Happy New Years to All! To ring in the New Year, I present to you the 10 Off-the-Beaten-Path Fighters to Watch in 2009.
Going into 2009, I have 10 fighters that aren't UFC champions, undefeated champions, or superstar fighters that I can't wait to watch. I picked these fighters bases on their skill sets, their tendency to be in great fights, potential, upcoming fights in 2009, or a combination of all four.
This list is based on my own opinions, MMA viewing, and preferences, so feel free to add fighters that you can't wait to see in 2009 who aren't UFC champs or undefeated superstars.
A Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu prodigy the 10-2 Nathan Diaz is an exciting fighter to watch in action. Very slick on the ground, very hard to submit and loves to stand up and box.
I love watching the younger Diaz brother in action, and 2009 promises to be a good year with a fighter against the energetic and over-hyped Clay Guida.
Bonnar is coming back from a knee injury and hasn't fought since September 2007 and many in MMA have forgotten how good Bonnar was. We are talking about a Golden Gloves Boxer with good wrestling and submission skills, whose only career losses are to Lyoto Machida, Forrest Griffin, and Rashad Evans and he is back in 2009 with a fight in UFC 94.
A solid combination of striking and wrestling skills Johnson is a fast riser in the welterweight division and now that he has bounced back from the eye poking, look out lower level contenders in the UFC welterweight division.
He has no fights in 2009 yet, but be sure he will get a real welterweight player this year.
A BJJ legend, instructor at Gracie UK, and eight time World Champion he has only two MMA matches, both wins by submission. His fights are spread out and not consistent, and I hope he has a fight or two in 2009.
The WEC Bantamweight Champion doesn't really fall 'off the beaten path' but there are many UFC fans that have never heard of Miguel. One of the pound-for-pound best fighters in the world, with outstanding skills and stupid hair cut to boot. Every fight he has is an event and a must watch.
Hazelett is on a path to become the greatest submission fighter in the history of UFC, with 10 victories by submission already in his young career. This 22-year-old could be the greatest BJJ fighter not named Gracie to ever hit MMA.
I like BJJ fighters, can you tell? Shields is one of the elite Welterweights in the world and his move to the UFC may finally happen as the legal battle between promoters wraps up. Look for him to fight a real contender right away, and if he wins, he could fight GSP in UFC 100.
Sokoudjou is a supremely talented fighter that has just not been able to put his package of skills together at this point. The good news is that he is 24 and he just got a major wakeup call when Dana White booted him right out of the UFC, and he is now caught on with Affliction to fight former UFC contender Renato Sobral.
If he finally builds up his cardio, and combines his unique skill set of Judo and Muay Thai, he could roll through 2009 and back into the UFC.
Again, not completely "off the beaten path," but I can't wait to see Florian in action after his destruction of Joe Stevenson and 2009 might hold a title shot for the former TUF finalist or a huge fight off for the top contender spot. Either way, it should be fun.
Bader won one of the most talented TUF seasons of recent memory. He is an undefeated fighter and is a fantastic wrestler. Bader is going to get some fights with some gatekeepers in 2009 to see if he fits into LHW contender list, as long as it is.