Thus far, 2012 has been a year marred by injuries, suspensions, and the cancellation of UFC 151. Very few fight cards remained unchanged, and in total, more than 60 fights have been re-shuffled in some way, shape, or form over the first eight months of the year.
Rather than dwelling on what has gone wrong and all that could have been from the first two-thirds of 2012, why not look ahead to the fistic goodness on the horizon over the next four months instead?
Six title fights, including the crowning of the first flyweight champion in UFC history, a pair of title eliminator bouts, and challenging tests for a pair of the top up-and-coming talents in the organization are on the calendar to round out the year.
Despite all the upheaval and changes that have come already, the following list of fights should be enough to get fans excited for the final four months of 2012.
JOSEPH BENAVIDEZ VS. DEMETRIOUS JOHNSON – UFC 152
One of these men will have their name etched in the history books as the first ever UFC flyweight champion.
Both Benavidez and Johnson made the move down in weight after having challenged for gold in the bantamweight division, and have established themselves as the top two talents in the UFC’s newest division. Incredibly fast and exceptionally well-rounded, these two dynamic athletes should make sure that the inaugural title fight in the flyweight division is a memorable one.
JON JONES VS. VITOR BELFORT – UFC 152
With everything that has transpired involving Jones since he last stepped into the cage, there has to be heightened interest in seeing the light heavyweight champion return to action. This time, he’s squaring off with a dangerous knockout artist looking to cash in a once-in-a-lifetime lottery ticket.
It may not be the fight everyone was expecting, but rest assured, when Jones and Belfort meet in the center of the Octagon at the Air Canada Centre, they’ll deliver.
JUSSIER FORMIGA VS. JOHN DODSON – UFC ON FX 5
Less than two weeks after the UFC crowns their first flyweight champion, the first challenger for the belt could be decided in this under the radar battle slated for October 5 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Dodson, the bantamweight winner of TUF 14, has designs on winning titles in three weight classes, working his way from flyweight to featherweight. After earning a decision win over Tim Elliott in his UFC flyweight debut, he’ll now welcome the highly regarded Formiga to the Octagon. The Brazilian is one of the top 125-pound competitors in the sport, boasting a 14-1 record and five straight wins heading into this one.
The Shooto South American champion and “The Magician” should combine to deliver a fast-paced contest that could potentially steal the show out from underneath their much larger contemporaries on FX.
JOSE ALDO VS. FRANKIE EDGAR - UFC 153
An injury to Erik Koch has opened the door for former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar to step up opposite Jose Aldo and fight for the title in his featherweight debut.
A bout between the two mainstays on the pound-for-pound list has been something fans - and UFC President Dana White - has been interested in seeing since Edgar dropped the lightweight title to Benson Henderson at UFC 144. The Toms River, New Jersey native announced his intention to relocate after losing his rematch with Henderson at UFC 150, and will now square off with the dominant featherweight champion on his home turf on October 13 at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro.
Aldo, who enters the bout on a 14-fight winning streak, has successfully defended the featherweight title five times between the WEC and UFC, most recently stopping Chad Mendes in the main event of UFC 142 in January. The two pound-for-pound list fixtures could easily combine to deliver one of the most exciting fights of the year in this one.
JOHNY HENDRICKS VS. MARTIN KAMPMANN – UFC 154
Both men won bouts believed to establish them as the #1 contender in the welterweight division. Now they’ll square off with each other to officially determine who will be the next man to challenge for championship gold in the UFC’s 170-pound weight class.
Hendricks has earned four straight wins, including back-to-back victories over former title challengers Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch to find himself on the brink of earning a shot at the belt for himself. To get that opportunity, he’ll need to get through the UFC’s “Comeback Kid,” Martin Kampmann, who has made a habit of rallying from the brink of defeat to emerge victorious in 2012.
GEORGES ST-PIERRE VS. CARLOS CONDIT – LATE 2012
After more than 18 months, the wait is almost over. This November at the Bell Centre in beautiful Montreal, Quebec, Canada, GSP – who has been recently cleared to resume training after being sidelined by injury – is hoping to finally make his return to the Octagon, squaring off with interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit in a title unification bout at UFC 154 on November 17.
The welterweight champion has not fought since defeating Jake Shields at UFC 129, and he will be testing out his surgically repaired knee for the first time in a dangerous matchup with his occasional training partner from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Despite all the heat Condit took for his strategic victory over Nick Diaz at UFC 143, “The Natural Born Killer” has been a finisher throughout his career, and will surely look to bring the fight to the returning French-Canadian superstar in this one.
RORY MACDONALD VS. BJ PENN – UFC ON FOX 5
There are a number of storylines that could be attached to this bout to help sell it even further, but the fact that you have one of the most respected and talented champions in UFC history squaring off against one of the most promising prospects in the sport should be reason enough to be excited.
Originally scheduled to take place at UFC 152, a nasty cut above MacDonald’s right eye turned Toronto’s loss into Seattle’s gain, and gave December’s FOX show a third incredible contest. These two have been bickering with each other in the media from the time the bout was first announced, and as entertaining and engaging as it has been, it should pale in comparison to what these two will deliver when the cage door closes.
MAURICIO “SHOGUN” RUA VS. ALEXANDER GUSTAFSSON – UFC ON FOX 5
After going through back-to-back back-and-forth battles with Dan Henderson and Brandon Vera, Rua’s next hurdle on the road back to the light heavyweight champion just happens to be a surging Swedish finisher looking to earn his chance to fight for the title as well.
Having earned five straight wins over increasingly more talented opposition, this is a chance for Gustafsson to show that he deserves to be considered among the best of the 205-pound weight class. A victory over a former champion like Rua – especially a finish – could put “The Mauler” in line for a title shot in early 2013.
BENSON HENDERSON VS. NATHAN DIAZ – UFC ON FOX 5
Everyone who has been waiting to see the lightweight division take a step forward only has to wait until December, when Henderson will defend the belt against Diaz in the headlining bout of what is stacking up to be the best card of the year on FOX.
Controversial or not, Henderson holds a pair of wins over Frankie Edgar already this year and wears the lightweight title around his waist. Continuing to improve with every appearance, “Smooth” will need to continue that trend, as Diaz has found his rhythm since returning to lightweight. Consecutive wins over Takanori Gomi, Donald Cerrone, and Jim Miller have carried the TUF 5 winner to the role of title challenger, and his blend of slick jiu-jitsu and signature Diaz Brothers boxing give him a real chance of walking away from this one as the champion.
JUNIOR DOS SANTOS VS. CAIN VELASQUEZ 2 – UFC 155
Why not end the year with the biggest fight possible, literally?
Just 13 months after meeting for the first time, dos Santos will defend the UFC heavyweight title against the man he won it from in the main event of the company’s final show of the year.
Though “Cigano” easily earned his first successful title defense against Frank Mir at UFC 146, Velasquez’s performance against Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva in the co-main event of the evening was the standout performance of the night. The former champion manhandled his Brazilian opponent, quickly opening up a nasty cut on his head with the same ferocious ground-and-pound that earned him a stoppage later in the first round.
Their first encounter lasted only 64 seconds and felt a little anti-climactic after a great deal of build-up on the initial UFC broadcast on FOX. Expect the rematch to reach its full potential.