Fight Network's Top 10 MMA Stories & Fails of 2012
Ariel Shnerer / January 2, 2013 - 5:44pm
There was no shortage of noteworthy topics and developments this past year in the mixed martial arts world, so let's get right to it.
TOP 10 STORIES
1. UFC 151 Scrapped
For the first time in history, the UFC was forced to cancel a scheduled pay-per-view event as Dan Henderson suffered an injury leading up to his light heavyweight title bout with Jon Jones. A co-headliner between Jake Ellenberger and Jay Hieron lacked enough star power to assume the main event slot and Jones publicly refused a short notice fight with Chael Sonnen, so the UFC was left with no alternative.
2. Suspensions and Injuries
Not only was a UFC pay-per-view event scrapped, but the entire year was marred by injuries, suspensions and other headaches for UFC matchmakers Joe Silva and Sean Shelby. In addition to Alistair Overeem and Nick Diaz being suspended, fights were being postponed or scratched all year. UFC 149 is likely the best example of how bad the injuries really were. On a show that was expected to feature Jose Aldo, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Thiago Alves, Siyar Bahadurzada, Thiago Silva, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, none of the aforementioned fighters actually fought at the event. Instead, we got watered down matchups the caliber of Cheick Kongo vs. Shawn Jordan, which ultimately translated to one of the least memorable events in promotional history.
3. Death of Strikeforce
The California-based organization was already nearing its demise as the final two fight cards of 2012 were cancelled due to injuries. UFC president Dana White was never big on backing the promotion and its last show has officially been scheduled for January, signalling the end to an era that dates back to 2006. It appears as though Scott Coker's baby is shutting its doors for good.
4. Female MMA in the UFC
With the door closing on Strikeforce, another door opened for females on the largest stage in the sport. After repeated criticism about the lack of depth in the female category, a 135-pound women's division has officially been added with Ronda Rousey coming in as the inaugural female UFC champion. The first female UFC bout is scheduled to headline UFC 156 as Rousey defends her belt against Liz Carmouche.
5. Flyweight Champion Crowned
The 125-pound division has officially arrived as Demetrious Johnson won a four-man tournament to become the first-ever flyweight champion in the UFC. As the UFC continues to expand, the talent pool in all divisions is getting richer. The introduction of the flyweights is a big step for the promotion. Johnson defends the title for the first time against John Dodson this January.
6. Fedor Emelianenko Retires
One of the most respected fighters in mixed martial arts history finally retired this past June after decimating Pedro Rizzo in his native Russia. Emelianenko, the former Pride heavyweight champion, retires with an immaculate 35-4 record. At the age of 36, it was probably the right time for Emelianenko to step away from the sport. Despite widespread criticism about his management and opposition, Emelianenko will undoubtedly go down in the history books as one of the all-time greats.
7. GSP's Triumphant Comeback
It was a long road back to the Octagon for UFC welterweight king Georges St. Pierre. After missing over one year due to a severe knee injury, St. Pierre made a successful return at UFC 154 this past November, winning a thrilling decision over interim champion Carlos Condit. Although Anderson Silva has called out St. Pierre for a superfight, the French-Canadian fan favorite will defend his title against Nick Diaz at UFC 158 this March.
8. UFC Taps New Markets
The UFC continued its international expansion in 2012, tapping several new markets, including Sweden and China. The UFC also held its first event in Japan since 2000, as well as three events in Brazil, a surging mixed martial arts hotbed. The new markets are a testament to the sport's continued international growth and increasing mainstream exposure.
9. Year 1 of UFC-FOX Deal In Books
The first year of the UFC's lucrative broadcast partnership with FOX and its affiliate stations had its ups and downs. Ratings were down across the board, but the UFC was able to stage more events than ever. With Fuel TV almost entirely dedicated to UFC content, the UFC has introduced new hosts, anchors, shows and pre and post-fight coverage. For die-hard fans, there has been more access to UFC content than ever before.
10. Aldo-Edgar Superfight Set
Following a pair of controversial decision losses to Benson Henderson, the former UFC lightweight champion Edgar has decided to give the featherweight division a go. In his very first fight at 145 pounds, Edgar will challenge Aldo for the title in one of the most exciting matchups in a long time. The fight was expected to take place at UFC 153 in Brazil, but it's now been rescheduled for UFC 156 this February. Aldo and Edgar are two of the most dynamic fighters in the sport, so we should be in for a treat.
TOP 10 FAILS
1. UFC 151 and Jon Jones Debacle
The cancellation of UFC 151 exposed other problems for the UFC, including a lack of depth on undercards and the inability to make champions defend their titles. With no contractual clauses stipulating how late replacement opponents would be handled, the UFC light heavyweight champion Jones took the stand and refused to fight Chael Sonnen on a few weeks' notice. As a result, Jones likely lost many fans as UFC president Dana White portrayed him as a villain. Furthermore, White called his coach Greg Jackson a "sport killer." The controversy continued as Lyoto Machida refused to challenge Jones for the belt the following month, citing his desire for more time to prepare. As a result of the whole fiasco, Jones ended up fighting middleweight Vitor Belfort in a 205-pound title bout at UFC 152. Not exactly what the UFC had planned.
2. No Resolution to 3 Seasons of "The Ultimate Fighter"
The UFC's injury troubles played a major factor this year on "The Ultimate Fighter." On the first live season of the reality series, coaches Urijah Faber and Dominick Cruz never ended up fighting because Cruz suffered an injury. On the first international edition of the show coached by Wanderlei Silva and Vitor Belfort in Brazil, we ended up seeing a rematch between Silva and Rich Franklin instead of a highly anticipated rematch between the two Brazilian superstars, all as a result of a Belfort injury. Finally, coaches Roy Nelson and Shane Carwin were also expected to fight this past December, but Carwin got injured and Nelson fought late replacement Matt Mitrione. It's never quite satisfying when a fight between the coaches falls through the cracks.
3. Zuffa Injury Curse Hits Strikeforce
With Frank Mir and Gilbert Melendez suffering injuries, Strikeforce was forced to cancel events in September and November. With the Strikeforce talent pool beginning to surface on UFC cards, it was only a matter of time. The promotion has since announced its final event is scheduled for Jan. 12, headlined by Nate Marquardt vs. Tarec Saffiedine. Look for many fighters from the Strikeforce roster to get their opportunities in the Octagon in 2013. Benson Henderson vs. Gilbert Melendez, anyone?
4. Diaz Fails Pot Test
Following a highly contentious decision loss to Carlos Condit at UFC 143 in February, Diaz tested positive for marijuana metabolites, which resulted in a year-long suspension from the Nevada State Athletic Commission. In defeat, Diaz not only cost himself the interim title and an immediate fight with Georges St. Pierre, but he was also forced to sit out for the remainder of the year. Unsurprisingly, Diaz, who is a legitimate draw for the promotion, will still get his title shot upon his return as he challenges St. Pierre at UFC 158 in March.
5. Reem Nabbed for Roids
Another major pay-per-view attraction was suspended in 2012 as Overeem failed a pre-fight drug test leading up to a title fight with Junior dos Santos, resulting in a year-long suspension. To make matters worse, Overeem has always been scrutinized for suspected steroid abuse and a 14-to-1 T/E ratio will not help his cause. Overeem was coming off a highly impressive stoppage of Brock Lesnar in December 2011 and a full year of inactivity has certainly diminished his standing. Overeem now faces fellow Strikeforce import Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva at UFC 156 in February.
6. UFC 149
Everything that could have gone wrong on this card did. Numerous matchups fell through the cracks, including Jose Aldo vs. Erik Koch, Yoshihiro Akiyama vs. Thiago Alves and Thiago Silva vs. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. Other names like Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Siyar Bahadurzada, Michael Bisping and Bibiano Fernandes were all expected to be a part of the card at one point. Instead, we ended up with unsatisfying main card bouts such as Matt Riddle vs. Chris Clements, James Head vs. Brian Ebersole and Cheick Kongo vs. Shawn Jordan. The fights were mostly unremarkable or downright dull at times, including a co-headliner between Tim Boetsch and Hector Lombard. The main event between Renan Barao and Urijah Faber, which was already lacking star power, was mostly one-sided and failed to make up for the rest of the card. UFC president Dana White was openly apologetic and visibly upset about the UFC's first event held in Calgary.
7. UFC 147
Another disappointment was the UFC's debut in Minas Gerais, Brazil. The pay-per-view card was initially expected to feature the hotly anticipated rematch between Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen for the UFC middleweight title. However, that fight was moved to UFC 148 the following month. Fans were teased with a prospective bout between Jose Aldo and Erik Koch being moved to the show, but that fight too never materialized. At least we still got the rematch between "TUF: Brazil" coaches Wanderlei Silva and Vitor Belfort, right? Not quite. Belfort fell off the card and the main event became a rematch between Rich Franklin and Silva, a fight no one had really been campaigning to see. It was actually an entertaining fight with Franklin taking home a competitive decision, but an undercard littered with relatively unknown Brazilians failed to deliver. Fabricio Werdum outclassed Mike Russow, while both "TUF: Brazil" finals were forgettable. The show did less than 150,000 pay-per-view buys.
8. Jon Jones Gets DWI
Not only was Jones the center of attention for his actions in the UFC this year, notably refusing to fight Chael Sonnen on short notice, but he was also put into the spotlight outside the Octagon. Jones drove his Bentley Continental GT into a pole in New York this past May. The UFC light heavyweight champion was arrested for driving under the influence and pled guilty to DWI charges. One of the true rising stars who could transcend the sport and reach new audiences, Jones suffered a personal setback that could cast a negative shadow on mixed martial artists. However, the move didn't seem to impact Jones' sponsorship opportunities, as the 25-year-old champion became the first mixed martial artist to be sponsored by Nike on a global scale this past August.
9. Clay Guida
Well-respected coach Greg Jackson was already getting heat for the strategy utilized by Carlos Condit to win a close decision over Nick Diaz. The criticisms became more prominent after Guida's puzzling performance against Gray Maynard this past June. Guida simply frustrated Maynard, dashing out of range and avoiding exchanges. Maynard actually won a relatively close split decision on paper, but he deserved a shutout for his efforts. Maynard was the only one pursuing a fight, while Guida turned from fan favorite to public enemy. If the UFC was hoping to impress new audiences on FX, it failed big time with this headliner. Guida has since opted to drop to 145 pounds, where he faces Hatsu Hioki in January. Another sloppy and spiritless performance from "The Carpenter" will land him a spot in the UFC doghouse.
10. Dominick Cruz Sidelined
We didn't see Cruz step foot inside the Octagon in 2012, as he suffered a torn ACL leading into his rubber match with Urijah Faber. In his absence, Renan Barao became the interim UFC bantamweight champion. Cruz, meanwhile, had to undergo another ACL surgery, which will keep him out of action for most of 2013. We'll see a thrilling interim title fight between Barao and Michael McDonald in February, but it will be a while until we see Cruz return to defend his throne.