As the calendar year draws to a close, we take a look back at the most overrated mixed martial artists of 2012.
Each of the fighters in the following list was selected for one of two reasons—they were exposed as overrated in 2012, or have created public perceptions of themselves that are just not sustainable.
Fighters who were exposed in 2012 entered the year with a certain reputation within MMA circles, but will exit it with a decidedly less favorable public perception.
Fighters who have created unrealistic expectations are those that have had success in 2012, but have gained a disproportionate amount of recognition for their accomplishments. Many of these fighters are excellent competitors with tons of talent—some are legitimate stars—but even legitimate stars sometimes gain more renown than they probably deserve.
For either one of these two reasons, the following 15 mixed martial artists are 2012's most overrated.
Aoki stays active, I'll give him that. But any time he takes a step up in competition he tends to get whooped.
He has long been one of the most overrated fighters on the planet. His 2012 loss to Eddie Alvarez only provides confirmation that his ridiculously one-dimensional style will not translate to consistent success against the cream of the crop.
Aoki is capable of beating good fighters, but he's simply not capable of beating the best—or anyone that comes close to deserving that title.
The Japanese star's standing in the MMA community is not what it used to be, but it's still way better than it should be.
If the best mixed martial artists in the world could be handled by one-dimensional wrestling powerhouses, don't you think all MMA champions would be one-dimensional wrestling powerhouses?
The fact is, Askren's incredible takedowns and ground control are tools sharp enough to get him wins over solid opponents, but it ends abruptly at solid. A fight with Georges St-Pierre, or any other top welterweight, would be nothing short of a slaughter.
In a UFC-centric MMA world, people like to romanticize fighters from alternative promotions. Askren is one many people have taken a shine to. And he is a good fighter—he's 10-0 and a Bellator champion. But realistically, he's nowhere near the level of the best welterweights in the world.
Askren's reputation was formed through his 2010 and 2011 accomplishments, but has persisted through 2012. And it will probably continue to hold until he is finally matched up with a top fighter.
When that happens, chances are he'll be exposed and perceptions will move more toward the level he's truly fighting at.
It's tough to say Boetsch is overrated since he's outperformed expectations over the past two years. But he makes the list because I adhere to the belief that his recent accomplishments cannot be sustained in the long term.
Since dropping to middleweight in 2011, Boetsch has reeled off four consecutive victories and asserted himself as a UFC middleweight title contender. His most significant victories came in 2012 against Yushin Okami and Hector Lombard.
While both of those names would stand out on anyone's hit list, the fight with Okami was....not luck per se, but probably a result Boetsch would obtain less than half the time the two of them face off.
And the bout with Lombard? He earned that one, but only because he sucked a little bit less than his opponent that night.
Boetsch is becoming a guy that continually proves naysayers like myself wrong. But I'm stubbornly sticking to my guns here and forecasting that it all unravels this December 29, when he takes on up-and-comer Constantinos Philippou.
Cariaso's been good since joining the UFC in 2010, but he's become a trendy pick as an under-the-radar future star for a lot of people, and that simply needs to stop.
Why? Because a split-decision over Vaughan Lee, a razor-thin decision over Takeya Mizugaki and a decision over the 8-5 Josh Ferguson don't make you a future champion. Especially not at 31.
And while 2012 has been a good year for Cariaso (2-0), it may not end well. He'll take on the upstart John Moraga, who is more deserving of prospect status, this December 29.
Until then, Cariaso will remain a popular dark horse, who has become so underrated that he's overrated.
Diaz entered 2012 on an unbelievable run of eleven straight victories, including a win over the legendary B.J. Penn.
If one were attempting to diminish Diaz's streak, he or she could point out that by the time Diaz encountered Penn, "The Prodigy" had just one win over his previous four contests. And beyond a broken-down Penn, Marius Zaromskis and Paul Daley are the most substantial names on Diaz's recent hit list, both solid fighters, but by no means world-beaters.
But one doesn't need to examine Diaz's 2008-2011 accomplishments to be perplexed that Stockton's finest is still held in such high esteem among the MMA community. Or wonder how on Earth he is in line for a welterweight title shot.
Diaz fought just once in 2012, a loss to Carlos Condit. While some cling to the notion that Diaz deserved the win, the result is no longer up for debate. It's in the books and Diaz lost.
Upset with the judges' scoring, Diaz pouted, then took his ball and went home, claiming he'd never fight again. A timely suspension for marijuana usage made his short-lived retirement redundant. Now Diaz is on the comeback trail, and will be able to get back to action early next year.
How this turn of events defines a fighter many consider to be the second-best welterweight in the world escapes me. Diaz is a dangerous guy, one that fits well in the upper tier of the UFC's 170-pound division. But his reputation exceeds his actual accomplishments, something that has become increasingly apparent in 2012.
Easton's place on this list isn't just a product of losing to Raphael Assuncao at UFC on Fox 5, although that's what allows me to justify his inclusion. He's here quite simply because I've just never been sold on him.
Prior to the Assuncao loss, Easton had gone 3-0 between 2011 and 2012. His three wins included a TKO of professional steppingstone Byron Bloodworth, a majority decision win over the lightly regarded Jared Papazian (who has since dropped to 125) and a close decision win over Ivan Menjivar.
There is nothing there for people to really get excited about, but get excited people most certainly have. In fact, Easton is often regarded as a future title player in the bantamweight division.
My question is, does Easton really match up with Dominick Cruz? Or Renan Barao? Or Michael McDonald? Or even Brad Pickett or Eddie Wineland?
I don't buy it.
Some people seem to, but we'll have to politely agree to disagree with that crowd.
Ellenberger entered the year on a six-fight win streak, capping off his 2011 with a 0:53 knockout of Jake Shields.
Ignoring the fact that the uber-overrated Shields was Ellenberger's best win during that stretch, it is "The Juggernaut's" 2012 performances that should really give fans pause when they consider his place in the 170-pound division.
Ellenberger sports a strong enough 2-1 record this calendar year, but a close examination of each bout reveals that the 27-year-old might not be as good as he's perceived to be.
In his win over Diego Sanchez, Ellenberger looked fine for a time, but came out in Round 3 as though he'd just finished a marathon. In fact, the bloodied and beaten Sanchez almost finished the fight with a choke, which shows just how winded Ellenberger was.
Ellenberger followed up that result with a TKO loss to Martin Kampmann, the first quasi-elite opponent he had faced since losing to Carlos Condit in 2009.
After that, "The Juggernaut" scratched out a lackluster decision over MMA journeyman Jay Hieron in a match where neither fighter looked very impressive.
All in all, Ellenberger is a solid fighter who has looked incredible at times because he's such a fast starter. But while he's most certainly a tough opponent for any welterweight, he's really not the powerhouse future title threat that some believe him to be.
In November 2008, Faber was at the peak of his career. He was the WEC featherweight champion, the face of sub-155-pound MMA and reputed as a top pound-for-pound fighter in MMA.
Since November 2008, Faber has been a .500 fighter.
Going 5-0 in non-title fights has allowed "The California Kid" to keep his legacy intact, but going 0-5 in title fights since WEC 36 hardly sounds like the results someone of Faber's renown would achieve.
He keeps winning just enough to stave off the dreaded "over the hill" label, but keeps losing enough to confirm that he's no longer a top fighter.
Fewer and fewer fans are hanging on to their old perception of Faber, but the notion he's elite still persists in some places.
In reality, Faber walks the line between gatekeeper and contender, but he's assuredly less a legitimate title threat than a mid-tier competitor.
Hioki was more overrated at the beginning of 2012 than he will be at its end, a product of getting handled by Ricardo Lamas earlier this year.
Since transitioning to the UFC, Hioki has gone 2-1 but has really only looked impressive once. The paltry performances he's put on have left many of those who once dubbed him the last hope of Japanese MMA scratching their heads.
While he continues to reside in the fray of the UFC's 145-pound division, he's done nothing over the past year-and-a-half to suggest he's in the same league as Jose Aldo, Frankie Edgar, Erik Koch, Chan Sung Jung, Ricardo Lamas, Dustin Poirier, Cub Swanson, Diego Nunes, Dennis Siver...you get the point.
Hioki will take on Clay Guida in the latter's featherweight debut at UFC on Fox 6. At this point, the bout looks like a real mismatch in Guida's favor.
Some people will tell you that Melendez is one of the best lightweights in the world. Others will tell you he's one of the most overrated fighters in the world.
I tend to lean towards the latter assertion, if not jump towards it headfirst.
Melendez has spent the more recent portion of his career beating up quasi-relevant Japanese stars and above-average Americans. That sounds like the work of a decent fighter, but not one worthy of consideration as one of the lightweight division's top dogs.
For me to believe that Melendez is a top-five lightweight, I must first buy in to the concept that Josh Thomson is a top-10 lightweight, and that's something I just cannot wrap my head around.
See, Thomson routinely pushes Melendez to the limit in Strikeforce, most recently dropping a split-decision to the champion this past May. And I'm just not sure how those tightly contested wins over Thomson—or wins over Shinya Aoki, Jorge Masvidal and Tatsuya Kawajiri—justify Melendez's high regard and the top place on so many people's lightweight ladder.
Many of his victories are good wins, but none are really great wins. Until he starts getting some great wins, I can't accept Melendez as great. Only good.
Mir has made great strides over the past several years, but it was his epic feud with Brock Lesnar and a handful of wins over fringe contenders that earned him the reputation as a top heavyweight fighter.
It also helps that the heavyweight division isn't the most top-heavy in the sport. Still, the notion that Mir is any sort of elite title threat is absurd.
Need confirmation? Check out his match earlier this year with current heavyweight champion Junior Dos Santos. It was an absolute rout.
Any future bouts with one of the division's upper echelon—guys like Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier—are very likely to produce similar results.
Mir remains a solid heavyweight competitor, but he is a noticeable notch below the top of the heap. Even guys like Fabricio Werdum and Stefan Struve probably overtook him in 2012, in terms of actual level of performance if not on Internet ranking lists.
Pettis is a wildly popular and entertaining fighter, and those traits have caused overzealous fans to concoct a perception of him that he just doesn't match up with in reality.
That's not to say he isn't a good fighter, because he is a good fighter. A very good fighter, in fact. But he isn't the lock as future champion that some swear him to be.
Now, I expect Pettis' inclusion here to draw some serious ire in the comments section, and that's fine. But it doesn't change the fact that he's done nothing to suggest any of the UFC's top wrestling-based lightweights couldn't do exactly what Clay Guida did to him in 2011.
His sole performance in 2012 was a 1:21 knockout win over Joe Lauzon. An impressive feat, but not one that dispels concerns over his takedown defense. We already knew he was a flashy and effective striker, but nothing in that win suggests he can take on Ben Henderson—the new, evolved Ben Henderson, not the one Pettis beat in the WEC.
Or for that matter, what has he done to prove he can take Gray Maynard? Or Jim Miller? Or even Gilbert Melendez?
It isn't a foregone conclusion that he'd lose to anyone on that list, but many people seem to take it for granted that he'd walk through them all. That's really just not the case.
Pettis is a great fighter and potential future star, but he often gets more credit than he's earned.
Argue that statement if you will, but don't waste your time rebutting the claim that he isn't a talented fighter. Because that's simply not a claim made here.
Ironically, Sonnen's name would look just as much at home on a list of 2012's most underrated fighters.
His big mouth tends to garner a lot of attention, and people often seem willing to vouch for his ability to back it up. Then he goes out and gets finished by Anderson Silva in the second round of a title fight, and people are left wondering how they were fooled into believing in this guy in the first place.
In this sense, Sonnen is overrated.
But then people start thinking Sonnen is only relevant because of his oratory displays and ability to ruffle feathers. They believe he's nothing but a gimmicky mixed martial artist talking his way into relevancy. Then he goes out and defeats guys like Brian Stann and Michael Bisping, and people are left wondering why they counted him out.
In this sense, Sonnen is underrated.
It's a real enigma alright, but the clincher for getting him onto this list is that in 2012 he lost his aura of being the sport's most capable Silva-slayer, a product of his 2010 near-win over "The Spider."
The 2012 loss forced Sonnen out of the middleweight division because his title prospects became so low.
Now he's fighting for the light heavyweight title and everyone is up in arms about how undeserving he is and how little chance he has to win.
Another good fighter who has garnered more recognition than accomplishments, Stann split his 2012 contests, defeating Alessio Sakara and losing to Michael Bisping.
The latter result put an end to Stann's title hopes, but really, it did more than just that. It confirmed that his ceiling just isn't on the same level as the middleweight's best.
The loss to Bisping wasn't a rout, but it was one-sided. Stann was just too slow, too immobile and not versatile enough to keep up with the Brit on the feet or defend his takedowns.
Is Stann a terrific fighter? Of course.
Has Stann plateaued shy of elite status? Yes.
The loss to Bisping not only quelled Stann's title aspirations, but also confirmed his below-championship-caliber spot in the UFC's middleweight division.
Teixeira is another guy that makes the list, not because of any shortcoming, but because people have really gotten swept up in a hype of origins unknown.
OK, the origins of that hype are the UFC hype machine, but you get the point—Teixeira's excellence has been a bit overblown.
Granted, he's looked pretty good of late, like the time he scored that huge win over Marcio Cruz back in 2011. And that huge win over Antonio Mendes was impressive as well. And those other big wins over Marvin Eastman and Ricco Rodriguez were nice.
And Teixeira only got hotter in 2012, destroying both Kyle Kingsbury and Fabio Maldonado.
Now, you'll probably notice the absence of an opponent with any sort of relevance to today's MMA scene on that list, but that hasn't stopped fans from swarming to Teixeira's bandwagon.
That wild expectations have formed is not Teixeira's fault, of course. It's not like he's Sean McCorkle here. Teixeira just does his job, and does it well.
Perhaps it's the absence of a true threat to Jon Jones, or perhaps it's Teixeira's particularly violent brand of MMA, but the lofty projections for the Brazilian are premature.
He is a terrific fighter—and perhaps all the hype he's enjoying now is the universe's way of making up for all the time he toiled in obscurity—but regardless, his reputation greatly exceeds his real accomplishments.
And sadly, it may have just only begun. If Teixeira defeats Quinton Jackson next January, which I predict he will, his hype will hit a new level.