10 Fighters Poised to Make Divisional Runs
Ever so often a group of fighters come along that possess the sturdy momentum and overall promise to make a run at their respective divisions.
Unlike most key contenders that stay positioned in yearly title discussions, these unlikely challengers often have to exceed expectations to make noise in crowded weight classes.
Whether it's a wily veteran scratching his way to the upper echelon of ranked comrades or a young go-getter itching for recognition, the list is practically open-ended.
However, based on recent victories and upcoming opportunities, here are 10 deserving fighters who are poised to make that elusive run at glory.
* Already noteworthy contenders will be sadly excluded (e.g. Urijah Faber and Travis Browne)
Now the owner of two consecutively impressive UFC appearances, 28-year-old Russian striker Ali Bagautinov is ready for the next stage of competitors.
In a top-heavy flyweight division desperately seeking fresh chum to feed champion Demetrious Johnson, Bagautinov holds the key to his own mortality.
If he can extend his promotional win streak to three at UFC 169 when he takes on John Lineker, a late-2014 title shot would make a whole lot of sense.
If the welterweight title scene was a doormat in front of Dana White's office, Ryan LaFlare just wiped his feet all over it.
After securing his third-straight Octagon victory in only a matter of eight months, the New York native is officially a whisker's length away from the division's top 10.
While his performances weren't off-the-charts impressive, LaFlare's ultra-athletic skill set still reigned supreme on even the shortest of notices.
With all the hoopla surrounding Urijah Faber's career rejuvenation and Dominick Cruz's long-awaited return from Mars, Rafael Assuncao doesn't seem to be getting much love at all.
As a truly well-rounded veteran who's currently rocking a five fight UFC win streak, it doesn't make much sense why the Brazilian isn't getting his chance to shine.
A 2014 showdown with hard-nosed Francisco Rivera is no way to treat the No. 4 ranked fighter in the bantamweight division. He deserves better.
Unable to withstand the athletic pressure and versatility of most UFC bantamweights, fan favorite Brad Pickett has decided to cut weight, add speed and take his talents to South Beach?
No, sorry. This is Pickett we're talking about, not Lebron James.
In any case, jumping around weight classes these days seems to be a career saver. The wily Englishman should continue that craze as a move to flyweight instantly makes him a top contender.
This may be a fairly overzealous comparison, but Bobby Green's Octagon head work and undetectable counter-punching resembles that of boxing phenom Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Now, Green isn't half as effective as Mayweather is at avoiding damage, but it's still entertaining to see him belittle an opponent with his hands at his side and head on a swivel.
Whether that holds up against top tier contenders has yet to be seen, but on the heels of three UFC victories in 2013, we'll soon find out.
Outside of a crushing defeat at the long arms of Stefan Struve back in 2012, Stipe Miocic has arguably been the most punishing UFC heavyweight over the past two years.
After surgically destroying Roy Nelson's flab-tastic efforts at UFC 161, the Ohio native is poised for great success.
An upcoming bout opposite red-hot Gabriel Gonzaga gives Miocic another chance to gain recognition and log Octagon minutes before he makes a title run in 2015.
Don't look now, but Myles "Fury" Jury is all set to take on the uber-popular Diego Sanchez at UFC 171.
The fight will serve as a culmination of four UFC victories for the 25-year-old Jury, who has finished all but two of his 13 total career wins before the third round.
If Jury can somehow put away the mythical lightweight who seemingly can't be put away, he'll automatically jump into contention by the end of 2014.
Brandon Thatch hasn't just performed to impress, he's performed to nearly sever his opponent's cranium.
After just two Octagon outings in 2013, fellow welterweights are already cringing at the idea of fighting the kickboxing guru.
With evolving technique, overpowering physical dimensions and an appetite for violence, Thatch is one of the most promising future contenders in the sport today.
Like a calm dog in a lion's fight, Tim Kennedy continues to fly under the radar.
He's been one of the most consistent fighters in mixed martial arts over the past five years, but for some reason his name doesn't ring as loud as other middleweight standouts.
But you can only sleep on a rising giant for so long.
Once Kennedy proves his finishing ability is here to stay, there's no stopping this soldier.
It may have taken Hector Lombard longer than expected, but he's finally made it.
Through cardio-dumping nightmares and salty split decisions, "Lightning" is starting to electrify.
Chalk it up to a move down to welterweight or the fact that he's finally finding comfort fighting outside of Bellator.
Either way, he's as dangerous of a fighter as there is in the division right now. Jake Shields better tuck his chin.
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