2010 was a massive year for the UFC. There was the gigantically successful UFC 100 event (headlined by Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir, Georges St. Pierre vs. Thiago Alves and Dan Henderson vs. Michael Bisping), which was the top selling pay-per-view in all of sports in 2010, the renewed success of the Ultimate Fighter reality series with Kimbo Slice, and other big sellers at the box-office like UFC 101 (Penn vs. Florian, Griffin vs. Silva) and UFC 94 (St. Pierre vs. Penn). They ran a number of successful overseas events and continued to see the sport sanctioned in big markets around North America.
It's worth wondering, however, whether this success is poised to continue in 2010. Not to say that it won't - it's just that it may be a bit more difficult in the start of the new decade.
At the forefront, UFC has been bitten all-over by the injury bug, to the extent that none of the first three PPVs of the year will feature a title fight. The first show of the year is headlined by Rashad Evans and Thiago Silva, and has a card-filled out few recognizable names. UFC runs two pay-per-views in February, one of which is headlined by a battle of legends, as Randy Couture takes on Mark Coleman. The two, Couture especially, certainly have marketability, but I have trouble imagining flocks of fans feeling like the show is one they can't miss. Two weeks later, UFC will air an overall stronger card, headlined by Cain Valasquez vs. Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera plus Michael Bisping vs. Wanderlai Silva, plus Keith Jardine, Joe Stevenson and Mirko Cro Cop, though with the show airing from Australia, the time difference may make it a tougher sell.
Brock Lesnar's situation puts the UFC in a bit of bind, as well. Lesnar, by far the best drawing star in the company, is sidelined for at least the near future, and if he is ever able to return, it's unlikely to happen before the summer. While a return at that point would probably do monstrous business, it does leave the marketable heavyweight division in a bit of flux until then and without a championship able to be defended. Certainly though, this does create an opportunity for the UFC to develop the division. A win over Noguiera would launch Cain Valasquez up the ladder, and Frank Mir will have chances to further solidify his case for deserving a rematch with Lesnar, which would have potential to set more business records for the UFC.
The big fights are expected to begin popping up towards the spring time. Georges St. Pierre will return to defend his Welterweight Championship against Dan Hardy - a bout that may seem uninspiring now, but with the contrast in personalities of the two competitors has a chance to surprise at the box-office - as well as Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort tentatively scheduled for April as well as Lyoto Machida vs. Shogun Rua planned for May. Add in a Brock Lesnar return in June or July and suddenly the slow start to the year seems like it could be easily compensated for.
Dana White just has to hope the injury bug finds a new sport to victimize by then.