MMA Dark Horse Title Contenders in Every Weight Class

Dwight WakabayashiCorrespondent IIAugust 30, 2011

MMA Dark Horse Title Contenders in Every Weight Class

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    We are all aware of the class hierarchy involved in the game of mixed martial arts. There are the best of the best, like Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre, Cain Velasquez and Jose Aldo, among other UFC champions.

    Next, you have the true title contenders that are also among the very elite fighters in the world, fighters like Junior Dos Santos, Mauricio Rua, Gray Maynard and Rashad Evans. These men are gamers who are expected to contend for the title or be in and near the top three in their respective weight classes.

    After those two classes, you have an unbelievable number of fighters who want to be considered for the title, who have been or are working towards that next class. Experienced veterans hanging on by a thread and young up and coming lions ready to make that jump are all in this mix and jockeying for that chance to get to that next level.

    Out of this class comes the dark horse for the title—the man who may not be a sure thing to get there but who gets there anyway through hard work, determination and timing.

    Here are my top three dark horses for the title in each weight class of mixed martial arts.

Bantamweight: Bowles, Torres, Jorgensen

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    Brian Bowles

    10-1

    31 years old

    Next: Urijah Faber UFC 139 in November

    Brian Bowles has been to the top of the mountain before in his weight class, and with his age, recent injury history and the young powers in his division he is a dark horse to get to the top again. His next match is a title shot eliminator against Urijah Faber coming up in November. 

     

    Miguel Torres

    39-4

    30-years-old

    Next: TBA

    It's amazing that he is sitting in this position with the tear that Miguel Torres was on early in his career. He seemed destined to be at the top holding or fighting for the title throughout his career. His loss to Demetrious Johnson puts him on the outside looking in right now

     

    Scott Jorgensen

    12-4

    28-years-old

    Next: Jeff Curran UFC 137 in October

    Scott Jorgensen just recently got his first shot at Dominick Cruz's belt and he is still lingering between No. 5 and 10 in most of the rankings. With the amount of men vying for the gold in this new light division, Jorgensen desperately needs a win against Curran to stay in the minds of fans everywhere.

Featherweight: Freire, Hominick, Griffin

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    Patricio Freire

    17-1

    24 years old

    Next: TBA; injury forced him out of rematch with Joe Warren

    It's hard to name a man who is not even in the promotion a dark horse for the title, but that is how I feel about Patricio Freire. He is only 24 years old and has a long hill to climb with a lot of bodies to go over, but something tells me he will be in the UFC and in title conversations before too long.

     

    Mark Hominick

    20-9

    29 years old

    Next: UFC 140 in December; opponent TBA

    Mark Hominick is coming off his epic title shot against Jose Aldo at the end of April and is lingering around No. 8 in the world rankings. His fight with Aldo showed he belongs but he will need two convincing wins to make him deserving of his rematch for the title.

     

    Tyson Griffin

    15-5

    27 years old

    Next: Bart Palaszewski at UFC 137 October

    Tyson Griffin has always been talked about as a contender for the featherweight title, but featherweight and UFC title was an impossible endeavor before. Now that Griffin is in his natural weight class he may have what it takes to be a surprise title holder if only for a brief time.

Lightweight: Cerrone, Pettis, Siver

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    Donald Cerrone

    16-3

    28 years old

    Next: Dennis Siver at UFC 137 in October; replacing Sam Stout

    Donald Cerrone is an accomplished fighter who has held titles in other promotions throughout his career, but he is a step behind other fighters like Benson Henderson and Clay Guida in terms of where the title is concerned. Cerrone is always ready to fight at the drop of a hat and he is now said to be replacing Sam Stout against Dennis Siver in October.

     

    Anthony Pettis

    13-2

    24 years old

    Next: Jeremy Stephens at UFC 136 in October

    Anthony Pettis was knocked down in class following his loss to Clay Guida earlier this year, and he will now have to climb and distinguish himself from the pack again to get back up to title contention. He is only 24 years old but he is now a dark horse title contender in stacked division.

     

    Dennis Siver

    19-7

    32 years old

    Next: Donald Cerrone at UFC 137 in October

    Dennis Siver is not a spring chicken anymore at 32 years of age, and his time is now to make his move up to the contenders of the division. He has had some solid wins lately and has a bit of momentum going right now. He is a couple wins away from really being considered for a title shot and he is certainly no lock to get there.

Welterweight: Penn, Fitch, Shields

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    B.J. Penn

    16-7

    32 years old

    Next: Carlos Condit at UFC 137 in October

    Is it really possible that we may get GSP-Penn III before the legend decides to ride off into the sunset? I say B.J. Penn has a dark horse chance to get there. Most people have Carlos Condit plowing through Penn, but what if Penn actually pulls it out? Then what? Will he get another shot to redeem himself at 170 pounds?

     

    Jon Fitch

    23-3

    33 years old

    Next: TBA

    Jon Fitch is finally healthy and awaiting an opponent and has made no secret that he wants to fight at UFC 139 in San Jose, Calif. Fitch has had his shot at the title once already in his career and his draw against B.J. Penn set him back even further in his quest. Many still consider him the undisputed No. 2 welterweight in the world, but I think he is now a dark horse to get that title.

     

    Jake Shields

    26-5

    32 years old

    Next: Jake Ellenberger at UFC Fight Night in September

    This division is staying consistent with experienced fighters who are long shots to get to the title and Jake Shields is no different. He just got his shot at GSP this year and didn't make the most of it. Now he has a risky fight against Jake Ellenberger to start his climb back. Shields needs to make a quick move, but the division is stacked at the top.

Middleweight: Belfort, Leben, Bisping

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    Vitor Belfort

    20-9

    34 years old

    Next: TBA

    After his knockout of Yoshihiro Akiyama, Belfort declared himself ready for another shot at Anderson Silva and the title that he held so long ago. He is not getting any younger and will almost certainly only get one more chance at it, but I can't see it happening without a couple impressive wins over tough, young up-and-comers. If he gets another shot, he is always capable of sealing the deal.

     

    Chris Leben

    22-7

    31 years old

    Next: Mark Munoz at UFC 138 in November

    Chris Leben is on a very nice run in his career right now and his stock is as high as it has ever been. He is lined up against Mark Munoz in an elimination match for title contender in the division this coming November. Leben is exciting and his reckless style makes him a fan favorite everywhere he goes with the UFC. He remains a dark horse for a UFC title.

     

    Michael Bisping 

    21-3

    32 years old

    Next: Jason Miller at The Ultimate Fighter 14 finale

    Just how good is Michael Bisping is one of the hottest ongoing topics in the world of mixed martial arts. I'm not so sure what a win over Jason Miller will tell us, but I maintain here that Bisping is always a dark horse for the UFC title. His first step up to the big boys didn't go swimmingly for him and I look forward to seeing the second sometime soon.

Light Heavyweight: Henderson, Gustafsson, Machida

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    Dan Henderson

    28-8

    41 years old

    Next: TBA

    After his knockout of Fedor Emelianenko, Dan Henderson has made himself a dark horse for the light heavyweight title. Rumour has it that the UFC would like him back in the promotion and that it would like to give him an immediate shot at the title. If that is true then he clearly is a dark horse as we all saw what the champ did to Hendo the last time they met.

    The first round of that fight is the blue print to victory, but at 41 years old Henderson is a dark horse to repeat it for a full title fight.

     

    Alexander Gustafsson

    12-1

    24 years old

    Next: TBA

    Alexander Gustafsson is a young light heavyweight lion in a den of experienced veterans all jockeying for their one last shot at the title many of them have held before. His destruction of Matt Hamill thrust him into contention but in hindsight we know that Hamill's heart was not in the fight.

    Gustafsson has all the tools to one day hold the title, but there is one man younger that makes Gustafsson a dark horse and his name is Jon Jones.

     

    Lyoto Machida

    17-2

    33 years old

    Next: TBA

    Lyoto Machida is one of those veterans who has been to the top of the mountain very briefly and now must take tough, risky fights to get himself back to that shot. He is coming off a nice knockout of Randy Couture but lost to two fights before that, both to men who are not dark horses in his division. Machida needs to take and win a big fight next and get in line for a chance at his next shot.

Heavyweight: Silva, Mitrione, Lesnar

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    Antonio Silva

    16-2

    31 years old

    Next: Daniel Cormier at Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix in September

    Something is going on with Bigfoot Silva these days as he looks primed and ready to challenge for the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix title in the next coming months of his career. If he wins this tournament it won't be long until the UFC comes calling to see him against some of the best in the promotion and the world.

    Right now, Silva is off the radar, but he is a dark horse for the UFC title based on the fact that I believe he is the favorite to win the tournament now that Alistair Overeem is no longer in it.

     

    Matt Mitrione

    5-0

    33 years old

    Next: Cheick Kongo at UFC 137 in October

    This one may seem crazy, but I am beginning to think to never count Matt Mitrione out of any fight that he is in. He is taking a step up fighting gatekeeper Cheick Kongo at UFC 137 in October, and if he gets through that gate, I see him as a real dark horse for the title.

    He is not young, though, and at 33 years old he cannot afford even one blip along the way.

     

    Brock Lesnar

    5-2

    34 years old

    Next: TBA

    Brock Lesnar has a long way to climb back to the top of the division, and at 34 years old he is definitely a dark horse to get the title back. He can certainly do it with his size and pedigree but he has to get back training and hope to be rid of the illness that has derailed his spot in the midst of the sure contenders.

    Once healthy, Lesnar needs to work on rounding his game out and improving to be able to take anything away from the likes of the Velasquezes and the Dos Santos of this world.

     

    Dwight Wakabayashi is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report MMA (also a correspondent for MMACanada.net).

    Catch him on Twitter @wakafightermma.