Since we've hit the halftime mark of 2013, it's time to take a breather and reflect. Time to eat some orange wedges. Time to assess the MMA prospects who have the biggest chance to break through in the second half of the year.
Here's my top 10. No UFC or Bellator fighters allowed. These are not necessarily the fighters with the highest upside, but those who are most ready to step under the banner of one of the two aforementioned promotions before we drop the ball in Times Square. Which is an overrated event, by the way.
The list is ranked and weighted based on how close I think they are, overall ability and "star power" and, to a lesser extent, the UFC and Bellator's divisional needs. And in the interest of transparency and accountability, I'll take a look back at these 10 at the end of the year to see whether I was right. No whistle-blowing needed.
Not familiar with these names and games? I got you covered with fight videos for each guy.
The Nova Uniao flyweight has never met a man he didn't want to choke out with extreme prejudice. Eleven of his wins came in that fashion, with seven occurring in the first round.
The flip side is that his stand-up game is more about defense and setting up takedowns than anything else, though it's certainly not disgraceful. I'd call him a younger, more aggressive, less polished and perhaps slightly slower version of teammate Jussier Formiga.
Lopes hasn't faced top-notch competition and may not get fast-tracked to the top right away, but he would add immediate depth to perhaps the shallowest division in big-time MMA.
Promotion: Score Fighting Series
The best bantamweight in Canada and just about anywhere else is a powerful wrestler and clever self-promoter. The fact that he resembles a mini-Josh Barnett just about cinches up that comparison (though he's not as submission-minded).
The last time anyone heard from the "Gentleman," he was on his way to Las Vegas to try out for the The Ultimate Fighter. Hmmm...
Promotion: Maximum Fighting Championship
Speaking of The Ultimate Fighter, Mutapcic has knocked off two TUF alums in a row in Joseph Henle and Sam Alvey. He actually ruptured Henle's knee with a leg kick. Good God! Check it out in the video. Woo, injuries!
Division: Light heavyweight
Max Nunes hasn't faced great competition, but hasn't really been challenged, either. The Swede—who had my vote to replace countryman Alexander Gustafsson against Gegard Mousasi at UFC on Fuel 9—throws heavy artillery and has finished everyone who has joined him in the cage. He's only left the first round twice.
Division: Light heavyweight
Promotion: World Series of Fighting
He sure ain't a prospect in kickboxing, but for now he retains that status in an MMA context.
For a while, it was uncertain when or even if Tyrone Spong would return to the MMA cage after an emphatic knockout victory in his debut at WSOF 1. But recently fans got good news when Spong announced his next WSOF fight—and his plan to continue pursuing mixed martial arts.
By the time he returns from a shoulder injury in late summer or fall, Aljamain Sterling will have been on the shelf for a year or longer. But there's no reason to think the cerebral submission grappler won't pick up where he left off. He won his last two fights in 2012 by rear-naked choke.
Promotion: Vale Tudo Japan
Now this one just stumps me. As mentioned, the flyweight division is slim pickins. Why must the former Tachi Palace Fights beltholder continue to wander the promotional hinterlands? You can plug the well-rounded young man right in at the top of the division, if you ask me.
Don't let the boyish visage fool you. The "Super Boy" hits like a truck. He's young at 22 and looks even younger, but he's dynamic and could follow in fellow Korean Chan Sung Jung's zombieesque footsteps.
Yes, the UFC and Bellator are both pretty well-stocked at featherweight, but Choi may be too exciting to pass up.
Super Boy kept it rolling just last week, when he earned his fifth consecutive KO victory with his brutalization of Shoji Maruyama.
Promotion: Cage Warriors
I'm not going to lie: I'm a little upset right now. After he defended his Cage Warriors title with a TKO of UFC veteran Che Mills earlier this month, I was sure Pendred, an Irishman who was born in Boston, would be added to the UFC's Fox Sports 1 event later this summer in Beantown.
But the metaphorical phone never rang. Why? The best welterweight in Europe is well-rounded, thanks in part to his work with Gunnar Nelson, Conor McGregor and others at the SBG Ireland gym. He hasn't lost in three years. He's a very large, very tough welterweight with a velcro clinch and knockout power. And if McGregor is any indication, Ireland moves the needle. Seriously. What am I missing?
Promotion: Resurrection Fighting Alliance
If the four-time All-American wrestler takes care of business on Friday and takes the RFA title from Jared Downing, the clock will officially be ticking toward Lance Palmer's big-league MMA signing. That's especially true given that the charismatic Team Alpha Male dweller is in an unabashed feeder league in RFA. This one solves itself.