2013 was a banner year in MMA and the sport took some large leaps forward in terms of mainstream attention and divisional depth. I still find it hard to believe that the UFC has nine divisions now, and they're doing a decent job promoting all of them. But what will happen in 2014? Approximately 17943 UFC shows (that's approximately 345 shows a week for you math majors) should open up some interesting matchmaking opportunities. And that's where the list below comes into play.
Without further ado, here are 14 fights I want to see in 2014. I only had three rules for this list:
1. I won't include any title fights, because that's too easy.
2. No rematches.
3. Rankings? Tim don't care about no stupid rankings. These are just fights I want to see regardless of divisional standing.
Not all of them are from the UFC, but let's face it - as much as I miss the WEC and Strikeforce, Zuffa controls 90% of the top talent in the sport so 90% of the fights I want to see are going to be in the octagon. Okay, let's roll.
Rick Story vs. Mike Pierce - These two men are former training partners and they do not like each other one bit. They're both in about the same spot in the welterweight pecking order and I've been waiting to see them matched up forever now. The buildup to this bout would be great, and it might turn out to be even crabbier than Story's bout with Jake Ellenberger back in SportFight in 2008 (they hated each other too).
Darren Elkins vs. Nik Lentz - I know what you're thinking - blah blah, they're grinders, they aren't that exciting. I never really cared about that, I'm generally a big fan of grinders. And these two are a lot alike. They're both right on the edge of the top ten at featherweight and they've both only lost to Chad Mendes in the division. I want to see who the premier grinder is at 145. Make this fight please.
Ronaldo Souza vs. Mamed Khalidov - I honestly don't think the UFC would fork out enough money to get Khalidov to leave Poland. He's a star for KSW and makes mad bank to fight for them. But he's also the best middleweight outside the UFC, and I'd dearly love to see him fight elite competition. Jacare might be out of his league but there's no way to know until they bring him in. I think they match up well stylistically and while the bout does nothing for Souza, it's my article and I'll dream if I want to.
Demian Maia vs. Carlos Condit - Do I even need to explain this one? Carlos Condit is my favorite fighter on the UFC roster right now that didn't fight in Pride (true story - I named my puppy Carlos). Demian Maia is incredibly fun to watch. This fight has FOTN written all over it. I'm not sure if it'll ever come together, but I sure hope it does.
Gegard Mousasi vs. Michael Bisping - Yes, this probably sounds a bit odd. But I think their styles compliment each other perfectly. It could be a war on the feet and really interesting on the ground too. Bisping doesn't get a lot of love but he doesn't have many holes in his game, and neither does Mousasi. This would be an amazing five-rounder on a European card. Pay the 9.99 people! Do it for The Count and The Dreamcatcher! Actually, both those guys should pay 9.99 for new nicknames.
Mark Hunt vs. Roy Nelson - This just makes sense. Nelson's probably the better overall MMA fighter, but Mark Hunt is Mark Hunt. Big Country has taken everything the best fighters in the UFC have so far and hasn't been knocked out. Could The Super Samoan do it? Hunt's going to be out for a while with a mangled hand, but this might be the best bout either man could take this year.
Takanori Gomi vs.Melvin Guillard - Anyone that knows me finds out pretty quickly that Takanori Gomi is my favorite fighter of all time. The Fireball Kid was never a talker (even people that speak Japanese have no clue what the hell he's saying half the time), but he is an incredibly entertaining fighter. Yes he has faults. Yes his style hasn't evolved at all. But he can still knock people into next week with one shot. And guess what? So can Guillard. Melvin doesn't want to submit his opponent (Gomi's biggest weakness). He just wants to punch them in the face really hard. So let's see some good old face-punching ultraviolence please.
Erick Silva vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama - No, Akiyama isn't dead. He's just taking forever to come back from a torn ACL. We all know that Silva is super exciting, but he's only 3-3 in the UFC and that record is a bit of a disappointment. So is Akiyama's: 1-4. There's no real reason that I want to see this other than I think it'd be entertaining and it's pretty off the wall. I just think the idea of it is kind of funny. I'm not sure why.
Nick Diaz vs. Hector Lombard - People seem to think that I don't like Nick Diaz for some reason. Well, that reason might be some of the things I've written about him. But there's no denying that he's an incredibly entertaining fighter. He should be nowhere near the title picture but if he does decide fighting's for him again, there are so many interesting fights for him. Lombard is the best of the bunch in my eyes though. Can Lombard KO Diaz? Could Diaz somehow stop Lombard? Would Diaz pace himself and wait till Lombard gasses? Who knows? Both men have very volatile personalities too, so the pre-fight stuff would probably be hilarious.
Jon Fitch vs. Rousimar Palhares - Hey look, a fight that would take place in the dreaded decagon of World Series of Fighting. I'm a fan of both these guys (especially JON FITCH), and I'm really not sure what would happen if they fought. Would Fitch fly back to Syracuse with only one leg? Or would Palhares be wearing a backpack for 15 minutes? It's about the most compelling fight WSOF could put on right now in my eyes, so I hope they can get it done.
Donald Cerrone vs. Jim Miller - These are two of my favorite lightweights and they need to fight each other. They have 13 performance bonuses between them. The style matchup would be sick. And they're both good guys that aren't likely to be in the cluttered title chase in 2014 with the champ out. You know you're gonna get value for your money when either man is on the card, so think how awesome it'd be to see them in the cage at the same time.
Michael McDonald vs. Erik Perez - Goyito probably doesn't have the resume to get a fight with Mayday yet, but how great would that bout be? Both are young, fast, and know how to finish fights. If anyone is going to showcase the next generation of bantamweights in 2014, it's going to be these two guys. And it's early enough in both their careers to match them up now. Because who knows, they could always meet again down the road.
Chan Sung Jung vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri - For those of you that haven't been fans of Japanese MMA, you missed out on a lot of good fights. Go back and watch Kawajiri vs. Gomi or Eddie Alvarez. Those are two of my favorite fights of all time. Crusher's 35 now but he's just about the most consistently entertaining fighter I've ever seen, and that's saying a lot. And we all know what the Korean Zombie can do when he's given an opponent that will tangle with him. This fight would be nothing short of incredible.
Joe Lauzon vs. Evan Dunham - Like Cerrone/Miller, this is a lightweight FOTY-candidate waiting to happen. I don't think Dunham really gets the respect he deserves for how entertaining he makes his bouts, even in losing efforts. And Lauzon hasn't had a crazy exciting bout in a little while, so give him Dunham and watch them wow the crowd.