Best UFC Debuts of 2013

Dan Hiergesell@DHiergesellFeatured ColumnistDecember 9, 2013

Best UFC Debuts of 2013

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    Each year, the UFC experiences an influx of young prospects, wily veterans and an overall talent-rich spectrum of fighters.

    The promotion's consistent edge to attract the "next best thing" has separated the international powerhouse from fellow organizations like Bellator, ONE FC, WSOF and Invicta.

    It's given matchmaker Joe Silva endless opportunities to make the Octagon the most exciting environment in all of sports.

    With that said, on the heels of vicious knockouts, last-minute submissions and historic accomplishments, here are the best UFC debuts of 2013.

    Feel free to comment with your own power rankings.  Happy Holidays!

Honorable Mentions

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    Despite their hard-nosed efforts en route to scintillating UFC returns, Robbie Lawler, Josh Barnett, Josh Thomson, Pat Healy and Thales Leites don't quite register as new Octagon faces.

    But since it's the season to give and make others feel good, I decided to give them an honorable nod of appreciation for their fortitude. 

    Thank you, fellas, for outstanding promotional comebacks in 2013.

15. Andre Fili Fills in for Charles Oliveira

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    On the heels of only two weeks notice, in which he had to drop nearly 30 pounds, Andre "Touchy" Fili filled for an injured Charles Oliveira against Jeremy Larsen at UFC 166.

    The Team Alpha Male prospect made the most out of an extraordinary opportunity as he utilized excellent range and craftiness to secure a TKO victory just one minute into Round 2.

    It was yet another example of how good physically superior strikers can be and how deadly the California gym has become since adding Duane Ludwig as their head coach.

14. Julianna Pena Batters Jessica Rakoczy

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    Julianna Pena not only became the first female winner of The Ultimate Fighter when she battered Jessica Rakoczy with relative ease late last month, but she put the whole women's bantamweight division on notice.

    With overpowering ground-and-pound and a mean streak to fuel it, Pena looked every bit as a future top contender in her Octagon debut.

    As long as she can keep focus, train hard and impose her will, the 24-year-old will have 2014 at her fingertips.

13. Bobby Green Submits Jacob Volkmann

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    For nearly two-and-a-half rounds, Bobby Green was unable to power his way out of Jacob Volkmann's death grip.

    While Volkmann's inability to inflict damage enraged the action-hungry crowd, the lightweight veteran was winning the fight.

    That was until Green, a former Strikeforce standout, beat Volkmann at his own game, sinking in a career-defining rear-naked choke with less than one minute remaining in the fight.

    The UFC subsequently released Volkmann following his lackluster performance.

12. Alex Garcia Levels Ben Wall

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    As proof that the always online prelims are worth watching, welterweight Alex Garcia destroyed undefeated hometown hero Ben Wall at UFC Fight Night 33 this past weekend.

    With devastating power and excellent footwork, Garcia landed penetrating uppercuts in succession to secure the early first-round knockout.

    I guess that's what you get when you train with Georges-St Pierre and Rory MacDonald at Tristar.

11. Yoel Romero Wins Knockout of the Night

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    As one of the more physically imposing middleweights in the game, Yoel Romero can be deadly if he happens to connect.

    Unfortunately for Clifford Starks, the former Olympic wrestler landed one of the more vicious flying knees who'll ever see to earn Knockout of the Night honors back in April on Fox.

    It was a devastating debut, especially considering Romero was coming off a loss to Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante in Strikeforce.

10. Chris Holdsworth Submits David Grant

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    After submitting a hard-nosed David Grant in Round 2 to remain undefeated in five professional bouts, Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Chris Holdsworth became the newest winner on The Ultimate Fighter.

    His time on the show may have been overlooked due to the sizzling rivalry between coaches Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate, but his skills were nonetheless undeniable.

    As one of the best young grapplers in the game who isn't afraid to strike, Holdsworth has a bright future within a top-heavy bantamweight division.

9. Sara McMann Pounds Sheila Gaff

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    Easily the most prolific wrestler in the UFC women's bantamweight division, 33-year-old Sara McMann made serious noise earlier this year when she beat down Sheila Gaff at UFC 166.

    It was one of the most impressive female performances of the year and rendered her a potential title threat entering 2014.

    If McMann can stay healthy and continue to utilize her Olympic wrestling pedigree, she'll have a chance to stifle Rousey's championship submission prowess.

8. Kevin Gastelum Upsets Uriah Hall

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    With one of the biggest upsets in The Ultimate Fighter Finale history, Kelvin Gastelum stole a victory from vicious knockout specialist Uriah Hall.

    Gastelum bypassed Hall's prominent striking and powerful demeanor by taking him down and scoring points.  While it wasn't the prettiest performance you'll ever see, it was one of the most surprising outcomes of 2013.

    Since then, Gastelum has successfully dropped to welterweight, while Hall is one loss away from being released.  2013 was quite the year for both men.

7. Brandon Thatch Destroys Justin Edwards

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    Brandon Thatch jetted onto the welterweight scene after nearly decapitating Justin Edwards at UFC Fight Night 27 in August.

    The Colorado native did most of his first-round damage with powerful knees, precise punches and a knack for finishing that's rarely seen in promotional debuts.

    His perfected performance earned him a Knockout of the Night bonus and the deserving divisional momentum that can only lead to big things in 2014.

6. Cat Zingano Bloodies Miesha Tate

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    Before needing surgery on an injured knee and subsequently being replaced by Miesha Tate as a coach on The Ultimate Fighter, Cat Zingano was all set to take on champion Ronda Rousey later this month.

    She earned that right after dismantling the aforementioned Tate in the third round of their April showdown, which captured Fight of the Night honors.  The back-and-forth affair showcased just how good women can be inside the Octagon. 

    Unfortunately for a bloodied Tate, Zingano's athletic ability and overall versatility gave her the necessary tools to reign victorious.

5. Conor McGregor Finishes Marcus Brimage

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    Quickly becoming one of the most marketable international stars in mixed martial arts today, featherweight Conor McGregor possesses ungodly potential.

    His ability to not only suffocate opponents inside the cage with an elite skill set but to promote the action like a true professional makes him one of the most intriguing fighters in the UFC.

    But it wasn't until he commanded the center of Octagon opposite Marcus Brimage back in April in Stockholm, Sweden, that fans truly understood his hype.

    It took the 25-year-old Irishman only 70 seconds to land 21 significant strikes with mastered precision and power. He left "The Bama Beast" senseless.

4. Ronaldo Souza Swarms Chris Camozzi

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    Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza was supposed to impress upon arrival.  He was supposed to defeat a red-hot Chris Camozzi in front of his own Brazilian crowd.

    But, considering how competitive the Octagon can be, nobody knew how quickly Souza would find a way to win.

    On the heels of world-class grappling and transitions, the 34-year-old submitted Camozzi by way of arm-triangle choke just three-and-a-half minutes into the first round.

    The finish not only earned Souza Submission of the Night honors, but it more or less solidified his 10-year career.

3. Tyron Woodly Powers Through Jay Hieron

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    Unless it's Johny Hendricks, you rarely see welterweight fighters level an opponent with one punch.

    While it happens on occasion, it's nothing like what former Strikeforce title contender Tyron Woodley did to veteran Jay Hieron in February at UFC 156.

    That's why he makes this list with ease.

    Woodley's performance was utterly vicious.  He needed only 36 seconds to blast Hieron back to obscurity.

2. Gilbert Melendez Fights for the Belt

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    Say what you will about his split-decision loss to then-champion Benson Henderson, but Gilbert Melendez put on one hell of a promotional debut.

    He had been Strikeforce's perennial lightweight king, and people were beyond eager to see how the California product would fare inside the Octagon.

    He just so happened to deliver one of the best performances of his career opposite an athletic monster with three straight UFC title-fight victories under his belt.

    He showcased the elite boxing and hard-nosed brutality that have made him such a fan favorite throughout his 11-year career.

1. Ronda Rousey Submits Liz Carmouche

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    What more can be said about Ronda Rousey's UFC debut that can't be taken from her unfathomable streak of seven straight fights with a first-round armbar?

    That statistic alone fuels the legend that is "Rowdy."  She has taken her success inside the cage and transformed it into fame and fortune.

    But all of that wouldn't have been possible if she didn't escape an early neck crank from a more than game Liz Carmouche back at UFC 157 before securing another early submission victory.

    And considering it was the first-ever women's fight in the UFC, Carmouche gets a well-deserved shout out, too.

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