MMA's Biggest Winners from 1st Half of 2013

Dan HiergesellFeatured ColumnistJuly 10, 2013

MMA's Biggest Winners from 1st Half of 2013

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    The first half of the MMA season has reared its beautiful head and given fight fans something to chat about for seven complete months.

    From Chris Weidman's recent upset victory over one of the greatest fighters of all time to Viacom's vast expansion over the past few months, the world of combat sports has officially changed forever.

    But through all the knockouts, media-driven headlines, toe-to-toe championship battles and unpredicted outcomes, who are truly the biggest winners from the first stint of 2013?

    Look no further.

Junior dos Santos

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    Junior dos Santos had a lot of explaining to do after being rag dolled around the Octagon at the hands of current UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez at UFC 155.

    As one of the UFC's biggest draws, especially in Brazil, Dos Santos needed to rebound in fashion to reassure fight fans that a second rematch with Velasquez was imminent.

    Well, with monstrous punches and one sensational spinning heel kick, the 28-year-old reclaimed heavyweight glory by knocking out a red hot Mark Hunt at UFC 160.

    The victory propelled Dos Santos into a rematch with the champ later this year and solidified his spot as the hands down No. 1 contender in the division.

Chael Sonnen

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    Sure Chael Sonnen lost his most recent title bout opposite pound-for-pound great Jon Jones at UFC 159, but the fact that he got a title shot in the first place is downright impressive.

    For the majority of his career, Sonnen has utilized power wrestling and toughness to fight his way to the top.  But over the past few years the outspoken "American Gangsta" has talked his way into vastly lucrative opportunities.

    This year was no different from the last as the 36-year-old weaseled his way into a light heavyweight championship battle with one of the best fighters in the world.

    He may have lost, and lost bad, but Sonnen's year is just getting started.  He was able to cash in against "Bones" back in April and will now headline UFC on Fox Sports 1 opposite Mauricio "Shogun" Rua next month.  Yet another chance for him to entertain the glorified lights of the media and reap the benefits of another bolstered payday.

    Not to mention he recently married his longtime girlfriend.

Stipe Miocic

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    In a blink of an eye, Stipe Miocic regained the divisional momentum he lost following his fight with Stefan Struve by practically running his way through Roy Nelson at UFC 161.

    Coming into the bout, Miocic was heavily overlooked considering Nelson's power and most recent winning streak, but through precision and persistence, the 30-year-old pulled out the victory.

    The win not only put Miocic back in the discussion for future title contenders in the heavyweight division, but the spotlighted fight opposite a name like "Big Country" allowed the 30-year-old to embrace global exposure.

    All in all, 2013 has been a good year for Miocic.

TJ Grant

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    Whether he looks the part or not, TJ Grant is the UFC lightweight division's new top threat. 

    After dismantling Gray Maynard at UFC 160 like a slow-ticking time bomb, the Canadian received the best news possible; he'll be getting the next title shot against Benson Henderson.

    Grant's body of work may not stack up against some other fighters in the division, but it's been his recent destruction of some of the best gamers in the sport that has sparked people's interest.

    His bout with "Smooth" is set to take place in late August, but it's been his two victories (Grant and Matt Wiman) thus far that has really made 2013 a year to remember.

Chan-Sung Jung

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    People have been grumbling for a Jose Aldo vs. Chan-Sung Jung title fight for some time now, but the featherweight division was just too top heavy to make that dream a reality.

    Well, after an injury to divisional jumper Anthony Pettis knocked him out of his title shot against Aldo, guess who stepped in?

    With one swift move "The Korean Zombie" walked his way into a championship opportunity.  The kicker is that he hasn't fought in nearly 14 months.

    But with a devilish chin and sick submissions, Jung has what it takes to push the champ to the brink.  Let's just hope he stays healthy for UFC 163.

Kelvin Gastelum

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    In what many consider the greatest upset in the history of The Ultimate Fighter, Kelvin Gastelum stole a decision victory from sensational striker and polarizing standout Uriah Hall back in April.

    Gastelum wasn't being overlooked, but after Hall battered and bruised every opponent he faced on the show, the young kid seemingly didn't have what it was going to take.

    Well, with great wrestling, controlling grappling and outstanding conditioning, Gastelum proved that hard work, preparation and an overall ground game is all you need to stifle a shifty and unorthodox striker.

    Kudos, kid.

Chris Weidman

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    Words can not express the uneasy and unnatural feeling each and every fight fan experienced in the pit of their stomach when Chris Weidman landed that infamous left hook to put Anderson Silva to sleep at UFC 162.

    It was unbelievable then, and it's unbelievable now.  Not necessarily because Weidman didn't possess the elite level skill set to defeat a legend, but more so because he did it while playing into Silva's mind games.

    Call it luck, call it a fluke, call it fixed, call it what you will, the kid from Long Island, N.Y. is now the new UFC middleweight champion.  That's something truly spectacular and an outcome that Nostradamus himself couldn't predict.

Women's MMA

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    It's always important to understand the social and ethical impact of a movement like women's MMA.

    In just under a year, UFC president Dana White had gone from never wanting a women's division to pushing one of the most promoted title fights of all time; a historic showdown between well-known submission expert Ronda Rousey and hard-nosed Liz Carmouche.

    It was Rousey's opportunity to live up to her hype, take part in a gigantic moment in MMA history and carry the legacy of women's combat sports into the future.

    She did all of that as she secured her seventh straight first-round armbar, which is something that has become more predictable than the sun setting in the West.

    Regardless, "Rowdy" vs. Carmouche was trendsetting and will only help build the sport as a whole.

Viacom

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    From signing Quinton "Rampage" Jackson to creating a rival reality TV show on Spike known as Fight Master, Bellator, which is owned by Viacom, has started their ascend up the MMA mountain.

    For years people have been wondering if a company could challenge the likes of the UFC.  Was there a company capable of matching the MMA juggernaut punch for punch when it comes to promotions, talent and money?  Could they stay afloat and make a name for themselves?

    In the past year, led by growing tournaments, professional fighters, explosive finishes and now headline free-agent signings, Bellator has started to make their mark.

    Whether you think the UFC should stand alone or not, it's truly impressive to see a company break ground within such a close-knit circuit.

The UFC

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    Despite losing Anderson Silva as their perennial champion, the UFC has experienced a very promising start to the 2013 campaign.

    Whether it's been the lack of key injuries, absorbing Strikeforce's talent pool, The Ultimate Fighter's new look, championship defenses and passes of the torch or president Dana White beating Meniere's disease for the foreseeable future, the last seven months have been lavishing.

    As long as they can prolong their stacked cards, successfully transition to the Fox Sports 1 network and assure fight fans that Silva isn't losing his championships prowess anytime soon, then 2013 will be one of the more complete years for the biggest organization in MMA.

     

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