Most Underrated MMA Fighters of 2013

Craig AmosFeatured ColumnistJanuary 3, 2014

Most Underrated MMA Fighters of 2013

0 of 15

    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    In any given year, a number of MMA fighters show improvement, break out or recapture previously lost ground. While some are lauded for their work, others toil away without receiving acclaim equal to their performances.

    That's the group we are looking into here—the most underrated mixed martial artists from 2013. 

    The fighters on this list are by no means an unknown lot, but they are accomplished men and women who, for one reason or another, received only a fraction of the credit they were due last year.

    For more on the list criteria, move onto the the next slide.

Criteria

1 of 15

    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    This list could easily include several obscure, unheralded fighters who operating in promotions that receive little-to-no attention. It could also be comprised of fighters from larger promotions whom you may or may not have heard of and did all right for themselves last year but really demand much notice.

    In reality, this list could take many forms, and each form could include many entries. For the sake of consistency, I've decided to shave my approach down to a specific angle: fighters who were overlooked despite demonstrating a high level of ability.

    When I say "high level of ability," I don't mean it in a relative sense—this list is full of stars and talented individuals whom you may think receive plenty of credit. While I won't deny that every fighter here is hard done by when it comes to earning his or her due, I will argue that my picks flew under the radar last year, in one sense or another.

    For example, sometimes accomplished fighters do exactly what people expect them to do, and because the results only meet and not exceed expectations, they are assumed to have only held serve. But in reality, their performances may have exceeded expectations greatly, achieving results in a particularly spectacular way.

    The point is that you may be surprised to see some of these names associated with the underrated label. 

    With that in mind, if you disagree with any inclusions or omissions, feel free to explain your position in the comments section. Or just textually scream that I'm wrong. Either way.

     

    Note that all UFC rankings are listed are from UFC.com.

Eddie Alvarez

2 of 15

    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

    2013 record: 1-0

    UFC lightweight rank: N/A

    Why he is on the list: Everything accomplished outside the UFC universe is ephemeral.

    Alvarez had only one fight in 2013, but it was a big one. After more than a year off, he returned to action, reclaiming the Bellator lightweight title and handing Michael Chandler the first loss of his career. The victory also avenged Alvarez's most recent defeat.

    Despite the significance of the win, what people will remember about Alvarez in 2013 is how close he came to signing with the UFC. It's unfortunate that it didn't work out, since he would have so many viable opponents in the world's biggest MMA promotion, but just because he's not among the elite doesn't mean that he isn't elite.

    He proved his stature once again last year, but many didn't bother to notice.

Michael Chandler

3 of 15

    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

    2013 record: 2-1

    UFC lightweight rank: N/A

    Why he is on the list: He's really good and doesn't fight in the UFC.

    There are a few guys on this list from Bellator, and there could be a few more, but Chandler is one of the best representatives. He isn't a household name or a champion (anymore), but his skills are legitimately elite.

    Exactly how he'd fare in the UFC is a mystery, but it's no stretch to imagine he'd factor in near the top of the lightweight division. His two wins in 2013 went largely unnoticed, and his sole loss was only a bit more acknowledged. 

    Still, he beat a couple of tough opponents in David Rickels and Rick Hawn and lost to an even tougher one in Alvarez. Overall, he had another solid year but remains under the radar. 

Dominick Cruz

4 of 15

    Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

    2013 record: 0-0

    UFC bantamweight rank: Champion

    Why he is on the list: Sometimes it's hard to appreciate what you can't see.

    Because of an injury, Cruz didn't make it inside the Octagon in 2013. That didn't stop his reputation from taking a hit, however. Not a hit in the traditional sense where people suddenly turned on himmore so in the sense that everyone loves the new kid on the block, and Cruz has become yesterday's news.

    Renan Barao has been so stellar since joining the UFC that the bantamweight division isn't exactly desperate for a legitimate champion. But don't let Barao's stardom diminish Cruz in your eyes—despite falling to No. 13 on the UFC's pound-for-pound list, Cruz remains a stud and one of the top fighters in the promotion.

    He just needs to get back and remind people of that. He is scheduled to return against Barao at UFC 169 on Feb. 1.

Rafael dos Anjos

5 of 15

    Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

    2013 record: 2-0

    UFC lightweight rank: No. 6

    Why he is on the list: He is quietly on a five-fight win streak and has looked outstanding in the process.

    Dos Anjos isn't often mentioned when we discuss star lightweights, although Donald Cerrone, whom he handily defeated last year, often is.

    It's unfair, I tell ya.

    A classic late-bloomer, dos Anjos has had trouble shedding the label of "average" that once fit him accurately but no longer does. He's been terrific for the last two years, and he hasn't received the recognition he deserves...yet.

Urijah Faber

6 of 15

    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    2013 record: 4-0

    UFC bantamweight rank: No. 2

    Why he is on the list: Because the results were so expected that they have diminished the performances.

    Faber has never lost a non-title fight. Ever.

    So, although he posted a beautiful 4-0 mark in 2013, it was basically just par for the course since he didn't fight for a belt.

    However, he has never looked as good as he did last year—not even when he reigned over the WEC featherweight division.

    So while some view 2013 as the continuation of Faber's solidification of second place, I view it more as a rejuvenation. Whether it's enough for him to score UFC gold is something we'll have to wait and see, but for the first time in a while, I can legitimately see him threatening a championship opponent.

TJ Grant

7 of 15

    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    2013 record: 2-0

    End of year UFC lightweight rank: No. 3

    Why he is on the list: Because it's so easy to forget about him, and that's just wrong.

    Grant was sidelined for the second half of 2013, but before that, he climbed to the peak of the lightweight division, scoring two straight first-round knockouts and running his win streak to five.

    The unassuming Canadian had been vicious, but as soon as he went down, people were quick to pass him over and move on. That's a mistake. Grant legitimately earned his No. 3 ranking, if not more.

Bobby Green

8 of 15

    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    2013 record: 3-0

    UFC lightweight rank: No. 12

    Why he is on the list: He's still not in the lightweight conversation after three big wins.

    Green recently defeated Pat Healy, concluding an outstanding 2013 that saw him join the UFC and quietly climb its ladder. He still has a ways to go, but the progress has been eye-opening.

    On the other hand, he hasn't opened that many eyes. 

    Each of Green's wins was impressive, yet none garnered a ton of fanfare. At least he has set himself up to do some damage in 2014. 

Demetrious Johnson

9 of 15

    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    2013 record: 3-0

    UFC flyweight rank: Champion

    Why he is on the list: Because the little guys get so little attention.

    It's not that Johnson's big 2013 went unacknowledged, and it's not as if he gets no recognition as an elite fighter—he's a candidate for Fighter of the Year and ranks No. 4 on the UFC pound-for-pound list.

    But if we take the pulse of the MMA community at large, any flyweight—even the champ—hardly comes to mind when discussion turns to the best fighters on the planet. 

    So Johnson is included on a list of the most underrated fighters from 2013 despite racking up the accolades. 

    Perhaps I'm forcing him in to fit as an allegory for all the talented 125ers. Regardless, he established himself as an elite force last year, but the stardom hasn't yet followed.

Dong Hyun Kim

10 of 15

    Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

    2013 record: 2-0

    UFC welterweight rank: No. 12

    Why he is on the list: He gets lost in the shuffle of a deep welterweight division.

    It's not that Kim's current ranking is criminally low, but it does speak to how he is often overlooked and forgotten. Welterweight is a deep division with a ton of recognizable guys, and not everyone can get a piece of the limelight.

    This is the problem for Kim, who is a menace in the cage. He's reminiscent of Jon Fitch in the way that he mauls his opponents for 15 minutes at a time. 

    But in 2013, he showed a new wrinkle, knocking out Erick Silva. While the result does not mean Kim is suddenly deadly on the feet, it does show that he is more dangerous than most had given him credit for.

Sara McMann

11 of 15

    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    2013 record: 1-0

    UFC women's bantamweight rank: No. 4

    Why she is on the list: She's an elite female fighter not named Cyborg, Ronda Rousey or Miesha Tate.

    Several different women could make this list, including Cat Zingano, Alexis Davis, Holly Holm, and Jessica Eye. Any one of them could be termed underrated because women's MMA remains a novelty to many fans and only a select few competitors have endeared themselves to the populace at this point.

    McMann hasn't done it just yet, but her skills are undeniable. She showed that during her UFC debut last year, outclassing Sheila Gaff and running her professional record to 7-0.

    At least she'll have the opportunity to make a name for herself soon. She's scheduled to fight Rousey on Feb. 22 at UFC 170.

Takeya Mizugaki

12 of 15

    Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

    2013 record: 3-0

    UFC bantamweight rank: No. 9

    Why he is on the list: He quietly exceeded expectations, reeling off three nice victories.

    Between April 2009 and November 2012, Mizugaki neither won nor lost consecutive fights. That's either consistent or inconsistent, I'm not sure.

    But I do know that the Japanese striker had a terrific 2013. Last year, he reeled off a trio of victories over three solid foes, finally achieving a win streak that sits at four.

    Mizugaki's work flew under the radar, especially since one of those wins came against top-notch prospect Erik Perez.

Jake Shields

13 of 15

    Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

    2013 record: 2-0

    UFC welterweight rank: No. 7

    Why he is on the list: Ugly wins are still wins.

    Shields fell off the map for a bit, starting back in 2011 when he unsuccessfully challenged for the UFC welterweight title. In 2013 though, he re-emerged in a big way, taking out a pair of highly touted foes in Tyron Woodley and Demian Maia.

    Only no one seems to care.

    Granted, his win over Woodley was less fun to watch than paint drying, but it was still a big win. And think about how good Maia has looked since dropping to 170. That's another big win.

    Shields looks dangerous once again heading into 2014.

Daniel Straus

14 of 15

    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

    2013 record: 1-0

    UFC featherweight rank: N/A

    Why he is on the list: He parlayed a huge 2012 into a Bellator title. Few took notice.

    Woe is the Bellatorian who does well but receives no attention. This is the story of Daniel Straus, who took out one of Bellator's few legitimate stars and gained essentially no notoriety or acclaim.

    After finishing 2012 with a 4-0 mark, Straus entered his title fight with Pat Curran as a decisive underdog and flipped the script, dominating his prey for most of their 25-minute battle.

    Did you notice? Be honest.

Chris Weidman

15 of 15

    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

    2013 record: 2-0

    UFC middleweight rank: Champion

    Why he is on the list: There is always a reason why he wins besides "he's just really good."

    It's a raw deal when you beat the greatest fighter of all time twice in a row, and all anyone does is make excuses. First, Anderson Silva lost because he was toying with Weidman and then because of a freak leg injury.

    It had nothing to do with Weidman being the better fighter, no way. Never mind that in both fights the American had been convincingly winning; he nearly stopped Silva in the December rematch.

    The fact is that Weidman is one of the best mixed martial artists on the planet, and he proved that in 2013. While some have come around, too many are covering their eyes and plugging their ears, screaming, "Blah blah blah blah blah!"