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MMA Contenders and Pretenders That Will Be Revealed in December

Andrew SaundersCorrespondent IISeptember 25, 2016

MMA Contenders and Pretenders That Will Be Revealed in December

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    Tis the season of giving. With the holidays rapidly approaching, it's almost time to unwrap our first UFC-themed present: UFC on Fox 5.

    Throughout the month of December, the UFC has elected to provide fans with many presents, including:

    Five former champs

    Four main events

    Three American cards

    Two title fights

    And a partridge in a pear tree.

    Too cheesy? Sorry. Sometimes I get caught up in the holiday spirit. 

    To make up for my awful attempt at Christmas humor, here is a look at nine fighters who will be competing in December. Each man has an opportunity to take a major step up their divisional ladder.

    With quality placement within their respective divisions, there is a lot of ground that can be covered this month. Some of the men on this list can become a contender with a December victory, while others can become champion.

    However, the mighty sometimes fall. A series of impressive wins can be washed away with a single defeat. Anyone who doesn't believe me should ask Mark Munoz.

    Here is a look at nine fighters who reveal themselves as either contenders or pretenders in the next four weeks.

Mike Easton

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    To many fans, bantamweight prospect Mike Easton is still a relatively unknown commodity. However, "the Hulk" has quietly been sneaking his way up the division's rankings by putting together eight successive wins.

    Among those victories, Easton is 3-0 inside the Octagon after most recently defeating Ivan Menjivar back in July.

    Easton also has a win over former WEC champion Chase Beebe, however, the decision is considered to be highly controversial. It was even given Sherdog's "Robbery of the Year" in 2009.

    At UFC on FOX 5, he meets longtime Zuffa standout Raphael Assuncao in a bout that will show us the mettle he is truly made of. If I had to guess, the benefits of sharing tutelage alongside Dominick Cruz is an intangible that will push him towards contender status.

    Prediction: Contender

Alan Belcher

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    No offense to Alan Belcher intended. He is a quality fighter who has looked impressive as of late. That being said, his well rounded skills don't seem to shine in any particular aspect of the game, and I don't see him getting past any of the division's top stars.

    The win over Rousimar Palhares showed that Belcher can game-plan and defeat someone who is dangerous. However, Palhares is the most predictable middleweight currently in the division."The Talent" only had to train to avoid one position.

    How will he do against someone like Chris Weidman or Anderson Silva, who can finish a fight from any position?

    At UFC 155, Belcher faces Yushin Okami, a man who has previously bested him. Okami has crisp boxing that will allow him to stay safe while standing but will likely use his intimidating wrestling to grind out a decision.

    As much as I like Belcher, I think he loses this fight and all of the momentum he's carrying.

    Prediction: Pretender

Rory MacDonald

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    Rory MacDonald is one of the hottest prospects currently in mixed martial arts, however, the biggest challenge of his budding career ended with the only loss on his record. For that reason, some have questioned his apparent status as a true contender at welterweight.

    However, in the month of December, MacDonald gets a chance to unseat a surefire member of the UFC Hall of Fame and former dual-division champion, BJ Penn.

    MacDonald has a set of physical attributes and talents that make him a heavy favorite against "The Prodigy." Anyone who saw Rory demolish Nate Diaz has a good idea of what to expect in another bout against a high quality boxer who has excellent Jiu-Jitsu but has a body size that belongs in the lightweight division.

    This is a fight that the Tristar Gym member should win. If he does, there is absolutely no question that he is the real deal.

    Prediction: Contender  

Rousimar Palhares

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    Leglock specialist Rousimar Palhares is incredible at exactly one thing: leglocks.

    Despite being 7-3 in the UFC, "Toquinho" has a mediocre record of 3-3 in fights where he is unable to lock in on his limb of choice.

    In his most recent fight, Palhares actually got a hold of Alan Belcher's leg but was unable to secure the submission. After losing position, it didn't take long for his opponent to finish the fight and throw Palhares from his favored position on the roster.

    Fighting Hector Lombard at UFC on FX 6, we will see if the eccentric Brazilian has evolved enough to compete or if he will simply fade into the background.

    Prediction: Pretender

Hector Lombard

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    I guess that this one is a little bit of a no-brainer after seeing that I put Palhares on the other side of this coin, but it's a sentiment that bears repeating.

    While many saw Lombard's lackluster performance at UFC 149 as a sign that he isn't up to the task of competing with UFC-level talent, I beg to differ.

    Entering that fight with an injury, Lombard reserved his energy well and struck when he needed to. Knocking down opponent Tim Boetsch and landing better strikes throughout the contest has led B/R MMA readers to vote that the split decision loss that Hector suffered is nothing more than poor judging.

    The judo stud should be able to keep his fight against Rousimar Palhares standing, and I suspect that he will win a one-sided decision.

    Prediction: Contender

Ross Pearson

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    Although Ross Pearson may have had more success on his season of The Ultimate Fighter than his UFC on FX 6 opponent George Sotiropoulos, I don't think he stands much of a chance in this fight.

    While the Pearson's kickboxing is both quick and accurate, I expect him to have a hard time getting passed the hands of G-Sot.

    In the event of a ground battle, the Brit's chances are even worse. Not even Joe Lauzon was able to survive the incredible submission skills of Aussie George.

    Sotiropoulos is incredibly difficult to finish, and aside from an incredible shot landed from Rafael dos Anjos, George has never been stopped in his professional career. 

    A win for Pearson here would do great things towards getting his career back on track, but I think he will be exposed in this fight as being unworthy of main event status.

    Prediction: Pretender

Alexander Gustafsson

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    This one is going to upset a lot of our fans.

    Ever since a three-round engagement with Thiago Silva, fans have touted Alexander Gustafsson as the next big thing in the light heavyweight division. There were calls demanding that the Swede be next in line for Jon Jones and referencing that he, not Jones, represented the next generation of MMA star.

    First of all, Gustafsson has yet to defeat a Top-10 fighter. The call for his greatness is beyond premature. It's pre-premature. It's so premature that girls make fun of it in the locker room with all of their friends, leaving you embarrassed and deflated as a man.

    Gustafsson meets Shogun Rua on Saturday, and his striking skills will be put to the test like none other. Rua is one of the elite Muay Thai fighters that MMA has ever seen, and he has a definitive edge in a ground war as well. 

    Prediction: Pretender

Cain Velasquez

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    I'm not going to make a prediction as to the winner of UFC 155's heavyweight title fight between Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez. I'm simply going to make the claim that Velasquez is going to prove that he is on the same level as the reigning champion.

    This may sound like a gimme, but hear me out.

    The number of fight fans who believe that JDS is head and shoulders above any heavyweight on the roster is absolutely staggering, but I understand why. Through use of MMA math, we saw Cain Velasquez dominate every fighter put in front of him, including legendary Big Nog and champion Brock Lesnar. So when "Cigano" knocked him out in 67 seconds, the perception is that no one could touch the new titleholder. 

    In the rematch, Velasquez will work diligently to get this fight to the ground. I think the action will go there, and dos Santos will have to show us his ability to scramble and avoid the nasty pummeling that Big Daddy Cain is capable of delivering. 

    This fight will be much closer than the first.

    Prediction: Contender

Tim Boetsch

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    Maybe I'm alone in this school of thought, but I cannot come up with a single fighter who is less worthy of his divisional ranking than Tim Boetsch.

    Sure, he has wins over Yushin Okami and Hector Lombard, but let's take a look at them. 

    Okami was mopping the floor with Boetsch for two full rounds before "The Barbarian" came out of the gate in the third like a bat out of hell. Okami crumbled to the berserk burst of aggression and lost via KO.

    Congratulations to Boetsch for being able to turn up the intensity when his back was against the wall, but let's not forget that he was outclassed prior to that.

    Then, the Lombard fight saw Boetsch fighting an injured man, get knocked down but win a controversial split decision.

    I'm happy for Tim Boetsch that the stars aligned and he was able to pick up those wins. Unfortunately, the level of skill displayed is not that of a champion or contender, and he would have gotten exposed by Chris Weidman at UFC 155.

    Now that Boetsch is fighting Weidman's training partner Costa Philippou, he doesn't have to overcome immense wrestling, but Costa is going to wreck him in the boxing department.

    Prediction: Pretender

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