By Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
1. 2007 will belong to the UFC

The list is about a mile long but let’s see if I can rattle it off here…the UFC continues to have success on Spike TV with the “Ultimate Fighter” and the UFC Fight Night live broadcasts…Zuffa purchases the WFA and the WEC along with fighter contracts for potential top contenders like Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Heath Herring…the UFC signs Mirko Cro Cop, potentially the biggest free agent signing in MMA history…HBO finally signs on as a new partner for the UFC and now the home to the biggest boxing shows on cable will be the home for the biggest show in MMA.

I’m sure there are a few more things that happened but that’s a pretty big list to start off with and it really lends to the idea that the UFC and Zuffa will definitely be the biggest subject in MMA for 2007. The addition of Mirko Cro Cop to the heavyweight division instantly adds a huge new draw and main eventer that the company has been seeking for some time and now Tim Sylvia will get his chance to prove that he really is a top flight fighter when he takes on arguably the best striker to ever put MMA gloves on, that is if Randy Couture doesn’t upset the champ first. Fighters coming over from the WFA and WEC purchases will help to bulk up just about every division which will also help with the addition of so many new shows for 2007. Kudos to the UFC for continuing to step up and do all the things necessary to take the sport of MMA to the next level in the United States. Funny to think now that just a few years ago the UFC was on the verge of falling off the map forever…my how things have changed!

2. Fedor Re-Signs with Pride

With Mirko CroCop’s defection to the UFC, the re-signing of heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko was absolutely essential to the survival of Pride in the immediate future. While no single fighter can make or break an organization, if Pride lost both Mirko CroCop and Fedor in the same span of time would have simply been devastating. Casual fans haven’t heard of CroCop or Fedor too much yet but after seeing them fight a couple of times, its pretty much guaranteed they would be huge stars as well as a wrecking machine through pretty much the entire heavyweight division. Now Pride can sit back and at least feel like they accomplished one victory by keeping the fighter who is widely seen as the greatest of all time while they search for a #1 contender who can stand in the same ring as Fedor.

Time will only tell once more fighters fulfill their contracts who may jump ship, but for now Pride has at least kept their heavyweight champion away from the UFC and now Fedor Emelianenko will more than likely get to keep printing up more of his “Nobody Beats Me” shirts while he destroys the competition in Japan.

3. Gilbert Melendez…the Next Pride Lightweight Champion

I’ve talked about this in pretty great detail on the radio show lately and I stand by my statement that I truly believe Gilbert Melendez will be the next Pride lightweight champion. This kid is an unbelievable talent and just absolutely gives everything he has in each of his fights. His fight with Kawajiri was a back and forth battle that showed his skill and determination for victory. Still undefeated in his pro career, Melendez trains with one of the best teams in MMA (Cesar Gracie’s camp) and if he doesn’t get a shot at Takanori Gomi in the near future, I think he will show how good he truly is in the Pride lightweight Grand Prix coming up this year.

The Pride lightweight division is so good right now that no one may be able to hold onto the title for too terribly long but Gilbert Melendez seems to have all the tools that are needed to get the title away from Gomi and make things interesting for other top fighters like Hayato “Mach” Sakurai, Shinya Aoki, as well as a rematch with Tatsuya Kawajiri down the road. It’s a battle I can’t wait to see and Gilbert Melendez will be a force in the lightweight division for some time to come.

4. The UFC Comes To The Midwest

It went up on the MMAWeekly rumors page a few months back and now with tickets on sale its official that the UFC is finally making a trip to the Midwest, leaving behind the bright lights of Las Vegas and the newly sanctioned California for the MMA loving fans of Ohio. Being born and raised in the Buckeye state, it’s really exciting for me to see the sport of MMA grow in Ohio. I remember when I first discovered Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and then had the honor of meeting Jorge Gurgel at his academy in Cincinnati. I remember when I saw Rich Franklin debut in the UFC against Evan Tanner and how proud I felt to see another Cincinnati kid excel on the biggest stage there was (with the Bengals and Reds as our pro teams we haven’t had much to root for in the last decade or so.)

Heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia, former UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes and the afore mentioned Rich Franklin are all slated to be on the card and hopefully after seeing the packed crowd at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, the upper brass at the UFC will schedule more events like this one in the Midwest for all the great fans in Ohio and the surrounding states. The IFL has shown that having shows in alternate areas outside of Vegas and California can pay off with a huge local audience showing up to support their favorite fighters and the UFC is hoping for the same success.

5. Chuck Liddell = The Best in the World (excluding Fedor of course)

When I made my prediction more than two months ago that Tito Ortiz would defeat Chuck Liddell for the light heavyweight championship, understand that it never had anything to do with doubting how good Chuck Liddell was as champion. It had nothing to do with how good or bad I thought Chuck Liddell was as a fighter…I just truly believed that it was Tito’s time and his hunger and desire would lead to a victory.

Well, I was obviously wrong.

I can stand by the fact that I picked wrong on that fight, just like I’ve done a bunch of times before but what I learned in that fight was that I should never have doubted the hunger and desire of Chuck Liddell to remain on top of the light heavyweight division and keep the championship he sought after for so long. Liddell has proven himself time and time again to be one of the best pound for pound fighters to ever step into the Octagon and now he just has to bide his time and wait for a shot to avenge the last loss on his record with Quinton “Rampage” Jackson now in the UFC. Liddell has dispatched of Randy Couture, Renato “Babalu” Sobral, Jeremy Horn and now Tito Ortiz for a second time and he’s still hungry for more. We may never see him face off against Pride’s top 205lbers but I like his chances no matter who he faces.