My MMA predictions for 2013
In anticipation of the new year, SI.com's writers are predicting the stories they think will define the sports landscape in 2013.
1. Not in the Nick of time: Are you excited for the Georges St-Pierre vs. Nick Diaz fight? Don't hold your breath. Do you believe Johny Hendricks got cheated out of a title shot? Don't give up hope. Just because the UFC has announced GSP vs. Diaz as the main event of UFC 158 on March 16 in Montreal doesn't mean the fight will actually happen. The two fighters were slated to meet at UFC 137 back in October 2011 until Diaz sabotaged it for reasons that remain a mystery. I'm not going to play amateur psychologist here, but Diaz does seem to wig out when the spotlight shines brightest. And in the leadup to the Montreal card, he'll be sure to feel the sweltering glare. The prediction here is that he acts out again -- blows off a press conference or shows up at one and causes an ugly scene -- and Dana White just throws up his hands and points down the dais to Hendricks.
2. Happy and healthy: The UFC will get through all of 2013 without a single fight being canceled because of injury. Zero. How's that for a bold prediction? Well, forget about it. But here's something injury-related that I do think will happen: This will be a banner year for co-main events. The UFC has had to rearrange fight cards to compensate for lost top-billed fights, and in one case it had to cancel an entire card. As a result, the UFC will take a new approach to stacking its cards, especially its pay-per-views. Rather than putting its focus on filling fight lineups from top to bottom with a steady flow of appealing bouts, the promotion will shift its emphasis to booking higher-profile second-billed fights, ones that, if necessary, could carry a card. If the UFC wants fans to fork over $54.99, it has to have a fallback plan in case the main event is canceled and cannot be replaced.
3. Super-sized success: Cowboys Stadium will be the home of champions in 2013. I'm predicting that "The Fight That Will Never Happen" will happen. Jon Jones and Anderson Silva have danced around each other and danced arm in arm for too long. Dana White wants to stage a superfight at the 100,000-seat stadium outside Dallas, and the UFC president did manage to get Silva to warm up to a showdown with Georges St-Pierre. Now that that's not happening, he'll just have to shift the Brazilian's attention to "Bones." As for Jones, he might not like the idea of risking his legacy against Silva, but if "The Spider" says he's in, then Jon had better do likewise or it's goodbye, legacy, regardless.
4. And still the rowdiest of champions...:Predicting that Ronda Rousey will remain UFC champion throughout the year might seem like the easiest prognostication of all time. I mean, no woman who's stepped into a cage with her has lasted a round before having her arm ripped off, and why should we believe that will change? Well, the result is not going to change, but to get there, Rousey will have to travel a path of more resistance. After making it look easy against the tough Liz Carmouche in her Octagon debut in February, Rousey will finally get the fight she's been angling for and the one women's MMA fans have been salivating over.
Cris "Cyborg" Santos, once she's finished shedding her weight down to 135 pounds, will give Rousey the fight of her life, perhaps in the co-main event of the Cowboys Stadium spectacular. Though the fight will take its toll on Rousy, Olympic mettle will win out and she will emerge victorious.
5. Heavy lifting: After Jon Jones wrecks Chael Sonnen in April and then beats up Anderson Silva in a summertime superfight, he's going to be looking for a bigger challenge. And there's only thing bigger than a light heavyweight. The prediction here is that by the end of 2013 Jones will step in the cage with a heavyweight. Whether it's another superfight depends on who's wearing the big-boy belt. If it's Junior dos Santos or, say, Daniel Cormier, both reasonably sized heavies, Jones might go for it. But if a man mountain like Alistair Overeem ends up with the strap around his waist, "Bones" will just have to continue picking on kids his own size.
6. Have belt, will travel: Chael Sonnen, the prediction goes, will get another title shot. I realize that's not exactly going out on a limb, considering that Chael's challenge of Jon Jones for the light heavyweight championship was announced long ago. But that's not the fight I'm talking about. The crystal ball foresees a summer day when a small man twists his knee and regretfully must pull out just a week before his chance at the title. The flyweight champ -- Demetrious Johnson? John Dodson by then? -- suddenly needs a replacement challenger, and guess who steps up. When fans and media criticize Dana White for giving the 185-pound Sonnen a shot at the 125-pound belt, White spits back, "Chael stepped up. He took the fight."
7. Showtime is over: As the life of Strikeforce counts down in minutes instead of months, there's been speculation over how Showtime will remain in the MMA game. Will the premium cable channel pick up the new World Series of Fighting? The all-women Invicta promotion? I say Showtime taps out. Dexter will have to amp up the brutality for its final season. Dave's Old Porn will have to get the young, male demographic minds off MMA. And Showtime Championship Boxing and Inside the NFL will have the sports niche all to themselves.
8. A hairy situation: A lot of people -- fans and fighters alike -- think the use of testosterone replacement therapy is getting out of hand. Perhaps it is, but there appears to be no traction at all toward changing course. So maybe it's time to take a look at another, um, growing concern: the beard. How are we supposed to know if a guy really has an iron chin if said chinny-chin-chin is swathed in a bushy cushion? I mean, Roy Nelson was hard enough to knock out before he went all Grizzly Adams on us. Now you need to attack him and guys like Johny Hendricks with a scythe. This is the year when Dana White puts a barber on the payroll to re-create the roster in his own hairless image. And once the UFC is clean-shaven, maybe someone can get back to TRT and really clean up the sport.
9. Belt tightening: I've already suggested what I expect 2013 to be like for a few of the UFC's champions. Accounting for all nine of them, I'm predicting that only one will lose the belt: José Aldo, who faces former lightweight champ Frankie Edgar on Feb. 2 in Las Vegas. Aldo has enough fight in him to persevere, for sure, but I expect Edgar to take full advantage of finally getting to pick on someone his own size. Of course, I'm also expecting another champ to fall before the first of the year (Junior dos Santos, who faces Cain Velasquez on Dec. 29) and I figure that another one might not even step into the Octagon in '13 (Dominick Cruz, out with a knee injury).
10. The Empire will stop fighting back: Here's what I wrote in my predictions for 2012:
"New York has held out for long enough. Back when MMA was unregulated in many jurisdictions around the country, the Empire State did not stick out like a sore thumb. But now the sport is unsanctioned only in Connecticut (which doesn't matter because fight organizations still can hold events in the Native American-run Mohegan Sun Arena), Vermont (which doesn't matter because, um, it's Vermont) and New York. You know, the home state of Madison Square Garden, once the mecca of the fight world. ... By the end of 2012 the UFC will be planning a fight card for the building where Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier -- and fellow heavyweights like Springsteen, the Dead, Foo Fighters and Lady Gaga -- have called home."
That didn't happen, obviously, but the time has come for this deal to get done. No, really, I'm serious this time. So change "2012" to "2013" in what I wrote last year and, as they say in the Fertittas brothers' casinos, let it ride.