10 Fighters Who've Made the Biggest Splash in 2012 so Far

Craig AmosFeatured ColumnistAugust 17, 2012

10 Fighters Who've Made the Biggest Splash in 2012 so Far

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    In any given eight month period, there are likely to be a number of memorable MMA fights, moments and achievements. As we now sit halfway through August, we can look back and confidently say that the first three quarters of 2012 are no exception.

    Already, 2012 has seen Hector Lombard make his long awaited UFC debut, the Octagon return to the Land of the Rising Sun and one of the sport's biggest rivalries come to a conclusion with Anderson Silva dispatching his arch nemesis for a second time.

    The list goes on.

    Here, however, we will concern ourselves with the "who," rather than the "what" by looking back on the past eight-and-a-half months and determining which fighters, above all others, have made a splash.

    A brief note on the criteria: It is more difficult for fighters already at the top of the sport to make a splash, so the list takes into account those who have most greatly furthered their careers or had a surprising impact on the sport.

    There were a number of considerations that just missed the cut—feel free to mention any fighter you believe to be a grievous omission from the list.

    The list is ordered alphabetically. 

Renan Barao

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    Barao has gone 2-0 in 2012, most recently dashing Urijah Faber's latest attempt to claim UFC gold and picking up an interim bantamweight title for himself in the process.

    Though the fight itself was an unspectacular conclusion to what was arguably the worst pay-per-view card in UFC history, Barao clearly established himself as the superior fighter, and in doing so, he announced his arrival as Dominick Cruz's most intimidating threat.

    Barao is still just 25 years old, so 2012 probably won't mark the final time he makes waves in mixed martial arts. But with wins over Scott Jorgensen and Urijah Faber, acquiring a UFC title and notching a 29th straight victory, this year will certainly be near the top of the list, regardless of what Barao accomplishes moving forward.

Tim Boetsch

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    Tim Boetsch has spent 25:54 inside the UFC Octagon this year. Of that time, he has looked impressive for about 54 seconds. 

    Still, you can't argue with results.

    After engineering an improbable comeback knockout win over Yushin Okami in February, Boetsch was tapped to welcome highly-regarded Hector Lombard to the UFC in July. The fight was about as dull as it gets, but after the judges woke back up, Boetsch was declared the winner via split-decision.

    Boetsch hasn't looked like a world-beater in 2012, but he has emerged from the shadows as a top middleweight fighter in the UFC, positioning himself perhaps just a win away from a title fight. 

    Not bad for a guy who was cut from the UFC in 2009.

Daniel Cormier

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    Despite having fought just one time in 2012, Cormier has been one of the most intriguing mixed martial artists to follow since he defeated Josh Barnett to become the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix winner.

    With the win over Barnett, Cormier established himself as one of the top heavyweight fighters on the planet, and in a landmark turn of events, he has garnered enough notoriety to draw a top UFC draw—Frank Mir—away from the big show for a contest that has the early feel of a superfight.

    While the UFC is probably in Cormier's near future, the American Kickboxing Academy standout has had no trouble impacting the sport this year from a promotion on the periphery of the mainstream.

Ben Henderson

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    Ben Henderson has only defeated one opponent in 2012, but when that opponent happens to be Frankie Edgar, that's a pretty big deal.

    Especially when you do it twice, becoming the UFC lightweight champion in the process.

    Both times the two men fought, the outcome was uncertain until the last scorecard was revealed, but wins are wins, and back-to-back title fight victories have translated into a hugely successful year for Henderson.

    Title acquisitions are never lacking for importance, but Henderson's achievement has had meaning; he not only won the title, but he validated the entire crop of former WEC fighters that have migrated to the UFC since the promotion disbanded in 2010.

Martin Kampmann

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    That Kampmann is a good fighter has not been a secret for some time now, but in 2012, he really stepped things up. 

    With consecutive stoppage wins over Thiago Alves and Jake Ellenberger, Kampmann has positioned himself closer to a UFC title than ever before. On the strength of those victories, the Hitman has garnered a title eliminator bout opposite Johny Hendricks, which will be fought to decide the next number one contender at 170 pounds.

    At 30 years old, Kampmann has gone from being one of those guys closely eying the title picture to one of those guys that is a part of it, though the outcome of his next fight will really decide whether 2012 was great, or just pretty good.

Stipe Miocic

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    Miocic moved to a perfect 3-0 in the UFC this May when he picked up his second win of the year, stopping Shane Del Rosario in Round 2 of their showdown.

    The Croatian has used 2012 to announce his arrival as a factor in the heavyweight division as well as his intentions of slugging his way to the title. While he may still be a couple wins removed from getting that opportunity, Miocic will have the chance to continue his progress when he combats Stefan Struve this September at UFC on Fuel TV 5.

    With only nine professional fights to his name, 2012 is far more likely to be the start of a winning trend for Miocic rather than a highlight in his career. 

B.J. Penn

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    Penn really hasn't done a heck of a lot in 2012 except announce that he will be returning to MMA. But when you're B.J. Penn, that's enough; few fighters have the power to add or remove a name like Penn's from the sport, so his return is a pretty big deal.

    Though Penn has struggled to find consistency over the past couple years, he remains one of the most recognizable figures in the sport, and a dangerous fighter as well. 

    The Prodigy will take on Canadian prospect Rory MacDonald this December in his first fight since he claimed to be done with MMA last October.

Ronda Rousey

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    She has only fought one time so far this year, and that bout only lasted 4:27; yet somehow, 2012 has been a transitional period for Rousey, who has gone from obscurity to being the most recognizable female fighter in the sport.

    While defeating Miesha Tate and winning a Strikeforce title is no mean feet, Rousey has made a bigger splash outside the cage than in.

    The way she traded verbal barbs with Tate heading into their fight, the way she threatened Tate's boyfriend, Brian Carraway, and the way she has conducted herself afterwards really set her on course for a big year.

    Since that fight and its subsequent fallout, Rousey has remained an MMA sensation and has become a growing media personality. She recently posed nude for ESPN, has become the focus of Zuffa's All Access program and is set to headline a Stirkeforce event Saturday, August 18.

Erik Silva

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    Though he holds a 1-1 official record, Erick Silva has fought like an undefeated fighter in every sense but a technical one in 2012.

    While the disqualification he received for striking the back of Carlo Prater's head put a tick in the loss column, it has done nothing to slow the surging Brazilian down. Since submitting Charlie Brenneman in the first round of their June contest, Silva has become one of the hottest names in the welterweight division.

    Silva's new found notoriety has caused his quality of opponent to spike, and he now prepares to take on Jon Fitch in October. 

    While Fitch might have a little something to say about how Silva's 2012 ends, there is no denying that he has been one of the most impressive welterweights in the UFC to this point in the year. 

Chris Weidman

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    In 2012 Chris Weidman has gone from highly-touted prospect to middleweight contender. With a decision win over Demian Maia and a brutalizing knockout of Mark Munoz, Weidman has shown that he is ready to cash in on his potential sooner rather than later.

    Weidman's 2012 success has vaulted him into the mosaic title picture at 185, where he accompanies the likes of Michael Bisping, Brian Stann, Vitor Belfort, Alan Belcher and Tim Boetsch.

    This year's successes have apparently also given Weidman some confidence. At a UFC 150 Q&A session, Weidman told the media that:

    I really believe I could beat him (Anderson Silva). I wouldn't be asking for this fight, you know, if I didn't believe it so, you know, also, I not only believe I could beat him, I believe I could go out and finish him....It's going to be awesome to beat Anderson Silva.

    Whether you share this belief or not is a personal decision, but there is little room for subjectivity when looking at his calender year to this point—now that is plainly impressive.