Of all the fighters stricken by injury in 2012, Dominick Cruz suffered the worst fate. | Photo: Dave Mandel
One age-old question arises every year in late December: what do you want for Christmas?
In the spirit of the season, a few brave staff members at Sherdog.com came together to compile their Christmas wish lists for 2012, touching on everything from the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s recent injury epidemic and a recent rash of what many perceive as unwarranted title shots to the desire to see the world’s largest promotion put its might behind more than just one woman blazing a trail to the Octagon.
Mike Whitman, news editor: If I could have one Christmas wish, dear readers, I would undoubtedly ask for a healthy UFC roster in 2013.
I know what you must be thinking: “You idiot, Whitman. After such an injury-riddled 2012 and with the UFC now holding so many events, how could we possibly expect things to turn around next year?” In some sense, you are correct to be skeptical of my cries for help from Santa and the Baby Jesus, but that is why this is called a wish and not a demand, you cynical, Christmas-hating jerks.
I truly believe the odds are in our favor. Even if there were a ruthlessly well-trained Evil Alliance whose sole purpose was to secretly injure the UFC’s elite fighters next year, I honestly think that those countless, black-hearted ninja assassins would still struggle to hit the quota established in 2012.
Think back to February, when a torn knee ligament prevented Georges St. Pierre from defending his welterweight belt against ex-Strikeforce titleholder Nick Diaz. What seemed like a simple missed opportunity at the time was actually an ominous sign of things to come.
The curse only intensified during the summer, when it caused bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz to also tear his anterior-cruciate ligament before shoving featherweight ruler Jose Aldo off his motorbike ahead of a UFC 153 clash with Frankie Edgar; this after injuries had knocked “Scarface” out of his UFC 149 showdown with Erik Koch, who was then himself forced to withdraw from his rescheduled title shot at UFC 153 and replaced by Edgar.
Perhaps the worst incident of the Great Injury Epidemic of 2012 came in September, when Zuffa was forced to cancel UFC 151 after veteran Dan Henderson pulled out of his title bid against light heavyweight pacesetter Jon Jones, who, for some reason, eventually ended up fighting Vitor Belfort four weeks later at UFC 152.
This is but a small sample of the disappointment we experienced this year as fight fans. With five title fights already scheduled for 2013, we can only hope that the men and women of the Octagon can keep themselves healthy enough to satisfy our undying blood lust, provided, of course, we have all survived the Mayan apocalypse.
Brian Knapp, features editor: As we look toward 2013, the sports purists among us have to come to grips with the fact that Chael Sonnen and Nick Diaz have essentially trash talked and mean mugged their way into title shots, leaving Dan Henderson at light heavyweight and Johny Hendricks at welterweight -- two men who are clearly more deserving -- to fight over the scraps.
This model needs to change in mixed martial arts, and the sooner the better. It may be good for business in the short-term, but it damages the sport’s credibility in the long run.
Fighters should rise and fall based on merit, not on how well they can cut provocative promos. This is not professional wrestling. If MMA is to reach its full potential as a sport, more emphasis needs to be placed on victory and defeat. Is that not what athletic competition is all about? Who wins and who loses matters, or at least it should.
Quick question: when was the last time Sonnen won a fight at 205 pounds in the UFC? If you answered never, you are today’s big winner. Yet Sonnen, not Henderson, will challenge Jon Jones for the promotion’s light heavyweight crown at UFC 159 on April 27. Another question: when was the last time Diaz won more than two fights in a row in the UFC? If you answered never, you are really on your game.
Yet Diaz, not Hendricks, will face Georges St. Pierre for the promotion’s welterweight championship at UFC 158 on March 16. Something is very wrong with those pictures.
This is not an attempt to discredit the accomplishments of Sonnen and Diaz, as they are considerable. Both men are among the cream of the crop at their chosen profession, but neither of them have earned the opportunities they have been given.
Fighters like Henderson and Hendricks deserve to be treated with more respect, as do the titles they are pursuing.
The desire to see a more structured and just process through which to construct title matchups tops my Christmas wish list for 2012.
Tristen Critchfield, associate editor: When it comes to making a Christmas wish list, I tend to believe it’s a good idea to ask for something reasonable, something I think might actually show up under the tree -- with my name on it -- come Dec. 25. When it comes to my Christmas wish list for MMA, that gift does not even have to arrive on time.
In some ways, my present already arrived when UFC President Dana White introduced Ronda Rousey as the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s first female champion at the UFC on Fox 5 pre-fight press conference. The announcement, while not a complete surprise, was significant because it made the entry of women into the Las Vegas-based promotion official. As it stands, Rousey will defend her shiny new belt for the first time against Liz Carmouche in the UFC 157 main event on Feb. 23. No other women’s bouts have been announced yet.
That brings me to my request. Rousey is clearly the face of women’s MMA, and she has done what it takes -- both inside the cage and out of it -- to earn that spot. With that in mind, most of the UFC’s marketing push will revolve around the Olympic judoka, and rightfully so. However, I would hope that the UFC is in the women’s game for the long haul, and that means promoting more than just Rousey.
At first there were concerns that White was not interested in backing anyone besides Rousey and her next prospective foe, but the UFC boss could be softening that stance.
“All the other girls that we sign are going to fight, and this is going to be done the same as it is with the guys. We’re not going to say, ‘Hey ladies, you all just sit around and wait until Ronda’s ready to fight you,’” White recently told MMAJunkie.com.
When it comes to a full-fledged 135-pound women’s division in the UFC, those words are about as promising as it gets. I realize that, at least for now, asking the promotion to move beyond the bantamweight realm might be pushing it; developing other divisions can be handled by the Invicta Fighting Championships for the time being. However, if women’s MMA is going to survive and thrive in the Octagon, people need to be exposed to more than just Rousey. After UFC 157, that means including some other talent -- Miesha Tate, Julie Kedzie, Shayna Baszler, Sara McMann, etc. -- on future cards.
They do not have to be featured prominently on the main card of a pay-per-view like Rousey, but wherever these fighters wind up, the action should speak for itself. Anyone who witnessed Tate and Kedzie go at it in August can attest to that.
That is my MMA Christmas wish: full commitment from the UFC to a women’s 135-pound division. I don’t think it’s too much to ask.
With that, we wish you the merriest of Christmases.