Eight Reasons to be Excited for ’08

Dec 26, 2007
Multi-colored confetti sprinkles to the ground ringing in the New Year for whiskey-clutching MMA fans. Before a single tear rolls down their cheeks because they may not live up to resolutions of moving out of mom's basement or submitting Dean Lister (Pictures), they should consider these eight reasons, listed in no particular order, as to why 2008 should be an exceptional year.

Humor
In a world as physically and mentally draining as mixed martial arts, laughs are a welcome refresher. This year brought us hilarious moments like Jason "Mayhem" Miller in Mexican wrestler garb roundhouse kicking a piñata. Nick Diaz (Pictures)'s personality shined: "Real fighters eat real chocolate."

2008 is guaranteed to keep us in an uproar. Joe Rogan lacks the ability to censor himself while commentating, especially when Tyson Griffin's "ba-donka-donk" enters the Octagon. Quinton Jackson (Pictures) and Forrest Griffin (Pictures), arguably the UFC's most entertaining personalities, are going to spar with quotables before their clash. Don Frye (Pictures)'s IFL advice column is not only sidesplitting, but it's hard hitting. And there is always Bas Rutten (Pictures).

Innovation
As the sport continues to grow, changes need to be made. 2007 saw Strikeforce promote a one-night tournament in California. EliteXC pushed women's MMA into the spotlight with Gina Carano (Pictures). The IFL spiced up its team league concept with a grand prix. HDNet promoted fights without suffering through the network negotiation process. They also started MMA's version of SportsCenter with Bas Rutten (Pictures) and Kenny Rice. The UFC graciously offered up a title fight between Quinton Jackson (Pictures) and Dan Henderson (Pictures) free on Spike TV.

The IFL has scrapped coaches, added coaches, and invited any camp to fight as some of the many changes going into 2008. With boxing guru Gary Shaw and entrepreneur Mark Cuban vying to be major players, expect Dana White to rise to the occasion.

Mainstream coverage
ESPN stopped covering little league, dominoes, and Bass fishing long enough to welcome MMA into the fray. Major newspapers and small publications alike asked, "What is Ultimate Fighting?" Now that the public is at least casually acquainted with mixed martial arts, no more Lou DiBella debates are necessary.

Coverage in the mainstream media can shift from introductory pieces to in-depth stories. With the Writers Guild of America strike still in full swing, fight promotions following in the IFL's footsteps on basic television are not out of the question yet. Another Strikeforce event at the Playboy Mansion, Floyd Mayweather mulling a move to MMA, and NFL players training MMA in the off-season, are just a few of many more reasons the sport will enjoy widespread attention in 2008.

EliteXC
From a joint venture with Strikeforce that showcased Frank Shamrock (Pictures) and Phil Baroni (Pictures)'s classic feud to a thrilling middleweight title fight between Robbie Lawler (Pictures) and Murilo Rua (Pictures), the Gary Shaw-fronted promotion set itself apart from other rookies.

Signing Jake Shields (Pictures) to a long-term contract ensures a welterweight title fight and the continuous climb of the Cesar Gracie (Pictures)-trained Northern Californian. Media darling Kimbo Slice will answer questions around his fighting prowess. Nick Diaz (Pictures) never has a boring moment inside or outside of a fight. Frank Shamrock (Pictures) is an MMA legend rededicating himself to the sport and a headlining goldmine.

The ProElite family grew when it acquired Cage Rage, which has seen a nice bump in production. Look for another a stellar card from them in March. With an extended network of organizations and talent -- not to mention a presence on Showtime -- EliteXC is primed for a big year.

Fighter resurgence
Josh Barnett (Pictures) and Mark Hunt (Pictures) saw no MMA action this past year. Tatsuya Kawajiri (Pictures) and Mitsuhiro Ishida (Pictures) would have suffered the same fate had Yarennoka! not came to be. The card spotlights the return of many of PRIDE's stars like Hayato Sakurai (Pictures) and Kazuo Misaki (Pictures), who found themselves with nowhere to fight after competing early in 2007.

The next year should find permanent homes -- or at least consistent competition -- for Barnett, Ricardo Arona (Pictures) and anyone else unwelcome or unwilling to enter Zuffa's Stateside juggernaut or UFC's blue counterpart, World Extreme Cagefighting.

Lightweight and below
This year brought us the rise of Roger Huerta (Pictures) and Frankie Edgar. Clay Guida (Pictures) and Tyson Griffin attempted to be the most exciting fighters in the entire sport. K-1 HERO'S had an excellent one-night tournament final between Caol Uno (Pictures), Andre Amade (Pictures), Vitor Ribeiro (Pictures), and Gesias Calvancante (Pictures). Zuffa's WEC chronicled Urijah Faber (Pictures)'s tear and drew attention to the featherweight and bantamweight divisions.

The lower weight divisions are finally getting their due. The fights have always have been there. Now the stars are coming out. A "Razor" Rob McCullough (Pictures) lightweight title defense against Jamie Varner (Pictures) is set. B.J. Penn (Pictures) and Joe Stevenson will battle to reassert the UFC's 155-pound division. Faber and Jens Pulver (Pictures) are on their way to a featherweight mega-fight. If lightweights and below are less exciting than they were in 2007, they would still bring some of the most frenetic action of 2008.

Free fights
Gabriel Gonzaga (Pictures)-Mirko Filipovic (Pictures). Spencer Fisher (Pictures)-Sam Stout (Pictures) II. Nathan Quarry (Pictures)-Pete Sell (Pictures). Quinton Jackson (Pictures)-Dan Henderson (Pictures). Roger Huerta (Pictures)-Clay Guida (Pictures). Anything with Urijah Faber (Pictures). These were just some of the amazing free fights seen in 2007.

While Zuffa will continue to offers its great free fare, other promoters will make themselves known on live television throughout 2008.

HDNet Fights is going to push itself further as well as any other promotion, such as the IFL, that needs a network. ProElite.com will continue to feature preliminary bouts for free. Showtime will cover ShoXC and EliteXC events.

SpikeTV will feature Mike Swick (Pictures)'s debut at welterweight against Josh Burkman (Pictures) and Patrick Cote (Pictures)'s battle versus slugger Drew McFedries in the year's first UFC Fight Night. The WEC has Carlos Condit (Pictures) and Rob McCullough (Pictures) defending their titles in February.

There will be plenty free fights before holiday weight is shed. Free fights are a gift that keeps on giving.

Anderson Silva vs. Dan Henderson (Pictures)
Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures)'s uncertain clash with Randy Couture (Pictures) gives way for a confirmed fight as the most compelling offer of 2008. Fluid strikes versus fierce fists. Deceptive Brazilian jiu-jitsu versus Olympic-level wrestling. Lots and lots of clinch game.

The second installment and likely the last of the UFC/PRIDE title unification features two of the toughest and talented MMA fighters in the world. It is a style clash but no combatant will back down in any area. While Henderson represents the gravest threat to the Brazilian's reign of terror in the UFC, Silva has disposed of high-level competition without mercy. And he does it with grace. The clash is explosive on paper. Luckily, Henderson and Silva don't really care about what's written -- they let their fighting tell stories.

If these reasons don't get MMA fans geared up for 2008, well, as El Guapo says, "Dance!"
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