Writer: Tim McNamara
The start of the UFC's 2014 will be busy over the course of the next 4 months. We have no less than 5 championship bouts (unification or otherwise) booked by mid-April.
Championship bouts as they are currently booked:
Dominic Cruz vs Renan Barao &
Jose Aldo vs Ricardo Lamas
Ronda Rousey vs Sara McMann
Johnny Hendricks vs Robbie Lawler
Jon Jones vs Glover Teixeira
Rousey secured the belt in its initial outing from Liz Carmouche early in 2013. She was poised to face Cat Zingano but the dreaded gypsy curse ACL injury appeared and instead Rousey re-armbarred Miesha Tate in a more competitive fight than their first bout. She now faces Sara McMann, an Olympic wrestler, who perhaps has the style to give Rousey a much tougher fight. Other than the wrestler, McMann, it's hard to see any of the current crop of women fighters with the chops to wrangle the belt from Rousey this year.
UFC raided Invicta's roster to build a division and have a TUF season with the pint-sized ladies of the cage. It remains to be seen if they'll gain traction with the casual or hardcore viewership.
Champion, Demetrious Johnson crushed Joseph Benavidez in one round in their rematch and despite some early hiccups, definitively beat John Dodson and John Moraga as well. Demetrious finds himself in Dominic Cruz land pre-ACL injury: rules the division and has beaten most of the top contenders. One of the key critiques of the division is a lack of finishes and depth. Despite the armbar win over Moraga and the 1st round KO of Benavidez, Demetrious still lacks a dearth of challengers having already beaten McCall and Benavidez (twice).
Urijah Faber waits in the wings because he has lost to Dominic Cruz and Renan Barao but still beats everyone else in the division and can sell out arenas in SoCal.
Champion, Dominic Cruz has the very very very very tough job of returning to fight for his belt/unify/whatever against Renan Barao after 2 ACL surgeries and a nearly 2 year layoff. Barao is dangerous everywhere and has never lost. Barao does everything well: swarms, moves forward, counters, has great counter-wrestling, submissions.....and I am a diehard Dominic Cruz fan, but I don't see him finding a way to win against Barao, esp. coming off of a 2 year layoff and ACL surgery. In Cruz's 2 year layoff, Barao has beaten virtually everyone else in the division on his way to and defending his interim belt.
Champion, Jose Aldo has beaten just about everyone worth mentioning in this division (Korean Zombie, Chad Mendes, and Frankie Edgar). Yet, as challengers go, Chad Mendes must come to mind with his now 5 wins (4 finishes, 1 decision) since losing to Aldo, and perhaps the new coaching of Duane Ludwig can make the fight more competitive for the Team Alpha Male member...but probably not. Mendes lasted less than one round the last go round and Lamas likely does not have the chops or the style to dethrone Aldo. Aldo will finish Lamas then rematch Mendes for lack of a better resume out there, then, perhaps Aldo is tired of cutting weight and moves up. That's the only intriguing plotline that can develop from this division. I see no reason for billing a Faber rematch after the baseball bat to the leg bonanza that was their previous bout.
Champion, Anthony Pettis is out with an injury, leaving guys like Josh Thompson and Gilbert Melendez to ply their wares in hopes of a title shot. I see Thompson getting a title shot as he's a new face and Melendez with a good tough win over Nate Diaz he looked great, but first he'll have to beat Benson Henderson which is a tough draw for anyone. People forget that before the belt, Henderson buzz sawed virtually everyone at lightweight he faced before wrestling the belt from Frankie Edgar. It's sad how quickly everyone drops Ben Henderson after being IMHO a good champ who respected the belt and acted the part. He wasn't braggadocios or obnoxious or a showman, but he displayed class and respect for the sport and the belt. But this is the fight game, and people want storylines and headlines and finishes. Lightweight remains a tough division with a tough log jam of dangerous opponents with the likes of Melendez, Thompson, Nate Diaz, and the new crop of Russian fighters making their way here.
GSP retired indefinitely to close out the year after a razor thin controversy-inducing win over Johnny Hendricks. The vacating of the belt really tosses up the division because whether Hendricks or Lawler wins, there are some new match-ups to bill and promote rather than the bevy of guys GSP decisively beat during his multi-year reign as champ.
Tarec Saffiedine, Tyron Woodley, and Carlos Condit are all chomping at the bit for title shots. Saffiedine just won a fight in Singapore only UFC Fight Pass users saw. Woodley has talked himself into a possible title shot eliminator. Carlos Condit is poised to make his case for another shot, especially due to his razor thin loss to Hendricks awhile back.
Robbie Lawler vs Johnny Hendricks will determine which direction the belt takes.
Chris Weidman is now king of the roost. He looks down at a division with 3 Brazilians: Lyoto Machida, Vitor Belfort, and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. Jacare will get another fight or two before a title shot. Same with Machida (barring injury or some other fight falling through). Belfort barring injury will challenge Weidman in Vegas this summer. I see Belfort KO'ing Weidman inside of a round. Belfort lights up hittable, slower starting fighters (Weidman). Weidman's wins over Anderson Silva may have warped his mind whether or not he still rides the train to work, and Belfort only needs to touch you once (especially inside the first round or two - just ask Luke Rockhold, Rich Franklin, Michael Bisping, and Dan Henderson). Machida fights Gegard Mousasi in February whilst Jacare meets Francis Carmont. Yoel Romero is 2-1 in the UFC, with another bout booked in the Spring. He's looking continually more impressive with each outing. Hector Lombard faces Jake Shields in an interesting bout for each man. They're good enough to beat a lot of the rest of the division's mid-tier, but have fallen short either for the belt or along the road to title contention.
Champion, Jon Jones fought a very tough, very close fight with Alexander Gustaffson after decimating Chael Sonnen (seriously, remember when that happened?). Teixieira is booked as a tough match for Jon Jones but I'm not personally drinking the Kool-Aid. Gustaffson has a bout booked with Jimmy Manuwa who fought a sleep-inducing borefest with Ryan Jimmo until Jimmo's leg/knee/ankle/something self-destructed. That's the only bout at Light Heavyweight anyone should care to see. Rashad Evans faces Daniel Cormier in what could push Cormier to a title shot if he looks impressive. Rashad doesn't have the tools to beat Jon Jones as evidenced by the one-sided nature of their first bout.
Cain is again on the shelf due to injury. He started the year with the belt (winning it on the year end card of 2012) crushed Bigfoot Silva and rematched Junior Dos Santos. "Hapa" Travis Browne has beaten Overeem, Bigfoot Silva, and Josh Barnett (granted Barnett's only win inside the UFC this go round was over Frank Mir). If Browne can get past Fabricio Werdum, he may just get his shot at the champ when he returns from injury. Frank Mir faces Alistair Overeem in a likely loser leaves town match. Gabriel Gonzaga is surging upward as well, with his record this run in the UFC 4-1 after a year or two out in retirement. He faces Stipe Miocic (also 4-1 in his UFC run) in the spring as well.
2014 is looking like a great year for being a UFC fan!
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