Fighter of the Year Watch: June 2013 Edition

Sean SmithAnalyst IJune 3, 2013

Fighter of the Year Watch: June 2013 Edition

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    At UFC 160, Cain Velasquez became the eighth different UFC champion to defend his title in 2013. In doing so, Velasquez joined the race for the 2013 Fighter of the Year award.

    However, by beating an opponent in Antonio Silva who he had just defeated 12 months earlier, Velasquez left the door open for other fighters to surpass him. Likewise, champions Jon Jones and Georges St-Pierre defended their belts against opponents who had lost in their prior appearances, making their 2013 victories less impressive than those of even some non-champions.  

    Based on number of wins and quality of opposition, here are the top five candidates for Fighter of the Year heading into June 2013.

5. Cain Velasquez

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    2013 Record: 1-0

    Wins: Antonio Silva

     

    In a way, Cain Velasquez is holding himself back in the 2013 Fighter of the Year race by being so much better than most UFC heavyweights.

    After regaining the heavyweight title by beating Junior dos Santos at UFC 155, Velasquez's biggest threat was considered to be Alistair Overeem. When Overeem was upset by Antonio Silva, Velasquez was left with a rematch that he was expected to dominate.

    In beating Silva in the first round, Velasquez deserves some credit for doing the predictable in a heavyweight division that can be anything but that. However, he'll need to win a rubber match with dos Santos to receive any real consideration for Fighter of the Year in 2013.

4. T.J. Grant

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    2013 Record: 2-0

    Wins: Gray Maynard and Matt Wiman

     

    T.J. Grant has taken the lightweight division by storm.

    After only being able to achieve mixed success in the welterweight division, Grant has take his game to a whole other level at 155 pounds. With first-round beatdowns of Gray Maynard and Matt Wiman, Grant has emerged as the top contender in the lightweight class.

    If he can find a way to beat Benson Henderson later on in 2013, Grant could win Fighter of the Year in a shocker.  

3. Vitor Belfort

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    2013 Record: 2-0

    Wins: Luke Rockhold and Michael Bisping

     

    While T.J. Grant has been excellent in 2013, there's no doubt Vitor Belfort has been the most impressive non-champion over the past five months.

    The Brazilian has faced two opponents who likely would have earned a title shot by beating him. However, Belfort disposed of those two men, Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold, with spectacular head kicks. 

    If he gets a shot at the middleweight championship before the end of 2013, Belfort might be one more win away from Fighter of the Year honors.

2. Benson Henderson

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    2013 Record: 1-0

    Wins: Gilbert Melendez

     

    Due to the controversial nature of his victory over Gilbert Melendez at UFC on Fox 7, many will likely debate Benson Henderson's position as one of the leaders in the 2013 Fighter of the Year race. 

    Nonetheless, Henderson successfully defended his belt against one of the most dangerous UFC title challengers of the past five months. A former Strikeforce champion, Melendez has probably been the most deserving top contender in a year where some questionable title shots have been granted.

    While Henderson squeaked by in his only appearance thus far in 2013, a more decisive win over T.J. Grant in the coming months would cement the lightweight champion as one of the leading candidates for Fighter of the Year by the time December rolls around.

1. Jose Aldo

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    2013 Record: 1-0

    Wins: Frankie Edgar

     

    Although Jose Aldo has only won once in 2013, his victory came in what was arguably the biggest fight of the past five months.

    It wasn't a superfight by definition, but Aldo's bout with former lightweight titleholder Frankie Edgar had feel of a champion vs. champion matchup. After all, many believed Edgar should have been the UFC lightweight titleholder following a narrow decision loss in a rematch with Benson Henderson.

    Though Edgar very well could have been the champion at 155 pounds, Aldo defended his 145-pound belt from "The Answer" in an impressive showing.