UFC: 13 Fighter Debuts to Hope for in '13

Matthew RyderFeatured ColumnistJanuary 4, 2013

UFC: 13 Fighter Debuts to Hope for in '13

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    The UFC is the biggest brand in MMA, make no mistake about it. However, they don’t hold all the greatest talent.

    At least not yet.

    There are guys out there who have made a name for themselves in other promotions or guys who were once UFC fighters, but have since become stars following a release.

    As the promotion moves towards becoming the only game in town, they’ll look to add some of these fighters or bring them back into the fold.

Darrell Montague

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    As the UFC continues to flesh out the lower weight classes, look for another influx of flyweight talent to help bolster what may be the flashiest division in the MMA world today. Not many people are watching them, but the ones that are definitely get their money’s worth.

    Montague is a consensus top-10 flyweight who hasn’t been snapped up by a larger promotion despite doing well at the highest levels of the class in Japan and for Tachi Palace Fights. Anyone interested in the little guys should definitely hope for his UFC debut in 2013.

Sean Santella

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    Another flyweight who could help the continuing growth of the UFC’s 125-pound class, Santella trains with some of the toughest customers on the East Coast at AMA Fight Club. Home to the Miller Brothers and Rafaello Oliviera, the club has plenty of UFC veterans and a pedigree for developing some serious hard-nosed talent.

    The 11-3 Santella is no different, with a 73 percent finish rate, all by submission. Bring the kid in from the cold world of regional fight promotion and give him a shot on the biggest stage out there. The division and the fans could use him.

Tyson Nam

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    Nobody has ever become more of a story for winning a fight in a regional promotion than Nam did in his fight with Eduardo Dantes late in 2012, as he bested the Bellator bantamweight champion with a decisive finish during a fight under the Shooto Brazil banner.

    What ensued was a snarled web of politicking and contractual mumbo-jumbo, which almost led to Nam finding his way into the UFC. Then he didn’t for reasons that are murky at best, but did involve matching periods and some other nonsense.

    Long story short, he’s kind of a free agent but not really, and will probably fight for the World Series of Fighting next time out. If he could help provide depth at 135 in the UFC in 2013, it’s something people should be intrigued by.

Bibiano Fernandes

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    It looked like “The Flash” was on his way to the UFC later in 2012; however, he ended up inking a deal with OneFC and has continued his winning ways.

    In a weight class that may be the most thin of what the UFC has to offer, they’d be wise to try and wrestle someone as experienced and gifted as Fernandes away from One, as he could very well be a champion with a little more seasoning.

    Here’s hoping that jump can finally happen in 2013, though if it did, it would happen late in the year.

Miesha Tate

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    The fourth-biggest star in women’s MMA is already rumoured to be signed by the UFC, and if that’s true, the hope to see her compete in the octagon this year is likely to be realized.

    She’s talented and tough and is actually pretty good at selling fights when paired with someone who brings a little fire out of her. Not sure what it says about her, or the sport, that she’s one of the biggest stars going and isn’t as popular as Gina Carano, who hasn’t fought since 2009, but nonetheless, she’s someone to look forward to seeing debut.

Cris Cyborg

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    There’s little question that Chute Boxe women’s prodigy Cris Cyborg will be in the UFC, and she will fight Ronda Rousey at 135 lbs. Truthfully, it’s even less of a question about it happening in 2013, as the fight is the only truly big women’s MMA fight that the UFC can put off in a division that they’re clearly not handling correctly.

    Given her capacity to brutalize people and put on genuinely exciting performances in the cage, people should be very much interested in her debuting in 2013.

Pat Curran

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    Rumours are out there that Curran’s contact with Bellator may be nearing an end, and if that’s the case, there may be no more important acquisition on this list for the UFC. Curran is the second-best featherweight in the world and would pose enormous problems for anyone at 145 pounds that the UFC could throw his way—Jose Aldo included.

    There’s also the added incentive of swiping a current champion away from a competitor, much like they did with Lombard. While that isn’t something for the average fan to be worried about, seeing one of the greatest talents in MMA show up for work with the biggest promotion sure is, so there should be plenty of hope for a Curran UFC debut in 2013.

Eddie Alvarez

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    The biggest star Bellator ever had looks to be headed back there after some time to think it over, but until the signature is on the page, there’s always hope that he’ll join the UFC for some fantasy matchups fans have clamoured for in the past few years.

    Alvarez is a tough out for anyone and has shown world-class skill and durability in his career to this point. As he enters his prime, the UFC would love to get him into the shark tank of 155 pounds to see what he can do, but Bellator won’t let him go without a fight.

    If you’re a fan of seeing the best fight the best, hope for Alvarez to find a way to follow fellow high-profile Bellator defector Hector Lombard some time in 2013.

Gilbert Melendez

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    The last of the notable Strikeforce men who could become UFC fighters in 2013, people have been hoping to see Melendez in the octagon for years. They should very well get their wish this year.

    He’s been campaigning for it for a long time. Dana White is a fan and has even said he could be next in line for a title shot if he signs, and he’s one of the few guys that has a genuine following that has developed completely outside of the world’s biggest promotion.

    There’s no telling what he could be with the UFC machine behind him.

Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza

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    More Strikeforce talent still, as the former middleweight champion of the promotion is a guarantee to join the UFC. Given his exciting, elite grappling and improving standup game, that’s something fans all over should be rejoicing for.

    He may be less of a lock than the Strikeforce title holders, but he’s too good for the UFC to let go when the likes of Bellator are out there trying to poach talent for their first year on Spike TV. Jacare is definitely one to hope for in 2013.

Luke Rockhold

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    Another Strikeforce champion who will probably make the leap to the UFC in 2013, Rockhold is a rugged customer who probably doesn’t get the love he deserves. He’s very well-rounded and comes from one of the best teams in the sport at American Kickboxing Academy.

    He’s an easy choice for anticipated UFC debuts, and it would be shocking if it doesn’t happen in early 2013.

Josh Barnett

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    ‘The Warmaster’ has provided more than one headache for Dana White in the past, but with Strikeforce folding and Barnett still among the best heavyweights in the world, there’s little reason for either side to be stubborn here. Bygones need to be bygones so the UFC can bring in the entertaining and oft-comical brawler.

    He’s a former UFC champion and was runner-up in the Strikeforce GP and still has some good years left in him. Fans of aggressive submission pursuit and hilarious interviews should hope for his return to the fold in 2013.

Daniel Cormier

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    The most obvious candidate for a UFC crossover is Cormier, who has two-division possibilities and an Olympic pedigree. He’s a hot commodity these days after his Strikeforce Grand Prix win, and he’s already signed to join the promotion after his January 12 meeting with Dion Staring.

    Expect his debut to happen by summer 2013 if he’s not hampered by injuries once again.