.)

But if both fighters win their first bouts, the talk is bound to start up again. Not that there aren’t any other good challengers left at 170 and 185 pounds (there are), but we all know the fight that could set records for the organization is the one between the two champions.

The good news: Silva has just signed a new 10-fight contract, so there’s no rush to get the fight done now. The bad news: the talk of whether it will ever go from fantasy to reality may linger well into 2014 or even beyond.

4. What will happen with Rory MacDonald?

Canadian fans have known for years that the B.C. native turned Montrealer is a champion in the making, but because he is in the same division as fellow Canuck, friend and training partner St-Pierre, fighting for the title was always going to raise an issue as long as GSP held the belt. That didn’t seem like it would be a concern for a while as the UFC was seemingly taking a slow path with the young phenom.

Well that route has suddenly been accelerated. Fresh off beating a veteran and legend — check that, destroying — B.J. Penn, MacDonald is now scheduled to face the most recent interim welterweight champion Condit. So this is really a two-part question: 1. Can he handle this new step up in competition? 2. If so, what’s next?

The answer is obviously somewhat tied to the previous burning question as it depends on what happens with GSP. If both win convincingly, they’ll be on a collision course, so it becomes a whole new discussion: Should GSP or Rory move up to middleweight, or should these teammates just be forced to bite the bullet and fight each other?

We could find ourselves with that dilemma of what to do sooner than expected.

3. Will the UFC be able to consistently put on quality cards?

The UFC was plagued in 2012 with a number of mediocre fight cards. Part of it was due to an uncanny amount of injuries, something it can’t control. But it also put on so many shows and failed to stack them with solid contingency fights.

There should be no excuse in 2013. The UFC is getting an infusion of talent from Strikeforce and now has 10 champions (eight men’s divisions, one women’s division, one interim title-holder) and all except bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz are currently healthy. So if you expect each to compete an average of twice, that’s 20 potential title fights. With an expected 14 pay-per-view events and four on FOX, there’s no reason for any major show not to have at least one championship bout as well as a fight or two featuring top contenders.

Last week, White called 2012 a “very weird year” with a record number of injuries ever in one year.

“Hopefully it’s behind us and we don’t have another year like that,” White added. “Ever.”

That would be nice. And things are looking good so far; with seven events already announced, five feature a belt on the line and the other two are free shows headlined by bouts featuring top contenders. And nobody has pulled out. (Yet.)

2. Will MMA finally be sanctioned in New York state?

The UFC has made great strides in recent years in visiting new places and helping to get mixed martial arts sanctioned in new locations, not the least of which was Ontario, where they debuted in 2011 in Canada’s biggest market and have returned multiple times since. But one block remains the biggest market stateside, New York, and there has seemingly been little progress, with politics primarily getting in the way. Well, there appears to be a glimmer of hope for 2013.

Actually, it’s a little more than a glimmer. The UFC has already tentatively booked a date its milestone show in November at Madison Square Garden.

“I plan on being in New York in 2013 for the UFC’s 20th anniversary. That’s my goal, so we’ll see,” White said Saturday and added that he already has a headliner in mind.

The question is whether it can get sanctioning for the sport to pass into law, and that all hinges on overcoming opposition from the powerful culinary union — who are not fans of the UFC co-owners the Fertitta brothers who also own Station Casinos, one of the largest non-union employers in the gaming industry — and convincing those in political power to join the rest of the country in legalizing one of the fastest-growing sports, and one that can bring lots of revenue to the state.

One might say good luck, but the fact the UFC has reserved a date and venue is at least a good sign.

1. Will the UFC’s new women’s division deliver?

Easily the biggest burning question for 2013 in the UFC revolves around its newest division, where the ladies will make their debut in late February. The women’s bantamweight class is bolstered by one of the biggest stars in all of MMA, (Rowdy) Ronda Rousey, who was presented with the UFC belt in December after she signed with the organization from Strikeforce. She certainly has the draw power and enough personality to generate immense intrigue. But will it be enough to sustain a division and get people watching female fights on a regular basis?

There is still a stigma in some circles about girls punching each other in the face, while some people just don’t think there are enough highly-skilled women to compete at the highest level. But many have already proven how exciting they are. And if Chael Sonnen has shown us anything, it’s that hype (and a little trash talk) gets fans more interested in a scrap than one between two highly established and evenly matched fighters. And Rousey has all of the above elements.

There will be plenty of anticipation for her first bout against Liz Carmouche at UFC 157 on Feb. 23 in Anaheim, and should she win, her next bout will be against former Strikeforce champion Cristiane (Cyborg) Santos, who might not have the good looks and charm of Rousey, but is a killer in the cage. The question is, will the ratings be there?

The UFC is banking on it, making the first-ever women’s fight a pay-per-view headliner in one of the country’s biggest markets. So we won’t have to wait too long to find out if it was a mistake.

POLL:

Do you think the UFC’s new women’s division will be a success?

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    Sportsnet.ca off-the-wall prediction

    Rousey will beat Carmouche and Cyborg, both convincingly, and then call out the men.

    No, I’m not saying a male-vs.-female fight in the UFC will actually be considered (athletic commissions would probably have issue with it). But that won’t stop the gal with the penchant for bold declarations to take it to the next level. And it won’t stop fans and the media to debate the idea. (Hey, if Lindsey Vonn can do it…)

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