UFC: 15 Fighters Who Will Become Household Names In 2011
The old mainstays of UFC pay per views are slowly fading into retirement and obscurity.
Chuck Liddell can't take a punch. Tito Ortiz is one loss away from being released. Randy Couture has pseudo-retired.
All of this has put the UFC into a pretty tough position, they need to continue their extremely successful pay per view numbers while showcasing their younger talent to a wide audience.
So who exactly are they pushing as the future? Who is destined to become a household name in 2011?
Take a look inside to find out.
Phil Davis had a monster 2010, besting Brian Stann, Alexander Gustafsson, Rodney Wallace, and Tim Boetsch within the UFC's 205-pound division. His combination of strength, skill and dedication have led him to be labeled as a future title contender by many of the hardcore fans of the sport.
A former D-1 wrestler out of Penn State, Davis has decided to take a different approach to his transition to MMA. Unlike fighters like Josh Koscheck or Chuck Liddell, who have often used their wrestling to keep the fight standing, Davis has embraced Brazilian jiu jitsu.
His submission and transition skills look phenomenal right now, and they are only going to get better.
Davis should continue his roll in 2011 with a couple more high-profile wins before entering the top 5 of the division. If you don't know Davis by now, you will very shortly.
Dunham is perhaps best known for his only career loss, a horrendous decision that he dropped to Sean Sherk at UFC 119. Everyone in the building knew that Dunham had won that fight, except for two of the three judges.
The UFC brass even viewed the fight as a victory for the young Oregonian, as they gave him a big step up in competition when they announced that he would be fighting against Kenny Florian in the main event of UFC Fight Night 23 on Jan. 22.
Unfortunately Florian had to pull out of the bout. He was quickly replaced by Melvin Guillard in what should be a fight that is just as exciting.
Dunham has showed tremendous jiu jitsu as he subbed former Ultimate Fighter winner Efrain Escudero and completely controlled lightweight mainstay Tyson Griffin on the ground. He was also able to light up Sherk on the feet for the majority of their fight.
Evan Dunham will one day challenge for the lightweight title, he is too young and too skilled not to do so. His rise to fame starts on the 22nd when he main events his first card.
Many would argue that unless Overeem begins fighting in the UFC, he will never become a household name, but I respectfully disagree. With someone as talented, scary, and dominant as Overeem has been during all of his years at heavyweight, the casual fans will begin to take notice.
Casual fans love violence, something Overeem provides in large doses. His bulking 265-pound frame just screams out pain and suffering as his opponents lie motionless on the mat.
Time and time again it has been proven that muscles don't win fights, but for some reason the average MMA fan is still drawn to the biggest, most ripped fighters.
Piling on to his Zeus-like muscles, highlight reel knockouts, and complete domination is his recent victory in the K-1 World Grand Prix.
If you don't think that Strikeforce is going to promote the hell out of his victory in the kickboxing tournament, you're crazy.
The chance to promote their heavyweight champion as the kickboxing champion of the world? That's too good to pass up.
Not many fighters have produced as many highlights as the 145-pound dynamo Jose Aldo. The scary thing is that the kid is only 24 years old.
When he isn't knocking people out with flying knees, he produces downright vicious leg kicks. If there is ever any doubt that Aldo doesn't brutalize people's legs, just ask Urijah Faber or Jonathan Brookins, both of whom were battered by them in their fights with Aldo.
It really was only a matter of time before Aldo blew up. His dominance and penchant for violent just begs to be shown over and over again on SportsCenter. With the impending merger of the UFC and the WEC, Aldo will quickly become a staple in any MMA conversation.
When you give a former NFL player a hilarious attitude, heavy hands, and a top-notch training camp he is bound to become a fan favorite down the road.
Matt Mitrione was a spectacle on the Ultimate Fighter, drawing curiosity out of the viewers as to what crazy thing he would say next. Mitrione later admitted that it was all in good fun, but not before he spawned a legion of "Meathead" fans.
Mitrione is training out of Rufusport MMA Academy, the same training team that led Anthony Pettis to his WEC lightweight belt. He has shown an agile striking game, complete with head kicks and a wide variety of flashy moves as well as a very active guard and ground game.
All of these elements will launch Mitrione into stardom this upcoming year. His continued success, fan-friendly fighting style, and hilarious attitude will do so much to propel him into the limelight.
After a devastating loss to Phil Davis this past April, Gustafsson reached out to the former Penn State wrestler and asked to train with him.
Davis agreed and they quickly formed a budding friendship. This kind of commitment and willingness to learn from past mistakes will lead Gustafsson to title contendership rapidly.
Gustafsson is a gifted striker who put down the durable Jared Hamman in a mere 41 seconds in his UFC debut.
Following the loss to Davis, he put a clinic on former kickboxing champion Cyrille Diabate. Diabate looked lost in both the stand up and on the ground as Gustafsson eventually submitted him in the second round.
Gustafsson produces fireworks when he fights; it's as simple as that. Fans love that kind of stuff, and the UFC loves to provide it. Look for Gustafsson to compete on the main card of pay per views very shortly.
Falcao had a tumultuous UFC debut to say the least. He came out guns a blazing and dropped Gerald Harris multiple times in Round 1 before securing a rear naked choke at the tail end of the round.
Unfortunately, the timekeeper short changed Falcao by about five seconds and cost him a chance at ending the fight. He subsequently refused to let go of the choke, even as the referee tried to pry him off of the now blue Harris.
After dominating Harris yet again in Round 2, he cruised in Round 3 doing almost nothing to engage. Boos rained down, Dana White was pissed, and Falcao's debut was tarnished. And then to top everything off he got arrested on a outstanding warrant charge in his native Brazil from 2002.
All of that cast aside, Falcao has some serious power in his hands. He trains out of the old Chute Box Academy, the same team that churned out Wanderlei Silva. His striking alone will win him thousands of fans. Expect to see Falcao quickly rise up the 185 ranks within the UFC.
Maybe Condit is already a household name, but I think 2011 is the year Condit becomes one of the few who can either headline or co-headline a fight card.
His pretty-boy looks, tough-nosed fighting, and just downright exhilarating fighting style has quickly made him a fan favorite.
Nothing can propel an American into the spotlight faster than by destroying our rivals from across the Atlantic. Condit did just that when he knocked out Dan Hardy in the first round of their bout at UFC 120.
The punch launched shockwaves throughout MMA as Condit announced his rival to the upper tiers of the welterweight division.
In front of Condit is a battle with the always entertaining Chris Lytle as UFC 127, in what is sure to be a front runner for fight of the year. If Condit comes out of that entertaining scrap as the victory, a title shot becomes very close.
When your only loss came as a close split decision to Carlos Condit, then you're doing pretty good for yourself in the UFC.
Jake Ellenberger was welcomed into the UFC as a tune up fight for former WEC champion Condit in his UFC debut, and made the most of his opportunity.
After rocking and dropping The Natural Born Killer in the opening frame, Condit stormed back to take the controversial decision.
Ellenberger is one of those guys who can do it all. His strength is his wrestling but he possesses heavy hands, competent striking, and underrated jiu jitsu.
He was gaining a full head of steam when he talked his way into a match-up with the second-best welterweight in the world, Jon Fitch. Fitch was eventually pulled from the bout in order to fight B.J. Penn, which resulted in a lost opportunity for Ellenberger.
Even with the switch, Ellenberger has a very bright future ahead of him. As long as he keeps performing like he has been and maintains his streak of exciting performances, casual fans will begin to see a lot more from welterweight.
Take Jose Aldo. Make him easier to take down but increase his power, speed, and technique. Now move him up to the 155-pound division. You just created Edson Barboza.
Barboza is a Muay Thai champion with vicious leg kicks and powerful strikes. He has shown a wrestling deficiency but has been able to cover it up in the minor leagues.
His Brazilian jiu jitsu hasn't ever been seriously threatened, but he should be well versed considering his training camp.
If you win fights in exciting fashion in the UFC, you get launched into title contention. That may prove to be the case with Barboza.
If he delivers another TKO by way of leg kicks, I expect him to become a mainstay on the televised portions of pay per view events.
Outside of Urijah Faber, Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone may have been the biggest name the WEC had to promote. His exciting style and Cowboy moniker drew fans from across the globe. His incessant trash talking added a tremendous amount of intrigue to all of his fights.
Cerrone is a gifted jiu jitsu practitioner with a deadly triangle choke. Over the years he developed a varied and balanced striking game to complement his ground skills while working with Greg Jackson.
Lately, Cerrone has even upgraded his once pathetic wrestling, he was able to take down both Chris Horodecki and Jamie Varner in his previous two bouts.
If Cerrone keeps up the trash talking and continues to deliver in the cage, he will be propelled up the ranks of the UFC lightweight division.
They don't call him The Fireball Kid for nothing. Once considered one of the top lightweights in the world, Gomi made a career out of delivering devastating knock out blows.
While many fighters are content to out point fighters on their way to a decision victory (I'm looking at you, Michael Bisping), Gomi goes into every fight trying to blast opponents. He throws with seriously bad intentions.
After a tepid UFC debut against Kenny Florian, Gomi came out fast and furious against Tyson Griffin, and was able to lay out the Xtreme Couture product with a beautiful shot. His stand-up style suits both fans and the UFC brass very well as he always look to deliver an exciting fight.
Gomi returns to action on New Year's Day as he takes on Clay Guida at UFC 125. A win against Guida would put Gomi back in title contention, and on the right track to becoming a household name.
Chad "Money" Mendes has earned three of his four wins in the UFC by way of decision. Not exactly a very exciting start to a career, but the Team Alpha Male member is certainly making strides. A former D-1 wrestler, Mendes has been able to transition his skills seamlessly into his MMA career so far.
As he continues to train, his jiu jitsu and striking will get better. Teammates Urijah Faber and Scott Benavidez are both extremely exciting fighters with a ton of finishes to their names.
Mendes showed immense promise in his last bout against Javier Vazquez, when he used flashy moves and transitions in attempts to escape the grasp of the jiu jitsu specialist.
As Mendes continues to fight and train he will only get better. His skill set already allows him to be rather dominant in the cage. When he puts together all of his tools, he will be a very dangerous opponent for anyone.
A champion in the UFC is always going to be a very well-known fighter. Dominick Cruz just happens to be the first bantamweight champion in UFC history, a distinction that should make him a very popular fighter.
Cruz employs a style really unlike any other we have ever seen. He is constantly moving and bouncing around, looking to employ feints and fake takedowns in order to open his opponent up. Cruz has become especially difficult to hit because he is literally never standing still.
To complement his frenzied striking, Cruz has developed a vicious trip takedown, in which he grabs one of his opponent's legs behind the knee and forces him to the ground. He used this extensively on former Boise State wrestler Scott Jorgensen.
If Cruz learns how to finish opponents he will surely become a top draw in the UFC. His frenzied pace makes for fantastic viewing. His popularity may come sooner than expected however, as he may be coaching against Urijah Faber on the upcoming season of The Ultimate Fighter.
When you haven't lost in 20 fights, people are bound to take notice. Cuban judokan Hector Lombard has been a force in the middleweight division for almost four years now, besting some of the best fighters in the world. He currently holds the Bellator middleweight title.
His compact frame and massive muscles make him a rather imposing force. He unleashes some of the deadliest punches in the business, as evidence by his seven-second knockout of UFC washout Jay Silva. His judo is world class, as he holds a host of international titles and medals.
It's difficult to go unnoticed as long as you keep winning. Everyone from Penn State women's volleyball to the UCONN lady basketball team have become the talk of the town when their dominance reached a certain level. I expect the same out of Lombard.