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MMA Contenders and Pretenders That Will Be Revealed in July

Nathan McCarterFeatured ColumnistJuly 5, 2013

MMA Contenders and Pretenders That Will Be Revealed in July

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    July will not be light on MMA action.

    The UFC brings forth two shows, and other promotions such as Bellator and Invicta will also be bringing events to your television screens. There will be plenty of talent to keep an eye on for the remainder of the month.

    Some of these fighters are on the cusp of breaking through and showing themselves to be worthy of title consideration, some are challenging for gold and some will be exposed in their upcoming bouts.

    These are the fighters who will show themselves to be contenders or pretenders in the month of July.

Pretenders: Bellator's Title Challengers

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    Bellator's Summer Series will feature one card and two title fights in July. Unfortunately, neither title challenger is a true contender.

    David Rickels was the winner of the previous lightweight tournament, and he will square off against Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler. Also, welterweight tournament winner Andrey Koreshkov will battle with Ben Askren for the gold.

    Both Rickels and Koreshkov have outstanding records. However, neither have faced top-flight competition such as Chandler and Askren.

    Each Bellator champion will put on a dominant performance. It will highlight how thin Bellator's divisions are, and it will sadden most fans realizing we won't get to see these champions challenged all that much due to that fact.

Contender: Joanne Calderwood

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    Joanne Calderwood is a perfect 6-0 in her young fighting career, and she will step inside the Invicta cage for the third time later this month.

    Sarah Schneider was her original opponent, but she was replaced by Norma Rueda Center.

    This will be another fight where Calderwood will shine. She will punish Center. It will put the rest of the division on notice that she is a contender to Carla Esparza's strawweight crown.

    There are still questions about Calderwood's game, but those are not going to be answered in this fight. They may not get to be answered until Calderwood meets Esparza in a future Invicta event. One thing is for sure: In the landscape of the division, Calderwood is not far off from challenging for the title.

Contender: Leslie Smith

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    Leslie Smith has fought on nearly every Invicta FC card. She has a 2-1-1 record with two Fight of the Night honors.

    Her most recent outing was a narrow split-decision loss to one of the top-ranked bantamweights in the world in Sarah Kaufman. Smith stunned many with how competitive she was in the stand-up against the striker, and she nearly pulled off the upset. Smith could have easily made the trek to the UFC following that fight.

    However, Smith signed a longer deal with Invicta at a new weight class.

    At Invicta FC 6, she drops to flyweight to battle Jennifer Maia.

    If she can compete with Kaufman, she can compete with anyone. At the new weight, she may only need two wins before challenging Barb Honchak for the strap. Smith will defeat Maia, and she will do so in convincing fashion.

Pretender: Robbie Lawler

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    Robbie Lawler made a triumphant return to the UFC and the welterweight division at UFC 157.

    Lawler stopped longtime contender Josh Koscheck in the first round. At UFC on Fox: Johnson vs. Moraga, he will square off against Siyar Bahadurzada.

    This is certainly a winnable fight for Lawler, but it puts him no closer to jumping up in the rankings. The welterweight division is cluttered with contender after contender, and Lawler simply is not there yet nor can he defeat them.

    Bahadurzada will give Lawler enough fits in this fight to show that he is not a legitimate contender in the division.

Contender: Cub Swanson

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    Cub Swanson, ranked No. 5, takes on sixth-ranked Dennis Siver at UFC 162. The two featherweights are seeking a key win in their attempts to join the title discussion.

    Swanson has already fought Jose Aldo. He lost in eight seconds. Aldo threw a flying knee, and Swanson's orbital bone paid the price.

    Swanson had mixed success until 2012. He went 3-0 during that year and tacked on another win in early 2013. Four straight wins have seen Swanson finally put all his tools together and become one of the most promising fighters in the division.

    Swanson's all-around game will shine against Siver. With five consecutive wins, Swanson will be pining for a shot at redemption against Aldo.

Contender: Charles Oliveira

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    Charles Oliveira has won two straight since making his featherweight debut, and then he missed weight before his bout against Cub Swanson. He was knocked out in that fight.

    Now he will have a chance to redeem himself against one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, Frankie Edgar.

    Edgar will be in his first non-title bout in a long time, and the No. 3-ranked featherweight is a sizable favorite. Oliveira will shock the world.

    Oliveira has the raw skills to compete with most everyone in the world at 145 pounds. He just has yet to showcase that against elite competition. He will do so against Edgar. Oliveira's stand-up is underrated, and on the mat he is one of the very best.

    After defeating Edgar, he will rocket up the rankings. He won't be very close to a title shot, but he will assert himself as a future contender in the division.

Pretender: Tim Kennedy

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    Tim Kennedy challenged for the Strikeforce middleweight championship twice but failed in both attempts. He enters the UFC looking to make a statement against Roger Gracie.

    He may do that, but he is certainly no contender in the organization.

    Losing to Jacare Souza and Luke Rockhold is nothing to be ashamed of, but those losses have shown that Kennedy is not an elite middleweight. His popularity will only take him so far. Kennedy has the skills to be a top-10 middleweight, but the division continues to get deeper and deeper.

    His bout at UFC 162 will temper the expectations.

Contender: Rory MacDonald

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    Rory MacDonald and Jake Ellenberger have been involved in a war of words, and they'll get to settle it in the cage later in July.

    MacDonald has won four straight in the division. A win against Ellenberger would undoubtedly make him the top contender in the division, and he will win this fight.

    The Canadian is arguably the top contender now, but GSP holding down the title makes a potential title fight complicated. Would the teammates fight one another? That question may be answered after this fight.

    MacDonald has looked exceptional in all of his UFC contests. He very well could be the next champion, but first things first against Ellenberger. MacDonald takes this fight since he is the better overall fighter.

Pretender: Jake Ellenberger

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    Jake Ellenberger is the No. 4-ranked welterweight, and he has won two straight inside the Octagon.

    Ellenberger gets a lot of looks because of his big power, but truthfully, he is not the fourth-best welterweight in the world. Rory MacDonald will expose him.

    Ellenberger has good victories on his resume, but he also has questionable performances, too. He beat Diego Sanchez in a three-round fight where he was gassing toward the end. Had that been a five-round bout, he could have been defeated.

    His cardio will have to be on point against the upper echelon of the division. GSP and company can take him into deep water and drown him.

    MacDonald is the better fighter between the two, and if he avoids the one-punch KO power, he will show the world that Ellenberger is not a true title contender. Ellenberger will end up becoming the top 10's gatekeeper after losing this fight.

Contender: Chris Weidman

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    Let's be perfectly clear—this is not a prediction that Chris Weidman will defeat Anderson Silva at UFC 162.

    However, Weidman will show himself to be a contender in this fight.

    Win or lose against Silva, this bout will help Weidman realize his full potential. Losses, especially against a fighter like Silva, help build fighters into champions. That is what this fight will do for Weidman.

    Weidman will show he can compete with Silva early on, and that may be enough to win the title. If it isn't, Weidman will get a lesson in championship-level fighting from Silva. That will help him rebuild himself following the fight into an even more scary fighter.

    The No. 1-ranked middleweight won't be outright exposed in this fight. He may lose, but he will be competitive and come back a better fighter following UFC 162.

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