I have been as hard on the UFC's matchmaking as anyone over the last several months. While UFC fans have been dragged through fights such as Anderson Silva vs. Stephan Bonnar, Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen, Jon Jones vs. Vitor Belfort among others -- either due to injury or misguided thinking -- the UFC is set to close out 2013 with what could be their strongest run of major fights ever.
But the UFC isn't alone in loading up the second half of the calendar. 2013 is going to see some of the biggest stars in boxing and MMA in action in fantastic match-ups.
Let's run down what fight fans have to look forward to in the next six months.
July 6 - UFC 162 Anderson Silva vs. Chris Weidman for the UFC middleweight championship - This weekend kicks things off in a big way. Silva is, without a doubt, the best fighter in UFC history. In Weidman, Silva faces a man who -- to use one of the UFC's biggest marketing cliches -- is the type of fighter you would build if you were creating the perfect fighter to face the champion. Media and fighters are lining up to voice their Weidman picks and Silva is listed as low as a -230 favorite at some sportsbooks.
July 27 - UFC on Fox 8 - Demetrious Johnson vs. John Moraga for the UFC flyweight championship - I'd be lying if I said that flyweight fights "feel" as big as the other fights on the list. The division simply hasn't been around long enough and the fights don't always feel as special, but they are usually very good in action. Moraga is sitting in the #5 slot in the Bloody Elbow Meta-Rankings, but the men above him have all had their shot at Johnson.
August 3 - UFC 163 - Jose Aldo vs. Chan Sung Jung for the UFC featherweight championship - There's no denying that losing Aldo vs. Anthony Pettis was a huge downer for the MMA world, adding in The Korean Zombie makes up for it a little bit. Jung might not be listed at the top of the featherweight rankings -- he's #7 in the Bloody Elbow Meta-Rankings -- he might be the biggest "name" at 145 aside from Aldo. Injuries keeping him on the shelf for over a year may have made some forget about the response that Jung gets when he fights. This also has the makings of a fun fight, even if Aldo should take it comfortably.
August 31 - UFC 164 - Ben Henderson vs. TJ Grant for the UFC lightweight championship - The uniqueness of Henderson's title reign can't be overstated. Aside from his clear win over Nate Diaz, Henderson seems to go life and death with everyone when the title is on the line, narrowly holding on to the belt. Grant came out of nowhere, dropping down to lightweight and winning five fights in a row through a perfect progression of opponents, looking more impressive each outing before knocking out the very durable Gray Maynard at UFC 160. Henderson's tendency to be in close fights and Grant's impressive run have the champ as low as a -221 favorite early on.
September 14 - Boxing - Floyd Mayweather vs. Saul "Canelo" Alvarez for Mayweather's WBA and Canelo's WBC jr. middleweight championships - This is, without a doubt, the biggest fight of the year. It's a fight that most doubted would be signed. Maybe it was due to Mayweather's legitimate but uninteresting fight with Robert Guerrero tanking on pay-per-view or maybe it was just Floyd actually wanting to do it, but the fighters have signed the agreement and are on a massive media tour, hitting up cities across America and Mexico and drawing big, loud, passionate crowds. Mayweather will be a solid favorite, but it's not because Canelo isn't a fantastic test, it's just because Floyd is a once-in-a-generation talent.
September 21 - UFC 165 - Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson for the UFC light heavyweight championship - Jones' last year has been a bit of a waste. He's a transcendent talent, arguably the most physically gifted fighter in UFC history. But, fights with Vitor Belfort and Chael Sonnen didn't really do anything to speak to his larger place in the sport, even if Belfort did come close to scoring a shocking armbar win. Gustafsson doesn't have a huge name, but he's talented, young, big and versatile. It's a big step up from trouncing middleweights.
October 5 - Boxing - Wladimir Klitschko vs Alexander Povetkin for Klitschko's WBA, WBO, and IBF championships - This was made official earlier today after five years of nonsense. While it's still firmly in "I'll believe it when I see it" territory, if it does happen it's a legitimate heavyweight fight, something all too rare in boxing these days. The 26-0 Povetkin was an Olympic gold medalist and has good power to go with his technique. He isn't a perfect fighter by any means, but this is probably as good as it's going to get for Wlad before he retires.
October 12 - Boxing - Timothy Bradley vs. Juan Manuel Marquez for Bradley's WBO welterweight championship - The two men who beat Manny Pacquiao will meet on HBO pay-per-view in what should be an outstanding fight. Bradley may not have deserved the decision win over Pacquiao, but he is a clearly talented fighter and he came back from the Pacquiao fight with a win in a stunningly brutal war with Ruslan Provodnikov. Marquez got his career defining win last year, after feeling like he'd been robbed three times against Pacquiao, he left no doubt, crushing Pacquiao with a frightening right that left the Filipino face down. With Bradley wanting that legitimate signature win and Marquez trying to secure his legacy before retiring, fans could be in for a treat.
October 19 - UFC 166 - Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos III for the UFC heavyweight championship - The first fight was a quick KO win for JDS, but he wasn't able to repeat his success in the rematch as Cain won the stand-up and completely controlled the fight. This is likely the last time these two will ever fight, fourth fights being as rare as they are in the fight game, so the fight is as much about legacy as the UFC title. Though the belt certainly provides a little extra motivation.
November 16 - UFC 167 - Georges St. Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks for the UFC welterweight championship - The two best welterweights on the planet, meeting in a fight that should provide some major answers. Hendricks can hurt GSP with his right or left hand, that's simply a fact. Also a fact is that GSP can neutralize almost anyone in MMA's offense with his grinding, controlling style. It's a fascinating match-up and it's likely that the winner ends up facing Rory MacDonald next (yes, I'm being dismissive of Jake Ellenberger).
November 23 - Boxing - Manny Pacquiao vs. Brandon Rios - The only fight on the list without a title on the line -- yet...I'm sure some sanctioning body can invent a new belt for the fight -- and with both men coming off losses. But Pacquiao fights are still big news and this is probably going to be the best fight on the list. Rios lost his rematch with Mike Alvarado -- a fight that is already a near lock for Fight of the Year -- and Pacquiao lost by KO to Marquez. But these are two of the most exciting fighters on the planet and both are desperately in need of a win.
That's it for the biggest fights of the second half of the year. There are obviously plenty of other great fights and events spread through the next six months, but nothing compares to these eleven.