2011 was unquestionably one of the greatest years in the short existence of mixed martial arts. The UFC has continued to grow and expand, Bellator has begun to find a stable foothold and produce stars, and Strikeforce will continue to air on Showtime, handled as a completely separate entity from the UFC, despite the fact that Zuffa now owns the promotion. Although the Japanese scene continues to struggle, MMA has caught like wildfire in the United States, and only promises to reach more households worldwide as time unfolds, which could certainly see a turn-around for promotions based in Japan.
The Strikeforce/UFC’s Continual Merger: Dana White has made it abundantly clear that Strikeforce isn’t going anywhere. However, White and the UFC have been importing some of their sister promotion’s finer talents, like Alistair Overeem, Nick Diaz and Fabricio Werdum, to name just a few. With the influx of new talent in the UFC, the depth of each division slowly swells, making for some intriguing scenarios and a pool of potential match ups that we would not be privy to if not for Zuffa’s purchase of Strikeforce. Gone are the days of champions “cleaning out the division”, there’s now plenty of new talent to factor into the equation, and it’s going to make for some truly fascinating matches come 2012.
“Bones” Will Aim to Replicate 2011: Jon Jones is the not only the year’s biggest surprise, he’s also one of the most amazing fighters to set foot inside the octagon. He picked up four wins in 2011, capturing the title and disposing of three former champions in the process. With the list of challengers thinning out, it seems that only Rashad Evans and Dan Henderson stand a snowballs chance of dethroning the champion and we’re more than likely going to see those fights come to fruition in 2012. Will Jones be able to put forth the kind of performances in 2012 that made him a star in 2011? Only time will tell, but I won’t be betting against the champion anytime soon, of that much I am certain.
A Much Deeper Heavyweight Division: With acquisitions like Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum, Shane Del Rosario and Chad Griggs, the UFC’s heavyweight talent pool is beginning to look quite deep. Rumors continue to swirl in regards to the potential signing of Antonio Silva and Sergei Kharitonov; both men would make for fine additions to the UFC roster. With the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix on the cusp of wrapping, we could potentially see Josh Barnett and Daniel Cormier join the fold as well. That my friends, would make for the most talent the heavyweight division has ever seen, and would certainly force champion Junior dos Santos to work to keep that belt.
A Whole New Scene at Lightweight: Now that Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard’s feud looks to be settled, we can expect some completely different challenges for the champion. Ben Henderson has looked phenomenal as of late, and he’ll serve as Edgar’s next challenge, come February when the two tangle at UFC 144. Henderson brings a vastly different skillset than Maynard or B.J. Penn, who combined make for Edgar’s last four fights. There’s no telling how Henderson will fare against the champion, but considering his overall offensive attack and savvy defense, he could prove to be a greater threat than both Maynard and Penn. However, what’s even more interest is the talent waiting in the wings. Donald Cerrone is a potent striker with solid submission skills, and he could potentially be a single win away from a title shot. Anthony Pettis will undoubtedly continue to blossom and given the threat he already poses, that’s a scary thought. That said, the major intrigue lies in a potential clash between Frankie Edgar and Gil Melendez, the current Strikeforce lightweight champion. While Melendez hasn’t made the leap to the UFC yet, he does look to be the best lightweight competing outside of the promotion, and should he make his way over to the UFC, we’ll be eying a tremendous talent that will finally be tested against the best in the world. 2012 could well be the year of the lightweight!