15 MMA Fighters That Are on the Brink of Title Contention

Andrew SaundersCorrespondent IIApril 15, 2013

15 MMA Fighters That Are on the Brink of Title Contention

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    In mixed martial arts, fighters ascend and fall from the divisional ladder on a regular basis. For every Junior dos Santos who has gotten to the top of the mountain, there are 15 Rick Storys or Nate Marquardts who could never quite get there.

    The title scene during the current UFC climate is exciting in several divisions, as new contenders are poised to break through all over the place. 

    Here is a look at 15 UFC fighters who are on the brink of title contention.

    Author's Notes:

    This slideshow is designed to shine light on fighters who are on the cusp of earning title shots and becoming surefire title contenders. Fighters who have previously competed for a UFC championship are not eligible to be in this list.

    All references to divisional rankings are based on the official UFC rankings.

Daniel Cormier

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    After winning the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix, Daniel Cormier was essentially able to write his own ticket into the UFC, and that's exactly what he did.

    With teammate Cain Velasquez winning the UFC heavyweight championship only weeks before the final Strikeforce card, Cormier was able to call out not one, but two of the UFC's top stars in January, and he did so in two different weight classes.

    If Cormier defeats former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir on Saturday night, he is widely expected to challenge Jon Jones for the light heavyweight title later this year.

Cub Swanson

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    Beginning with a December 2007 loss to Jens Pulver, featherweight Cub Swanson fell far from title contention after a disappointing 4-4 stretch. In two of those losses, Swanson was finished by his opponent in less than 40 seconds of the opening round.

    However, it appears that the dark days are behind him, as the California native is currently enjoying a four-fight winning streak that includes victories against notables Dustin Poirier, Charles Oliveira, Ross Pearson and George Roop.

    Currently, Swanson is the No. 5 contender according to the UFC, and at UFC 162, he will attempt to extend his streak by taking out No. 6 contender Dennis Siver. A victory will give Swanson the longest winning streak for any ranked featherweight not named Jose Aldo.

Sarah McMann

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    At UFC 159, Zuffa welcomes the debut of undefeated fighter and Olympic silver-medalist Sara McMann. With a professional record of 6-0, the wrestler enters the Octagon in hopes of shutting down Sheila Gaff on the FX preliminary card.

    Many believe that McMann should have been included in the conversation regarding the next opponent for reigning champion Ronda Rousey. A win in this fight should put McMann next in line for a title shot. However, she has some waiting to do.

    In the event that Cat Zingano comes down with an injury, McMann is a likely replacement for a title shot following The Ultimate Fighter 18.

Mark Hunt

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    At the end of 2010, Mark Hunt was on the business end of a six-fight skid. Less than 30 months later, The Super Samoan is one of the most inspiring stories in mixed martial arts.

    Hunt refused to have his contract bought out after the UFC purchased PRIDE because he wanted to fight for his money. It turned out to be the best decision of his career, as the K-1 champion is on a four-fight winning streak and is one more away from fighting for the UFC heavyweight title.

    Hunt takes on Junior dos Santos in the co-main event of UFC 160 on May 25. This matchup nearly took place with the title on the line at UFC 146 due to the contagious Rally For Hunt campaign.

Rory MacDonald

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    Before this slide starts, let's not forget that MacDonald's teammate Georges St-Pierre faces a very stiff challenge in the form of heavy-handed wrestler Johnny Hendricks. Rory has openly stated that he will not fight GSP, so his title shot is entirely dependent on an upset from "Big Rigg."

    Rory MacDonald has long been viewed as one of the hottest prospects at 170 pounds and is currently riding the momentum of four consecutive wins. Among those victories are wins over former champion B.J. Penn and recent contender Nate Diaz.

    These wins have MacDonald sitting as the No. 3 contender according to the UFC rankings. However, I just don't see it. The biggest wins of MacDonald's career came against natural lightweights competing out of their optimal division, and his others were against unranked opponents.

    MacDonald has the chance to truly prove himself at UFC on Fox 8 when he takes on Jake Ellenberger. A win in that contest could see MacDonald challenge for the belt in 2013..

Jake Ellenberger

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    Speaking of Jake Ellenberger, it's time that we take a look at the title credentials of "The Juggernaut."

    Ellenberger has been on the cusp of a welterweight title bout ever since he knocked out contender Jake Shields in only 53 seconds. With victories in eight of his last nine fights, Ellenberger's only loss since 2009 came in a stoppage that was listed as one of the worst referee calls of 2012.

    At UFC on Fox 8, Ellenberger looks to record win No. 30 of his professional career against Rory MacDonald. It's not an easy task to defeat MacDonald, but with excellent wrestling, explosive striking and the power to KO a freight train, Ellenberger certainly has the tools to get the job done.

Rosi Sexton

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    Although a natural flyweight, at UFC 161, Rosi Sexton makes her return to 135 pounds in order to fight in the UFC. Winning eight of her last nine bouts, "The Surgeon" boasts a professional record of 13-2 heading into a matchup with Alexis Davis.

    Some feel that Davis is on the verge of a title shot herself. However, with a 2012 loss to No. 2-ranked Sarah Kaufman, the "Ally-Gator" is still a couple of wins away from getting to the top of the contention ladder. 

    Sexton isn't ranked, but a win against the No. 5 bantamweight would certainly move her into a very enviable spot.

Korean Zombie

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    Affectionately known to fans as "The Korean Zombie," we might as well start calling Chan Sung Jung "the human highlight reel". When he isn't bringing new submissions into the UFC, he is getting into the record books with a seven-second knockout against a recent title contender. 

    Jung has twice been part of a Fight of the Year and currently enjoys a three-fight win streak against the likes of Mark Hominick and Dustin Poirier.

    At UFC 162, Jung squares off against Ricardo Lamas in a fight that is widely expected to be a title eliminator.

Ricardo Lamas

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    If the UFC wants to give a tune-up fight to a potential title contender, they probably shouldn't book him against Ricardo Lamas. 

    When Hatsu Hioki requested another fight inside the Octagon before challenging Jose Aldo for the belt, he was booked against Lamas and upset after three rounds of action.

    In January, Lamas was booked against Erik Koch, a fighter who missed out on a title shot due to an ill-timed injury. In a one-sided matchup, Lamas knocked out a bloodied Koch during the second round and now finds himself as the No. 2 contender according to UFC rankings.

    At UFC 162, Lamas takes on The Korean Zombie in a hotly anticipated title eliminator.

T.J. Grant

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    Of everyone in today's list of title contenders, T.J. Grant is certainly the dark horse of the bunch. However, due to his stellar showings since dropping down to lightweight, the jiu-jitsu wizard is deserving of a mention.

    With a 4-0 record at 155 pounds, Grant surprised many when he upset highly regarded fighters Evan Dunham and Matt Wiman.

    At UFC 160, Grant faces the biggest challenge of his career in the form of Gray Maynard. With Maynard's history of success against top lightweights, "The Bully" is a 2-to-1 favorite over Grant, and rightfully so. However, should Grant pull off an upset against the No. 3 contender, there is no denying his worthiness to a crack at the lightweight title.

Demian Maia

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    As a rule, I was not going to include anyone on this list who has already competed for a UFC championship. That would disqualify Demian Maia from contention due to his UFC 112 bout with Anderson Silva.

    That being said, Maia has looked spectacular since dropping to welterweight, dominating in performances against ranked fighters Jon Fitch, Rick Story and Dong Hyun Kim.

    Maia is now the No. 5 contender to champion Georges St-Pierre. His next move is undecided. However, he is closely ranked to Carlos Condit, Martin Kampmann and Nick Diaz, who are all without fights. Perhaps a scrap with one of those fighters could be next.

Luke Rockhold

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    For the longest time, the middleweight division of Strikeforce was considered to be one of the strongest in the promotion. Homegrown talent like Ronaldo Souza, Tim Kennedy and Luke Rockhold highlighted the roster.

    Rockhold was the final champion in promotional history and closed out his Strikeforce career after a pair of successful title defenses. However, unlike Gilbert Melendez, he was not given an immediate title shot after moving into the UFC.

    In May, Rockhold headlines UFC on FX 8 against former champion Vitor Belfort. If victorious in the surefire thrill ride, Rockhold is expected to meet the winner of UFC 162's Anderson Silva vs. Chris Weidman bout.

Alexander Gustafsson

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    Knowing now what we do about the injury sustained by Gegard Mousasi before UFC on FUEL 9, if Swedish fighter Alexander Gustafsson had been allowed to compete on the card, the deck would have been stacked in his favor.

    Gustafsson has won his last six bouts inside the Octagon, including wins over Shogun Rua and Thiago Silva. Currently, he is ranked as the No. 2 contender to Jon Jones and the UFC light heavyweight title.

    With Gustafsson recently calling out Lyoto Machida, there is a solid likelihood that the fighters will clash in a title eliminator in early summer.

Glover Teixeira

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    The hype behind Glover Teixeira was tremendous at the end of 2012. After Teixeira butchered Fabio Maldonado in October, UFC president Dana White told the press that Teixeira needed a win over a top guy before getting a shot at the light heavyweight title.

    Shortly after, Teixeira was booked for a matchup with former UFC champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson in a fight dominated by the Brazilian. Glover was unable to secure a finish in the bout, and it was only the second time that he had been to the judge's scorecard since 2005.

    An injury to Ryan Bader certainly diminished the notoriety of Teixeira's next opponent, as unranked James Te Huna was tapped as a replacement. The two square off at UFC 160 in an important divisional matchup.

Fabricio Werdum

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    Out of sight, out of mind.

    Many fans seem to overlook heavyweight Fabricio Werdum when talking about contenders in the UFC heavyweight division. Maybe that's because the Brazilian's last fight came on the least-watched UFC event since The Ultimate Fighter debuted.

    However, Werdum's only loss in nearly five years came via decision in a bout against Alistair Overeem, where he outlanded the K-1 champion in significant strikes in two of the three rounds.

    "Vai Cavalo" is currently coaching TUF: Brasil 2 opposite Antonio "Minotauro" Nogueira. In June, the heavyweights clash in a 2006 rematch.

    Werdum is the No. 2 contender to Cain Velasquez according to the official UFC rankings, and a win over Big Nog should cement his place as the next man in line.