The 10 Most Overlooked Fighters in MMA
Photo credit: Sherdog
Right now, the MMA discourse is decidedly star-centric.
Cain Velasquez just beat Junior dos Santos to regain the heavyweight strap. Georges St-Pierre recently returned and is gearing up for his grudge match with bad boy Nick Diaz. Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen are about to kick off the run-up to their "fight" with the premiere of The Ultimate Fighter.
With the calendar having just turned over, pundits are celebrating the best of the year, with lightweight champ Benson Henderson raking in plenty of accolades.
But as 2013 sprawls before us, who are some of the more overlooked fighters on the landscape?
Let me draw a thin but real distinction between underrated and overlooked. Underrated means that a fighter has not yet gotten the big fights or recognition that he or she might deserve. Overlooked means that they have concrete accomplishments—that they're right "in the mix," as Dana White would say—but for whatever reason still don't get the respect they deserve.
In other words, underrated is speculative. Overlooked is more objective. Got it? Great.
Here are 10 fighters who aren't on the tip of every tongue, but could be poised to take fans—or even other fighters—by surprise in 2013.
10. Douglas Lima
Photo credit: Eric Langley
Record: 22-5 (1-1 in 2012)
Now that Paul Daley and War Machine are out of Bellator's upcoming welterweight tourney on Spike, hard-fighting and highly well-rounded Douglas Lima may very well be the favorite. He'd love to run the table and avenge his only loss in the past three years—to Bellator beltholder Ben Askren.
Too bad so few fans know his name.
9. Darren Uyenoyama
Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Record: 8-3 (1-0 in 2012)
Darren Uyenoyama is undefeated both in the UFC and as a flyweight. The cagey grappler should get a stiffer test in his next bout after handling a well-regarded newcomer in Phil "Don't Make Any Deadliest Catch Jokes" Harris last October.
8. Daniel Straus
Photo credit: Sherdog
Record: 21-4 (4-0 in 2012)
Where's the love for Daniel Straus? All he did last year was rip off four straight wins and take Bellator's Season 6 Welterweight Tourney, and those weren't cans he was crushing either. The far more famous Marlon Sandro and UFC veteran Alvin Robinson were among those that he defeated.
With his wrestling base and 13 career decision wins, Straus is not the planet's most scintillating fighter, but he's a prominent featherweight and a relentless attacker. He might be poised for a breakout when he faces the winner between Patricio Freire and reigning champ Pat Curran.
7. Ronaldo Souza
Photo credit: Esther Lin for Strikeforce
Record: 16-3 (1) (2-0 in 2012)
Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza recovered from losing his title to Luke Rockhold with two stoppage wins. On the eve of Strikeforce's final card and Souza's collision with Ed Herman, Souza's UFC debut seems inevitable.
He's got the credentials. The thing he's lacking now is momentum.
6. Mike Pyle
Photo credit: MMA Junkie
Record: 24-8-1 (3-0 in 2012)
A man should never have to beg. But that's what Mike Pyle apparently feels forced to do after getting passed over, time and time again, for top-10 competition.
It's a shameful situation for a hardened veteran enjoying what may be the hottest stretch of his career.
5. Ricardo Lamas
Photo credit: Sherdog
Record: 12-2 (1-0 in 2012)
Ricardo Lamas has had to sit back and watch while the Mendeses, Zombies, Cub Swansons and Diamond Poiriers of the world get all the love and the column inches.
None of them are better than he is—they're just more famous.
But if he destroys Erik Koch on Jan. 26, how can they deny him a title shot?
4. Michael Chandler
Photo credit: Jeff Cain/MMA Weekly
Chandler is quite possibly the least-heralded undefeated belt holder in major league American MMA.
I usually like to wait until a guy loses to write him off, especially since Michael Chandler submitted Eddie Alvarez for the title. I think I remember reading something recently about Eddie Alvarez being a nice UFC prospect.
3. Rafael dos Anjos
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Record: 18-6 (3-0 in 2012)
Rafael dos Anjos didn't just beat Mark Bocek, he dominated him in all phases of the fight. He manhandled Anthony Njokuani, too, which was unfortunate because I liked that guy.
Meanwhile, Dos Anjos gets better each fight. Here's to hoping they let him off the treadmill of middlin'-ness with his next fight. Go on, give him someone good—really good.
2. Johny Hendricks
Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
Record: 14-1 (2-0 in 2012)
It's hard to get much more overlooked than Johny Hendricks.
He was overlooked after he beat Jon Fitch. He was overlooked after he beat Martin Kampmann.
What does he have to do to get the UFC matchmakers to make eye contact with him?
1. Michael Bisping
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Record: 23-4 (1-1 in 2012)
Bisping is the definition of overlooked. He's been an overlooked contender for his entire career.
He will get a title shot against Vitor Belfort, and if he wins, that will help correct this issue. But in the meantime, he'll top this list by virtue of being the longest-tenured UFC contender never to fight for a belt.