The Best Fighters from the 1st Half of 2013

Jeremy BotterMMA Senior WriterJuly 14, 2013

The Best Fighters from the 1st Half of 2013

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    Time passes by so very quickly.

    It's hard to believe that we're already at the midpoint of 2013, but here we are. It's been a historic year for the UFC, culminating with the shocking defeat of longtime pound-for-pound kingpin Anderson Silva by Chris Weidman at UFC 162.

    With (slightly more than) six months of 2013 in the books, it's time to take a step back and figure out which fighters have been the best of the year so far.

    Let's take a look, shall we?

10. Glover Teixeira (2-0)

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    2013 record: 2-0

    Opponents defeated: Quinton Jackson, James Te Huna

    Folks used to say that Glover Teixeira was the best light heavyweight who nobody had ever heard of. 

    That's still true, to a certain extent. Teixeira gave his profile a nice boost by beating Quinton "Rampage" Jackson earlier this year, but his follow-up win over James Te Huna wasn't exactly the kind of fight that makes the fans stand up and take notice.

    Still, Teixeira is a formidable contender at 205 pounds. He's already ranked No. 3 in the division and will have a chance to move up a notch when he faces Ryan Bader in September.

    If Teixeira beats Bader and fights one more time before the end of the year—especially if he fights a top contender and wins as impressively as he has in many fights over the course of his career—he'll be in consideration for the top spot by the start of 2014.

     

9. Benson Henderson (1-0)

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    2013 record: 1-0

    Opponents defeated: Gilbert Melendez

    Benson Henderson was Bleacher Report's fighter of the year for 2012; he earned that honor by winning the UFC lightweight title and then defending it twice more before the calendar rolled into 2013. 

    Henderson will have a tough time repeating as the winner this year, though, because he's simply not as active as he was in 2012. He narrowly beat Gilbert Melendez to hang on to his title earlier this year in a fight many (myself included) gave to Melendez. And he'll face T.J. Grant in August.

    But even if Henderson defeats Grant—and if history is any indication, he'll do so by close decision—it's unlikely that he'll fight again in 2013. He can win the award with just two wins, but it makes it a whole lot tougher when he's up against others who have competed more often and finished fights in impressive fashion.

    Still, Henderson remains one of the best fighters in the world. 

8. Daniel Cormier (2-0)

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    2013 record: 2-0

    Opponents defeated: Dion Staring, Frank Mir

    Daniel Cormier went from prospect to contender by winning the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix. Only thing is, he'll never challenge for the UFC heavyweight title as long as training partner and friend Cain Velasquez holds the belt. 

    A drop to light heavyweight is possible, though Yahoo!'s Kevin Iole reported that Cormier could be settling his differences with Roy Nelson at UFC 166 in Houston. If Cormier beats Nelson (assuming that Nelson re-signs with the UFC instead of bolting for Bellator), it will give him a 3-0 record for 2013.

    And though his win over Dion Staring wasn't much to write home about, beating Frank Mir in his UFC debut was proof positive that Cormier is a contender in whichever division he ultimately calls his home. 

7. Urijah Faber (2-0)

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    2012 record: 2-0

    Opponents defeated: Ivan Menjivar, Scott Jorgensen

    Just when you think he's been knocked off the ladder, Urijah Faber finds a way to pick himself up, dust off his shorts (since he never wears shirts) and climb back to the top.

    Faber is undefeated in nontitle fights since 2008, but when the gold is on the line, he's lost five in a row. Few fighters would ever get another chance after losing three consecutive title fights; that Faber was given five shots is a testament to his popularity with the fans. He's easily the most well-known and loved fighter to compete below 155 pounds.

    After he came up short in his last opportunity against Renan Barao, most of us believed that it was his last chance. But then Faber beat Ivan Menjivar and Scott Jorgensen in less than eight weeks to kick off 2013.

    He now finds himself heading into a bout with the unheralded Yuri Alcantara at UFC on Fox in Boston, and a win could put him in the driver's seat to face whomever is left standing when champion Dominick Cruz and interim champ Barao square off. 

    That's in the future, though. For now, Faber keeps doing his thing, and with two submissions so far in 2013, Faber is assembling the kind of record that will earn him consideration for Fighter of the Year when 2013 draws to a close.

6. Jon Jones (1-0)

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    2013 record: 1-0

    Opponents defeated: Chael Sonnen

    Jones would be ranked higher this year if he'd faced a top-ranked light heavyweight instead of defending his title against Chael Sonnen in April. Sonnen isn't a bad fighter by any stretch of the imagination—in fact, he's quite good and isn't given enough credit by the media or fans—but he hadn't competed in the division in seven years and was coming off a loss to Anderson Silva.

    But Jones, now the top pound-for-pound fighter in the sport after Silva's loss to Weidman at UFC 162, has the chance to vault himself up the year-end version of this list when he faces Alexander Gustafsson in September. 

    Constantly derided by delusional fans for not facing opponents near his own size—despite the fact that he's competing in the same division as the guys he's facing—Jones now steps in the cage with a man who is nearly a perfect match for the champion's otherworldly reach.

    Gustafsson is also an excellent striker. Jones relishes the idea of attacking his opponents where they are the strongest, so don't be surprised when he elects to keep the fight standing instead of using his wrestling and nasty ground-and-pound. 

    It's very likely that Jones will beat Gustafsson. At the end of the year, he'll be in consideration for Fighter of the Year. And I'd expect that to continue for many years to come.

5. Ronda Rousey (1-0)

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    2013 record: 1-0

    Opponents defeated: Liz Carmouche

    Rousey has only competed once this year, but that one fight was historic. 

    Rousey's UFC 157 title defense against Liz Carmouche was the first female fight in UFC history. And on top of that, Rousey became a mainstream media darling; she was all over ESPN, CNN and every other news channel you can think of. 

    She faced adversity for the first time in her career against Carmouche, who secured a rear-naked choke on Rousey that appeared to be tight enough to finish the champ. Rousey remained calm and collected, then shook Carmouche off her back. She would go on to finish the fight just as she has every other bout in her career thus far: by armbar in the first round.

    Rousey won't compete again until December, when she faces nemesis Miesha Tate after the conclusion of the next season of The Ultimate Fighter. If Rousey wins—and she's a heavy favorite to do so—she'll only have two fights under her belt for the year. It'll be tough to give her consideration for the top spot when other fighters have competed more.

    But Rousey, as Dana White always loves to say, will be in the mix. And it's very likely that she'll be in that spot for years to come. 

4. Cub Swanson (2-0)

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    2013 record: 2-0

    Opponents defeated: Dustin Poirier, Dennis Siver

    When Cub Swanson lost by knockout to Jose Aldo in just eight seconds at WEC 41, the thought that he'd somehow work his way back for a rematch seemed unlikely.

    And yet, here we are. After losing to Ricardo Lamas in his UFC debut, Swanson has rattled off five consecutive victories, finishing four of those fights. He's morphed from also-ran into a legitimate title contender and could be the next man in line who attempts to knock Aldo from his lofty throne.

    It's not just the record, either. Swanson has improved all of his skills dramatically, to the point where you can't even compare the fighter he is now to the one he was the first time he faced Aldo. He mixes pinpoint striking and power with excellent grappling; both were on display during his UFC 162 win against Dennis Siver. 

    Swanson may face Aldo (or Chan-Sung Jung, should the Korean Zombie find a way to score a historic upset). He may face Ricardo Lamas, the last man to defeat him. Or perhaps he'll face someone else while waiting for the dust to settle. 

    No matter what happens, you can be sure of two things: Swanson will be competitive against anyone in the division, and he'll be entertaining while doing so. 

3. T.J. Grant (2-0)

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    2013 record: 2-0

    Opponents defeated: Matt Wiman, Gray Maynard

    Like a hurricane forming with zero warning, T.J. Grant elevated himself to the top of the lightweight echelon in 2013.

    He started out the year as a curiosity, but after two wins over Matt Wiman and Gray Maynard, Grant has established himself as the UFC's top lightweight not named Benson Henderson. And Grant has a chance in August to secure a place as the absolute best if he's able to dethrone Henderson at UFC 163.

    We knew Grant was tough, and the fight with Wiman proved it. But it was his quick TKO win over Maynard—a perennial title contenderthat secured Grant's place in the UFC pecking order (and earned him a title shot, to boot).

    I don't know that Grant will beat Henderson. But I do know that for all he's done in 2013, Grant certainly deserves this position in our midyear awards.

2. Vitor Belfort (2-0)

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    I've been quite vocal in my criticism of Vitor Belfort, mostly because of the infamous TRT thing.

    I had a problem with Belfort injecting himself with pure testosterone and then refusing to talk about it when questioned by the media. In fact, Belfort spoke openly of beating up a reporter (the extremely hard-working John Morgan from MMAjunkie.com) when asked about his TRT regimen following his knockout win over Luke Rockhold. 

    But Belfort has opened up about his need for testosterone since then. And while I still do not believe that Belfort (or anyone else, for that matter) should be on something that amounts to legalized cheating, I do believe that honesty is the best policy, and it appears that Belfort is being honest.

    With that opening statement out of the way, let me make another: Vitor Belfort is putting together a banner year, and he deserves the No. 2 slot on this list.

    With highlight-reel knockout wins over top contenders Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold, Belfort has re-established himself as a middleweight title challenger in the UFC.

    It wasn't just that Belfort beat Bisping and Rockhold; it was the way he did it. Belfort used a second-round knockout over Bisping and a first-round wheel kick over Rockhold to put himself back in the conversation. And with Anderson Silva's loss to Chris Weidman at UFC 162, Belfort suddenly finds himself in the catbird seat in the division—particularly if Weidman defeats Silva a second time next February. 

    I'd like to see him do it without TRT, but that may not be an option any more. So long as Belfort is randomly tested by the UFC during training camp and keeps his testosterone levels in the normal range, he's gaining no real advantage by taking it.

    If he fails a PED test, I'll be singing an entirely different tune. But for now, Belfort deserves his place.

1. Chris Weidman (1-0)

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    2013 record: 1-0

    Opponents defeated: Anderson Silva

    For his historic win over Anderson Silva at UFC 162, Weidman earns the highest place on our list.

    Yes, he's just 1-0 in 2013 thus far. But the truth of the matter is that Weidman defeated Silva.

    Let me repeat that: Weidman defeated Anderson Silva.

    And he didn't just defeat him; he knocked out the reigning pound-for-pound king, wresting control of the UFC middleweight championship and making history in the process.

    As reported by UFC.com, Dana White announced the rematch date of December 28 on SportsCenter.

    Even though he's not quite as active as other fighters on this list, there's zero doubt in my mind that Weidman deserves this consideration.