For mixed martial arts, 2009 was much more than just another year.
Sure, many things went wrong in 2009. Namely, many stars were injured, sick, or just downright controversial.
This year wasn’t a waste, though. CBS hosted a live broadcast featuring Fedor Emelianenko and bonafide face-wrecker Brett Rogers, ESPN has made the UFC more mainstream overseas, Vitor Belfort and Tito Ortiz are now back in the Octagon, female MMA has fresh exposure, B.J. Penn has stepped his game up to a new caliber, and the heavyweight division is more daunting due to the high level of competition.
So if 2009 was so great for MMA, what’s going to slow it down in 2010?
Not a thing.
In fact, the New Year hasn’t even arrived and a plethora of matchups are already in the works—and they all look great to me.
1. Brock Lesnar vs. Shane Carwin
Will Carwin be able dethrone the “Next Big Thing,” or will Lesnar continue his domination over the heavyweight division with great athleticism and pure size and strength? Though the fight has been postponed until Lesnar is free from illness, look forward to a 2010 comeback!
2. Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort
Silva has maintained first-rate dexterity in the middleweight division, but, after a three-fight win streak, Belfort looks to put on an admirable show himself.
3. Bobby Lashley vs. TBA
Although no official opponent’s been opted for, Lashley has looked impressive thus far. Jan. 30 is a Strikeforce card to pay attention to.
4. Fedor Emelianenko vs. Allistar Overeem
Fedor’s expected to smash through the Strikeforce heavyweight champion. Can Overeem shock the MMA world by defeating “The Last Emperor”?
5. Tito Ortiz vs. Chuck Liddell III
Liddell will spend 2010 making a return to the Octagon against a man he’s defeated twice by TKO. Will the third time be a charm for Ortiz? Or will the “Iceman” rise to the occasion and maybe rule the division once again?
6. Dan Hardy vs. Georges St-Pierre
St-Pierre is undoubtedly one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters in the world. Can the ever-entertaining Hardy hold a torch to the Canadian? You’ll have to tune in to UFC 111 to find out.
7. Jose Aldo vs. Urijah Faber
Aldo has recently dominated all opponents in the featherweight division of WEC. He’s looking to stamp Faber’s name to the list early in the New Year.
8. Women’s Division
Cristiane Santos, Gina Carano, Marloes Coenen, Kerry Vera, Miesha Tate, and Sarah Kaufman. These leaders of the women’s MMA division are going to make things interesting and exciting! Can anyone knock Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos off of her pedestal?
9. Anderson Silva vs. Georges St-Pierre
We can only hope that 2010 can grasp this mega-fight while these two extraordinary fighters are in their prime and ruling their respected divisions.
10. Dan Henderson vs. TBA
After parting ways with the UFC due to financial disputes and a busted deal for a title shot, Hendo is seeking refuge in Strikeforce. There’s no mistake that he’ll continue to be as electrifying as he ever was. Is a Gegard Mousasi or Jake Shields title bout in Hendo’s Strikeforce future? He should debut early next year.
11. Cung Le vs. Scott Smith
I know this bout will occur almost two weeks before the New Year, but it should be explosive enough to include in the list. Le returns to Strikeforce to recapture the middleweight title he relinquished in September of this year. Le’s expected to defeat a respectable opponent in Smith.
12. Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir III
If Lesnar was fighting at only 60 percent of his potential due to his illness for the last year, what will he be capable of when he returns? Mir has shown such a vast improvement in his game that fireworks are sure to fly in this rubber match.
13. Matt Hughes vs. Renzo Gracie
MMA legend Gracie has recently signed with UFC and will face UFC future Hall of Famer Matt Hughes April 10 at UFC 112. Many believe Renzo is looking to avenge Royce Gracie’s loss to Hughes. Royce and Renzo are cousins. Hughes will try to repeat history by dominating another member of the Gracie family.
14. Lyoto Machida vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua
With the controversial victory behind him, Machida will have to reassess his game plan for Rua’s clever fighting styles. This one has “unpredictable” written all over it.
15. B.J. Penn vs. Shinya Aoki
The lightweight division in the UFC isn’t weak…unless you place everyone in it next to Penn. If UFC signs the No. 2-ranked Aoki, he may be able to prove B.J.’s not unstoppable. 2010 could change the lightweight scene drastically.
16. Anderson Silva vs. Light Heavyweight Champion
Let’s face it, Silva ripped through light heavyweights James Irvin and Forrest Griffin like he already had the belt in the light heavyweight division, and sooner than later he will receive a light heavyweight title shot. Whether it’s Rua, Rashad Evans, or any other top contender holding the belt at the time (Silva stated he would not fight Machida because of their friendship), we will all be looking forward to it. Will somebody end The Spider Era?
17. Rashad Evans vs. Quentin Jackson
“Rampage” Jackson recently stated he would be back in the Octagon to, quote, “shut up” Evans and Dana White. This is the fight that all fans have yearned for ever since Jackson defeated Evans’ teammate, Keith Jardine. It was expected to take place at UFC 107 before Jackson and White had a falling out, but, luckily for fight fans, it’s back on. As long as this fight happens soon, I suspect it will live up to the hype.
18. Wanderlei Silva vs. Michael Bisping
This fight is greatly anticipated for hardcore MMA fans. Silva is in a must-win situation to remain a contender in the UFC. He’s dropped down to the 185-pound weight division for this fight. As for Bisping, he’s looking to continue his rebound to a championship bout with Anderson Silva. Will Wandy make Bisping his first victim back at the middleweight division?
19. B.J. Penn vs. Georges St-Pierre III
Considering Penn cleans out the lightweight division, he will pursue St-Pierre for a third title shot in the welterweight division. Can a newer, more refurbished Penn finally defeat his kryptonite? GSP is a phenomenal fighter, and Pt. 3 should make for a bout for the ages.
20. Jose Aldo vs. B.J. Penn
In an age where Penn can’t be beat in his own division, he may look to defeat his surrounding divisions’ championship-holders. GSP vs. Penn 3, as mentioned above, is more than probable; it will happen. But what about a potential catchweight bout between Penn and Aldo? This would give WEC more recognition from a business standpoint, and it would be a great test for “The Prodigy.”
2010 should be a great year for mixed martial arts. The aforementioned fights would single-handedly set the year up nicely. Throw some rising stars into the preliminary slots, place top contenders in featured fights, and I’d say that every large MMA event next year has the potential to be blockbuster night of fights.
So when January arrives, strap your seat belt on, because it’s going to be one hell of a ride. Stay tuned and keep cheering for your favorite fighters!