The two biggest fights in UFC in 2012 will arguably see the two most dominant champions face their biggest challenge. Georges St Pierre is next scheduled to defend his title against Nick Diaz, while Anderson Silva is lined up to defend his title for a second time against Chael Sonnen.
Now while it's fair to say that GSP and Silva are well established main eventers and PPV draws it is also fair to say that their opponents go a long way to determining just how successful those PPV numbers are going to be. GSP's biggest PPV success in recent times was against Josh Koscheck who masterfully used that season's Ultimate Fighter to boost the buyrate. Anderson Silva the undisputed Middleweight champion was boosted considerably by the trash talking abilities of Sonnen. Chael is able to talk like no other UFC fighter and was solely responsible for thousands of extra buys.
The fight which saw Sonnen dominate Silva for four and a half rounds, until Silva was able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat by locking in a triangle armbar. With Sonnen failing the drug test and then being banned it looked like we would not see the re-match that most UFC fans were craving.
Chael Sonnen though is back and brasher than ever, made his return to the octagon at UFC 136 against Brian Stann. Many commentators had doubts that Sonnen could return to his previous heights after his extended lay off. In the run up to his match, Sonnen toned down his usual antics realising that Stann seen by UFC fans as a genuine American Hero. Instead he let his performance do the talking for him by completely dominating Stann.
Once the fight was over, Chael was back to his usual self by calling out Anderson Silva who was in attendance. As I said earlier Sonnen is like nobody else in the company his ability to connect with the fans and to get them to pay to see him fight is on a different level to anybody else. He challenged Silva to a fight in his post match interview but with stipulations attached. If Sonnen can beat Anderson then the current champion would have to leave the division, if Silva could beat him a second time than Chael would not just leave the division but the UFC itself. Surely Vince McMahon was taking note of this??
What this did was make Chael Sonnen the number one contender, regardless of the fact that Anderson Silva wants nothing more to do with him. As far as Anderson is concerned, he beat Sonnen and therefore he has nothing more to prove and there are other potential challengers waiting. He sees Chael as disrespectful and is in no hurry to want to help Sonnen get a big pay day. The problem for Silva, is that there is one fight available to him that will draw considerably more than anyone else he can fight. That fight is against Chael Sonnen and Dana White will make sure it will happen in 2012.
Their fight will do a lot more buys than their first in August 2010, they can use the footage of that first fight. Anderson's outrage at being forced to defend against somebody he sees as unworthy and than the icing on the cake, the promoting skills of Chael Sonnen. Fans will be clear as to whether they will be supporting Chael in his efforts to become the new UFC Middleweight champion. The stipluation that Chael issued after the Stann fight as now been withdrawn, with Chael claiming that the offer only had a limited time period and Silva missed it but it hardly matters. It got Sonnen the match that he wanted, and while he'll probably regret walking off 'Off The Record' with Michael Landsberg in the last few days when the host pushed him on it. It won't stop Chael from being the king of promoting a fight.
Nick Diaz on the other hand is a completely different animal from Chael Sonnen. While Chael utilises press conferences and general promoting like nobody else, Nick Diaz would rather not promote anything at all. And there lays the charm you could say, one Nick Diaz in UFC is considered to be a blessing but having anymore than one would be a nightmare for the company.
Diaz was scheduled to face GSP at UFC 137 but was axed from that match when he missed numerous event related appearances. Surprisingly Diaz wasn't cut from the card but was pushed into the semi main event against BJ Penn. This allowed Carlos Condit to take the title match, which as it turned out didn't happen when GSP had to pull out due to a knee injury. This meant that Diaz was back in the main event and if he could beat Penn then he would be next in line to face GSP if he successfully defeated Condit at a later date.
In typical Diaz fashion, he was unhappy having to figt Penn stating that they were friends and it wouldn't be right. He only agreed to fight Penn when BJ had already agreed to fight Diaz first. In the press conferences he did attend, he was often late rarely said anything to promote the fight. He didn't want any part of the media circus but in the UFC that's not something that can be avoided.
Diaz dominated the fight and convincingly won by unaminous decision, after the fight he then called GSP out. He said that the UFC Welterweight Champion wasn't hurt and could have competed and if he was trying to really push for a fight against GSP he then said the magic words 'he's scared'. It's funny because your wondering who GSP was scared of? He wasn't facing Diaz, but rather Carlos Condit. And most people thing would expect GSP to beat Condit.
GSP was outraged and demanded to face Diaz next with Condit stepping aside. GSP in the press conference said that he would give Nick Diaz the worst beating that had ever been given out in a UFC fight. Quite the prediction from the usually composed Canadian. Diaz for his part continued with his now legendary and bizarre performance in the post-show conference. He complained how badly he had fought, when everybody else fought that he had done a great job. He complained that he wasn't paid enough, couldn't afford to pay his training team. Couldn't afford to buy a house in a nice neighbourhood and that he felt that he was always on the verge of being robbed by drug users. He was simply on a roll and most journalists got to the point where they were laughing at Diaz because they thought he was joking. He wasn't and that pissed him off even more and his numerous complaints including a suggestion that he should be paid the same as Floyd Mayweather led to Dana White responding with a few choice words for Diaz.
That being said, Dana knows that a GSP-Diaz fight is the one that makes the most sense. It will also be a bigger success in 2012 than it would have done had they fought last month as originally planned. They have greatly motivated GSP, a great clip of Diaz saying the champion's scared which is basically the money shot in countdown specials.
So in a year that UFC have generally seen their PPV buyrates fall, they will greatly benefit from two completely different characters. Both Chael Sonnen & Nick Diaz will be essential in helping the company earn two massive nights of income, regardless if either of them actually manage to win.