By most accounts, this has been the best year in MMA history. It's certainly been the best for the UFC in terms of delivering fights fans wanted to see. This fight is the most anticipated of them all, which only makes it fitting the year end with it.
One just has to wonder what's on the horizon. No one really knows for sure what he'll do, but there's an open question about the future of Anderson Silva. Will he retire if he loses? Will he retire even if he wins? Anything seems possible at this point. To lose Silva, a key moneymaker and celebrated star, just weeks after losing (for the forseeable future) Georges St-Pierre, represents the loss of the company's remaining two top pay-per-view draws.
2014 won't be without its challenges. Silva's future is up in the air, but we know for sure GSP, Cain Velasquez and Anthony Pettis will miss much or all of it, depending on their particular circumstance. This is happening at the same time the UFC is expanding internationally, requiring talent not just as local draws to headline or co-main event.
After a year like 2013, one would think every fan would be all smiles. And to an extent we are. Even if 2014 is a downturn from 2013, nothing can take away from what we've witnessed. I just can't help wondering what's next and what it's going to look like. Everyone loved the boom that was 2013. You just have to wonder if it means there's a 2014 bust headed our way.
Chris Weidman vs. Anderson Silva
At stake: Who am I? Even with big fights, one always wants to make sure they don't overreach in terms of trying to decide what bout does and does not mean. This is one of those occasions where pulling back just a bit is a necessary act. Getting carried away in the significance of it all is an easy thing to do.
Still, the stakes are real. Silva's legacy is largely in tact. He's had the greatest single sixteen-fight run of any UFC fighter ever. Some, if not most, consider him to be the greatest fighter of all time. This fight, though, isn't about what he has done. It's about who he is. Who is Anderson Silva today? Is he today as good and dominant as he used to be or are they now two distinct times in the career of Silva? That's what this fight helps to answer.
Weidman is up against the same question, albeit from a different position. He hasn't had a distinguished past to fall back on. He has a good resume, to be sure, but not one with the same type of grandeur as Silva's. He needs to create it, which also means fully and finally redefining who he is. There is still some doubt about the method of his victory over Silva in their first meeting. If he really is to assume the mantle of the sport's new great champion, he must do so with authority tonight.
At stake: Blood feud. Everything is up for grabs here: bragging rights, the UFC women's bantamweight championship, fan adoration, life as a UFC title holder and more. When two competitors spend this much energy tearing into one another and promise to settle their differences in a bout of significance, they both ante up with just about everything they have. I'd also add this bout answers the questions, such that they exist, about Rousey's extracurricular activities and whether they've taken away from her ability to compete as an elite fighter. Should Tate lose, this could also be the last time in quite a while she reaches these heights.
At stake: title shot opportunities. This one is pretty straight forward. Both Barnett and Browne are on a roll in a division with not a ton of obvious or sellable contenders. It still remains to be seen if either of these fighters can eventually be presented as a challenge to Cain Velsaquez, but it's at least worth the effort.
Time isn't on Barnett's side as a fighter. Browne's still dealing with questions about whether he truly belongs at the upper-most level of heavyweights. In either case, this bout will help present the winner down the line as someone worthy of fighting for a belt.
At stake: staying relevant. Miller's a fan favorite but has been inconsistent in his most recent performances. Camoes is a talented prospect, but is coming off of a decision loss to Melvin Guillard. Losing two in a row is never an advisable thing in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, particularly in the lightweight division. That's not just true for employment, but even smaller considerations like being on a main card of a large pay-per-view event. Exposure matters for popularity, sponsorships and more. Now is not the time to lose it.
At stake: maintaining position. Poirier is a top-ten ranked featherweight. Brandao is not, but he's also on a decent win streak. He hasn't quite faced the same level of competition as Poirier, so this fight represents an opportunity to take a step up. Poirier, by contrast, isn't where he wants to be as he's had some challenges inside the Octagon. But he's further along than Brandao. Losing to the Brazilian is taking a step back in his career at the very moment he was able to bludgeon another contender in his comeback fight. He can scarcely afford to surrender territory now.