What to expect in the second half of 2013
June, 28, 2013
By Brett Okamoto
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comWill Dominick Cruz's triumphant return to the Octagon from injury be a major storyline to close 2013?"Anything can happen in mixed martial arts." -- They.
You know, I agree -- four-ounce gloves and such -- and we've certainly been surprised here and there this year by MMA, but hasn't it also been somewhat ... predictable so far?
It's as if even some of the unpredictable stuff was pretty predictable.
If a friend had told you at the start of the year, "Antonio Silva will knock Alistair Overeem out cold, but only after 'The Reem' techno dances to the Octagon and gasses in the second round," wouldn’t at least part of you have thought it made sense?
What about: "Nick Diaz will accuse Georges St-Pierre of steroid use, get outwrestled for five rounds, admit tax evasion, retire and start his own promotion branded WAR." (You nodding). "Yeah, that actually sounds about right."
On that note, let's call some shots for the rest of the year. The key here might be as simple as, "don't think too much." Just let them fly.
Fighter of the Year: Johny Hendricks. Thanks to a knockout victory over St-Pierre in the UFC's biggest card of the year. All the unfair criticism St-Pierre gets for not finishing fights will actually work against him here. Biggest concern for this prediction is Hendricks might actually want it too much, which can make a fighter gas early. Nevertheless, Hendricks in Round 3 or 4.
By the way, Hendricks barely squeaks by Jon Jones and Anthony Pettis for the award. Jones is in "clean your division" land. He beats Alexander Gustafsson and another top contender (not Daniel Cormier) to cap a superb year, but not enough to dethrone Johny. Pettis, meanwhile, gets in the cage in Milwaukee, stares down Ben Henderson after he narrowly decisions T.J. Grant, then takes the belt late in the year.
Breakout Fighter of the Year: So many candidates. In the end, it's a four-victory year that seals the deal for Ronaldo Souza. He already has two first-round finishes over UFC-caliber competition. He beats Yushin Okami in September, comes out unscathed and requests a spot on the New Year's show. Hashtag: Alligator crawl.
Leading the honorable mentions, welterweight Erick Silva. A matchup against Rory MacDonald, win or lose against Jake Ellenberger in July, would be top-shelf, but he draws a "fading veteran" type of fight instead.
Also in the running: Michael McDonald, who beats Brad Pickett in August, then fights Urijah Faber by the end of the year. Josh Thomson, who wins one more high-profile fight and posts at least 17 more dumb things to his Twitter account. Khabib Nurmagomedov, Gunnar Nelson, Cub Swanson and Stipe Miocic.
Ric Fogel for ESPN.comAnthony Pettis could very well end up finding himself a leading candidate for fighter of the year.
Comeback Fighter of the Year: You know what? I said I wasn't going to think too much and just roll with the first thought. So let's do it: Dominick Cruz. Cruz is the kind of guy you picture shadow boxing while brushing his teeth. Nobody in the UFC wants to sign a fight right now more. People are talking about how good Renan Barao is and wondering how Cruz will look after so much time off. But if there's one guy who comes back before we think he will and looks better than we expect him to, it's lil' DC.
Free-Falling Fighter of the Year: The award you don't want to win. Don't be mad Hector Lombard, but looking at you on this one. The move to welterweight will not do what it did for Demian Maia. The cut itself doesn't figure to be an easy one. Lombard doesn't have a huge frame but it looks like he's just a naturally stocky guy. On top of that, his current problem has nothing to do with a need to be the bigger guy in the Octagon. If anything, speedier opponents will make him look worse.
Fight of the Year: Impossible to predict, but these already announced bouts look pretty good: Andrew Craig vs. Chris Leben, Ellenberger vs. MacDonald, Thiago Alves vs. Matt Brown, Henderson vs. Grant, Clay Guida vs. Chad Mendes, Erik Koch vs. Dustin Poirier, Tim Elliott vs. Louis Gaudinot, Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos III.