2012 was a huge year for mixed martial arts when it came to blockbuster fights that we had been wanting to see for quite some time. Whether it was with UFC or Strikeforce, Zuffa continued to establish itself as the promotion that houses almost all of the top talent in mixed martial arts as it made its presence felt on network television.
But while it was a great year for Zuffa, individual fighters within the company did not necessarily reap the benefits. In fact, some of them flat out got the shaft.
Sure, you could always say that having a fight on a Strikeforce or UFC card is good no matter who you are going up against, but that's not always enough. In a sport like MMA where a fighter's window to physically compete at an elite level can close at any time, there's a sense of urgency to get to the top as soon as possible.
For one reason or another, these 10 fighters had their chance to move up the rankings stifled in 2012 and Zuffa needs to strongly consider making it up to them in 2013.
When looking for fighters who were ripped off in 2012, we need to search no further than UFC welterweight Johny Hendricks.
Hendricks has been on a stunning run since 2011, winning five straight bouts in the UFC including three "knockout of the night" awards. With victories over TJ Waldburger, Mike Pierce, Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck and Martin Kampmann, there may not be another fighter with a better resume over the past 24 months.
Yet somehow Hendricks has been passed up numerous times now for a shot at the UFC welterweight championship.
With his most recent 46-second knockout over Martin Kampmann, most believed that Hendricks was the obvious choice to challenge the winner of St-Pierre vs. Condit later that night. As it turned out, however, Nick Diaz will be battling St-Pierre for the title in March, despite having not won a fight since October 2011.
The Strikeforce lightweight champion had an interesting 2012.
Rumors of Melendez moving onto the UFC have been circulating since Zuffa purchased the company, which may have played a big part in him competing in the cage just once this past year. But what doesn't make sense is who he fought.
At Strikeforce's May event, Melendez was placed in a "trilogy" fight against Josh Thomson—a fighter whom he defeated in December 2009. Thomson did hold a victory over Melendez from June 2008, but giving Thomson a title fight after he had won just one bout over the previous 14 months just didn't make sense.
As it turned out, Thomson nearly upset Melendez, which certainly helped give credibility to the fight itself, but certainly did no favors to Melendez who was still looking for that marquee fight in the UFC.
Like his fellow Strikeforce co-worker Melendez, Daniel Cormier struggled to find competition in the Strikeforce heavyweight division in 2012.
A former Olympic-level wrestler, Cormier has dominated the world of mixed martial arts since making his debut on the Strikeforce Challengers card back in September 2009.
Undefeated at 8-0 with a victory over Jeff Monson in June 2011, Cormier was entered as an alternate in the Strikeforce heavyweight Grand Prix tournament which started in 2011. With Alistair Overeem leaving the tournament due to signing with the UFC, Cormier was placed into the tournament and given the opportunity of a lifetime.
Needless to say, he didn't let it slip away.
Cormier went on to crush Antonio Silva before winning the tournament against Josh Barnett in May 2012.
A hand injury held him out for a few months, but he was set to make his return to the cage against UFC legend Frank Mir on Strikeforce's November card. Instead, the bout was canceled due to an injury to Frank Mir.
Cormier later fought on the final Strikeforce card on Jan. 13, 2013; but like Melendez's fight against Thomson, the win really did nothing to further Cormier's rank in the heavyweight division.
One of the most controversial fighters in the sport, Michael Bisping always seems to have his name in the headlines.
Yet despite being a fighter no one can forget about, it's somewhat surprising to consider that his 13-4 record in the Octagon has never earned him a shot at a UFC championship.
Bisping fought twice in 2012, going 1-1 in that span including a victory over Brian Stann at UFC 152. His only loss came against the consensus No. 2 middleweight in the world, Chael Sonnen, in a bout that many consider the be one of the most poorly judged fights of 2012.
With a victory over Vitor Belfort at UFC on FX, Bisping should have his name placed once again into title consideration. We'll have to see if his luck is better this time.
Holder of the record for longest winning streak of any fighter in the UFC today, bantamweight Renan Barao was held back in 2012 due to some unfortunate circumstances that were no fault of his own.
Barao, 29-1-1 in his career, had put together an impressive 4-0 record in Zuffa promotions coming into 2012. Then with a victory over Scott Jorgensen in February, Barao officially established himself as an elite fighter in the 135-pound division.
With just one fight remaining against a tough but certainly beatable Ivan Menjivar before he would get to challenge Dominick Cruz for the UFC title, many believed that Barao could be holding championship before the year ended.
As it ended up, they were right—but they were also wrong.
Cruz was injured, causing the UFC to create an interim title fight between Barao and former champion Urijah Faber. Barao dominated the bout and was given the decision in his first career five round fight.
It was believed that Cruz would be the next fight on the plate for Barao in what would be a title unification bout, but Cruz tore his ACL for a second time in early-December, an injury which will keep him out for another 6-9 months.
Although Barao is the interim champion, the truth is that most interim champions have agreed that they never felt that they were truly the top fighter in the division until they unified the titles. For Barao, that didn't happen in 2012 and it even likely happen in 2013.
Like a few others on this list, injuries essentially killed Dan Henderson's 2012 fight year.
After coming over from Strikeforce as the promotion's light heavyweight champion, Dan Henderson made his UFC return in a "Fight of the Year" type bout against Shogun Rua in November 2011. At 41 years old, Henderson was proving that he was still an elite fighter and a potential challenger for Jon Jones in the UFC.
Henderson was set to fight Jones at UFC 151, but later withdrew from the bout due to a knee injury. The entire fight card was canceled, which really caused some frustration in the UFC offices.
Upon returning from injury, most believed that Henderson would be given the title shot that he left on the table. But late in the year, we found out that Henderson's next fight would actually be against Lyoto Machida at UFC 157 in February.
The injury was his own doing, but Henderson got the shaft when you consider that he has apparently been bypassed on the UFC rankings by Chael Sonnen—a fighter who hasn't even competed in the UFC light heavyweight division.
26 year old light heavyweight prospect Alexander Gustafsson might have been one of the most shafted fighters in 2012.
With only one loss in his career, Gustafsson has been on an absolute tear over the past two years, earning victories over the likes of James Te-Huna, Matt Hamill, Vladimir Matyushenko and Thiago Silva—all in dominating fashion.
So when the UFC was forced to find a new opponent for Jon Jones when Dan Henderson dropped out, one would've assumed that Gustafsson should be one of the first names the promotion calls, right?
Instead, the UFC turned to Vitor Belfort—who hadn't fought at 205 in over five years—to challenge the champion. The decision had to be baffling for Gustafsson, who later went on to defeat former champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in December.
Gustafsson is now on the cusp of a title fight, but should have already been given the opportunity in 2012.
Undefeated middleweight Chris Weidman continued to tear through the UFC in 2012, notching the two biggest victories of his career against Demian Maia and Mark Munoz—both of whom were considered top contenders for the 185 pound title when he beat them.
The victory over Munoz was absolutely stunning. Weidman came into the bout as a slight betting favorite, but proved that the line should have been no where close as he completely destroyed the "Filipino Wrecking Machine." According to FightMetric, Weidman landed 28 strikes including two takedowns, five passes and two submission attempts as he held Munoz to goose-eggs across the board.
Immediately after the victory, Weidman called out UFC champion Anderson Silva. It appeared that the UFC had a new No. 1 contender.
So when Silva stepped up to "save" UFC 153, many believed it should have been against Weidman for the title. Instead, Silva battled Stephan Bonnar at 205 pounds in one of the most irrelevant main events we have seen in years.
Strikeforce middleweight champion Luke Rockhold may not have the name that some of the promotions other top talent does, but that doesn't mean he's any less prepared to make the jump over to the UFC.
With a record of 9-0 in Strikeforce, Rockhold realistically should have been one of the very first fighters that the UFC tried to bring over when they bought the promotion. This is especially true when you consider the lack of competition that Anderson Silva has faced in recent memory.
Although he got the war that fans were looking for against Tim Kennedy in July, the fact that he fought Keith Jardine in his first ever title defense goes to prove just how thin the competition was in Strikeforce's middleweight division. He, and others, deserved to be fighting in the UFC in 2012.
For those who have read my public criticisms of Nick Diaz in the past, this last name on this list might come as a bit of a shocker.
No, I'm not going back on my previous claims. Nick Diaz's decisions to flagrantly disregard athletic commission rules, skip press events and pull out of pay-per-view jiu-jistu bouts are still unacceptable.
But the man was still flat-out robbed against Carlos Condit at UFC 143.
Say what you will about Condit fighting the "smart fight," but when a guy spends almost the entire fight back-peddling and punching off his back foot, there's really no debate as to who had superior "Octagon Control."
Diaz's failed drug test after the fight cost him 30-percent of his fight purse and put him on suspension for a year. Again, stupid decision...but he won that fight.
With Georges St-Pierre now back from his injury, Diaz will finally get his chance to prove his doubters wrong when he steps into the cage to challenge for the UFC welterweight title on March 16th at UFC 158 in Montreal, Quebec.