It’s no secret that the next four months of UFC action could end up being the most exciting and anticipated stretch of fights in the promotion’s 20-year history. Starting with this weekend’s UFC 165 and Jon Jones’ title defense and ending with the dual title fights that headline UFC 168, the rest of 2013 has a chance to be something truly special in the MMA world.

There are plenty of ways to promote a world title fight. From a fight between bitter rivals, to a hungry up-and-coming prospect looking for a taste of gold, there’s always a fairly obvious way to promote a title bout. The UFC has been great at this over the years, often finding ways to make somewhat mediocre main events seem a bit more important than they actually were.

Earlier this year, Jones defended his light heavyweight title against Chael Sonnen, a middleweight that had last been seen in the cage getting knocked silly by Anderson Silva at UFC 148. Was there any reason for Sonnen to get a shot at Jones, other than a misguided notion that since Sonnen agreed to fight Jones on short notice one time that he deserves a shot? Not really. But the UFC found an easy excuse to promote a potential money-making fight on The Ultimate Fighter and ended up getting one of its best pay-per-view buy rates of 2013, to this point, out of Jones vs Sonnen at UFC 159. Zuffa took an imperfect title situation—Jones was quickly running out of title contenders—and used it to make an optimal situation, where Sonnen plus television equals big money.

After seeing what the UFC has been able to do with less-than-optimal promotional opportunities in the past, it’s going to be extremely fun to see how well the upcoming slate of pay-per-view events performs. The difference between the next few fight cards and 95 percent of the other cards the UFC puts together every year is that all of these cards practically sell themselves.

All of these cards are fantastic in their own right, and each one has a very different selling point to hook the MMA fan. At UFC 165, the UFC has the brightest young star in the history of the company looking to continue his dominance over what is historically the sport’s strongest division. When the promotion heads to Houston for UFC 166 next month, they’ll be bringing one of the most consistent pay-per-view drawing premises in the history of sports combat: a trilogy bout for the heavyweight title. A stop in Vegas a month later will celebrate the UFC’s 20th anniversary with an absolutely stacked lineup and feature the longest-reigning champion in the company looking to defend his title for the ninth consecutive time. Finally, the UFC ends its year in December with two of the biggest rematches in MMA history and two of the biggest stars in MMA competing in separate title fights.

Obviously, all of these cards have something to offer both the hardcore and casual MMA fan bases, but the ultimate question is this: which one of these blockbuster cards will perform the best?

UFC 165

Why They’ll Buy: UFC 165 kicks off the pay-per-view run this weekend, and although it’s still an intriguing fight card with two title fights, it kind of feels like the appetizer before the massive feast of major bouts that lay ahead over the next few months. Fun fights like the lightweight clash between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Pat Healy and the heavyweight showdown featuring Brendan Schaub against Matt Mitrione litter the card, but the focus is firmly on the main event in this fight, and more specifically on Jon Jones.

Jones is only 26 years old and he’s already become one of the greatest fighters in MMA history. He’s beaten a who’s-who list of former and current MMA superstars, and he’s the most consistently dominant, yet exciting fighter in the sport. In Jones, the UFC isn’t hoping to have the next Anderson Silva. It hopes he’s the next Mike Tyson (in terms of pay-per-view buys, of course, not near cannibalism or facial tattoos).

The sport has never seen such a breakout star at such a young age, and Jones’ charm and personality have only made it easier for the UFC to attempt to sell Jones as a worldwide superstar. Bones is on ESPN, he’s in commercials, and he has big sponsorship deals with Nike and Gatorade. He’s slowly becoming the crossover star the UFC has always dreamed of having, and he’s the reason people will buy this fight card. The UFC can push Alexander Gustafsson’s height and reach or anything else to make him seem like a threat to Jones, but in the minds of fight fans, watching Bones and seeing exactly how he plans on claiming his next victim is their primary motivation for dropping money on this pay-per-view event.

It’s fairly obvious that this card will be the least anticipated (and as a result, least profitable) pay-per-view event left this year, but it should still do decent numbers and wind up in the top five or six shows of UFC’s calendar year.

UFC 166

Why They’ll Buy: There are certain times where two fighters and their careers become so intertwined that it’s nearly impossible to mention one without the other. That’s quickly becoming the case with UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos. These two aren’t exactly Batman and the Joker, but they definitely seem destined to fight each other, and it’s shown when they’ve been in the cage. The first two battles between Velasquez and “Cigano” have been amongst the most anticipated fights in the history of the UFC’s heavyweight division, and after splitting the bouts, the anticipation heading into a rubber match could make this one of the most successful UFC events of the year

While Velasquez and dos Santos aren’t skilled at promoting fights with their mouths, they’ve done a pretty good job hyping it up with their fists so far. Between the ultra-quick knockout win for dos Santos in their first fight and the five-round beating Velasquez laid on dos Santos to return the favor last December, this might be the biggest trilogy of title fights in MMA history without the names Couture and Liddell involved.

From top to bottom, this is one of the more stacked UFC cards of the year. However, a few of the featured bouts seem a bit too one-sided to make this an absolute can’t-miss card. Still, the last fight between Velasquez and dos Santos at UFC 155 netted almost 600,000 pay-per-view buys with a far lesser main card, and considering this is the rubber match, you can only expect that buy rate to rise.

UFC 167

Why They’ll Buy: Unlike the previous two pay-per-view events covered here, where the main event dominates the focus of the entire fight card, UFC 167 is stacked to the point where every fight on the main card could at least headline a fight night on Fox Sports 1.

As the promotion’s 20th anniversary event, UFC 167 carries with it high hopes, but it’s almost shocking to see the level of talent that the UFC has packed onto this card. After already adding their most consistent draw in Georges St-Pierre, the UFC easily could have filled out the remainder of the card with half-decent fights and still reached the 700,000 buys mark that GSP seems to deliver every six months. Instead, the promotion filled the card with former champions and title contenders, making sure every main-card fight is meaningful and adding quite a few pivotal preliminary bouts as well. From the main-card opener between Josh Koscheck and Tyron Woodley, to the do-or-die heavyweight bout featuring Frank Mir and Alistair Overeem and the co-main event with Chael Sonnen against Rashad Evans, this entire fight card is jam-packed with top-level competition.

A card headlined by GSP has never quite reached one million buys, but this may finally be the fight card that gets him over that hump. “Rush” has never had the chance to headline a UFC event of this magnitude, and with a very live underdog in Johny Hendricks ready to try to knock off the welterweight champ, this could end up being not only the biggest UFC card of 2013, but also the biggest fight event of GSP’s already historic career.

UFC 168

Why They’ll Buy: For a card that has only started to take shape in the last few days, UFC 168 seems like a safe bet to end up near the top of the UFC’s best-performing list by the time 2014 rolls around.

The UFC has made a handful of entertaining match-ups for its year-end offering over the last few days, but the two fights that will become the reason fans purchase this card have been known for months: Weidman-Silva II and Rousey-Tate II

By the time Anderson Silva steps into the cage to try to regain his UFC middleweight title from Chris Weidman in December, UFC 168 may already be the most anticipated card in UFC history. The event may not have a blockbuster name like Brock Lesnar and it may not be as historically important as UFC 100 or the 20th anniversary show a month earlier, but it has two marquee fights that anyone who considers themselves a MMA fan would be absolutely insane to miss.

It’s been over two months since Weidman landed the knockout punch that ended Silva’s multiple record-breaking UFC streaks, and there’s barely a day that goes by where it isn’t at least mentioned on a major MMA media outlet. The end result was so shocking and so unexpected that it has kept people talking long after the fight was over, and that chatter is only going to grow as the rematch draws nearer. Throw in another proven draw in Ronda Rousey and a season of The Ultimate Fighter to help grow her already hostile rivalry with Miesha Tate, and this card features two of the five can’t-miss fights of 2013.

Silva and St-Pierre have been battling for the mantle of top star in MMA for so long now that it feels fitting that they will both end up headlining the two biggest fight cards of the year. Silva has been the dominant force in the sport for a while now, with St-Pierre’s only advantage over the Brazilian coming from his ability to out-draw “The Spider” on pay-per-view. Now that Silva has lost his belt, however, GSP has been passed over in favor of Jon Jones to take over the mantle as the best fighter in the world.

St-Pierre’s status as the best pay-per-view draw in the sport remains, but while Silva lost the title that’s important to him, he’s inadvertently going after GSP’s pay-per-view status while he attempts to regain his belt. UFC 167 is a star-studded attraction with more big names on it than any other UFC card this year, while UFC 168 has one of the best one-two punches to headline a fight card in UFC history. It’s seriously almost too close to call.

As close as it is, UFC 168 is going to overtake any number that St-Pierre and the anniversary card throw at it. If there’s one fight that every single MMA fan is going to make sure not to miss out of the offerings coming for the rest of this year, it’s definitely Weidman-Silva II, and the UFC isn’t going to change that fact, no matter how many awesome fights it adds to UFC 167.

Both Silva and GSP may be without their gold by the time the year wraps up, but Silva is going to sneak in and steal the pay-per-view throne out from underneath St-Pierre this year. Even in the worst year of his UFC career, Silva is still going to find a way to end up on top.

Photo: Can Chris Weidman (R) shock the world again and defeat Anderson Silva twice?  (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

Vince Carey
Staff Writer

Vince Carey has been writing about the sport of mixed martial arts since 2010. Although he is just 21 years old, the Omaha-based writer is looking to provide readers with interesting content on all things related to MMA.