Welcome to Championship Rounds here on Wrestling Rambles. After a couple of weeks off I’m back with five big stories from the world of MMA. This week history is made; big fights are announced; we’ve got drug test failures; retirements; super fights on the horizon and so much more. So let’s touch gloves and do this!

Round 1:

Ronda Rousey signs with UFC and makes history – Strikeforce to fold after 12th January show.

In the last 24 hours major MMA news sites, as well as TMZ, have reported that Ronda Rousey, the current Strikeforce Female Bantamweight Champion, has signed with the UFC and will begin competing for the promotion in 2013.

Rousey’s star has sky rocketed in 2012 thanks to her unique charisma, Chael Sonnen-esque promo ability, stunning looks and a unique and highly effective fighting style. Rousey’s pro career is only six fights old, but her record makes for intimidating reading for her opponents – 6 wins, all in the first round and all by armbar.

This year Dana White didn’t waste any time in identifying Rousey as his latest star in the making. Despite fighting for Strikeforce, the promotional machine of the UFC has been firmly behind Rousey. The Olympic bronze medallist in Judo from 2008 has crossed over into mainstream stardom with an appearance on the cover of the famous ESPN magazine naked edition, as well as perfecting the art of entertaining interviews on various talk shows and appearing regularly on UFC programming. Now she is officially a UFC fighter, expect to see that star making machine go into overdrive.

Dana White has long argued that he could not bring a woman’s division to the UFC due to the lack of depth in the female fighter talent pool. The rise of Ronda Rousey as one of the most marketable MMA fighter in the sport has changed that. Early reports also suggest that Rousey will be joined in the UFC by Miesha Tate and other former Strikeforce female fighters to complete UFC’s first female division. The time’s they are a changing folks.

While Rousey’s future is bright, her former home promotion of Strikeforce is about to turn the lights off for good. With the UFC’s parent company Zuffa owning Strikeforce, realistically, it has been a matter of time before Strikeforce followed Pride and WEC by folding and being absorbed into the UFC. That process seemed to be underway in recent times when big name fighters like Alastair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum and Nick Diaz moved to the UFC .

Following the cancellation of two shows in September and November, it felt inevitable that the news of Strikeforce folding would break any day. That day is here and after their final show on 12th January 2013, the Strikeforce promotion will be no more with their roster transferring to the UFC.
With Strikeforce gone it opens up the doors for the UFC to add some great talent to their roster, Daniel Cormier and Gilbert Melendez to name but two, which will allow them to present fresh fights in 2013 and beyond. As we’ve see with professional wrestling the lack of competition to one dominant promotion can cause a stagnation in the product.

However with UFC adding so much star power to their roster it doesn’t appear this will be a concern. Those dream fights fans have hoped to see for the last few years are now a reality. Dana White had promised a change in the landscape of MMA and with the signing of Rousey and the best of Strikeforce joining the ranks of the UFC, 2013 is now shaping up to be one of the most exciting years in the history of the UFC.

Round 2:

Nogueira and Werdum to coach Season 2 of The Ultimate Fighter – Brazil.

With record low viewing figures for the most recent season, The Ultimate Fighter is floundering in the US. TUF has been on the decline for years with many fans wondering how much longer the show will run in its current format. However in Brazil the show is red hot. It’s watched by millions of fans and is the perfect launching pad for UFC to bring through the next batch of Brazilian superstars. In other words – exactly what the show was in the States in 2005.

With season one being a big success for the company, the UFC recently announced which fighters will coach the second season of TUF Brazil. After failing in his attempt to get a fight with Forrest Griffin at UFC 155, Antonio Nogueira (Big Nog) will take on TUF coaching duties for the 2nd time in his career. Opposing him will be first time coach and fellow Brazilian, Fabricio Werdum.

In the States, the UFC is relying on superstars Chael Sonnen and Jon Jones to revive the failing franchise. Big Nog and Werdum won’t bring the verbal fire works that Sonnen and Jones will unleash on their season. Instead it will be both men’s subtle charisma and their legendary status which will carry their side of the show.

If Season 1 of TUF Brazil was anything to go by, there will be no shortage of young, hungry and intense fighters looking to make their name on the show and secure that highly sought after UFC contract.

The eventual fight between Nogueira and Werdum is very intriguing. They fought back in 2006 with Nogueira taking the win. A lot has changed since then. Big Nog is the Kurt Angle of UFC. He looks broken down and in constant pain outside the cage. He has suffered the kind of injuries that should have ended his career years ago.

But just like Angle when he steps in the ring, as soon as the cage door closes Big Nog morphs back into the granite jawed, heart of a lion, submission legend, who at one time was the best heavyweight fighter on the planet. Big Nog’s career obituary has been written for years but every time he looks like he’s done, he comes back stronger and continues to cement his status as one of the all time legends of the sport. If you don’t respect Big Nog, you can’t call yourself a fan of MMA. It’s as simple as that.

Werdum’s career highlight came a few years ago in Strikeforce when he shocked the world by being the first man to submit the then mythical Fedor Emelianenko. That win was Werdum’s way back to the UFC and he has looked like a legitimate Title contender in his two fights back in the Octagon. Werdum is a fighter who has all the skills to be a World Champion but seems to lack that inner belief and killer instinct that sets Champions apart from the pack. Since beating Fedor and his successful return to the UFC, Werdum looks like he finally believes he is one of the best heavyweights in the sport.

This fight will be a clash of BJJ experts who don’t mind throwing leather in the middle of the Octagon. A win for Werdum will push him into Title contention. A win for Big Nog and he confirms to the world that he is still one of the top heavyweight fighters in the world. It might be struggling in the US but this is sure to be another exciting and intense season of TUF Brazil.

Round 3:

Frankie Edgar vs. Jose Aldo for the Featherweight Title set for Superbowl Weekend.

Jose Aldo was due to defend his Featherweight Title at UFC 153 in Rio last month in somewhat of a super fight against former Light Heavyweight Champion Frankie Edgar. The fight was cancelled when Aldo sustained a foot injury after being hit by a car while driving his motorbike through the streets of Rio. I’m still struggling to understand why someone in Aldo’s position would chose to drive a motorbike through Rio, which is one of the world’s most dangerous cities to drive in. Thankfully Aldo is now back in training and this week UFC confirmed the rescheduled date for Aldo vs. Edgar.

Superbowl weekend is traditionally one of the UFC’s biggest shows of the year and this year on 2nd February 2013 in Vegas, Edgar and Aldo will finally hook ‘em up for Aldo’s Featherweight Title.

Jose Aldo is a phenomenal fighter. He has a vicious, accurate and powerful striking game as well as a black belt in BJJ. He is one of the best pound for pound fighters in the world. The problem the UFC have had with Aldo is transferring his awesome skill and highly regarded status among hardcore fans, to the kind of mainstream star like Anderson Silva, GSP and Jon Jones.

The UFC promotional machine just hasn’t caught fire with Aldo, mainly due to injuries causing long lay offs between fights. In Brazil the guy is their fastest rising star and he is, without doubt, one of the greatest fighters in the world. Aldo should be a star but in reality he is less well known than a plethora of fighter with only a fraction of his skills. A headlining fight with Edgar should go some way to changing this.

A few weeks ago GSP claimed that the number one pound for pound fighter in the world is Frankie Edgar. A bold statement with the likes of Jones and Silva in the mix, but GSP does make a compelling argument for Edgar to be classed in the same category as the UFC’s top stars. Edgar has fought at light heavyweight during his career in the UFC and barely cuts any weight to make 155lbs. In a division where most fighters cut weight from around or even over 200 lbs, Edgar has always been the smallest dog in the fight.

That hasn’t stopped him from beating the legendary BJ Penn on two occasions, drawing with and then knocking out the much larger Grey Maynard in two of the most incredible ‘come back from the dead’ performances in UFC history. Many fans and pundits alike feel Edgar should have regained his Light Heavyweight Title from Benson Henderson following their rematch earlier this year.
Edgar has now made the decision that Dana White had been pushing for, namely a move down to 145lbs and a super fight with Jose Aldo. It should be one of the fights of the year and also help to push Aldo to superstar status. This will be Aldo’s toughest fight since coming to the UFC and I personally can’t wait to see what happens in Vegas on Superbowl weekend. Expect fireworks!

Round 4:

Fight Announcementmania – Belfort vs. Bisping announced and UFC on Fox begins to take shape.

The fight announcements from UFC have been coming thick and fast over the last few days. First up, confirmed for the 19th January 2013 show in Brazil is Michael Bisping taking on Vitor Belfort. Never let it be said that Michael Bisping doesn’t earn his money. He is racking up fight after fight against top level fighters. After coming off a dominant win over Bryan Stann and losing a razor close decision against Chael Sonnen that many (including Sonnen himself) thought Bisping had won, as well as other solid performances, the UK’s most famous and popular fighter could have been forgiven for asking Dana White what the hell else he needs to do to earn a Title shot against Middleweight king Anderson Silva. The answer appears to be: go to Brazil, beat Vitor Belfort in his home town and then we’ll talk again.

I’m a self confessed Bisping fan. I love his attitude. I love his sense of humour. I love how much he’s improved as a fighter in the last few years and I love how much he annoys the majority of UFC fans. The man is box office gold and with wins against many of the contenders in the Middleweight Division, it’s starting to become a running joke if Bisping will ever get that Title shot against Silva. I’m not saying Bisping would win that fight but he’s done more than enough to get his shot at the best fighter on the planet.

Belfort is coming off his brave performance against Jon Jones for the Light Heavyweight Title. He nearly pulled off one of the biggest upsets of all time with his first round arm bar attempt on Jones. Despite his predictable loss to Jones, Belfort is a big name, he’s a legend of the sport and one of the most popular fighters in Brazil. Pitting him against Bisping is a smart move as both men can sell the fight with their promos and the fight itself could be a real breakthrough win for Bisping. He’ll be walking into enemy territory but don’t expect that to phase Bisping as he continues to prove to Dana White that he is the man most deserving of a shot against Anderson Silva.

UFC on Fox 6 from Chicago on 26th January is shaping up to be another night of great fights. The casual fan will be drawn in by the announcement of Rampage Jackson’s sure to be slug fest against fellow striker Glover Teixeira. Rampage is a bonefide superstar and with this being the last fight on his current UFC contract, many are expecting a stand up war as Rampage tries to go out with a bang. He could be in trouble because if Glover brings the kind of fire from above striking he did in his last fight against Fabio Maldonado, there aren’t many fighters on the planet who can survive that. I’ll eat my own head if this one goes three rounds.

For the more hardcore fans Demetrious Johnson vs. John Dodson for the flyweight title and Donald Cerrone vs. Anthony Pettis are two more fights confirmed for the Fox card. Cerrone vs. Pettis in particular should be a cracking fight and go a long way to confirming the next contender for the Light Heavyweight Title. Johnson vs. Dodson will be a battle of the two fastest fighters in the UFC and will make you think you’re watching the show on fast forward.

While a lot of the talk post UFC on Fox will be about the rating the show pulled, UFC are once again loading their Fox card with fights that will entertain. What the card may lack in perceived ‘star power’ it will more than compensate with thrilling battles between some of the most exciting fighters on the planet today. January can’t come soon enough!

Round 5:

Stephan Bonnar retires, fails drug test after UFC 153.

It sucks I’m finishing up with a story on a failed drugs test, but it’s one of the bigger stories of the week. Stephan Bonnar tested positive for the steroid Drostanolone following his bout with UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva on 13th October at UFC 153.

From my very limited understanding of steroids it appears this drug is used to maintain strength while cutting weight. Given that Bonnar took the fight on short notice and looked absolutely shredded it’s not really a shock he had some chemical assistance.

He’s been suspended for a year, but given the fact he’s announced his retirement from the sport, it’s not clear what effect, if any, the suspension will have. This is Bonnar’s second failed drugs test as he failed a test following his second fight with Forrest Griffin back in 2006.

It’s a sad end to the career of a fighter who helped put the UFC on the map following his legendary TUF Season 1 finale fight with Griffin in 2005. Although to be honest, if I was fighting a Jedi like Anderson Silva, I’d be injecting every damn steroid I could find directly into my eyeballs. Not that it would make any difference. Still, not the way Bonnar will want to be remembered and hopefully once he’s served his suspension and gets back in the good graces of the UFC he can continue his promising broadcasting career with the company.

So there you have it folks, that’s Championship Rounds for another week. Next week I’ll have a review of the show this weekend from Macau, China which is headlined by Rich Franklin’s fight with Cung Le. It’s the UFC’s first event in China and they’ll be looking to make a great first impression on that potentially lucrative market.

Plus I’ll preview the return of one of the best fighters on the planet, GSP as he battles Carlos Condit for the Undisputed Welterweight Title in what is one of the biggest fights of the year. A win for GSP and the rumour is Anderson Silva will step into the cage post fight and challenge GSP for their super fight. As if the guy didn’t have enough to deal with on 18th November! Say what you will about the UFC but it’s never boring!

If you’re so inclined, you can follow me on Twitter which is @MFXDuckman. You can also hear me and my partner in crime Sir Ian Trumps every week on the Marks for Xcellence podcast, where we take an alternative look at the week in WWE and TNA. You can find all the details for the show on the Wrestling Rambles podcast page or over at http://www.mfxpodcast.com. It’s funnier than a Ryback promo and more entertaining than Vince McMahon rebooking PPV main events a week after announcing them on TV.

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