10 Fighters with the Most to Prove in 2nd Half of 2013

Steven Rondina@srondinaFeatured ColumnistJuly 26, 2013

10 Fighters with the Most to Prove in 2nd Half of 2013

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    Every fighter, regardless of how successful he has been, has to prove himself. Time and again, this gets proved true. A fighter can lose and find himself on the comeback trail or win and prove that he deserves a jump in the rankings.

    The first half of 2013 had a load of shake-ups, meaning that a lot of fighters need to secure their place in the MMA world.

    So which fighters fall into this category? Who has the most to prove? Find out right here!

Roy Nelson

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    Roy Nelson has been hovering in an awkward limbo between fan favorite and legitimate title contender for a while.

    He seemed to be in the latter category following first-round punch-outs of Brendan Schaub and Stefan Struve. Then any title hopes seemed dashed following lopsided beatdowns to Frank Mir, Fabricio Werdum and Junior dos Santos. He seemed to be back in the hunt following another three exciting knockouts, but his loss to Stipe Miocic at UFC 161 threatens to send him back to the middle of the pack once again.

    Nelson has a high opinion of himself and is chomping at the bit to restake his claim for a heavyweight title shot. He is going to have a tough time doing so now, with Daniel Cormier as his next opponent.

    While Cormier is a major favorite on paper, the dialogue on Nelson's legitimacy as a top-level heavyweight will likely change permanently. That is likely a major part of why Nelson is so willing to take on such a fearsome wrestler.

Rafael dos Anjos

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    Many have Rafael dos Anjos ranked as a top lightweight. However, when he had a chance to prove it by beating a solid veteran in Evan Dunham (a fight I had a hand in orchestrating), he struggled to some degree.

    While some people, most notably UFC president Dana White, claimed the fight was a robbery, that simply wasn't the case. The fight wouldn't have been so close if dos Anjos was really as good as many, including myself, believed him to be.

    Dos Anjos now has the chance to show that he is a true, honest-to-goodness force at lightweight. He is scheduled to face Top 10 mainstay Donald Cerrone at UFC Fight Night: Condit vs. Kampmann 2, and a win would push him into title contention. The Brazilian needs to show he is the fighter whom many hold him up as—not a guy who needs some home cooking to get a win over a guy just outside the top 10.

    That leaves him with a lot to prove over the next few months. If he can pass those tests, however, he may have a chance at the belt in 2014.

Miesha Tate

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    Miesha Tate is in an awkward spot in her career. While she has submitted some huge names in women's MMA, including Marloes Coenen, Zoila Gurgel and Julie Kedzie, she is looked at through the lens of “how good is she compared to Ronda Rousey?”

    That angle is unflattering for Tate, given that she, like everyone else, was beaten by Rousey in the first round via armbar. Not only was she beaten, but she was the trampoline that Rousey used to jump into superstardom. That put Tate into a tough spot upon entering the UFC.

    Then she lost to Cat Zingano in a top contender's fight. Obviously, that made things much worse...for about three weeks.

    Zingano had to withdraw against Rousey due to a knee injury, and Tate found herself in the same spot she would have been if she hadn't been knocked out. Now lined up for a rematch with Rousey, she needs to demonstrate that not only does she belong in the cage with the champ, but that she really is a top female fighter.


Glover Teixeira

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    It's do-or-die time for Glover Teixeira.

    The heavy-handed Brazilian has roughed up some decent competition, but he wasn't brought into the UFC to stay in the middle of the pack. He was brought in to be a legitimate title contender. Now he has to show he belongs in that lot.

    In September, he will finally get his showdown with The Ultimate Fighter 8 winner Ryan Bader. Bader has strong wrestling and heavy hands, which makes him a legitimate threat to Teixeira. Winning a fifth fight in a row over a Top 10 mainstay in Bader would move him into title contention in earnest.

    Against Bader, Teixeira can show that all the hype is warranted. No pressure.


"King" Muhammed Lawal

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    Mo Lawal is a big fish in the little pond that is Bellator's light heavyweight division. Or at least, that's what everyone thought a few months ago.

    When Lawal first signed with Bellator after being released from Strikeforce, it was assumed he would cruise his way to the belt. There was little reason to believe this wouldn't happen. It definitely looked to be going that direction as he punched out no-namer Przemyslaw Mysiala.

    Then came the now-famous Emanuel Newton spinning backfist that looked as though it had put Lawal to sleep.

    That derailed his chances momentarily, but not wanting to shelf one of its biggest draws, Bellator pulled together a few warm bodies to set up another opportunity for King Mo. He took a big step toward fulfilling everyone's expectations with his crazy punch-out of Seth Petruzelli, and he will be fighting Jacob Noe next week to determine if he finally gets his shot at the belt, which will be held by the winner of Attila Vegh vs. Emanuel Newton.

    While Lawal owns some impressive wins over Gegard Mousasi and Travis Wiuff, falling short again would be disastrous for his drawing power and earning power. Proving that Newton's KO victory was a fluke leaves him with a lot on the line—and a lot to prove—over the next six months.


Hector Lombard

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    Hector Lombard was brought into the UFC with high expectations. After all, everything on paper said that the Olympic judoka with hands of dynamite would storm to the top of the middleweight division with ease.

    Then he lost to Tim Boetsch. Not too long after that setback, he lost to Yushin Okami.

    Those losses have him reeling in a way he never has experienced before in his nine-year MMA career. If he wants to re-establish himself as the demolition man we saw in Bellator, he needs to start winning and winning big.

    For whatever reason, he decided he was ready to restart his career at welterweight. At 5'9” with a bulldog-like physique, 170 lbs may be a better place for him. His fight with Nate Marquardt, however, is likely a “loser-goes-back-to-the-local-circuit” situation.

    That gives him plenty to think about and fight for in October.

Robbie Lawler

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    Robbie Lawler spent a lot of time away from the UFC. Before this recent run, his last fight with the promotion came in 2004 at UFC 50 against the late Evan Tanner.

    That said, when he had a chance to show that he was a legitimate contender, he made the most of the opportunity.

    Lawler's time in the now-defunct Strikeforce wasn't spectacular, as he racked up a 3-5 record against some fairly strong competition. As a result, few bought into the notion that Lawler was going to win many fights in the UFC...never even mind one against longtime welterweight contender Josh Koscheck.

    Then he knocked out Koscheck in the first round.

    While some are slotting him into the Top 10, Lawler has a lot to prove in a crowded welterweight division. Unfortunately, while he was lined up to cement himself among the upper echelon of the division with a fight against Tarec Saffiedine, an injury forced the Strikeforce welterweight champ out of the bout. Siyar Bahadurzada was brought in instead and then he too had to withdraw due to an injury, which opened the door for anonymous Strikeforce fighter Bobby Voelker.

    It's a dangerous fight for Lawler, and even if he wins, the questions will still linger. He needs at least one more big win to show that he is the fighter he was when he knocked out Frank Trigg and slapped around Murilo “Ninja” Rua, instead of the one who was outmuscled and outlanded by every solid middleweight on Strikeforce's roster.

Benson Henderson

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    Dana White, intentionally or unintentionally, has consistently undermined the credibility of his lightweight champion. From the beginning, when Ben “Smooth” Henderson battered Frankie Edgar at UFC 144 in Japan but was still tasked with a pointless no-win scenario of a rematch, the UFC president has made it clear that he doesn't consider Henderson the legitimate lightweight champion.

    Even though Bendo roughed up Nate Diaz in convincing fashion and outlanded Gilbert Melendez in all five rounds of their almost-entirely-standing fight, he still struggles to find recognition for his elite skills and long list of accomplishments. He has a great chance to change that next month, however.

    Henderson is on track for a highly anticipated showdown with the last man to beat him, Anthony “Showtime” Pettis. Pettis narrowly edged out Smooth in the WEC's final fight, a bout that would almost unanimously be declared the 2010 Fight of the Year.

    If Henderson can win, he will break the UFC record for most lightweight title defenses, as he is currently tied with BJ Penn at three. If he can win convincingly, he might be able to silence the doubters who have nagged him since becoming champion.


Anderson Silva and Chris Weidman

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    The only upset that compares to the shocking knockout of Anderson Silva to Chris Weidman is Fedor Emelianenko vs. Fabricio Werdum. The biggest difference between the two fights, however, is that Fedor had no immediate rematch.

    It took another eight months to figure out that Fedor losing wasn't a fluke and much longer to determine how good Werdum really is.

    Weidman and Silva will face off in one of the most highly anticipated rematches in the sport's history in December. Silva is looking to prove that the loss was a fluke, while Weidman wants to show it wasn't.

    Weidman needs to prove that he is every bit the fighter that Chael Sonnen, Georges St-Pierre and Matt Serra have claimed him to be. Silva needs to prove that he is the top dog at middleweight and remains the best fighter in MMA.

    You don't need me to explain how much is at stake for these two fighters.