After having witnessed some memorable cards in the past year and especially in these past few months, it is easy to overlook some of 2014’s early cards, but that would be a mistake. 2014 promises to have some huge fights and already has some great match ups scheduled.
The UFC Today
Let me start by painting a picture of the UFC as it stands. The heavyweights have Cain Velasquez on top of the division, having just taken a chip off his shoulder by dominating Junior Dos Santos. The light heavy weight division has Jon Jones continuing to pull off victories and a long list of worthy challengers waiting to get a piece of him. At middleweight we have a new champion, and although he has not fought a long list of great middleweight fighters, he has now beaten the best of the best, twice. At welterweight we start 2014 with a vacant title as GSPhas taken a leave of absence from fighting. This title fight will have Hendricks vs Lawler and promises to be a battle of great power as both men could score a knock out at anytime.
At lightweight we have a champion, Anthony Pettis, who will fight anybody at anytime and he is already looking to schedule a superfight with Jose Aldo prior to defending his title. Aldo may look at this fight should he defeat Ricardo Lamas at UFC 169 as he has already beaten the who’s who in the featherweight division. In Bantamweight division we have the return of Dominic Cruz as he is scheduled to fight interim champion Renan Barao. This will be a difficult fight for Dominic Cruz for many reasons. At Flyweight we have a champion waiting for a worthy opponent. Demetrious Johnson will more than likely have to wait a bit before someone will rise to that occasion.
Lastly we have the Women’s Bantamweight division where Ronda Rouseyhas won all of her fights by armbar. This pens the obvious question, should the UFC sign an arm wrestling champion to fight Ronda? A “superfight” if you could call it that. On a more serious note, match maker Joe Silva must find Rondaa more challenging opponent.
Women’s Division on Rewind
Unfortunately putting a wrestler like Sara McMann next in line at the title will only play in to Ms. Rousey’s hand. When Ronda and Sara face off at UFC 170, I expect to see the same fight and the same result. McMann will look for take downs and open herself up for the judo take downs of Ronda. Either way, whether McMann or Ronda scores the take down, this will then result in the inevitable: Ronda winning via arm bar.
What challengers have a fighting chance in 2014?
Well if one thing is certain, we all know one challenger for the belt will come out a champion. In the Welterweight division we see Hendricksfight Lawler in what should be one of the best fights early on and has the potential to be the best fight of the year, should they not disappoint. I believe that Hendricks is the more well-rounded fighter and has a great advantage in the wrestling game. I believe that Hendricks will take a page from predecessor GSP’s book and win via unanimous decision. Something he himself criticized GSP for.
Can “The Dominator” Dominate Once Again?
Another challenger that has potential to upset – if you could call him a challenger or call him the underdog – is interim Bantamweight champion Renan Barao. With Dominic Cruzfinally coming back from an ACL injury that saw him sidelined for two years it is hard to tell whether he would be favoured coming into this fight. What we do know is Barao has been dominating the best of the best of this division including, Eddie Wineland, Michael McDonald and Urijah Faber. I will be bold in saying Renan will take this fight, although it certainly has the potential to go either way. This fight will certainly tell the future of Dominic Cruz as he has been off and on injury for a lot of his career. Hopefully the seats in the broadcasting studio have not become too comfortable for Cruz and he is prepared to get back in fighting shape.
Big Year for Bones
Now let’s talk about what 2014 is shaping up to be for Jon Jones. To start the year he will square off against one scary dude, Glover Teixeira. If Jones was challenged by the striking of Gustafsson, he will have another great challenge in Glover. He has not only beaten but destroyed the likes of Ryan Badar, James Te Huna and Rampage Jackson.
This will be a very difficult fight Bones. I believe the key for Jones in this fight is to go back to his unpredictable striking style he was so well known for early in his career. He has been shying away from this style more and more since he won the belt. I believe that against a striker like Glover you must come at him from all angles. Jones` wrestling will also be key in this fight as he has the slight advantage in this area as Teixeira has an underrated ground game. Jones win via 3rdround TKO.
Should Bones win that fight a rematch with Gustafsson – should he win vs Manuwa– is nearly inevitable. I believe this is what Jones would want prior to continuing to dominate the division.
Who`s Next for Canada?
With having their pride and joy, their golden boy, their obsession (maybe too far?) GSP retire, Canadians are looking for a new poster boy. Well look no further as, although an injury caused him to drop out of a title fight, TJ Grant has the potential to be the next Canadian Champion. With power unheard of at the lightweight division he knocked Gray Maynard back into his time at Michigan State. He reins from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia (same town as Sidney Crosby) and is a calm and respectful dude. Should he get another opportunity at the belt and win he would be a great champion.
I believe it is him who should be next in line for a fight with Anthony Pettis. Although if Henderson should win against Josh Thompson, he could make a good case for a rematch. Either way I believe Pettis should defend his belt a few times before bringing up talk of a superfight with Jose Aldo.
Turning the Page
Now that Chris Weidman can turn the page of Anderson Silva he will look ahead to Vitor Belfort. Vitor is coming off several impressive performances against great opponents such as Dan Henderson, Luke Rockhold and Michael Bisping. Does he have a shot? Sure, with great striking and great power anyone has a shot. I believe Chris Weidman is the full package and will truly show off the fighter he is in this fight.
Should Wideman win this fight, who could be next for the champion? Should Ronaldo Souza defeat Francis Carmont, I believe he would have a good case for that fight. Another obvious candidate would be Lyoto Machida as he has had some success in the Middleweight division. I think this would be an extremely interesting fight as we have seen many fighters have trouble with Machida’s striking style.
At Heavyweight we have also turned the page on an epic rivalry that kept Cain Velasquez on top. Although Velasquez will be sidelined until at least the fall of 2014 because of a successful shoulder surgery, there is already a challenger in line to face the champion. Fabricio Werdum was announced as the next to fight Cain as he is coming of an impressive submission win over Minotauro Nogueira on June 8th, 2013. I believe Cain will prove to be far too much for Fabricio when the two meet.
Should Cain win with relative ease he may push to have another fight in 2014, potentially near the very end of the year. Travis Browne should receive this fight and I believe he possesses a far greater threat than Werdum. Having three impressive knockouts in 2013 makes it is hard to argue with that.
BFFs? Best Friends Fighting
If Browne should get pushed aside once again, I believe another bout that should have potential is Cain Velasquez vs Daniel Cormier. A situation that I have a hard time not laughing about as Cormier refused to ever take this fight as he is friends with Cain. As he is slowly leaving his prime, Daniel Cormier, is wasting time by playing nice guy. He will now have to face another friend, Rashad Evans, at UFC 170 as he was told, as soon as he declined the fight with Cain, that he would not receive an immediate title shot vs Jon Jones should he drop to the Light Heavyweight division. He had a true shot at the Heavyweight division and now he will have to get through Rashad Evans and potentially another top fighter such as, Alexander Gustafssonbefore even being able to have a sniff at the title.
Climbing the Ladder
Although the focus has been on these big name fighters and mostly the top three of each division, I would like to take the time to point out some people I believe to be the real deal. Although some of the talk of Rory MacDonald being a threat in the Welterweight division have gone down since his loss to Robbie Lawler at UFC 167, I believe that with a decisive win over Demian Maia at UFC 170 his name will be right back up there. If he wins that fight and Lawler loses against Hendricks this would be a great rematch. However if Lawler wins the title I believe MacDonald could face Hendricks or have his anticipated rematch against Carlos Condit.
Another fighter you should be watching is Cub Swanson in the Featherweight division. He has been flying under the radar and dominating everyone in his path including: Dennis Siver, Dustin Poirier and Charles Oliveira. Although he does not yet have a fight scheduled for 2014, keep your eye out for this man because I believe he will end the year next in line for Jose Aldo.
Currently ranked 7th in the Lightweight division Khabib Nurmagomedov has some potential, although he will have to continue his current winning streak and defeat some top five opponents before he can truly solidify himself in the top three.
The Ultimate Fighter
Although it seems that winners in recent years of the Ultimate Fighter have seemed to have their ups and downs, with very few making a big impact after the show, I believe the 17th instalment of the Ultimate Fighter brought two good Middleweight fighters. Even though Uriah Hall did not win the competition he has been good ever since. He has shown to have some of the craziest knock out power of any division leaving his opponents stunned, as shown at UFC 168 where Chris Leben did not return to fight after the first round and Leben is one tough opponent. Though he is being criticized by Dana White, among others for not having a killer instinct, it seems as though he found it on that night. It will be up to Uriah whether or not he does make an impact in the division, but he certainly has the potential to.
Kevin Gastelum the last pick and also the winner of that season of the Ultimate Fighter also has a ton of potential at a weak Middleweight division. He is a well-rounded fighter who sticks to his game plan to come out on top.
With only a few nights made official thus far, there is already a sense of excitement around all the divisions. Only time will tell who will be on top at the end of 2014.
Ogi is a graduate of Humber College’s Sport Management program. He is the founder of Blago Blogger Sports.