The year 2013 is not even over yet, but many would already consider this year the best in the young history of mixed martial arts. The reason isn’t all that complicated. It is a simple thing that makes any other sport out there must-see television. The thing that has made this year so amazing is the rivalries it has brought.

Rivalries in every sport are what make those sports great. College football and college basketball devote entire weeks of their schedules to rivalries. The result? Usually, the highest ratings of the season.

Fans love rivalries. Games are always more exciting when there is some heat and back story behind them. When you apply that principle to a fight, it gets MMA fans salivating.

Just look at Chael Sonnen. He has become one of the biggest stars in the UFC because he makes everyone he steps in the cage against into his rival. He uses his words to promote the fight, and it makes it seem all that much more important. You know going into the fight that the result means everything to Sonnen. All of the trash talk makes the fight that much more important to his opponent too.

When Sonnen faces Wanderlei Silva next year, the fight will have zero title implications. However, it could possibly be held in a huge soccer stadium and if on free television could be one of the highest rated fights ever. All of that is because of the rivalry between the two.

Georges St-Pierre and Nick Diaz pulled some of the best pay-per-view numbers of the year for the UFC. St-Pierre was a huge favorite and Diaz was coming off a loss, but because of the history behind the two men, it pulled in a huge buy rate. In fact, it is thus far the only event this year—UFC 167 projected figures have yet to be released—to get within shouting distance of the one-million-buy mark. When two guys hate each other, it makes fans want to see them punch each other in the face that much more.

Rivalries aren’t always created out of hatred, however. Part of the definition of the word rivalry is competition. Competitiveness breeds rivalries, and that has been exactly what has happened this year in MMA, sometimes in some unexpected ways. Look at Stanford and Oregon in college football. It isn’t a traditional rivalry, but because the two schools have been so good and competitive in recent history, the game has become one of the most anticipated every year. Likewise, the UFC’s unbeatable champions have met their rivals in 2013, and it all happened because of the competitiveness of the fights in which they met.

Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson is a perfect example. Before the fight, people were talking about how Jones needed that true rival to challenge him and take him to the next level of superstardom. No one mentioned the Swede in that discussion, though. Instead, it was Daniel Cormier and Glover Teixeira. But after the fight, everyone knew the identity of Jones’ true rival.

No one was picking Gustafsson to win that fight, and just as few had him being competitive. He shocked the world and took a seemingly invincible fighter to his limits. Both men have obstacles in their way, but an eventual rematch would be huge. Everyone wants to see if Gustafsson can do it again, and some believe he even won the first match-up.

That’s another great thing about rivalries. Everyone picks a side, and it is usually split right down the middle. It makes watching the fights with your buddies even more fun when you have opposing rooting or picking interests, just because it is human nature to want to be right. This is the reason why UFC 168 will probably break the record for the most-purchased pay-per-view in MMA history. The great Anderson Silva finally met his match when he was knocked out by Chris Weidman in July. The fact that Weidman beat Silva makes him a bigger rival to the Brazilian than even Sonnen. There are legions of fans that think the first fight was a fluke and that Silva will destroy Weidman in the rematch. There is also a contingent of fans that think that Weidman is the perfect foil for Silva. Fans, media and other fighters will all be glued to their television sets to see if the “Spider” really is back. That is all because he has found a rival.

Earlier on the UFC 168 card, you have the biggest rivalry in the history of women’s MMA between Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate. Even though Tate is coming off a loss, everyone wants to see the fight because of the hatred between the two and everything that has happened between them on The Ultimate Fighter.

Those are just a few of the rivalries that have been built and come to a conclusion in 2013. Anticipation was high for Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos, Benson Henderson and Anthony Pettis, and Eddie Alvarez and Michael Chandler. All of those fights were the ones fans wanted to see because of competitive rivalries.

This year has been great because promotions have made the fights that fans want to see and those fights have developed rivalries that will continue to intrigue fans. Now we can just sit back and enjoy the culmination of it all at UFC 168 and wait to see if what could possibly be the biggest rivalry rematch of all time gets made. It’s nothing major, just an everyday fight between a certain French-Canadian and his bearded nemesis.

Photo: Ronda Rousey (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

Trey Downey
Staff Writer

A Central Florida native, Trey Downey's interest in MMA came after a trip to Blockbuster and the rental of UFC 47 on VHS. He has been blogging about the sport since 2011 and hosted a podcast called The TD Experience focusing on football and MMA (touchdowns and takedowns). Trey studied radio and television at the University of Central Florida and will soon be attending the Connecticut School of Broadcasting. Trey enjoys watching sports, pro wrestling and is an avid runner.