1 UFC Wildcard Fighter to Watch in Each Weight Division
If there was anything to learn from UFC 152, it is that there is a chance just about any fighter on the UFC roster is within a win or two from getting their chance to compete for a title.
Prior to Dan Henderson's injury and the subsequent cancellation of UFC 151, Vitor Belfort wasn't even at the front of the race for a middleweight title shot. However, after a number of light heavyweights turned down a short-notice title fight with Jon Jones, Belfort emerged from thin air as the 205-pound title challenger.
Though Belfort ended up suffering a predictable loss to Jones, he nearly shocked the world with an armbar in the opening round. In the moment that Belfort was cranking on Jones' arms, "The Phenom" proved the belt is not out of the reach of any fighter competing under the UFC banner.
With that in mind, let's take a look at some fighters who few are talking about as serious contenders, yet competitors should not ignore.
Heavyweight: Shane Carwin
A former interim champion, Shane Carwin doesn't quite fit in with the other fighters who will appear on this list.
He is a heavyweight who seems to have been pushed out of the title picture after back-to-back losses and what will be a year-and-a-half absence when he finally returns against Roy Nelson in December.
However, with 12 first-round knockouts, the 37-year-old Carwin is one punch away from stopping any heavyweight in the world. With a solid chin that took Junior dos Santos' best shots, Nelson will provide a good test for Carwin's knockout power and skill level after such a long layoff.
Should Carwin find a way to join Andrei Arlovski as one of only two fighters to finish Nelson, he could make one last run at becoming an undisputed champion before his 40th birthday. It's unlikely he would be able to get past a dos Santos, Cain Velasquez or Alistair Overeem, but a fighter with Carwin's punching power can never be totally counted out.
Light Heavyweight: Stephan Bonnar
Look, nobody is predicting Stephan Bonnar will upset middleweight champion Anderson Silva in a light heavyweight main event at UFC 153. Nonetheless, the opportunity is there for The Ultimate Fighter runner-up to shock the world.
Bonnar has his hands full against Silva, no doubt, but the 35-year-old who recently contemplated retirement on a recent episode of Fuel TV's UFC Tonight is a huge light heavyweight with a great chin. While that may not be enough to derail the greatest fighter in MMA history, those attributes should allow Bonnar to at least hang in there with the 185-pound titleholder for awhile and provide an exciting fight.
Undoubtedly, Bonnar has put himself in excellent standing with the UFC brass by helping save UFC 153 from cancellation. If Bonnar can put Silva in some bad positions and entertain fans, it wouldn't be surprising to see the veteran get some more of the blockbuster fights he has long been hoping for to close out his career.
Middleweight: Daniel Sarfian
Were it not for an injury shortly before his scheduled bout against Cezar Ferreira in The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil finals, Daniel Sarafian could have very well been the first middleweight winner of the Brazilian reality show. After all, Sarafian defeated his eventual replacement, Sergio Moraes, with much more ease than Ferreira to win the 185-pound tournament.
The 30-year-old Sarafian is flying under the radar right now, as he is still waiting to make his UFC debut. However, expect the talented Brazilian to come back more motivated than ever after missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Sarafian is too untested to project how he'd stack up against top middleweights, but the UFC newcomer will be a fighter to watch when he returns from injury and attempts to make the statement that he was really the best 185-pound fighter from The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil.
Welterweight: Kyle Noke
After two straight losses, some saw Kyle Noke as a fighter on his way out of the UFC not incredibly long after appearing on The Ultimate Fighter. However, Noke made what appeared to be an excellent decision in dropping to the welterweight division, as he was dominant in a knockout win over Charlie Brenneman at UFC 152.
Noke looked just as impressive against Brenneman as Erick Silva, who many consider to be one of the brightest potential contenders in the welterweight division. If Noke continues to perform as well as he did Saturday night, it won't be long before he's competing against the best 170-pound fighters in the world.
Lightweight: Mark Bocek
In his past eight fights, Mark Bocek has only lost against lightweight champion Benson Henderson and Jim Miller. The Canadian was less than spectacular in his most recent outing against John Alessio, but he got the job done and walked away with a second straight win.
A jiu-jitsu black belt, Bocek possesses top-notch grappling and continues to develop as a striker. With the right matchups, Bocek is more than capable of earning another chance to compete against an opponent like Henderson or Miller. If he is able to score a takedown and work from the top position against that type of elite talent, anything is possible for the 30-year-old submission artist.
Featherweight: Darren Elkins
Since making the move from lightweight to featherweight, Darren Elkins is undefeated in three straight fights. Though he hasn't really looked anywhere near flawless in his wins at 145 pounds, the scrappy Elkins continues to remain in the win column.
Right now, Elkins is far from a championship-caliber fighter, but he has the heart to give several top featherweights a difficult fight. Elkins' come-from-behind win over Diego Brandao showed he is the type of fighter who should never be counted out of a fight and one who should be watched as he tries to continue his unlikely winning streak.
Bantamweight: T.J. Dillashaw
T.J. Dillashaw was knocked out in the finals of The Ultimate Fighter. However, considering the only defeat of Dillashaw's career came against an already highly-ranked flyweight in John Dodson, it could be argued that the Team Alpha Male bantamweight is the most promising second-place finisher in The Ultimate Fighter history.
Since his loss to Dodson, Dillashaw has already looked the part of a future bantamweight contender. The 26-year-old dominated Walel Watson and secured a first-round submission against Vaughan Lee.
Already, Dillashaw seems to have put his only loss behind him, and fans should too, because this Californian is going nowhere but upward in the foreseeable future.
Flyweight: Chris Cariaso
With all the focus on the four-man tournament that decided the UFC first flyweight champion, some other 125-pound debutantes have been overlooked. Despite winning his final fight in the bantamweight division, Chris Cariaso recently dropped to flyweight and picked up a victory over Josh Ferguson.
Though Cariaso may be a few wins away from a title shot at 125 pounds, he has the skill to make a run at a championship bout.
In his time as a bantamweight, Cariaso fought to a split decision with Michael McDonald, who has since become one of the top 135-pound fighters in the world. If Cariaso can be so competitive against an opponent like McDonald, there's no reason he shouldn't be a serious contender at flyweight for a long time.
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