UFC 168: The year that was and the year that could have been in combat sports

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

The year that was and the year that wasn't...

2013 is quickly coming to a close. In a few short days, we'll be ringing in the new year and talking about how every week seems to be fight week. To cap off the year, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is holding one of its most important cards ever with UFC 168.

UFC 168 is headlined by two of the biggest fights in the promotion's history. At the top of the card, UFC Middleweight champion Chris Weidman hopes to defend his title against Anderson Silva and end any discussions of their first bout being a fluke.

The co-main event of UFC Women's Bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate appears to be lacking some intrigue because of how quickly "Rowdy" dispatched "Cupcake" in their previous encounter. That fight; however, is a lifetime ago in terms of mixed martial arts (MMA) and things change with each training camp.

In the lead up of the Rousey vs. Tate bout, UFC President Dana White said that a Tate victory would be the second biggest upset in UFC history. It seems like 2013 was the "Year of the Upset" or at least the year of the ridiculously entertaining near-upset.

The most important upset was the first bout between Silva and Weidman at UFC 162. Weidman entered the bout as a +235 underdog, with few expecting him to run through the champ. Silva earned his reputation of being the best fighter on the planet by defeating all challengers.

It took Weidman just two rounds to prove all the naysayers wrong as he flattened Silva with a left hook. The punches on the ground just put an exclamation point on an already absurd moment. Here was a wrestler doing what Vitor Belfort and countless others failed to do.

That knockout was without a doubt the biggest upset of the year, but it seems like the near-upsets were just as memorable.

The two that come to mind are the UFC 167 title fight between Georges St-Pierre and Johny Hendricks for St-Pierre's UFC welterweight title. The bout went to decision with everyone but the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) appointed judges feeling like Hendricks won the bout.

Though he lost the bout in the eyes of the judges, it was a star making performance for "Bigg Rigg" as he showed that he is the heir apparent to the title. That "Rush" retired soon afterwards should speak volumes to the type of power he possesses.

However, when talking star-making performances, the clear choice is Alexander Gustafsson nearly defeating UFC Light Heavyweight champion Jon Jones in the main event of UFC 165. Jones has built a reputation as the best fighter in the history of the light heavyweight division.

It says a lot that despite Gustafsson's considerable talent, the marketing around the bout revolved around the fact that he's an inch taller than the champ. So to say that no one expected him to not just survive five rounds but also dish out a beating on "Bones" would be an understatement.

Again, the judges saw the bout for the champion, but "the Mauler" earned something far more important: fan respect. Electronic Arts (EA) and the UFC teamed up and held a vote to decide who would join Jones on the cover of EA Sports UFC.

The choices included some of the biggest names in the UFC such as St-Pierre, Rousey, Tate, and Chael Sonnen. Gustafsson's performance at UFC 165 was gutsy enough to earn him the cover and forever link him to Jones.

While those near upsets in title fights are forever stuck in our collective memory, they weren't the only bouts that stick out.

In the last couple of months, the sport of MMA has been elevated because of some spectacular performances by some unusual suspects. Everyone expected the Mike Chandler and Eddie Alvarez to again entertain the masses in their rematch at Bellator 106. After all, their first encounter provided one of the best rounds in 2011.

But what people didn't expect were Mark Hunt and Antonio SIlva to put on an absolute classic. It's easy to consider lightweights slugging it out for 25 minutes. They don't have to carry as much weight so their cardio is usually better. Hunt and Silva proved that a show of heart will always be rewarded with fan approval.

That Silva later tested for elevated levels of testosterone shouldn't change how we as fans of the sport view the fight, no matter what White says.

The Hunt vs. Silva bout may have been the latest amazing bout but it in no way ran away with "Fight of the Year" honors. It seems like every week we heard UFC commentator Joe Rogan proclaim a fight to be "the best fight of all time."

He literally did it all. the. time.

Gutsy performances from Gilbert Melendez and Diego Sanchez stole the show at UFC 166 in Houston. While fans bought tickets to see the rubber match between UFC Heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos, they left in awe of the lightweights.

Rogan said the same about the Jones vs. Gustafsson bout and the Hendricks vs. St-Pierre bout. Four fights in three months that were all considered "the best of all time."

Outside of the UFC, the action continued. Invicta provided a candidate for one of the best fights of year in Michelle Waterson vs. Jessica Penne at Invicta FC 5: Penne vs. Waterson. Waterson upset Penne to become the new Invicta Atomweight champion with a fourth round submission.

Beyond MMA, Glory and boxing both provided some awesome moments. After teaming with Spike TV, it appears like Glory is poised for big things in 2014. Their last three shows have truly shown that there are choices beyond the UFC and Bellator cards.

Although 2013 has provided some truly incredible moments, there have also been some awful lows as well. My colleague Steve Borchardt discussed drug test failures in MMA in 2013. It's sad to think that as far as the sport has progressed, drug use still continues to rear its ugly head.

Beyond the rampant drug use, pay-per-view (PPV) buys are down and ratings across the board have been overly disappointing, making the longterm viability of MMA questionable.

The UFC and Fox hoped that seasons of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) coached by Jon Jones & Chael Sonnen and Ronda Rousey & Miesha Tate would breath new life into a tired format. Though ratings improved whenever women fought during the 18th season, overall the ratings continued to drop.

The partnership between Fox and the UFC has also struggled to truly elevate the MMA brand. Ratings are down for most events and even the ones that pull a respectable viewership number still failed to captivate audiences like they have in the past.

Some can blame shows being moved from FX to Fox Sports 1, but at a certain point, the blame can't be placed on the audience's inability to find a channel. The same could be said about Bellator as well. Though they've been on Spike TV for a year, they've struggled on Friday night.

Even Spike TV's answer to TUF failed to pull respectable numbers. When it's all been said and done, Fight Master was one of the biggest flops in the history of the sport.

Most importantly was the indefinite hiatus of St-Pierre. Without any doubt, he's the biggest star in the sport and the UFC's most consistent PPV draw. In a time when marquee bouts fail to top 500,000 buys, St-Pierre was Mr. Reliable. His sabbatical will have a long term negative affect on the UFC.

2013 was by no means the best year in the history of MMA, at least from a business stand point. But from the perspective of a fan, I'd challenge you to find a better time to tune in every week. There's more free MMA available and those cards have consistently been exciting.

It wasn't a perfect year by any means but it was a memorable one. So what say you Maniacs? What were your favorite and least favorite moments of 2013?

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