UFC's Rashad Evans, Dominick Cruz and 6 Can't-Miss Fighters in 2012

Joshua CareySenior Analyst INovember 28, 2011

UFC's Rashad Evans, Dominick Cruz and 6 Can't-Miss Fighters in 2012

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    With the inaugural UFC on Fox and many remarkable fights, 2011 has been a special year for the sport.

    The dominant return of "Suga" Rashad Evans (16-1-1) at UFC 133, Jake Ellenberger's undefeated year and Dominick Cruz's impressive year as bantamweight champion are all reasons to be excited about the outlook for 2012.

    Evans returned with technical knockout victory over Tito Ortiz, Ellenberger went 3-0 with back-to-back knockouts, Cruz avenged his lone career loss and handily defeated Demetrious Johnson in a follow-up performance.

    Additionally, a half-dozen thrilling fighters will make their returns in 2012.

UFC Lightweight: Melvin Guillard

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    • Overall Record: 29-9-2, 1 NC
    • UFC Record: 10-5
    • Wins by (T)KO: 19
    • Wins by Submission: 2
    • Wins by Decision: 8
    • Losses by (T)KO: 0
    • Losses by Submission: 8
    • Losses by Decision: 1

    Guillard had a five-fight win streak snapped by Joe Lauzon at UFC 136 this past October, but prior to that hiccup, the explosive lightweight was on his way towards a title shot.

    Knockout victories against Evan Dunham, Shane Roller, Waylon Lowe, and a decision over Jeremy Stephens proves that Guillard is a very dangerous fighter.

    Considering how Guillard performed following a loss to Nate Diaz in 2009, you should expect to see a highly motivated fighter in his return.

    UFC on FX 1 will mark Guillard's return to action in the first quarter of 2012 and he'll face Jim Miller, with the winner getting back on track towards a shot at lightweight gold.

UFC Lightweight: Edson Barboza

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    • Overall Record: 9-0
    • UFC Record: 3-0
    • Wins by (T)KO: 6
    • Wins by Submission: 1
    • Wins by Decision: 2
    • Losses by (T)KO: 0
    • Losses by Submission: 0
    • Losses by Decision: 0

    Barboza is a young lightweight who possesses a fan-friendly style with six of his victories coming by way of knockout.

    He's undefeated with three wins in the Octagon, which include TUF 9 winner Ross Pearson and WEC veteran Anthony Njokuani in 2011.

    The talented Brazilian returns to action against Terry Etim at UFC 142 on January 14, 2012.

UFC Middleweight: Anthony Johnson

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    • Overall Record: 10-3
    • UFC Record: 7-3
    • Wins by (T)KO: 7
    • Wins by Submission: 0
    • Wins by Decision: 3
    • Losses by (T)KO: 1
    • Losses by Submission: 2
    • Losses by Decision: 0

    After spending 10 fights at welterweight inside the Octagon with recent victories over Dan Hardy and Charlie Brenneman, Johnson has moved up a weight class to challenge Vitor Belfort at UFC 142.

    Belfort marks Johnson's 11th fight in the organization, but his first at middleweight, so time will tell how much additional power and endurance Johnson possesses without having to drop the additional 15 pounds.

    Six of Johnson's victories have come by way of knockout courtesy of the massive power he holds in his striking. A victory over Belfort without a doubt places him directly in title contention at 185 lbs.

UFC Welterweight: Jake Ellenberger

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    • Overall Record: 26-5
    • UFC Record: 5-1
    • Wins by (T)KO: 17
    • Wins by Submission: 5
    • Wins by Decision: 4
    • Losses by (T)KO: 0
    • Losses by Submission: 1
    • Losses by Decision: 4

    It's amazing that a fighter who made his professional debut in 2005 is evolving into a top-five welterweight a half-dozen years later.

    But with dominant Octagon victories over Jake Shields, Mike Pyle and John Howard in addition to a controversial split-decision loss to Carlos Condit, Ellenberger has been impressive during his six-fight tenure in the organization.

    With the other top-ranked welterweights all set for action, Ellenberger is sitting without a fight at the moment, but a matchup with the winner of Jon Fitch and Johny Hendricks makes the most sense in 2012.

    Update: Ellenberger is slated to face Diego Sanchez at UFC on Fuel TV 1.

UFC Bantamweight Champion: Dominick Cruz

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    • Overall Record: 19-1
    • UFC Record: 2-0
    • Wins by (T)KO: 6
    • Wins by Submission: 1
    • Wins by Decision: 11
    • Losses by (T)KO: 0
    • Losses by Submission: 1
    • Losses by Decision: 0

    Cruz avenged his lone career loss to Urijah Faber at UFC 132 and with the victory he's won 10 consecutive fights.

    Victories over Faber and Demetrious Johnson this year have placed Cruz as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world.

    Cruz's footwork, quickness and wrestling have made him a difficult puzzle to solve and it doesn't appear he's slowing down anytime soon.

    The champion faces Faber in a trilogy bout in 2012 and while no date is currently set, the highly anticipated third bout would be ideal for an Las Vegas venue.

UFC Light Heavyweight No. 1 Contender: Rashad Evans

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    • Overall Record: 16-1-1
    • UFC Record: 11-1-1
    • Wins by (T)KO: 6
    • Wins by Submission: 2
    • Wins by Decision: 8
    • Losses by (T)KO: 1
    • Losses by Submission: 0
    • Losses by Decision: 0

    It's been widely documented that Evans has missed out on title shots against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Jon Jones.

    But with the former champion's hand injury being fully healed, he's primed for a return in 2012 and while he's the number one contender for the title, Evans has stated that he doesn't want to sit idly.

    Evans relocated to Florida, where he's been honing his skillset with the "Blackzilians" and it payed dividends at UFC 133 when he defeated Tito Ortiz by technical knockout.

    During the victory, Evans displayed superior striking courtesy of his work with talented kickboxer Tyrone Spong and his new coaching staff.

    Evans remains without a date and opponent for his 2012 outing, however, since he doesn't want to wait on the Jones and Lyoto Machida at UFC 140, a bout with Dan Henderson would be a great fight.

    Update: Evans is expected to fight Phil Davis at UFC on Fox 2 in January.

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