10 Fighters Who Will Dominate MMA in 2014

Dan HiergesellFeatured ColumnistJuly 19, 2013

10 Fighters Who Will Dominate MMA in 2014

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    Every year more fighters leave their mark on mixed martial arts and demonstrate why they should be considered the best of the best.

    That's why MMA is so great.  The evolution of the sport not only excels in respect to its growing fanbase and expanding bank accounts but also to the steady wave of newly updated superstars who hit the sport's shores ever so often.

    It allows fans to see the growth of a sport that's really only 10 years deep.  Organizations like the UFC and Bellator bank on these tidal forces to ensure the future of their businesses.

    On the back of key fighters—new or old—these ginormous companies are able to sit back, take a deep breath and watch the mayhem unfold before their very eyes.

    With that said, here are 10 fighters who will dominate MMA in 2014 and prolong the sport's success.

10. Pat Curran

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    Fairly overlooked in respect to other featherweights in the world, Bellator champion Pat Curran is steadily making his move to the top core of planetary competitors.

    Still only 25 years of age, Curran has not only captured a world title, but he has impressively pieced together a 12-2 record since 2009.  That type of production should not be taken lightly.

    But regardless of Curran's inability to get mentioned alongside the likes of UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo and former top contender Frankie Edgar, his overall skill set still excels at all levels.

    With a great chin, outstanding discipline, solid wrestling and the capability of finishing a fight anywhere, Bellator's unsung hero may in fact be the most well-rounded 145-pound threat there is.

9. Gilbert Melendez

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    After losing one of the closest UFC championship fights of all time opposite Benson Henderson back in April, lightweight beast Gilbert Melendez is hungry for a second shot.

    While the former Strikeforce standout is good enough now to take on Henderson in a rematch, he'll have to wait his turn in a crowded lightweight division.

    That means that once Melendez gets past Diego Sanchez at UFC 166, he'll be all set up to reek havoc in 2014 en route to another title shot.

    Many people still consider Melendez the best in his respective weight class and for good reason.  The guy is a cold-blooded killer inside the cage.

8. Johny Hendricks

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    The stars are starting to align for welterweight top contender Johny Hendricks.

    For one, he's finally getting his shot at UFC champion and pound-for-pound legend Georges St-Pierre.  Happening to catch GSP at the perfect time in his career is just a sweetened add-on for Hendricks.

    The fact of the matter is that if "Bigg Rigg" can use his power and wrestling skills to attack St-Pierre early, he should have what it takes to finish a champion who has been ridiculed in the past for having an average chin.

    That's assuming Hendricks' raw strength can subdue the technique and versatility of St-Pierre's entire game. 

    But if the 29-year-old can do what he's done over the past two years, GSP will become the newest member of Anderson Silva's "what just happened?" club. 

    After that, 2014 will be the year of the left hand.

7. Michael Chandler

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    At this point in his career, Michael Chandler needs to be considered a top five lightweight in the world.

    He's undefeated at 11-0, has finished nine of those bouts by knockout, TKO or submission, and he's only 27 years old.

    But what's going to separate the Division I wrestler from the rest of the core lightweights in the game for the duration of 2014 is going to be his intense conditioning, unrivaled heart, budding power striking and underrated submission game.

    When all of those aspects of Chandler's fight game come to fruition and manifest exactly at the right time, he's going to rack off more victories than he can count.

    Too bad he'll never get the chance to fight the likes of Benson Henderson, Gilbert Melendez, Anthony Pettis, Gray Maynard or TJ Grant.

6. Ronda Rousey

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    Well this is an obvious choice, isn't it?

    The bottom line regarding Ronda Rousey is that she's more or less the face of an entire movement.  Without her, women's MMA wouldn't be where it is today.  It's that simple.

    But with her, the female fight scene has unbinding potential—the sort of potential that only comes along once in a lifetime.

    As long as Rousey can continue submitting title challengers with her perfected armbar, her relevance in the sport and in the public will continue to transform her into one of the most popular female athletes of all time.

5. Anthony Pettis

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    Whether he contends at featherweight or lightweight, young phenom Anthony Pettis is destined to be one of the best UFC champions of all time.

    His skill set is like no other, combining speed, power, discipline and versatility into one stunning display of awe-inspiring technicality.

    By looking at each and every one of his fights over the past few years, it seems as if the 26-year-old gets better by the minute.

    At this point, besides staying healthy, it's only a matter of beating UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson for a second time in his career before Pettis launches himself into superstar mode.

4. Chris Weidman

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    The excerpt for Chris Weidman's legacy has already been written, but the chapters that will encapsulate his longevity in the sport have yet to be determined.

    This means that his future rematch with former pound-for-pound king and one of the best fighters of all time, Anderson Silva, will ultimately determine the path that Weidman's career will traverse.

    Was his first knockout victory over Silva a true display of greatness, or was it a product of a cocky champion reeling in his prey?

    Can Silva deflect the overpowering wrestling of Weidman in a rematch offering more than two rounds?

    These are the questions that will not only close the book on Weidman vs. Silva, but it will open doors or close them for the current UFC middleweight champion heading into 2014.

    If an undefeated Weidman can win yet again, he'd have to be considered one of the top-five pound-for-pound fighters in the world.

3. Jose Aldo

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    Despite a lack of elite conditioning and a knack for letting opponents back into a fight, UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo is slowly carving out his legacy as one of the best fighters of all time.

    Undefeated in the last seven years, the Brazilian would probably command more prestige fighting in a more popular division, but Aldo's 22-1 career record should be enough to gain the respect of the most simpleminded fans around.

    But even though his dominance at featherweight can be scene from Mars, Aldo's future doesn't necessarily hold a Anderson Silva-like title defense.  Instead, the 26-year-old has his eyes set on the lightweight fight scene.

    Once he makes that transition and threatens to occupy two UFC belts at the same time in 2014, people will start to realize that "Scarface" is as good as they come.

2. Cain Velasquez

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    Already considered one of the best heavyweight champions of all time, UFC titleholder Cain Velasquez has become one of the promotion's big-ticket entities.

    With his recent destruction over Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva for a second straight time and a trilogy-ending rematch with Junior dos Santos looming in the distance, Velasquez's fate is in his own hands.

    If he beats JDS, then his legacy is written.  If JDS beats him, he'll have two victories over the champ to Velasquez's one.

    That's not something you want to have hanging over your head entering the new year.

    In any case, Velasquez's wrestling and high motor should be enough to stifle the striking of "Cigano" once again.  With another win over the consensus No. 1 contender in the heavyweight division, the man tattooed with Brown Pride will spark an all-out title defense run for the ages.

1. Jon Jones

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    Whether you like the man or not, respect his demeanor or hate it, there's no arguing that Jon Jones is the best fighter in the world at this very moment.

    For the top light heavyweight contenders who he's beaten along with the fashion that he's finished them in, Jones may very well be the most prolific champion of all time.

    Now, that has yet to be determined, but at some point, you have to call it as it is.  People are going to love the Chuck Liddells and Anderson Silvas of the sport, but when you run across a specimen like "Bones"—who can make beating the best of the best look like child's play—other names simply become irrelevant.

    As long as he can stay healthy and welcome the natural maturation that comes with age and experience, Jones will effortlessly earn the key to the city and dominate the MMA scene as its main attraction.

     

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