With Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance hitting theaters on Friday, it's a good time to look at the 12 hottest fights of 2012...
Frankie Edgar vs. Benson Henderson
When: UFC 144 (airing February 25 in US)
What’s at stake: The UFC lightweight championship
Why should you care? UFC 144’s main event in Japan pits the two best lightweights in the world against each other, and when it comes to digging down deep to deliver a victory, there are none finer than Edgar and Henderson. Edgar has risen from first round knockdowns in his last two bouts to pull off a draw and a knockout win over Gray Maynard, and Henderson’s wins over Donald Cerrone, Jim Miller, and Clay Guida have seen him come back from submission attempts that would have finished lesser men. Whoever wins this five rounder, expect that he will have walked through fire to get there. That’s something Johnny Blaze can appreciate.
Anthony Pettis vs Joe Lauzon
When: UFC 144 (airing February 25 in US)
What’s at stake: Title of the most exciting lightweight on the planet
Why should you care? Everyone talks about Pettis’ “Showtime” kick against Benson Henderson in 2010 (and rightfully so), but what about all the spectacular finishes pulled off on the ground by New England’s Lauzon? He’s earned six consecutive post-fight bonus awards, and if there’s any such thing as a sure thing in the fight game, it’s that a meeting between Pettis, one of the most dynamic strikers in the game, and Lauzon, one of the most dynamic finishers, it’s that one or both of these lightweight contenders is going home with a wallet a little heavier than it was before leaving for Japan.
Jon Jones vs Rashad Evans
When: UFC 145 (April 21)
What’s at stake: The UFC light heavyweight championship and bragging rights
Why should you care? Even without the bad blood between these two former teammates, the matchup between 205-pound champ Jones and former titleholder Evans is an intriguing one, just based on the fact that Evans may have the well-rounded style to present Jones with the first significant danger he’s faced in the Octagon thus far. But the grudge the two have with each other makes it so much more appealing to diehard fans and the mainstream. If either fighter has to lose this year, they’re going to do anything in their power to make sure it’s not on April 21st.
Jim Miller vs Nate Diaz
When: UFC on FOX 3 (May 5)
What’s at stake: A move up the lightweight ladder
Why should you care? Given the aggressive, action-packed attacks of both Miller and Diaz, this is a must see bout and an almost guaranteed Fight of the Night nominee. But what makes this one even more interesting is seeing how Diaz reacts to having an opponent who simply won’t get into a trash-talking battle with him, and how Miller deals with Diaz’ taunting in the Octagon. You probably couldn’t find two more polar opposites personality wise, but what they share is what really matters: a will to win and a desire to finish fights.
Dustin Poirier vs Chan Sung Jung
When: UFC on FUEL TV 3 (May 15)
What’s at stake: A possible shot at featherweight gold
Why should you care? The Diamond vs. The Korean Zombie? It sounds like something that could show up in a future Ghost Rider sequel, but for our purposes here, it represents the biggest featherweight fight you can make at the moment, and one that should propel the winner right to champion Jose Aldo’s doorstep. Poirier has been on a tear in the UFC, winning four in a row, and Jung has not been far behind, earning Submission and Knockout of the Year consideration for his wins over Leonard Garcia and Mark Hominick, respectively. High stakes + high skill levels + a little pre-fight trash talking already underway = a Tuesday night fight so intense you may need to take the next day off from work or school.
Anderson Silva vs Chael Sonnen II
What’s at stake: The UFC middleweight title and so much more
Why should you care? Sonnen says it’s never gonna happen; Silva says that he’s tired of talking about his nemesis. But what do you need to know about the one fight everyone has been waiting for since their first bout in August of 2010. It’s going to eventually take place, and hopefully sooner rather than later. It has to, and when it does, one of the most epic title fights in UFC history will be revisited, and it will take over the MMA world when it does.
Vitor Belfort vs Wanderlei Silva II
What’s at stake? Repeat or redemption
Why should you care? Currently filming The Ultimate Fighter’s first Brazilian edition, coaches Belfort and Silva will meet at the end of the season in a rematch of their 1998 bout, won by “The Phenom” via 44 second knockout. A lot has gone on, good and bad, in the careers of both, and while Belfort seems to be the fresher of the two on paper, “The Axe Murderer” shocked a lot of people last November with his stirring second round TKO of Cung Le. This may not only be a hot fight, but one with the potential to shock those who see a repeat for Belfort.
Dominick Cruz vs Urijah Faber III
What’s at stake? The UFC bantamweight title and the conclusion to a trilogy
Why should you care? Cruz and Faber are, in many ways, the gold standard for lighter weight fighters, as they’re athletic, technical, exciting, and fast. Their second bout in 2011 was one of the best of the year, and while there doesn’t seem to be a Jones-Evans-esque level of animosity here, there is some heat which will obviously get turned up when they coach against each other on season 15 of The Ultimate Fighter. When they meet again, expect the same level of intensity you saw last year.
What’s at stake? The UFC’s first flyweight championship
Why should you care? If you like the featherweights and bantamweights, speed it up from 45 to 78 and you’ll get an idea of what the flyweights bring to the table. In March, the first two 125-pound UFC fights take place, with the winners of the Joseph Benavidez vs Yasuhiro Urushitani and Demetrious Johnson vs. Ian McCall bouts facing off for the first UFC flyweight title later this year.
Cain Velasquez vs. Frank Mir
What’s at stake: Getting a step closer to another heavyweight title fight
Why should you care? UFC CEO and Chairman Lorenzo Fertitta tweeted last week that this showdown of former heavyweight champions was in the works, and when it happens, it will be one of the most interesting bouts of the year by far. Velasquez is looking to rebound from the first loss of his career against Junior dos Santos last November, and he’s not getting an easy welcome back in Mir, winner of three in a row, including a December 2011 submission of “Minotauro” Nogueira that earned UFC.com’s unofficial Submission of the Year award. This one is the epitome of a pick ‘em bout.
Junior dos Santos vs Alistair Overeem
What’s at stake: The UFC heavyweight championship and recognition as the baddest man on the planet
Why should you care? Newly crowned heavyweight king dos Santos has steadily built a reputation as not only the best big man in the sport, but one who is showing no signs of being beaten anytime soon. Then again, former Strikeforce champ Overeem blasted through Brock Lesnar with little difficulty last December, re-establishing his credentials as a heavyweight wrecking machine in his new organization. Let’s get down to the bottom line: this one ain’t going five rounds, and someone’s getting knocked out. There’s no greater endorsement for a heavyweight title fight.
Georges St-Pierre vs Carlos Condit
What’s at stake: The UFC welterweight championship
Why should you care? Tell the truth – you are a lot more convinced that Condit has a shot at beating St-Pierre after he defeated Nick Diaz earlier this month, aren’t you? Why? It’s simple. For all of his explosive finishes, Condit proved in the Diaz fight that he could be disciplined and stick to his game plan for 25 minutes. That’s impressive stuff, and to beat GSP, you have to have a solid plan and the ability to not stray from it. Add in the long layoff the champ from Montreal will have endured by the time he returns to action, and the odds of a Condit win keep rising. That idea is enough to motivate both fighters into delivering the fight of their lives.