In January, no one could have told the unforeseen things that happened in MMA this year.
GSP STEPS AWAY
This biggest news story and unexpected change in the landscape of MMA in 2013 was Georges St-Pierre stepping away from the sport.
After returning from an injury in November 2012 to defeat Carlos Condit, St-Pierre was set to scrap Nick Diaz early 2013. GSP met Diaz in March, completely outpointed the former Strikeforce champion and retained his UFC welterweight title. St-Pierre was in prime physical condition for the match, and any idea of him walking away from his belt and the sport was not conceivable.
St-Pierre then put his title on the line again in 2013, this time against former Oklahoma State wrestler Johny Hendricks. His performance that night at UFC 167 was not nearly as dominant as those throughout his five-year title reign.
Hendricks battered St-Pierre and even out-wrestled the champ. The French Canadian was declared the winner via split decision, but controversy surrounded the outcome of the match.
Then St-Pierre trumped that talk with his post-fight interview.
Inside the Octagon, St-Pierre told UFC color commentator Joe Rogan that he is stepping away from the sport and has personal issues to deal with. UFC president Dana White was furious at the post-fight press conference, citing that the Nevada State Athletic Commission’s judges were “atrocious” and “incompetent.” To top it off, St-Pierre’s timing to announce his hiatus from the sport was something with which White strongly disagreed.
St-Pierre’s future plans stayed in limbo for 27 days. Then he and the UFC held a joint conference call to explain the champion vacated his title and immediately embarked on an indefinite leave from MMA.
The 32-year-old’s announcement came out of nowhere and rattled the entire UFC welterweight division. It shook up things so much that it created a scenario in which Robbie Lawler will fight for a UFC belt in 2014 (against Hendricks), something unthinkable a year ago, when Lawler was middling in Strikeforce.
After being such an unstoppable force for so many years, who could have imagined Anderson Silva would be where he is now?
Silva had a glorious career until 2013. He captured various UFC records, littered highlight reels with his finishes and earned the distinction of many as the best mixed martial artist of all time.
“The Spider” defeated Chael Sonnen and Stephan Bonner, both via TKO, in 2012, while not appearing to not have lost a step in his game. However, a former NCAA Division I All-American wrestler named Chris Weidman came along.
Silva and Weidman clashed at UFC 162 in July. The challenger, Weidman, knocked out the seemingly unstoppable Silva in Round 2, putting an end to the Brazilian legend’s 17-fight winning streak. An instantaneous rematch was scheduled for UFC 168 in December.
It ended in a nightmare for Silva.
Silva broke his tibia and fibula while throwing a leg kick that Weidman checked with his knee. Silva’s many admirers watched in horror and stunned disbelief as the longtime UFC middleweight kingpin’s leg snapped. He was stretchered out of the MGM Grand Garden Arena, screaming with pain all the way, and rushed to the hospital for immediate surgery.
Sure, getting caught can happen to anyone, and Silva’s time came in his first meeting with Weidman. But to go from such a destructive champion to crippled in one year was another surreal unpredictable scenario.
BELLATOR’S BETTER BUSINESS?
Bellator changed the company’s business model in 2013, and perhaps not for the better in many instances.
Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney organically grew the organization by utilizing the tournament format, developing talent and securing sensible television deals. In 2013, that changed as Viacom-owned Bellator premiered on Spike TV, debuted a reality TV series and fleshed out its roster with familiar, undesired faces.
To start the year with a bang, Bellator revealed the television series “Fight Master,” which featured former UFC two-time champion Randy Couture as one of four coaches on the show. Bringing in Couture instantly triggered a reaction from an irate White.
The public feud between White and Bellator created a rivalry between “The Ultimate Fighter” and “Fight Master,” but the Spike TV series could not match the finely tuned “TUF” on FX and then the new Fox Sports 1.
After airing a reality television series similar to “TUF,” the company that once prided itself on not copying the UFC shamelessly tried to mimic the world’s No. 1 MMA brand.
The promotion announced in June that it signed former UFC light heavyweight champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. Just one month later, UFC legend Tito Ortiz came out from backstage at a Bellator event to publicize his signing with the organization and his match against Jackson in the first-ever Bellator pay-per-view show.
In August, Bellator re-signed Eddie Alvarez, its former lightweight champion and promotional poster boy, after a long, ugly and drawn-out court battle with the UFC over contract disputes. Alvarez was scheduled to challenge lightweight champ Michael Chandler on the pay-per-view card in the co-main event, although media and fans claimed should’ve have been the main event.
Unfortunately, Bellator’s new approach to attracting fans did not go as planned.
Due to a neck injury suffered by Ortiz, the bout with Jackson never materialized, and the pay-per-view was cancelled. Detractors were left to argue that moving the event to a free show on Spike TV hurt the promotion’s credibility and displayed the lack of faith Bellator had in its “own” guys to carry a pay-per-view card.
In addition, the other UFC cast-outs Bellator signed — including Cheick Kongo, Lavar Johnson and Joey Beltran — did little to intrigue fans to spend Friday nights watching their events any more than in past years.
For a promotion that was the clear-cut No. 2 organization in the world in January 2013, Bellator unpredictably ended the year struggling to gain back credibility amongst the MMA community.
WOMEN GET THEIR SHOT
Not all unexpected moments of 2013 were misfortunes, and some were pleasant surprises.
While it was known that women’s MMA was coming to the UFC in 2013, even the WMMA community would have been hard-pressed to figure it would play such a big role in”TUF 18″ and “TUF 20.”
In March 2013, the UFC broke news that women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey and the winner of the match between Miesha Tate and Cat Zingano would coach opposite one another on the first-ever co-ed season of “TUF.” Zingano won the match, but required knee surgery. Rousey’s hated rival, Tate, filled the spot.
The season was a success, though the males on the show felt slighted due to the women getting all of the attention, not to mention higher TV ratings on episodes featuring female fights. The series provided a backdrop for the lead-up to Rousey vs. Tate at UFC 168 and their burning hatred for each other, while also adding depth to the only UFC women’s weight class at the time.
Nearing the end of 2013, the UFC purchased the contracts of the 11 females that made up Invicta FC’s strawweight (115-pound) division. The Zuffa-owned promotion made its mark in WMMA in 2013, and has set up 2014 with the all-female “TUF 20″ cast featuring 16 women to decide the division’s inaugural UFC 115-pound champion.
A promotion that until mere months before refused to allow women to compete, the UFC raised the stakes in WMMA with the moves made in 2013.
These stories, along with dramatic outcomes of fights throughout 2013, made for a roller-coaster of a year in MMA.
There’s no telling what 2014 will bring.