Bloody Elbow New Year's Roundtable: What will the big MMA stories be in 2014?

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

The Bloody Elbow staff offer their opinions on what the biggest MMA stories will be during 2014

Tim Burke: MMA as a sport is always hard to predict, but what do you see as being a potential big story in 2014? And why?

Zane Simon: I'd bet that GSP will continue to be a big story all year as there will probably continue to be a lot of talk as to just exactly why he walked away and of course, how soon he'll be coming back.

Trent Reinsmith: I have three:

Where will Chris Weidman and Vitor Belfort fight? For the sake of the UFC, it almost has to be in Las Vegas. A Belfort win anywhere else will leave far too many questions. The other thing to watch in that story will be will he get the therapeutic use exemption, and if so what restrictions will be placed upon him leading up to and after the fight? The easy thing for the Nevada State Athletic Commission to do would be to approve the TUE and test him (and Weidman) in much the way they handled Josh Barnett and Travis Browne heading into UFC 168. Now, if they deny the TUE, well, then the story could get even more interesting.

How will Daniel Cormier fare at light heavyweight? If he beats Rashad Evans at UFC 170 does he set himself up for an immediate shot at the light heavyweight title?

Can Ronda Rousey convert her popularity into pay per view buys? She's probably the biggest star the UFC has right now, but can she move the needle in the way Georges St-Pierre did on PPV?

Fraser Coffeen: This was starting to pick up steam in 2013, but I think in 2014 there will be a lot of talk about the diminishing returns on the UFC's product. We're looking at a year with no GSP, no Anderson Silva, which just leaves Cain, Aldo, Jones, and Rousey to carry the torch. There's also an even greater increase of shows, and a number of shows that won't be available on broadcast television. I see a lot of questions about the UFC's business model coming up, and a lot of legitimate concerns that they are burning out, which could very well lead to more of a decrease in PPV buys.

Oh, and more Glory. Look for continued progress from them in the US market in 2014.

Tim Burke: As for Weidman/Belfort, I'd actually prefer it to be in New Jersey. NSAC will fold and give Belfort a TUE along with some WADA testing, I don't think they're going to break any new ground there. But New
Jersey might be the state that takes a real stand and forces some change.

I think the biggest story of 2014 is going to be how low PPV numbers are for the company and how they're going to have to scramble to find new draws ASAP. Other than Jon Jones and maybe Ronda Rousey (I'm still not sure she's going to be a gigantic PPV draw on her own now that the novelty factor has worn off), they're pretty slim on top fighters.
This might lead to stacked PPV's and weaker Fox cards, which could be an issue.

It's all speculation right now, but I don't see 2014 being a banner year for the organization in terms of numbers. But sometimes companies have to have these years while they expand into new markets, and it's a good thing overall even if it doesn't look great on paper in the moment.

Chris Hall: There's a few things that I think have interesting narratives heading into the new year:

Will the new generation start coming into their own? - We've both Johny Hendricks and Chris Weidman who made very big impressions in 2013. Will fans take an interest in them with GSP and Silva out now? Will either be able to begin a run of dominance like their predecessors?

Fraser already touched on this one, but I'm really curious to see if Ronda turns into a significant draw. Her debut did great, but there's the question if the novelty of WMMA had an impact on the UFC 157 buyrate, and she's not going to get a lot of credit for the UFC 168 buys with Weidman/Silva II on top of that. UFC 170 will be our first real indication of her drawing power.

The UFC Fight Pass. We just found a lot about it prior to UFC 168 and it has some very good qualities for the hardcore fight fan. Personally, I'm pretty excited about it. But, will that turn into a demand for the service? There's still a lot of questions of it's availability in what kind of platforms it will be available on. And, of course, how many people are going to be willing to spend more on the UFC in addition to buying PPVs?

We've also got the big questions about Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva. GSP was adamant he wasn't retiring, so will we found out more about his 'personal issues' and an expected return date by the end of the year? For Silva, will he even decide to fight again after recovering from the leg break? He probably won't be able to return before 2015, but we should at least know whether or not he'll fight again by the end of the year.

Brent Brookhouse: I think more than anything it's the changing landscape of UFC business. We went from the original Royce generation to the Shamrock/Tito/Chuck/Randy generation to the Randy (yeah,again) / Rampage / Silva / GSP / Lesnar generation to now where it's Jones/Rousey/Velasquez and Rousey is an interesting experiment in that the division is still developing and she's an odd personality. And Cain hasn't proven to be a draw. And Jones is a decent but not great draw. Will a Weidman or Pettis be able to become a new star or does this become a down (note: not bad, not money losing, just down) period for a sustained amount of time until either someone emerges as a star of a guy like GSP returns? The fighters are better than they ever have been but they're not the great self-marketers that we've seen in the past.

I think the other thing will be sponsorships for fighters. We're possibly going to see the shift away from fighter managers maybe or maybe not getting their guys sponsored and the UFC securing sponsorships for fighters where they get a percentage of the take. There's already a lot of interesting movement with sponsorships and the UFC right now that isn't really getting talked about where even major stars like Anderson Silva hit road blocks with huge sponsors like Nike. The UFC getting approval of sponsors means that they can strike a deal -- or be in the process of striking a deal -- with someone like Reebok and block a competitor like Nike from getting in the cage. Not that I'm saying that's what happened...but....ya know?

The sponsorship situation is going to evolve a lot in a very short amount of time at the start of 2014.

Anton Tabuena: The only truly big story for me, in terms of really being affected personally, is if they still don't push through with UFC: Philippines in 2014. They've been teasing it for yearssss, and there's no better time than now. Manila has even seen much better cards than NYE in Japan for Christ's sake. Who would've predicted that just a few years ago?

Mookie Alexander: The biggest story of 2014 will be Jon Jones and the future of the light heavyweight division, which is probably at its lowest point in terms of depth and serious title contenders past the top 5. Jon Jones will fight Glover Teixeira -- assuming this fight actually happens in 2014 and doesn't get delayed 40 more times -- and if he wins as expected it should set up a rematch with Alexander Gustafsson if he beats Jimi Manuwa. After that there's Phil Davis and Daniel Cormier. The UFC seems completely content with not promoting Davis and they'll probably book him as if the fight against Machida was a loss.

Jones is the star of that division bar none, but I don't think he plans to stay at light heavyweight forever. He's not "cleaned out the division" as evidenced by Gustafsson nearly beating him, but he's pretty damn close. There's more intrigue in him at heavyweight, where Cain and JDS are the clear top 2 and your next best two are Fabricio Werdum and Travis Browne. Werdum and Browne will fight next year and if Werdum loses then there's no way he's making another title run at his age.

I believe Jones will run through Teixeira, beat Gustafsson in a thrilling rematch and at the end of the year he'll announce a move to the heavyweight division for 2015. Fans can then salivate over Jones/Velasquez, Jones/JDS, and of course Jones/Hunt. Where will that leave LHW? In the hands of Alexander Gustafsson, who is primed to be the next young talent to reign supreme at 205 when Jones moves up.

KJ Gould: UFC is as big as it'll get in North America, which is probably why they've closed 2013 with both a ppv price hike and the new on demand service.

UFC are probably treating 2014 as an experiment to see if any audience drop off is more than compensated by their new or adjusted revenue streams.

This also means we'll see how well their experiment in international expansion goes as they vie to become the controlling body of MMA globally.

I also see UFC stacking cards in the second half of 2014 with double headline attractions since I expect them to fail breaking 500k buys for ppvs in the first half of the year now GSP and Anderson Silva are absent.

Steph Daniels: I believe the UFC will hit the skids and go into a terrible, economic downturn. Vinny Mac will step forward and dangle the carcass of some half rotting animal and the Zuffa brass will jump at it in order to save the company. We'll see one of the champs go full heel, and in Mike Tyson fashion, he'll bite his opponent's ear off, or something along those lines.

We'll see a UFC/WWE merger that will destroy all lines of legitimacy in the sport, Batista will beat Cain Velasquez in a barb wire match, and a couple of the divas will 'retire' Ronda Rousey, freeing her up to do The Expendables 4-16. She will come back 2.5 months later for the NYE show and beat all the divas and The Rock in a co-ed tag team event, where her partner is CM Punk.

Dana and Vinny Mac will fight in a Hell In A Cell match, where we'll see Vinny take off his own sock to treat DFW to his Version of Cactus Jack's mandible claw. Dana will lose, and in doing so, all right to the UFC will revert to the WWE, whereupon Vinny will dismantle the company, just to prove he can.

Iain Kidd: Enhanced drug testing starts to become the norm, and swathes of fighters start getting popped, leading to new regulations.

Jon Jones get caught doing something else he shouldn't be. Probably stealing candy from babies, I don't know.

The UFC puts on an event in Mexico which bombs.

Chris Weidman steps his all-american persona up a notch, and starts fighting in cutoff denim shorts while walking out to "Real American" Hulk Hogan style.

The UFC gets banned in China after Dana White makes a comment about the regulatory government all being corrupt.

Tim Burke: I actually think a Mexico card would be huge. They're on free TV there now and they have a ton of fans. I've watched a couple of events on TV in bars in Mexico City, Merida and Cabo (the latter being more North American fans, but still), and they were pretty enthusiastic about it.

Tim Burke: I think that four of the nine UFC belts will change hands in 2014. Welterweight is pretty obvious I guess, but others as well.

Trent Reinsmith: One more from me, can Conor McGregor live up to the hype that he and the UFC have created? Also do the injuries and semi-retirments force the UFC to speed things up for McGregor when he is healthy and ready to fight? If the promotion is lacking buzz when McGregor is ready to go they may elect to throw him in against top level fighters. We know he feels he is ready, but is he? Remember, according to Cub Swanson, the UFC said a matchup between McGregor and Swanson was unlikely.

Mike Riordan: 2013 was the year of the American wrestler, and 2014 American wrestlers will only tighten the stranglehold they already have on the sport. By the end of 2014, UFC champions without wrestling backgrounds will be viewed as goofy anachronisms, like dot-matrix printers.

Tom Grant: The Eastern European wave continuing, possibly the first European UFC champion

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