MMA Contenders and Pretenders Who Will Be Revealed in February

Nathan McCarter@McCarterNFeatured ColumnistFebruary 7, 2013

MMA Contenders and Pretenders Who Will Be Revealed in February

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    Mixed martial arts is back in full force in the month of February.

    The UFC has already put on one event, with Jose Aldo defending his featherweight crown against Frankie Edgar. The leader in MMA will return with two more events, and Bellator will keep up their weekly schedule as well.

    Fighters will try to position themselves to make runs in their respective divisions, and it all starts with having good showings this month. Between Bellator and the UFC, there are numerous fighters on the brink of laying claim to the top spot in their respective divisions.

    As February moves onward, these men will show themselves to be contenders or pretenders.

Contender: Gunnar Nelson

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    Gunnar Nelson made his UFC debut at UFC on Fuel TV: Struve vs. Miocic in September of last year. The highly-touted prospect made short work of DaMarques Johnson by submitting him via rear-naked choke in just over three-and-a-half minutes.

    Nelson is for real.

    He will be able to showcase just that when he takes on Jorge Santiago later this month. Santiago is a quality fighter who will push Nelson.

    The Icelandic prospect will pass the test and make waves at welterweight. The division just continues to get deeper and deeper, and this 24-year-old will put himself right into the thick of things with a win.

Pretender: Jimi Manuwa

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    Jimi Manuwa is another prospect who made his debut at UFC on Fuel TV: Struve vs. Miocic. After two rounds, the doctors halted the action, and he picked up the TKO victory over Kyle Kingsbury.

    Manuwa will take on Cyrille Diabaté next.

    The powerful light heavyweight may pass the test, but Diabaté will show some holes in his game that will have fans and pundits alike stepping off of his hype train.

    Manuwa has a lot of room to grow, and that will show against Diabaté. He will not have a quick rise up the ranks that some of the other light heavyweight prospects have seen.

Contender: Dustin Poirier

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    Dustin Poirier was on the precipice of getting a crack at Jose Aldo and the featherweight title before losing to Chan Sung Jung last year. Poirier then rebounded with an impressive showing against former The Ultimate Fighter winner Jonathan Brookins.

    He will be taking on Cub Swanson in a big featherweight showdown this month.

    Look for Poirier to show why he was so close to a title shot last time with an impressive victory over Swanson. The win will put him back in the hunt for a title shot, but he will likely still be a win away from getting that chance.

    Poirier is one of the best 145-pound fighters in the world, without question, and that will be on full display in February.

Pretender: Cub Swanson

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    Cub Swanson is currently riding a three-fight win streak into his fight with Dustin Poirier, and those three wins have all been by TKO or KO. However, Poirier will out Swanson as a pretender.

    Swanson has looked fantastic in his last three outings. That includes two bouts with legitimate threats in the division in Ross Pearson and Charles Oliveira, but Swanson has faltered against the elite in every outing.

    Jose Aldo took care of him in eight seconds, Chad Mendes rode out a clear decision, and Ricardo Lamas finished him with an arm-triangle choke.

    Swanson has good strikes and a heavy hand. He is not out of this fight, but the more diverse and dynamic Poirier will prove that he is merely a gatekeeper to the upper echelon of the division.

Pretender: Douglas Lima

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    Douglas Lima has won 11 of his last 12 bouts, and he is the odds-on favorite to win the Bellator welterweight tournament. A rematch with champion Ben Askren is likely.

    His bout against Bryan Baker will show that he is a pretender, though.

    Lima may be working on his wrestling, and he will probably defeat Baker, but there will be nothing in that fight that will suggest that he won't be dominated by Askren for a second time.

    Askren is head and shoulders above the entire Bellator welterweight group, and there is no legitimate contender in the organization for him. If there was a different champion, perhaps Lima would be a contender, but against Askren, everyone is merely playing for second place.

Pretenders: Shahbulat Shamhalaev & Rad Martinez

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    Shahbulat Shamhalaev and Rad Martinez are two fine fighters, but it does not matter who wins this fight. Neither fighter is a match for Pat Curran.

    That will be obvious while watching their battle to determine who gets the next crack at the Bellator featherweight champion.

    Curran is just another Bellator champion without a top contender who can challenge him. The only way that he can lose to either of these fighters is by not taking them seriously. Shamhalaev and Martinez are not currently on that level yet.

    It will be interesting to watch them grow as fighters, but as of right now, they are pretenders to the crown.

Contender: Muhammed Lawal

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    "King" Mo Lawal does not even have to win this fight to prove he is a contender in Bellator's light heavyweight division. He is clearly the best fighter they have at 205 pounds.

    However, he is not champion yet.

    "King" Mo returned from a long layoff with a win over Przemyslaw Mysiala, and will likely only look better in his next fight against Emanuel Newton.

    Lawal's dispatching of Newton will show Bellator fans just how good Lawal is, and that he will become the Bellator champion in quick order after he wins the light heavyweight tournament.

    Christian M'Pumbu's days as champion are numbered.

Contender: Urijah Faber

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    The last five losses of Urijah Faber's career have all come in championship bouts, and do not look for that to change against Ivan Menjivar. Faber will win this fight and will try to make another run up the bantamweight ladder.

    Faber was close to solving the riddle of Dominick Cruz at UFC 132, but Cruz was ahead of the curve on that night. After defeating Brian Bowles, he got a crack at the interim championship, where Renan Barao bested him.

    Faber may be past his prime, but he is still a threat at 135 pounds, and anyone who says otherwise is wrong.

    Faber has all the skill to become UFC champion, and he will defeat Menjivar at UFC 157.

Contender: Chad Mendes

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    After being knocked out by Jose Aldo, Chad Mendes has reeled off two magnificent KO performances. Now, he will battle with Manny Gamburyan at UFC 157.

    Mendes was doing well in the fight against Aldo until the knee landed flush, and he is clearly one of the top featherweights in the world.

    Cody McKenzie and Yaotzin Meza were no match for Mendes, but those bouts were still great comeback fights for Mendes. Gamburyan, on the other hand, is a former title challenger himself and poses some interesting problems for Mendes.

    Mendes will pass the test in Gamburyan and look the part of the second best featherweight.

Contender: Dan Henderson

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    If not for an injury, Dan Henderson would already have had a shot at UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones, but now, he is going up against another potential contender in Lyoto Machida.

    The UFC 157 co-main event is a compelling fight that is evenly matched. Either man could come out on top, but it is Henderson who is likely to do more on the judge's scorecards to win the fight.

    Henderson is also one of a select few who Jones has not destroyed. Machida is not a part of that group, and that will also weigh heavily on the decision of who gets next.

    The former PRIDE and Strikeforce champion is an all-time great. We know he is a contender, and at UFC 157, he will continue to prove that he is a threat to the win the title.