For years there were two reassuring constants in the mixed martial arts (MMA) universe: Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva.
While Ultimate Fighting Championship's (UFC) one-time MVP Brock Lesnar may have shined like a supernova before being supplanted by a new generation of heavyweights, for the past sevens years Silva and St-Pierre were two names the company's fanbase could count on to consistently deliver excellence in the cage, and whose bouts were suffused with the ever-coveted big fight atmosphere.
Then, in the span of just 15 days this past December, MMA lost its two biggest stars of the modern era. First St-Pierre relinquished his UFC Welterweight title and announced he was taking an indefinite sabbatical away from active competition.
Next, the world watched as Silva, sporting a goatee speckled with gray and exhibiting little of his trademark confidence inside the cage, gruesomely broke his leg attempting to low kick Middleweight champion Chris Weidman at UFC 168. Considering Silva will be 39 in April and has all the money he'll ever need, it's hard to see him returning to the Octagon after suffering an injury like that -- especially when one considers Weidman was winning the fight handily up until that point.
If there was any silver lining in UFC losing its two biggest draws at the end of 2013, it was the company's unprecedented streak of putting on "Match of the Year"-caliber fights. From September's Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson Light Heavyweight title bout, to an insane brawl between Gilbert Melendez and Diego Sanchez, to a knock down drag out war of attrition between St-Pierre and Johny Hendricks, to a classic slobber knocker between Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva and Mark Hunt in early December, UFC consistently delivered top shelf action inside the Octagon in the latter third of 2013.
Let's take a look back at them together, shall we?
2013 MMA Timeline Pt. 3: September to December
Sept. 3: UFC Women's Bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey has the following thoughts about her portrayal on the upcoming Season 18 of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "I'm just preparing for people to get the worst idea of who I am."
Sept. 4: After getting rocked early, Glover Teixeira comes back to TKO Ryan Bader in the main event of UFC Fight Night 28.
Sept. 6: Word gets out Johny Hendricks has yet to enroll in enhanced testing through the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA), despite previously agreeing to do so when asked by his UFC 167 opponent George St. Pierre.
Sept. 7: Hendricks' manager has this to say about his client's decision to decline enhanced testing through VADA: "Somehow he (St-Pierre) has a relationship with VADA. I don't know to what degree, but that made us a little nervous."
Sept. 8: UFC Featherweight Matt Grice undergoes emergency brain surgery for injuries sustained following a rear end collision by a distracted driver.
Sept. 9: The Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) votes to raise the acceptable threshold for a marijuana metabolite test failure from from 50 ng/mL to 150 ng/mL.
Sept. 12: Anderson Silva breaks kayfabe and reveals the extent of his relationship with "Sensei" Steven Seagal: "[Steven] Segal is good man -- no coach -- no train me -- is a good man -- is a good person, that's it."
Sept. 13: UFC President Dana White offers his thoughts on the controversy surrounding Georges St. Pierre and Johny Hendricks with regards to enhanced third party drug testing: "I think it makes them both look stupid. These guys are going to get tested by the athletic commission."
Sept. 21: Interim UFC Bantamweight champion Renan Barao defends his belt for the second time at UFC 165, after TKO'ing challenger Eddie Wineland.
Sept. 21: Jon Jones retains his UFC Light Heavyweight title in an instant classic, when he is awarded a controversial unanimous decision over challenger Alexander Gustafsson in the main event of UFC 165.
Sept. 23: Nate Diaz flies the 209 Crazy Flag high when he tweets that he can't make his scheduled TUF 18 Finale fight against Gray Maynard because he has a high school reunion to tend to that night.
Sept. 24: T.J. Grant, who was forced to pull out of his scheduled UFC Lightweight title match with then-champ Benson Henderson at UFC 164 due to a concussion suffered in jiu jitsu practice, says he is still suffering from "mild headaches" and "periods of fog."
Sept. 28: Wanderlei Silva confronts Chael Sonnen at the Mr. Olympia Expo in Las Vegas, NV.
Sept. 28: Silva posts a wacky video on YouTube, in which he cuts a 1980's style pro wrestling promo on Sonnen. The video is a sequel of sorts to a masterpiece of unintentional humor Silva unleashed on the world months earlier that featured "The Axe Murder" rocking out to some totally gnarly heavy metal and calling Sonnen a "butt face."
Oct. 1: Mike Pierce gives his take on his UFC Fight Night 29 opponent "He'll do anything to win because he's either desperate or an asshole. I'm not too concerned about that. I come in expecting he's going to be mean, try to be a bully, try to cheat -- I have to deal with it."
Oct. 5: Rodrigo Damm is pulled from his UFC Fight Night 29 match against Hacran Dias when he suffers from kidney stones while attempting to make weight.
Oct. 10: Georges St. Pierre says he is "deeply disappointed with how things turned out" regarding UFC's reaction to the long reigning welterweight champ's decision to opt for third party drug testing through VADA.
Oct. 11: Georges St. Pierre's trainer
Oct. 19: Gilbert Melendez and Diego Sanchez put on one of the best fights in UFC history at UFC 166.
Oct. 19: UFC Heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez lays a prolonged, one-sided beat down on challenger Junior dos Santos en route to retaining his title via fifth round TKO at UFC 166.
Oct. 21: News breaks Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva will act as coaches of the upcoming third installment of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil, and fight each other upon completion of the season.
Oct. 25: Word gets out that 38 year old Tito Ortiz has suffered a neck injury in training and will be forced to pull out of his upcoming match against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson scheduled for the main event of Bellator's first ever pay per view on Nov. 2.
Oct. 25: Bellator makes the call to air its Nov. 2 card for free on Spike TV, with a new main event of Michael Chandler vs. Eddie Alvarez for the Bellator Lightweight championship.
Nov. 1: Vitor Belfort says he would go off TRT if his use of the controversial treatment was standing between him and a shot at the UFC Middleweight title.
Nov. 2: Eddie Alvarez defeats Michael Chandler via split decision to recapture the Bellator Lightweight title in an excellent fight.
Nov. 6: US Army Staff Sergeant Tim Kennedy knocks out
Nov. 7: Ahead of their UFC Fight Night 32 main event bout, Vitor Belfort and Dan Henderson are both granted therapeutic use exemptions (TUE) for TRT.
Nov. 9: Belfort knocks out Henderson with picture-perfect head kick in the first round of their UFC Fight Night 32 main event bout, marking the third fight in a row the 36 year old "Phenom" has won via head kick.
Nov. 14: Bellator grants its reigning Welterweight champion, Ben Askren, an unconditional release from the "matching period" stipulated in his contact.
Nov. 14: Dana White tells the media he has UFC "no interest" in signing Askren, offering the following take on Bellator releasing the undefeated Welterweight: "He's [Bellator's] champion and they don't want him. What does that say?"
Nov. 15: Joey Beltran offers the following quip before his Bellator 108 main event match against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson: "I hope I don't get knocked out and embarrass my family...nah, I'm just kidding."
Nov. 15: Beltran gets TKO'd by Rampage in the first round.
Nov. 16: Rashad Evans makes short order of Chael Sonnen when he plows through "The American Gangster" to win via first round TKO in the co-main event of UFC 167.
Nov. 16: Georges St. Pierre retains his UFC Welterweight title when a closely-contested five round battle with Johny Hendricks ends in a controversial split decision at UFC 167.
Nov. 16: During his in-Octagon post-fight interview, St. Pierre seemingly announces he is "hanging up [his] gloves" for an undetermined amount of time.
Nov. 16: Dana White predicts that, despite his post-fight revelation, St. Pierre will "go home, rest and fight Johny Hendricks again."
Nov. 18: Ben Askren offers to fight UFC Welterweight Rory MacDonald for free and retire from MMA if he can't beat him.
Nov. 20: UFC Fight Night 32 drug test results come back showing Vitor Belfort's testosterone levels were below average when he fought Dan Henderson.
Nov. 23: Former UFC Middleweight champion, and ultimate company man, Rich Franklin says his next fight will be his last.
Nov. 27: UFC Heavyweight Shane del Rosario is hospitalized after suffering "a catastrophic cardiovascular collapse."
Nov. 30: Dana White says UFC plan to hold around 50 events in 2014, with some international cards only available in North America via a new digital network the company plans to launch in January.
Nov. 30: Julianna Pena becomes the first female TUF winner in history when she defeats
Nov. 30: Nate Diaz destroys Gray Maynard, whose chin appears to be nowhere near what it once was, on the way to recording a first round TKO victory in the main event of the Ultimate Fighter 18 finale.
Dec. 4: Anderson Silva explains what went wrong in his UFC 162 loss to Chris Weidman: "I did everything I had to do except hit him."
Dec. 6: With his back against the wall following a pair of consecutive losses, and 2-4 streak in his past six fights, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua saves his career with a first round knockout of James Te Huna at UFC Fight Night 33.
Dec. 6: Mark Hunt and Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva fight to a draw in an epic, five round masterpiece that immediately jumps to the top of the list of best UFC Heavyweight fights in history.
Dec. 6: An effusive Dana White tweets that not only do Hunt and Silva both get their win bonuses despite their fight ending in a draw, they also will receive $50,000 for Fight of the Night and may just get their own private islands as a thank-you gift from the Baldfather.
Dec. 9: Ben Askren signs a two year contact with Asian promotion ONE FC following a lack of interest from UFC.
Dec. 9: Shane del Rosario tragically passes away, following his Nov. 26 cardiac arrest.
Dec. 13: Georges St. Pierre announces he is relinquishing the UFC Welterweight tile and taking an indefinite hiatus from MMA, perhaps signaling the end of an era.
Dec. 13: Johny Hendricks vs. Robbie Lawler for the vacant UFC Welterweight title is announced for UFC 171 on March 15 in Dallas, TX.
Dec. 14: Urijah Faber batters Michael McDonald standing before getting him to the ground and sinking in a rear naked choke for a submission victory in the co-main event of UFC on FOX 9, marking Faber's fourth win in a row and improving his overall record in non-title fights to 24-0.
Dec. 14: Demetrious Johnson knocks out Joseph in the main event of UFC on FOX 9 to retain his Flyweight championship. The win marks "Mighty Mouse's" third consecutive defense of his belt since winning it in a match against Benavidez at UFC 152, and also his third time in as many fights winning a Fight Night bonus.
Dec. 17: Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva's post-fight drug test from his Dec. 6 bout against Mark Hunt comes back, and the news isn't good: Bigfoot's test result reveals an elevated level of testosterone outside the allowable limit, thus making the TRT-receiving Heavyweight ineligible to receive his $50,000 Fight of the Night bonus and causing him to be suspended for nine months.
Dec. 18: Matt Grice undergoes a successful surgery to have part of his skull reattached.
Dec. 22: UFC reveals a $9.99 per month price point for it's new online network UFC Fight Pass.
Dec. 28: Chris Leben, arguably the first major star in modern UFC history thanks to his antics on season one of TUF, quits on his stool after suffering a one round drubbing at the hands of Uriah Hall at UFC 168. Leben later sends out a tweet cryptically hinting he is done with the sport.
Dec. 28: The crowd inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena goes wild as Ronda Rousey takes on rival Miesha Tate in the co-main event of UFC 168. Tate becomes the first person to make it out of the first round with Rousey, before getting submitted via armbar in the third round.
Dec. 28: The career of arguably the greatest mixed martial artist of all time possibly comes to an end when Anderson Silva gruesomely breaks his leg attempting to low kick Middleweight champion Chris Weidman in the main event of UFC 168.
Here's hoping for great things to come in 2014.