The Tens: 10 Reasons To Be Excited About MMA In 2011
Give thanks— mixed martial arts is a year round sport. There are fewer open calendar spaces every day as UFC, Strikeforce, Bellator, DREAM, Sengoku and a host of other organizations find their way to the airwaves. Still just a teenager in North America, the sport’s rapid development means there’s a lot going on one might miss, that you can’t afford to miss. Here are 10 reasons to be excited about MMA in 2011:
1) Bellator on MTV2
Bjorn Rebney’s little tournament-based organization that could joined the MTV family. With an agreement to air Bellator’s weekly fight series live, stars like Joe Warren and Eddie Alvarez will appear in roughly 77 million homes. An increase in Bellator’s visibility can increase its resource pool—a must for the fledgling promotion.
The 155-pound class is the heavyweight division of the lower weights. Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard’s UFC 125 stalemate likely causes WEC Lightweight Champion Anthony “Showtime” Pettis to jump in the fire versus Clay Guida for a UFC debut while Edgar-Maynard is resolved. An influx of WEC lightweights and an emerging backlog of contenders like the winners of Kamal Shalorus-Jim Miller, Benson Henderson-Mark Bocek and Georges Sottiropoulos-Dennis Siver further the surge the division will see in 2011.
Outside of the UFC, Gilbert Melendez and Eddie Alvarez are still campaigning to be considered the number one lightweight in the world. Should they find an answer to organizational politics and meet, the winner—or whoever has a better year if they don’t—has a case to be across the cage from the UFC champion too (or vice versa).
3) UFC Primetime
When it comes to fight hype, there’s the UFC and then there’s everybody else—the reason being UFC Primetime. The UFC’s in-house version of HBO’s groundbreaking 24/7 documentary series is pushing fights to new levels. There are already Primetime worthy bouts promised such as Mauricio “Shogun” Rua’s 205-pound title defense versus Rashad Evans, Georges St. Pierre defending the welterweight title against Jake Shields and down the road, Junior dos Santos challenging Cain Velasquez for the UFC heavyweight belt should the Brazilian defeat Brock Lesnar after a coaching stint on the 13th The Ultimate Fighter installment.
4) Georges St. Pierre vs. Jake Shields
Both Georges St. Pierre and Jake Shields are on incredible runs leading into their headlining welterweight title bout at UFC 129. April 30 at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the UFC is expected to break all its attendance—and maybe even pay-per-view—records on the strength of St. Pierre’s profile in and out of the Octagon.
A win over Shields moves “Rush” to six consecutive title defenses, steadily tracking Anderson Silva’s record seven title defenses (eight if Silva defeats Vitor Belfort February 5th). “GSP” has proven to be an ESPN-worthy brand. Besting Shields isn’t just another impressive mark on his nearly spotless resume—it’s a step toward an Anderson Silva mega-fight.
Not if the Cesar Gracie product completes his own Cinderella story though. On an improbable six-year, 15-fight win streak through multiple organizations, which saw him defeat seven champions and capture belts in two weight classes (170 and 185-pounds), dethroning the Canadian in his own backyard would illuminate all Shields has accomplished with little fanfare over the course of a 12-year career.
5) Charitable Work
Like all other major sporting communities, mixed martial arts is giving back.
The UFC has the Tequila Cazadores Spirit Award, which rewards a fighter who exemplifies honor and integrity inside and outside of the cage by donating $1,000 to the winner’s charity of choice. Strikeforce got involved in breast cancer awareness, taping fighter gloves in pink in 2010.
The UFC is set to host its Fight for the Troops event January 22, kicking off what should be one of many of the sport’s contributions to society in 2011.
Alistair Overeem is the best stand-up fighter in the world, according to his K-1 Open Weight Grand Prix championship. He’s also the Strikeforce Heavyweight and DREAM Interim Heavyweight Champion. That combination finds him in the Guinness Book of World Records as the only fighter to simultaneously hold three belts. Mostly seen through Japanese lenses, “Ubereem” is one of the most fascinating figures in fighting, period.
7) Rio de Janeiro
The UFC returns to South American for the first time since 1998 with UFC: Rio on August 27th. Mixed martial arts began as vale tudo, which originates from Brazil. Those roots and the murderer’s row of Brazilian stars currently in the UFC could be the most lucrative and exciting place for an Octagon to be set up.
8 )Futures and Legacies
Rapid evolution of the sport takes on new faces in 2011. The UFC’s two newest champions, bantamweight Dominick Cruz and featherweight Jose Aldo are electrifying the cage like few imagine. Competitive bouts between the likes of contenders Jon Jones-Ryan Bader and heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez versus Junior dos Santos (read: Lesnar disclaimer above) bring to life answers about who will carry the sport forward.
Two of the most highly regarded legacies are up for grabs in 2011 too. 47-year-old Randy Couture attempts to defy father time yet again by meeting former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Lyoto Machida. Fedor Emelianenko, long regarded as the greatest heavyweight of all-time, attempts to rebound from the first loss of his career (outside of a dubious cut stoppage in 2000) by running through Strikeforce’s heavyweight tournament.
9) Strikeforce Tournament
Fedor Emelianenko may have been the world’s greatest heavyweight for nearly a decade but Alistair Overeem—the world’s greatest stand-up fighter—and Fabricio Werdum, the man who submitted Fedor, are challenging whether “The Last Emperor” still reigns. Josh Barnett has gunned for the Russian for years too. But first the former PRIDE Heavyweight Champion takes on American Top Team’s Antonio “Big Foot” Silva. The tournament is a single-elimination format—Andrei Arlovski, Sergei Kharitonov and Brett Rogers conclude the lineup—that features eight heavyweights that have been or currently are world-ranked.
Injury or Barnett’s licensing issues may damage the tournament; however, if it goes off as planned, Strikeforce may have pulled off an unthinkable world-class tournament in North America.
10) Lucky Number 7, 8?
Adopting 135 and 145-pounders from the WEC, the UFC now maintains seven weight divisions. Just two weeks into the year, the UFC has announced fights as far as six months in advance and it’s apparent the UFC boasts significantly stronger cards thanks to the new weight classes. UFC President Dana White stating 125-pounders will hit the Octagon “sooner rather than later” would see the UFC hosting eight divisions.
Eight is a significant number because there were eight divisions—referred to as the “traditional divisions”—in boxing that helped orchestrate its immense growth in the early 20th century. Dana White often cites boxing as a road map for what not to do; however, the life-long boxing fan also understands what elements to employ.
Zuffa promotes so well, they essentially experimented with the WEC to test the profitability and marketability of the lower weight classes for three years. After demonstrating their value, the consistent and explosive nature of the sub-155-pound fights backed by the UFC brand sends mixed martial arts on an incredible upward trajectory.
Danny Acosta is the lead writer for FIGHT! Magazine. Contact him on twitter.com/acostaislegend