With the recent announcement of a Silva/Weidman rematch set as the headliner for UFC 168 on December 28th, the UFC has set up the second half of 2013 to feature some of the most significant championship fights in a long time. The rematch between Anderson Silva and Chris Weidman is already being projected to do 'Brock Lesnar' pay-per-view numbers, which implies one million-plus buys. That card is being co-headlined by another huge rematch, Ronda Rousey vs Miesha Tate in Rousey's second UFC Bantamweight title defense. Georges St. Pierre defends the welterweight belt against Johny Hendricks a month before that, and Jon Jones attempts a record sixth defense of the light heavyweight title against Alexander Gustafsson in September. Throw in the biggest heavyweight trilogy fight in UFC history between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos in October, and Henderson vs Pettis on August 31st, and the second half of 2013 starts to look like a series of fights you could only put together on the UFC Undisputed video game. And these are only the title fights. The UFC will also broadcast one card every two weeks or so on Wednesday nights on Fox Sports 1, the first two main events of which will be Chael Sonnen vs Shogun Rua and Carlos Condit vs Martin Kampmann. Here are my thoughts on the biggest upcoming fights of 2013.
Fight that will do the most business: Silva vs. Weidman, UFC 168.
This one is a no-brainer. Anderson Silva's first loss in 17 UFC fights earned him an immediate rematch. It wasn't just the fact that Silva lost his title that makes the rematch so intriguing, its the manner in which he lost it. The debate rages on as to who was winning the fight at the time of its finish. Silva fans say he defended Weidman's bread and butter and got out of a submission and brought the fight back to the feet. Weidman supporters say that Silva had nothing for Weidman, and Weidman avoided his striking. Ultimately Silva clowned around a bit too much, and took his eyes off the prize, and Weidman capitalized. He sent Silva to the mat and turned the mixed martial arts world on its head in the process. The ending etched Weidman's name in the history books, but didnt prove whether or not Weidman is the better fighter. A loss like that, one that didn't come by thorough dominance, has to motivate the former champion. I don't think anyone is predicting a similar show on the part of Anderson Silva, who will most likely be all-business in the rematch. This one has so many layers to it, it is sure to grab a good amount of mainstream attention, which should lead it to be one of the biggest fights of all time, if not the biggest.
Fight we won't believe is happening until both fighters are in the cage: Henderson vs Pettis, UFC 164.
I can't think of a fighter who has had worse title-fight luck than Anthony Pettis. The final WEC lightweight champion earned his UFC title shot before he even stepped into the Octagon. Well, here we are three years later, and Pettis jumps in as a late replacement to face the man he beat to earn the shot to begin with. Pettis has been stuck in this lightweight twilight zone, and that seems to be coming to an end on August 31st. A win for Pettis will solidify his claim to being the best 155-pound fighter in the world, and rid him of his 'uncrowned champion' status in the UFC. A win for the champion Henderson will avenge his WEC 53 loss to Pettis, and prove that he has come a long way since that fight, one that he felt he should have won. The fight was an instant classic, and the "Showtime Kick" that Pettis landed on Henderson is still in our collective consciousness. The UFC lightweight division is finally through with all of its rematches, controversial fight endings (hopefully), and injuries. This fight may get overshadowed by the launch of FS1, and the sheer quantity of other fight cards both before and after it, but this one could be Fight of the Year. And aside from Silva/Weidman, it has to be considered the most anticipated matchup.
Fight with most relevance to its division: Jones vs Gustafsson, UFC 165.
Every title fight on this list has huge relevance in its division, but in the case of the rest, the winner will most likely move on to face the next contender, barring any controversial outcomes. This will be Jones 6th title defense if he succeeds against Gustafsson in Toronto, which would give him the record for most light heavyweight title defenses, one he currently shares with Tito Ortiz. If Jones wins, he has numerous options. The first would be to go for a seventh defense, against a contender like Glover Teixeira, or Lyoto Machida. The next would be a move up in weight to the heavyweight division, where I figure he'd have two options. Either fight for the title immediately at heavyweight, or take a non-title fight to establish himself as a presence in the division. The fight with him and Daniel Cormier is also an option for Jones, at either weight class. Now if Gustaffson can beat Jones, a rematch would most likely be in order, unless Jones gets thoroughly routed by the Swede, which is the most unlikely of scenarios presented thus far. This is one of the few big upcoming fights that is a fresh matchup, and judging by the amount of intriguing rematchs taking place in the next six months, there is a chance these two take a similar path. Gustaffson will be a stiff test, and ultimately will be a good introduction for Jones to fighting men more his size. The biggest question is, what happens to the light heavyweight title if Jones moves to heavyweight? Does he keep it, and try to shuffle back and forth between weights, or drop it, and allow two contenders the opportunity? Only time will tell whats in store for the light heavyweight division, and its ruler Jon Jones.
Champion facing his biggest threat yet: George St. Pierre against Johny Hendricks, UFC 167.
Johny Hendricks has been taking out the elite in the UFC welterweight division for the past two years, and has been doing so dominantly. His fight with Condit was a back-and-forth war, but Condit was a tough out even for the dominant champion. George St. Pierre is known for his recovery from getting rocked a lot more than he is for his striking resiliency. Simply put, he isn't famous for his chin. Against a challenger like Johny Hendricks, that doesn't bode well. Hendricks' left hand has been building a reputation of its own lately, with a 12 second knockout of Jon Fitch in 2011, and a 46 second knockout of Martin Kampmann last November. Combine that with his National champion wrestling credentials, and you have the fighter most likely to keep GSP out of his comfort zone. St. Pierre is a phenomenal fighter, and has had to dig deep before in fights. He may find himself having to do that against Hendricks, who is going to push the pace, and try to finish the champion early. A win for Hendricks would give the UFC yet another blockbuster rematch. A win for Georges would further cement his legacy as the best welterweight fighter of all-time, and his place as one of the pound-for-pound best. GSP fights always do huge business for the UFC, with St. Pierre being the organizations top pay-per-view draw currently. This one should be no different, and Vegas might be witness to another huge upset.
Let's not forget Jose Aldo's UFC 163 title defense against "The Korean Zombie" Chan Sun Jung, or the JDS/Velasquez fight. With so many huge, relevant fights on the calender for the remainder of 2013, the UFC setting itself up for a further breakthrough into the mainstream sports consciousness. When Anderson Silva lost at UFC 162 to Chris Weidman, one of the first things discussed was the loss of big-money, big-stadium 'super-fights'. These upcoming fights should prove that we need not look past the current crop of UFC contenders to find challenges for mixed martial arts' most dominant champions.