MMA: Biggest Winners and Losers Thus Far in 2012
With all the uncertainties surrounding a competitive event the one sure thing is that there will be a winner and a loser. Sure there's a couple draws mixed in as well but the vast majority of the time we have a clear winner and also an obvious loser.
We may only be a few months in to 2012 but there's no doubt we have some clear winners and losers in the world of MMA.
Guys have lost titles, secured number one contender slots, and of course some have given a black eye to their resume with a failed drug tests.
So who's beginning their year off in the right way and who needs turn things around quickly before the rails fall off?
Winner: Mark Hunt
Mark Hunt's career resembles a stock market projection as he's had some incredible highs but also some shocking lows. Hunt has changed his fortunes with an impressive showing in his 2012 debut.
Hunt squared off against Cheick Kongo at UFC 144 in Japan. Both men were riding impressive win streaks and looking to insert themselves "into the mix" and Hunt came out on top.
With Alistair Overeem's title shot now in jeopardy MMA fans have taken to Twitter to rally behind Hunt with a #RallyforMarkHunt movement. Fans are hoping the classic underdog Hunt will be put into the title match.
Even if he doesn't get a title shot Hunt has still seen his stock skyrocket as UFC President Dana White never has anything bad to say of Hunt and it's clear his fan support has grown tremendously.
Loser: Cheick Kongo
Cheick Kongo was in the midst of an impressive run in his career going into UFC 144. The French kickboxer had won two-straight and hadn't lost since 2009.
Kongo was clamoring to be put into title contention or given a rematch against Cain Velasquez and regardless of his fan support, Kongo had the resume to back up his claims.
That all changed as Kongo was finished by Mark Hunt via TKO in the opening round of their heavyweight clash at UFC 144. Besides derailing all the momentum Kongo had built and of course losing the fight, Kongo reassured us all of where he belongs in the division.
Kongo has long been called "the gatekeeper" of the heavyweight division as he can defeat mid-level competition but can't seem to get a win against upper-tier talent. With Kongo losing his fight, it seems 2012 will be another year of redemption for him.
Winner: Every Heavyweight Contender on the UFC 146 Card
With Alistair Overeem's failed drug test, the UFC's heavyweight division is officially open for business. Overeem has likely lost his title shot which means the guys fighting on the card will have Dana White's full attention.
The most likely scenario thus far is to move Frank Mir into the title shot and grab another heavyweight to face off against Cain Velasquez. Mir would obviously be a winner for securing a title shot and Velasquez would likely get a much less tougher opponent.
But White has seemingly nixed that idea so now it seems the UFC may bring in an outside contender.
Even the guys like Roy Nelson, Antonio Silva, and the lower card fighters could see their place in the division ascend in quick fashion with a good showing.
Nobody wants to see a MMA fighter fail a drug test but there's no doubt the rest of the division is happy for the door to Junior dos Santos is now wide open.
Loser: Alistair Overeem
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What can you say about Alistair Overeem's failed drug test that hasn't already been said across Bleacher Report? It's a huge mistake on Overeem's part that not only put his title shot in jeopardy but also his UFC career.
Dana White wasn't exactly misleading when he stated his opinion on Overeem. White has long been critical of Overeem's place in the heavyweight rankings due to not fighting in the Octagon and a failed drug test is the last thing Overeem needed.
If White's personal opinion wasn't bad enough, Overeem's stock amongst the fans will likely drop as well. There's been speculation of Overeem juicing for years due to his physique, but up until now, Overeem had always passed his tests.
Now Overeem's reputation is in tatters and his title shot has all but been axed by the promotion. The rest of 2012 remains cloudy and uncertain for "The Reem."
Winner: Ryan Bader
2011 was an absolute dreadful year for the former Ultimate Fighter winner, Ryan Bader. He was completely crushed when he fought Jon Jones and then downright embarrassed when he lost to Tito Ortiz.
Bader was able to turn things around when he knocked out Jason Brilz, but the future remained uncertain for Bader in 2012. A high-profile bout against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson gave Bader a chance at redemption in the fan's eyes and he didn't disappoint.
Against "Rampage," Bader looked arguably the best we've ever seen him despite not getting the finish. Regardless of Jackson's condition coming into the bout, Bader seized the opportunity to begin his 2012 campagin in grand style.
Loser: Quinton Jackson
Quinton "Rampage" Jackson is perhaps the biggest loser of all in the UFC light heavyweight division. Not only did Jackson embarrass himself with a lackluster performance at UFC 144 but he's also became one of the biggest drama queens in MMA with his post-fight tirade against the UFC and Dana White.
Jackson has called for his release from the promotion and the UFC will likely grant it following his last bout with the company; a rematch with Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. That bout likely won't be for a while as Jackson recently had double-knee surgery and will be on the shelf for some time.
"Rampage" has been a fan favorite for years but that title is seemingly becoming less and less true as the days go by. Jackson believes he can make better money elsewhere but with injury concerns and a tarnished image, 2012 could be a very bad year for the former UFC champ.
Winner: Rashad Evans
What a trip it's been for former champion Rashad Evans. A nearly two year journey to a title shot and an intense rivalry will finally culminate at UFC 145 when Evans challenges the reigning champion Jon Jones.
Evans was originally scheduled to fight for the title following his win against Quinton Jackson but opted to wait for Mauricio Rua to return from injury instead of continuing to compete. An injury in training forced Evans out of his scheduled bout with Rua and allowed for the rise of Jones.
Since returning to a full time fighting schedule Evans has looked impressive (albeit not exciting) and after two botched attempts to match he and Jones up, the fight will finally happen in a matter of weeks.
Many fans and MMA pundits have stated Evans has perhaps the best chance at dethroning Jones given their past history. Evans will no doubt give the young champion a run for his money at UFC 145.
Loser: Dan Henderson
How can the winner of one of the most epic fights in MMA history be considered a loser thus far into 2012? One word can sum up why Dan Henderson meets the criteria so far; waiting.
Waiting is exactly what Henderson is doing at this time. Henderson obviously needed some time to recover from the absolute war he had with Mauricio Rua, but now must wait for both the light heavyweight and middleweight title pictures clear up.
For a fighter, waiting can be almost as bad as a loss. The feeling of not having control over your own destiny is a feeling few people enjoy, let alone a professional MMA fighter.
Henderson is likely to take the title shot at 205 pounds as he's notoriously hated the weight cut to 185, but with the ongoing Rashad Evans-Jon Jones rivalry, we may see an immediate rematch if it's a close bout.
With no set path in 2012 Henderson will continue to play the waiting game, which as we've seen in the past with other fighters can either help or severely damage a fighter's next performance.
Winner: Chael Sonnen
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Finally, after all the talking and controversy, we will finally get to see Chael Sonnen fight Anderson Silva for a second time.
Their first bout, a classic, was tainted in the eyes of many when Sonnen's drug test came back for elevated levels of testosterone. That of course didn't stop Sonnen from telling anyone who would listen that he beat Silva and is the true champion. Sound like an episode from Game of Thrones?
"The walking sound bite" himself didn't look all that great in his bout with Michael Bisping but still managed to secure a win and a rematch with Silva later this year.
All of the questions MMA fans have with the Silva versus Sonnen rivalry will finally be answered when the challenger flies into hostile territory to fight the champion in his native Brazil.
Loser: Yushin Okami
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Yushin Okami's place in the middleweight division is in quite a state of flux right now. After winning three-straight bouts, Okami challenged Anderson Silva for the UFC middleweight title in August of last year.
Okami was thoroughly embarrassed by the champion, but looked to be on his way back to title contention at UFC 144 against Tim Boetsch. Okami dominated Boetsch for the first two rounds but fell victim to one of the greatest comebacks in MMA history.
Now, with two-straight losses, Okami is in limbo. Can he bounce back and get back "in the mix" again? Or will Okami join the ranks of gatekeeper? These are just some of the questions the Japanese star will look to answer in 2012.
Winner: Michael Bisping
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Michael Bisping may have lost his last fight but you can't deny that he emerged victorious in many more ways.
Bisping looked incredible against "Mayhem" Miller to close out a great 2011 campaign inside the Octagon. However, as good as Bisping was in the cage he was awful outside of it. Bisping has been one of the most disliked fighters in the UFC for quite some time but he was downright hated following his antics at UFC 127.
Yet Bisping has seemingly turned the corner on public appeal following the loss to Chael Sonnen. Bisping wasn't given much of a chance but stifled a number of Sonnen takedown attempts and gave the number one contender the fight of his life.
Following the bout we were finally given a glimpse to the real Bisping as he stated he would love for the fans to cheer him and he gave insight to his humble upbringing. Bisping may have started 2012 off with a loss but he's definitely winning the hearts and minds of MMA fans.
Loser: Mark Munoz
Of course the man originally scheduled to face Chael Sonnen at the UFC on Fox 2 event was Mark Munoz. Surgery on his injured elbow has put "The Filipino Wrecking Machine" on the sidelines for a lengthy period of time.
Munoz was well on his way to a title shot after an impressive 2011 campaign in the Octagon. Sonnen would be his toughest challenge to date and a victory would have guaranteed Munoz a title shot.
Alas it was for naught, as Munoz saw himself passed along by Sonnen and arguably Michael Bisping as well in the middleweight title picture.
In team sports coaches love to say a player won't lose his spot to injury but in the MMA world that's not true. If Munoz can return later in 2012 he will need to have a great showing in order to be placed into title contention.
Winners: Vitor Belfort/Wanderlei Silva
Besides both men having impressive showings in their last bouts, Wanderlei Silva and Vitor Belfort have become the face of Brazilian MMA for a lot of people. Other than being two of the most popular Brazilian fighters, the two men are the coaches of the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil.
The show has been very entertaining thus far and both coaches have done a solid job of keeping it basic but yet explaining the intricacies of MMA to newer fans.
Both men are nearing the ends to their illustrious careers and TUF: Brazil has given a new wave of energy to those careers. A strong season of coaching and a climatic showdown at the end of the season would be a great way for either man to cap off 2012.
Loser: Anthony Johnson
Not only did Anthony "Rumble" Johnson lose his middleweight debut against Vitor Belfort at UFC 142 but Johnson was sent packing in unspectacular fashion.
The terrible weekend began on Friday, when Johnson failed to make weight, a problem that has been typical during his UFC career. Johnson cited a medical condition that sparked a ton of controversy. "Rumble" would lose the next night and subsequently be given his walking papers.
Although 2012 started off in a dreadful manner for Johnson, he will have an opportunity to redeem himself when he takes on Dave Branch at Titan Championships 21.
Winner: Carlos Condit
Carlos Condit officially earned the UFC interim welterweight title and fans' respect after defeating Nick Diaz at UFC 143. Some fans didn't agree with Condit's strategy, but he stuck to a perfect gameplan to thwart Diaz's offense.
Condit will likely sit out until Georges St-Pierre makes his return from injury which is a smart move on Condit's part. Although I'm usually a proponent for fighters to stay active, Condit has nothing to gain and everything to lose by fighting anyone but GSP.
2012 started off with a bang for Condit as he won the UFC interim welterweight title and it can be the best year of his career should he defeat the invincible GSP later this year.
Loser: Nick Diaz
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Not only did Nick Diaz lose to Carlos Condit at UFC 143 he also happened to fail a drug test. If those two weren't bad enough it seems as if Diaz has gone into seclusion and has no intentions of fighting in MMA again.
Dana White and Diaz's coach Caesar Gracie believe Diaz will return as he more than likely just said some things in the heat of the moment. If or when Diaz returns he will be back to being the polarizing fighter he once was.
Diaz had seemingly gained a ton of fans overnight after his destruction of BJ Penn but his no-show at an UFC press conference and failing a drug test have once again put Diaz into the circle of most hated fighters in the world.
It would be a shame for someone like Diaz to end his career on such a low note but that appears to be how his fighting career will end unless the Stockton born fighter makes a comeback in 2012.
Winner: Jake Ellenberger
Beyond the fanfare that is the Condit-Diaz-GSP saga, Jake Ellenberger continues to rack up the wins. Ellenberger has won his last six fights after losing a razor close decision to current interim champ, Carlos Condit.
Ellenberger's last two performances were particularly telling as he dropped Jake Shields to end 2011 and defeated Diego Sanchez via unanimous decision to begin 2012. Now "The Juggernaut" is set to square off against another rising contender, Martin Kampmann, at the finale of The Ultimate Fighter 15.
After such a close loss, Ellenberger has been very vocal about wanting a rematch with Condit but that appears to be a few fights down the road.
If Elleneberger can stick to his winning ways in 2012 he will not only see a Condit rematch but also a UFC title shot.
Loser: Demian Maia
At one point Demian Maia was among the top five middleweights in the world, but an embarrassing performance against champion Anderson Silva sent the jiu-jitsu ace back to the building block.
Maia had worked himself back into title contention and was set up to make another title run. Some jumbling of opponents meant Maia was no longer set to face off against Michael Bisping but instead faced rising prospect Chris Weidman.
Their bout was rather lacklustre and Maia looked terrible. At least Weidman had an excuse for looking out of fighting shape as he took the bout with only three weeks notice. Maia looked so bad he decided to drop to welterweight for his next bout and hopefully will look better at a new weight class.
Winner: Benson Henderson
Obviously Benson Henderson is the biggest winner in the lightweight division after capturing the lightweight title at UFC 144. Henderson cracked the riddle that was Frankie Edgar by doing what a future hall of famer, BJ Penn, and a top contender, Gray Maynard, couldn't.
Going forward Henderson is expected to rematch with Edgar in a bout that is sure to provide just as many fireworks as their first encounter.
Loser: Melvin Guillard
Melvin Guillard entered 2012 on a sour note following an embarrassing showing against Joe Lauzon at UFC 136. Going up against Jim Miller on the first ever UFC on FX event provided Guillard with an opportunity to bounce back against a legitimate contender.
Unfortunately Guillard looked terrible in his bout with Miller as well. Guillard came out and threw a handful of flying knees with none of them landing. The fight took a familiar turn for Guillard as he found his opponent's arms wrapped about his throat.
Guillard had quite a run from 2010-2011 that saw him be on the cusp of a title shot but has since seen any dreams of a title be strangled away from him. Guillard will need to get back to his winning ways in 2012 if he plans on being a serious contender and not a gatekeper.
Winner: Gray Maynard
Obviously Benson Henderson benefited most from beating Frankie Edgar as he was awarded the UFC Lightweight title but there's no doubt that night's other big winner was Gray Maynard.
How can a guy who hasn't fought in months (or in 2012 at all) be considered a winner in the lightweight division? Maynard likely would've been a few fights away from a rematch with Edgar as he was unable to put the champion away in their second meeting and soundly beaten in their trilogy bout.
Without Edgar as champion for the time being, Maynard now has a clear path straight to title contention in 2012.
Loser: Joe Lauzon
Joe Lauzon has been a fan favorite and a favorite of Dana White for quite some time. He simply brings it every time he steps in the Octagon. Prior to UFC 144, Lauzon had won three of his last four and had won six-straight UFC award bonuses.
In little over a minute all that momentum was dropped by an Anthony Pettis head kick. Lauzon has always been near being "in the mix" but never seemed to be able to get over that hump. A win against Pettis would've done just that, but instead Lauzon found himself collecting his senses in the Octagon.
Despite the loss, Lauzon will remain near the top of the rankings as he's been a mainstay in the promotion for years and will always be a draw for the fans.
Winner: Hatsu Hioki
Hatus Hioki debuted in the UFC at UFC 137 against George Roop. The consensus number two featherweight in the world did emerge victorious, but didn't exactly impress UFC fans.
All the doubts of Hioki's skills against tougher competition went out the window following his showing against Bart Palaszewski at UFC 144. Hioki put on a clinic against Palaszewski and turned a lot of heads in the process.
Moving forward in 2012 Hioki has likely earned a title shot against Jose Aldo and it's clear the UFC brought Hioki in to give Aldo a fresh challenge.
Loser: Joe Warren
One of the most accomplished Greco-Romam wrestlers in MMA, Joe Warren left 2011 on a bad note with an ugly KO loss to Alexis Vila. But that was in the bantamweight tournament and at least Warren still had a firm grasp on his Bellator featherweight title.
That is until a knee from Pat Curran rocked Warren's world. The strike set off a flurry of punches that saw Warren literally being held up by Curran's strikes. The loss was another ugly stoppage that put Warren's MMA future in doubt.
Warren has now lost two-straight bouts and with a loss at either weight class, 2012 remains uncertain for the former champion.
Winner: Marlon Sandro
A former top five featherweight, Marlon Sandro had seen his stock drop a little in previous years. Of course that's all changed with Sandro's performances under the Bellator banner.
In 2012 Sandro has already amassed a 2-0 record and now is in the finals for the featherweight tournament. Sandro won via rear naked choke in the quarterfinal bout and won via split decision in the semifinal match-up.
Now Sandro is only one win away from having the chance to avenge an earlier loss to Pat Curran. Look for Sandro to continue to stay active in 2012 as he took four fights last year and is well on his way to meeting that quota this year.
Loser: Chad Mendes
Chad Mendes was riding a 11 fight win streak into his title shot at UFC 142. Mendes hadn't won many fans with his decision-heavy style but had been impressive none the less.
Not only was Mendes getting a UFC title shot but also received a chance at redemption for Team Alpha Male against Jose Aldo.
Mendes not only failed to defend Alpha Male's honor but also failed to do much of anything to the champion. Aldo was able to stifle Mendes' takedown attempts and eventually KO'd the previously unbeaten challenger with one second remaining in the first round.
Winner: Renan Barao
Amassing a 25 fight win streak, Renan Barao made his UFC debut at UFC 130 last year. Barao continued his winning ways to cap off 2011 by putting on a show against Brad Pickett in Pickett's home country of England.
To begin 2012, Barao would face his toughest test in perennial contender Scott Jorgensen. Not only did Barao rise to the challenge, but emphatically overcame it.
Barao arguably should be contending for the title right now, but with Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber coaching on The Ultimate Fighter, the bantamweight title has been put on hold for half of 2012. Barao has opted to stay busy and will meet Ivan Menjivar in a title eliminator at UFC 148.
Loser: Norifumi Yamamoto
The UFC desperately wanted Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto to do well at UFC 144. Yamamoto was one of, if not the biggest star from Japan. Vaughan Lee was virtually sent into the Octagon as a sacrificial lamb in order to get Yamamoto a win and a victory infront of his countrymen.
Lee must have not received the memo as he took the opportunity to build his brand on Yamamoto's name and forced "Kid" to tap via armbar inside the opening frame.
Now, after three-straight losses, Yamamoto could very soon find himself in search of a new home should the UFC decide to cut ties. Not only is Yamamoto's UFC career in jeopardy but his MMA career may also be a major concern as 2012 rolls on.
Winners: MMA Fans
The UFC may be on break, but other promotions have taken advantage of the lull in the action. Bellator and Strikeforce have put on a number of exciting events that have captivated MMA audiences.
Ronda Rousey completed her run to stardom with a strong showing against Miesha Tate and applied one of the nastiest armbars in MMA history.
Pat Curran dethroned Joe Warren at Bellator 60, Brian Rogers nailed an impressive flying-knee KO at Bellator 62, and Patricky Freire had his arm snapped in a moment that resembled Frank Mir-Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira II.
Of course MMA fans love to watch the UFC events but without a major PPV in the past few weeks fans have had to broaden their horizons to get their fight fix.
Losers: Casual Fans
To many casual and new fans, the UFC is MMA. It's unfortunate, but a vast majority of fans only tune in to the UFC as it's the only product they're familiar with.
Strikeforce airs on Showtime, a channel that requires a subscription and Bellator airs on MTV 2 which very few people receive. The UFC had gained quite a bit of momentum and new eyes following its successful UFC on Fox/FX events, but with a break in the action they made need to start over with casual fans.
If the UFC is the only promotion you choose to watch then you definitely missed out on a lot of great action.