UFC Barbarians at the Gate: 10 Most Exciting Challengers in the Organization

Kyle ZALLContributor IIIOctober 14, 2011

UFC Barbarians at the Gate: 10 Most Exciting Challengers in the Organization

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    Excitement is what has brought the sport of MMA to the the attention of sports fans everywhere. As much as there is a level of beauty to the ground game and a good position battle, what brings in the money is the stand-up battles that have two men squaring off toe-to-toe and seeing who is the last man standing.

    It is similar to the concept behind of "chicks love the long ball" in baseball, but this is much better.

    Often the most memorable fights are those in which styles clash and give us fireworks right away while also having something on the line. Those are the fights we all want to see.

    What follows is a list of the 10 most exciting contenders in the UFC right now in my opinion. These fighters are realistically close to receiving a shot at the champion and also put on the most exciting performances.

Nick Diaz

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    A lot of focus gets taken away from the former Strikeforce champ and his fighting ability by his antics outside the ring and not “playing the game” with the media.

    Not playing the game even ended up costing him a shot at UFC Welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre at UFC 137. But oddly enough, that is part of Diaz’s charm.

    He is the sport’s counterculture in a sense. He often acts like a punk who isn't changing his stripes and whether he is flipping off the crowd or posting bizarre videos online, he is hard not to find intriguing.

    His fights rarely go to decision, and a majority of the time, he is the one ending them. He is more than willing to stand and bang with his opponents, even he is a highly skilled fighter, and it may suit him better to go to the ground. It doesn't matter, he is there to fight.

    As a fighter, he has almost as many submission wins as he does knockouts; anywhere the fight goes he can end it.

    Next up, he collides with B.J. Penn at UFC 137 in a fight where the winner likely takes on Welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre.

Junior Dos Santos

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    Who could possibly have watched Junior Dos Santos, or Cigano, when he coached on the the Ultimate Fighter 13 opposite Brock Lesnar and not thought he was awesome. He just seemed like such a likable and nice guy.

    He was like a big teddy bear that just happens to beat people up for a living. I loved it and I am willing to admit it, I have a man-crush on Cigano.

    My man-crush aside, he is a monster in the cage, the complete opposite of my teddy-bear comparison. Apparently he holds a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu brown belt, but no one would ever know because he is lethal on his feet. Seeing a man that big hit as hard as he does will always garner some interest from fans.

    In his time in the UFC, his stand-up game has made his opponents look silly. He has ended all his fights up until his last two, but that is not to say he wasn’t completely dominant in those fights.

    In his last fight against Shane Carwin for a chance at the belt, he outclassed him and left him looking like he got the losing end of a fight with a cheese grater instead of a human being. It was ugly.

    There is a reason that Dos Santos was put on the promotion’s first event on Fox; he offers the type of style that the masses like to see.

Ben Henderson

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    Henderson seemed to burst onto the UFC scene in August with his victory in surprisingly dominant fashion over lightweight Jim Miller. But he has been around awhile and like many of Henderson’s bouts, this was a great fight and was on free TV for fans to see.

    Many people either don’t know, or simply tend forget that Henderson was the WEC Lightweight Champion and lost his belt in one of the most entertaining fights in recent memory to Anthony Pettis.

    This guy is involved with wars inside the octagon. It seems like every one of his fights is the best one you'll see all night. In his six fights in the WEC, he won a bonus in three of them.

    His fight with Miller was definitely worthy of a Fight of the Night bonus if only the Lytle-Hardy main event had not been a brawl for the ages.

Mauricio "Shogun" Rua

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    Maurico “Shogun” Rua is no young pup, but he is still as exciting as it gets in the sport.  He currently sports four wins under the UFC banner, all of which have come by either KO or TKO.

    Diehards' love for Shogun goes all the way back to his days in Pride, where he tore through the Middleweight Grand Prix in dominant fashion while beating some of the sports best. It was the stuff of legends.

    For as bad as he looked in his bout with Jon Jones in which he lost his belt, he looked that good against Forrest Griffin at UFC Rio. Until he has to go under the knife again, Shogun is not just a formidable light heavyweight contender, but as exciting as anyone the division has to offer.

Anthony Pettis

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    Let's not over think this; his nickname is “Showtime” for a reason.

    Pettis pulled off what has may be the most popular move ever in the cage when he busted out that crazy ninja kick that turned into an overnight YouTube sensation. 

    In that fight, he ended up winning the WEC lightweight belt and is the last fighter to do so.

Vitor Belfort

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    Remember leading up to his bout against Anderson Silva at UFC 126 where many thought Belfort would be able to stand with him? Well, they were wrong. But that does not mean this guy can't strike with just about everyone else.

    With sledgehammers for fists, Belfort is one of the most feared strikers on the planet. His highlight reels are some of the most impressive ones you will find. He has beaten some of the best fighters ever including TKO victories over Wanderlei Silva and Randy Couture, and many forget that he is a one-time UFC Light Heavyweight Champion.

    He is currently trying to get Anderson Silva's foot removed from his face sometime soon in hopes of getting a rematch with his countryman.

Brock Lesnar

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    Let's keep this one simple; whenever Brock Lesnar fights, it is exciting.

    As much as hardcore fans try to downplay Brock and his ability in the cage, Dana White and his bros love him.

    Brock is the biggest draw in the promotion. Whether he is champ or not, people pay to see this guy.

Donald Cerrone

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    Cerrone, yet another product of the WEC, is making a name for himself in the UFC.

    Even though he is a top 10 ranked lightweight, his most impressive feat is probably that he pulls off wearing a cowboy hat with a "Tapout" patch on it. I find it awkward every time I see it. It's almost as impressive as him being on pace to fight four times in his first 10 months in the UFC.

    Watching him in the cage makes it hard not to like the Cowboy, because his fights are usually so damn good. While in the the WEC, he won Fight of the Night honors five times and has already won it once in his short time in the UFC.

Dan Henderson

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    Now good ol' Danny boy is only making this list on because he has come back to the UFC in order to make some bigger paydays than he could defending his Light Heavyweight belt over in Strikeforce.

    Henderson is one of the most well-liked fighters in the entire sport and it started with the success he had while fighting in PRIDE. While fighting there he managed to hold two belts at one time while fighting in the promotion, something no one else has done.

    He has carried that legacy with him and is one of the few fighters from the Japanese promotion to move on to the UFC and have huge success.

    What makes him so much cooler than other fighters is that he is still fighting at the age of 41 and doing it at a high level. Fight fans love watching old dudes have success, just ask Randy Couture.

    Also, pretty much all major sources have him ranked in the top 10 of all light heavyweights and as high as number two according to some publications.

    Even though he has a storied wrestling background, what makes Henderson so exciting is his hands. He is one of the most feared strikers with that trademark right hand of his.

Chael Sonnen

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    Chael freaking Sonnen. You didn't really think this list wouldn't have Uncle Chael, did you? Just the mere presence of this guy gets people excited now days.

    Watching him in the octagon may be more of a showcase on effectiveness rather than excitement, but it’s everything else this guy brings to the table that he makes exciting for fans.

    He is the only fighter in the promotion who would have the stones to say the pound-for-pound champion Anderson Silva “absolutely sucks” and still have it make any sense at all. In fact, it turned out to be the highlight of UFC 136.

    He brings a different element to the promotion that has never been seen before. In a sport where so many fighters are respectful of their opponents and other fighters within the promotion, Sonnen has made his mark by bucking that trend and being the polar opposite.

    His interviews are without a doubt the best in the sport, maybe even in all of sports. Watching him on camera makes you wonder whether he is crazy or delusional. But then you realize he is just a masterful self-promoter who has made himself into a star.