Best Debuts from First Half of 2013

Nathan McCarterFeatured ColumnistJuly 22, 2013

Best Debuts from First Half of 2013

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    Making an impressive debut in the UFC is hard to do. Fighters enter under immense pressure, they are realizing a dream fighting on the biggest stage and they have to deal with the infamous "Octagon jitters."

    When they make an impression during their debut, it generates a buzz with the fans. They become an instant "fighter to watch," and their next outing gains more interest.

    Not many are able to make such an impression.

    2013 has seen numerous strong debuts. The death of Strikeforce has played a strong role in the rise of strong debuts. Numerous fighters made their organizational debuts with a bang, while other fighters who worked their way up did so as well.

    With more than six months in the books, we are already on our way to one of the best years in UFC history. The influx of talent has been a shining spot for the UFC.

    These are the best debuts from the first half of 2013.

     

    **While UFC 162 technically took place in the second half of the year we wanted to include it in our mid-year awards because it's on everybody's minds.

Honorable Mentions

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    Ildemar Alcantara
    UFC on FX 7 vs. Wagner Prado

    Alcantara came in as a replacement for Roger Hollett. Wagner Prado has been billed as a prospect in the light heavyweight division, but he was no match for Alcantara on the ground. A second-round kneebar put Prado away.

    Ronda Rousey
    UFC 157 vs. Liz Carmouche

    Rousey defended her bantamweight strap against Carmouche in the first-ever women's bout inside the Octagon. It was a good performance that saw her face adversity for the first time in her short career. She overcame Carmouche's rear-naked choke attempt, and finished with her patented armbar.

    Gegard Mousasi
    UFC on Fuel TV 9 vs. Ilir Latifi

    Mousasi's debut wasn't as explosive as expected, but it was dominant. His boxing handled Latifi. Fifteen minutes of pure domination from a quality middleweight and light heavyweight.

    Yoel Romero
    UFC on Fox 7 vs. Clifford Starks

    Romero's debut was only 92 seconds long. A flying knee caught Clifford Starks, and Romero finished the job shortly after. The Olympic silver medalist will be back in action next month.

    Sara McMann
    UFC 159 vs. Sheila Gaff

    Gaff made a mistake by charging the Olympic silver medalist and was immediately taken down. McMann worked diligently and then put Gaff away with constant ground-and-pound. McMann takes on Sarah Kaufman in a battle of contenders in her next bout later this summer.

No. 10: Brian Melancon

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    UFC Debut: UFC 162 vs. Seth Baczynski

    Seth Baczynski was on a six-fight win streak before losing a decision to one of the division's best, Mike Pierce. At UFC 162, he was going to get back on the winning track.

    Brian Melancon had other plans.

    Melancon's power was the difference. He ripped shots at Baczynski, who had no answer for the shots. Melancon eventually caught Baczynski late in the round. He poured on the punishment, and the referee was forced to stop the action at 4:59 of the first frame.

    With UFC 162's popularity, he couldn't have picked a better time to announce his arrival to the UFC.

No. 9: Bobby Green

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    UFC Debut: UFC 156 vs. Jacob Volkmann

    The 26-year-old made his UFC debut after winning his last four Strikeforce bouts. However, he would be taking on one of the more underrated lightweights, Jacob Volkmann. Volkmann was 6-1 in his last seven UFC tilts.

    Green showed he was game from the opening bell.

    He battled with Volkmann where he was strongest. Green would then unexpectedly finish Volkmann in the third.

    Green locked on a rear-naked choke, and picked up a Submission of the Night bonus. His UFC debut was a rousing success. He was supposed to return to the Octagon this coming Saturday, but an injury forced him off the card. Keep an eye on the exciting lightweight when he returns.

No. 8: Kelvin Gastelum

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    UFC Debut: The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale vs. Uriah Hall

    Kelvin Gastelum was one half of the finals for The Ultimate Fighter 17. He just wasn't the part everyone was excited about.

    Uriah Hall had left behind a wake of bodies during the show. He was being talked about as a potential top-10 middleweight coming directly off the show. And he was going to demolish the young Gastelum in their official UFC debuts.

    Gastelum had nothing to lose, and he fought like it. The 21-year-old stunned the crowd by forcing Hall to the mat, and working his game plan. He never fell in to Hall's traps. Gastelum took a narrow split decision to take the title.

    He will return to the Octagon in August in the welterweight division against Paulo Thiago.

No. 7: Tyron Woodley

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    UFC Debut: UFC 157 vs. Jay Hieron

    The last time we had seen Tyron Woodley, he was the victim of a beating by Nate Marquardt in Strikeforce.

    He was pitted against vaunted striker Jay Hieron for his debut.

    Woodley's wrestling was thought to be his game plan against Hieron. We never got the time to see if that was the case. The fight only lasted 0:36.

    Woodley possesses big power, and he found the "off" switch for Hieron. The blistering knockout made him an instant threat in the deep welterweight division. Unfortunately, he would be on the wrong hand of a decision just four months later against Jake Shields.

    The former Strikeforce title contender has a lot of potential, and his UFC debut showed why.

No. 6: Jordan Mein

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    UFC Debut: UFC 158 vs. Dan Miller

    Jordan Mein is one of the welterweight division's top prospects, but at 23 years old it was a tall task to go up against Dan Miller. The grizzled veteran was an interesting matchup for his skills.

    Miller nearly caught Mein in a submission early in the round, but he survived. Once out of the submission attempt, it was all Mein.

    He battered Miller.

    Mein got the TKO victory in the first round and would return to the cage just a month later. That proved to be an ill-fated decision as he lost by TKO to Matt Brown. Regardless, his UFC debut impressed. At such a young age, the sky is the limit for Mein.

No. 5: James Krause

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    UFC Debut: UFC 161 vs. Sam Stout

    James Krause entered The Ultimate Fighter in 2012 but failed to make the house. He returned to the regional circuit and continued his growth as a fighter.

    He won seven professional bouts in a row before earning his trip to the UFC's Octagon. He would meet one of the longtime veterans of the lightweight division, Sam Stout.

    The bout would win Fight of the Night honors.

    Stout went for a takedown toward the end of the third round, and that could have sealed him the fight in the eyes of the judges. However, Krause locked in a guillotine in the process. The tapout garnered Krause the Submission of the Night and one of the most memorable debuts of the year.

No. 4: Cat Zingano

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    UFC Debut: The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale vs. Miesha Tate

    Undefeated contender Cat Zingano had a title shot and The Ultimate Fighter coaching duties on the line when she met Miesha Tate.

    Tate won the first two rounds on two of the three judges' scorecards. Zingano came out flat, and it cost her. Tate was on her way to a split-decision win.

    If Zingano was effected by the "Octagon jitters" they went away toward the end of the second round, and they were completely gone in the third. Zingano took Tate to task.

    Zingano poured on the punishment, and she hurt Tate numerous times. She busted the former Strikeforce champion up. The referee called a stop to the action at 2:55, and Zingano earned a title shot. Unfortunately, she injured her knee and had to pull out of her duties.

    Her debut will be hard to forget, and when she returns she will still be one of the top contenders in the division.

No. 3: Gilbert Melendez

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    UFC Debut: UFC on Fox 7 vs. Benson Henderson

    Gilbert Melendez is the only fighter who lost his debut on this list, but he is here for good reason.

    The Strikeforce Lightweight Champion made his UFC debut in a title tilt. He showed why numerous people wanted him in the UFC for years. Melendez nearly took the gold away from Henderson.

    The two battled back and forth. The fight went to the judges' scorecards where they rendered a split decision in favor of the reigning champion.

    The contentious decision did not earn Melendez an immediate rematch for Melendez, but it did show that he is an elite lightweight to any of his doubters. He is slated to return to action against Diego Sanchez at UFC 166 in October. A win could see him back in a title fight.

No. 2: Conor McGregor

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    UFC Debut: UFC on Fuel TV 9 vs. Marcus Brimage

    Conor McGregor developed a solid fanbase during his time in the Cage Warriors organization, and prior to joining the UFC roster he won both their vacant featherweight and lightweight titles.

    Marcus Brimage was to be a strong test for the newcomer. Brimage had already started his UFC career 3-0, and that included knocking off another top prospect in Jimy Hettes.

    McGregor showed just how to make an impactful debut with a Knockout of the Night performance.

    He blasted Brimage with an array of strikes. The referee had to peel him off Brimage, and the Irish featherweight won over the hearts of a lot of UFC fans on that night. The call to see him back inside the Octagon was quickly answered by the UFC brass.

    McGregor returns to action in mid-August against Max Holloway.

No. 1: Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza

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    UFC Debut: UFC on FX 8 vs. Chris Camozzi

    Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza was expected to defeat Chris Camozzi. He was considered a top-10 middleweight before entering the organization, and with his Submission of the Night performance he vaulted up the UFC's official rankings.

    In just 3:37 he put Camozzi to sleep.

    There was virtually no time for Camozzi to tap out to the arm triangle. That is how tight the submission specialist clamped down on the choke.

    His debut moved him up the ranks and has him just outside of range of a title shot. That is an impressive debut.

    Jacare will return to meet longtime contender Yushin Okami in September.