Nate Diaz (6-2) started out his UFC career in impressive fashion. He was crowned The Ultimate Fighter Season Five champion, submitting Gray Maynard in the semifinals. Diaz would put together a 5-0 record in the octagon before running into less submitable competition.
His losses to Clay Guida and Joe Stevenson indicate that Diaz may never reach elite status at 155, but given that he is only 24, Diaz has time to grow into his own.
The UFC didn’t do him any favors though as he will face Maynard in a rematch of their TUF fight at UFN 20. Another submission win would catapult Diaz back into relevance, while a decision loss would further stifle any talk of a promising future
Jim Miller (4-1) is not a fighter to sleep on. While Miller lost to his toughest competition in Gray Maynard back at UFC 96, he is still relatively young at twenty-six, and is evolving as a fighter.
Miller had a huge opportunity to shoot up the lightweight ladder when he was originally scheduled to fight Tyson Griffin at UFC 108, and then Sean Sherk who stepped in as a replacement. Sherk pulled out as well, forcing Miller to fight former UFC fighter Duane Ludwig.
If Miller gets past Ludwig, look for him to stay very busy in 2010. If he can maneuver the lightweight gauntlet undefeated, don’t be surprised if Millertime finds his way into a title fight in 2011.
Joe Lauzon (5-1) is another young UFC, turning 25 this year. A serious injury has sidelined the prospect for over a year and a return fight against very capable Sam Stout at UFC 108 should give fans an idea of where Lauzon is at.
If Lauzon ever wants to reach elite status he will have to forget the humbling ground and pound loss he suffered to Kenny Florian at UFN: Kenny Florian vs Joe Lauzon. Hopefully this young Massachusetts fighter can right the ship and get his once promising career back on track.
Terry Etim (5-2) Etim started his career out going 1-2, but since then has rattled off four impressive wins. It is clear the UFC is now bringing him along, a smart strategy to help boost the best British prospect in the division.
It is rumored that Etim will face Dennis Stiver in his next bout and a win would further solidify Etim’s status as the “Michael Bisping” of the division. Look for Etim to get tougher tests in 2010 to reveal if he can compete with the best of the division.
The Efrain Escudero/Evan Dunham (both 2-0) winner will remain undefeated in the UFC and continue their climb up the UFC ladder. Escudero, who surprised everyone when he emerged as the season eight winner of The Ultimate Fighter, will be the favorite, but Dunham is no pushover.
While both have a long toward validating their status as legitimate future contenders, whoever emerges with their hand raised in this fight will be propelled to the next level of competition.