20 Early Favorites for UFC Fighter of the Year

Dan HiergesellFeatured ColumnistJuly 24, 2012

20 Early Favorites for UFC Fighter of the Year

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    Despite key injuries to prominent champions and unsettling suspensions for big pay-per-view draws, 2012 has been a very successful campaign for the UFC thus far.

    From championship defenses to Fight of the Year performances, a handful of fighters have contributed in making the last seven months worthwhile.

    Based on performances, finishes and the overall relevance of their fights, here are 20 early favorites for Fighter of the Year.

20. Matt Brown

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    Victories: Chris Cope (TKO), Stephen Thompson, Luis Ramos (TKO)

    Matt Brown may not be the first name that jumps off this list, but it's hard to deny his three victories over the past six months.

    Finishing two of those three bouts via second-round TKO, Brown has finally opened some eyes around the welterweight division.

    If he can capture one more win by the end of the year, Brown could finally see a significant chance against a top contender in 2013.

19. Lavar Johnson

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    Victories: Joey Beltran (KO), Pat Barry (TKO)

    Defeat: Stefan Struve (submission)

    Awards: (2) Knockout of the Night

    Even though Lavar Johnson lost his last bout against Struve via first-round submission, his overall workload thus far has been extremely impressive.

    With two Knockout of the Night wins under his belt against two of the toughest guys in the heavyweight division, Johnson has been an Octagon success since coming over from Strikeforce.

    If he can work on his ground game, more specifically his submission defense, he could easily continue his winning ways.

18. Mike Pyle

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    Victories: Ricardo Funch (TKO), Josh Neer (KO)

    Awards: Knockout of the Night

    Over his last two fights Mike Pyle has shown that he possesses one-punch power to go along with excellent jiu-jitsu.

    Two first-round TKO victories have made him one of the hottest fighters in the UFC thus far, especially considering he's a wily veteran capable of stringing meaningful wins together.

17. Chan-Sung Jung

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    Victories: Dustin Poirier (submission)

    Awards: Submission of the Night, Fight of the Night, Fight of the Year Nominee

    Chan-Sung Jung has only fought once in 2012, but what a fight it was.

    His four-round battle with featherweight contender Poirier has already been recognized as one of the best fights of the year, if not the best.

    Jung's performance in that fight alone puts him on this list.  It's the Fight of the Night and Submission of the Night honors that rank him at No. 17.

16. Stipe Miocic

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    Victories: Phil De Fries (KO), Shane del Rosario (TKO)

    Awards: Knockout of the Night

    Quickly ascending the heavyweight ranks, undefeated Stipe Miocic has become one of the most promising talents in the UFC today.

    His boxing/wrestling background has made Miocic dangerous in any facet of a fight, culminating into consecutive KO victories over De Fries and Del Rosario.

    Stefan Struve is up next.

15. Jamie Varner

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    Victories: Drew Fickett (XFC—submission), Edson Barboza (TKO)

    Jamie Varner made a huge splash in the lightweight division with his recent first-round TKO victory over a highly-hyped Barboza.

    That impressive finish has immediately launched the veteran into the thick of things in one of the deepest divisions around.

    Add in his submission victory over Drew Fickett at XFC 16, and it's easy to see that Varner is as hot as any fighter at 155 lbs.

14. Cain Velasquez

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    Victories: Antonio Silva (TKO)

    You wouldn't have known Cain Velasquez was competing in his first fight in over seven months when he crashed the gigantic debut of Silva at UFC 146.

    Bottom line, the top contender didn't miss a beat.

    Possibly the bloodiest fight since Joe Stevenson was left leaking at the hands of BJ Penn, Velasquez's performance will stay fresh in the minds of heavyweight fans leading up to his rematch with undisputed champion Junior dos Santos.

13. Benson Henderson

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    Victories: Frankie Edgar (Lightweight Championship)

    Awards: Fight of the Night

    Benson Henderson arguably deserves to be higher on this list, due in part to knocking off Edgar for the lightweight championship, but the fact of the matter is that his lone win in 2012 wasn't that impressive.

    His battle with Edgar did win Fight of the Night, but what five-round championship showdown doesn't?

    With that said, a second victory over Edgar at UFC 150 could secure "Smooth" a top-five spot on this list by the end of 2012.

12. Michael Chiesa

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    Victories: Al Iaquinta (TUF Finale)

    Awards: Submission of the Night

    Technically Michael Chiesa only won one fight in the UFC in 2012.

    But if you count his victories on The Ultimate Fighter, Chiesa would have four.

    Regardless, the 24-year-old became part of UFC history when he choked out Iaquinta in June to capture TUF honors.

    That type of success easily puts him at No. 12.

11. Carlos Condit

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    Victories: Nick Diaz (Interim Welterweight Championship)

    At the end of the day, Carlos Condit is no George St-Pierre.

    He doesn't possess the natural athleticism of GSP and in no way can match the Canadian's ability to bring in big crowds and even bigger PPV buyouts.

    However, Condit has filled in nicely as the interim champ of an otherwise vacant position, having defeated the always formidable Nick Diaz on the way.

    It may not be the best of scenarios to become a champion, but Condit has proven he deserves to stake his claim as the true 170 lb. titleholder.

10. Stefan Struve

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    Victories: Dave Herman (TKO), Lavar Johnson (submission)

    Awards: Submission of the Night

    Despite his lack of power and suspect chin, Stefan Struve is currently becoming a contender in the heavyweight division.

    Two impressive finishes over respectable opponents has finally given Struve the recognition he deserves.

    If "Skyscrapper" can keep his head on straight against Stipe Miocic, there's no reason not to consider him a top contender heading into 2013.

9. Fabricio Werdum

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    Victories: Roy Nelson, Mike Russow (KO)

    Awards: Fight of the Night

    Fabricio Werdum couldn't be making a bigger splash in the heavyweight division since coming back over from Strikeforce.

    With outstanding wins over Nelson and Russow, the Brazilian submission expert is gaining a lot of steam heading into 2013.

    Werdum should currently be considered the No. 4 heavyweight in the world behind Junior dos Santos, Cain Velasquez and Alistair Overeem, but that shouldn't stop him from prolonging Octagon success.

8. Jon Jones

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    Victories: Rashad Evans (Light Heavyweight Championship)

    Jon Jones' performance against Evans back at UFC 145 wasn't as impressive as his other title bouts, but he successfully escaped serious damage while keeping his former mentor at bay.

    If "Bones" can once again defend light heavyweight gold in 2012 with a win over Dan Henderson at UFC 151, he'll no doubt be an obvious candidate for Fighter of the Year.

    Food for thought: Evans was the first fighter to take Jones the distance, title fight or not, since Stephan Bonnar did it back at UFC 94 in 2009.

7. Junior Dos Santos

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    Victories: Frank Mir (Heavyweight Championship—TKO)

    There's one word that comes to mind when thinking about Junior dos Santos' title defense against Mir.

    Dominating. 

    "Cigano" was literally untouchable.

    The fact of the matter is that Dos Santos has arguably become a top-five pound-for-pound fighter on the planet.

    His undefeated UFC record is beyond impressive, having beaten every relevant contender in his MMA career except Alistair Overeem

6. Cub Swanson

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    Victories: George Roop (TKO), Ross Pearson (TKO)

    Awards: Knockout of the Night

    It's official.  Cub Swanson has shed his recent imperfections and can once again be considered a top contender in the featherweight division.

    Swanson has looked beyond dynamic over his last two fights.  With second-round TKO victories under his belt, the former WEC great is quickly showcasing the standup talents capable of stopping champion Jose Aldo.

    Another decisive victory over a relevant divisional player and Swanson could find himself on the short list of guys waiting for a title shot in 2013.

5. Tim Boetsch

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    Victories: Yushin Okami (TKO), Hector Lombard

    Can Tim Boetsch be any more impressive?

    The guy not only came back to secure a Punch of the Year knockout over Okami at UFC 144, but he stopped an over-hyped Lombard in his tracks this past weekend at UFC 149.

    That fight with Lombard may not have ended the way fans wanted it to, but it's still difficult to ignore the fact that Boetsch left the cage basically untouched.

    In the end, two wins over top-five middleweights is more impressive than nearly anything, or anyone, on this list.

4. Renan Barao

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    Victories: Scott Jorgensen, Urijah Faber (Interim Bantamweight Championship)

    In Renan Barao's case, capturing bantamweight gold over Faber at UFC 149 wasn't outstandingly impressive, but it's still a huge career accomplishment.

    Faber looked unsure of what to do following a broken rib in the first round, which is probably why Barao landed leg kick after leg kick for the majority of the bout.

    With that said, alongside wins over two of the most tenured contenders in the division, Barao respectively comes in at No. 4.

    Furthermore, the Brazilian is the only current UFC champion to have more than one win in 2012.

3. Chris Weidman

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    Victories: Demian Maia, Mark Munoz (KO)

    Awards: Knockout of the Night

    Whether or not Chris Weidman can actually contend with Anderson Silva for the UFC middleweight title, the new No. 1 contender has arguably been the most productive fighter so far this year.

    After capturing an upset victory over the comparable Maia, consequently knocking him out of the division, Weidman moved on to secure a nasty standing-elbow KO over Munoz earlier this month.

    During that impressive headlining bout, "The Filipino Wrecking Machine" didn't land one punch.

2. Anderson Silva

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    Victories: Chael Sonnen (Middleweight Championship —TKO)

    Everybody knows how good Anderson Silva truly is.

    He's the greatest fighter of all time.  There's no disputing that.

    But what makes his lone 2012 victory more prominent that nearly anything on this list is because it came against Sonnen.

    The guy guilty of releasing a Silva to the world that nobody had seen before.  The guy that attacked Silva's country, family and competitive pride.

    All done to create buzz for the biggest fight in UFC history, Sonnen crossed the line at every turn.

    So a victory over him was not only warranted, but it was quite possibly the most satisfying seven minutes of Silva's historic career.

1. Martin Kampmann

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    Victories: Thiago Alves (submission), Jake Ellenberger (TKO)

    Awards: Submission of the Night, Knockout of the Night

    Martin Kampmann's nickname, "The Hitman,"  is one of the coolest in MMA history.

    But after securing two out-of-this-world finishes against two of the toughest fighters in the welterweight division, Kampmann should now be considered "The Comeback Kid."

    Easily two of the most memorable bouts of 2012, Kampmann's submission of Alves and TKO of Ellenbeger have become career-defining.

    So much so that the Dane is now scheduled to fight the heavy-handed Johny Hendricks in a No. 1 contenders bout at UFC 154.

     

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