MMA: The Most Underrated Fighter in Each Division
Some fighters get way less credit than they deserve for what they have accomplished—which is baffling when taking note of the talent possessed by them. But in this sport of mixed martial arts, it's just the type of thing that happens when the weight classes have fighters that can do what some of these fighters can do.
Some can be underrated as prospect, a contender or even as a champion (especially if they are not in the UFC, Strikeforce, Bellator or DREAM), but exactly who could we say is a certain lock for an "underrated" fighter in the division?
It depends on who you ask, because the question could be answered by mentioning only UFC fighters, prospects, all-time greats or guys that don't get as much attention as one may think—despite being impressive in victory, so allow yours truly to warn you in advance that the majority of what you're about to see classified as underrated is referring to prospects that few, if anybody, is paying much attention.
As a matter of fact, with this collection not confined strictly to the Zuffa banner or Bellator, there's a 99 percent chance that you find yourself wondering who half of these dudes are, but some of these should look familiar to most of y'all.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the eight fighters, from the Flyweight division to the Heavyweight division, who are, arguably, the most underrated in their respective division right now.
Flyweight: Yuki Shojo
Really speaking, any fighter from the flyweight division could have been mentioned, because the 125-pound division is underrated as a whole. But as underrated as the likes of Jussier Da Silva, Mikihito Yamagami, Dustin Ortiz and Mamoru Yamaguchi all are, Yuki Shojo is the one to get a mention.
His current two-fight skid notwithstanding, Shojo has only been finished twice, with the first TKO loss coming to Yashuhiro Urushitani and the first submission loss coming to one Shinichi "BJ" Kojima, and the rest of his losses coming by way of decision, with the majority of the decision losses coming by majority decision.
He also owns a KO win over Ayuma Shioda with seven decision wins, including one over Jesse Taitano, and while he owns his first TKO loss to Urushitani, he also holds the distinction of being the first man to finish Urushitani.
Odd how he's the first man to Urushitani and yet he still gets no love from fans, isn't it?
Then again, the flyweight division in general needs some love. It's so grossly underrated that it's not even funny.
Bantamweight: Eduardo Dantas
The fighters of the 135-pound bantamweight division, just like the 145-pound division and the 125-pound-and-under division, is known not only for the ferocious pace that the fighters push but also for being absolutely difficult to finish.
Case in point: reigning Bellator Bantamweight world champion Eduardo Dantas, who defeated Zach Makovsky for the Bellator Bantamweight Championship a few short weeks ago.
Dantas is a durable fighter who has only lost by unanimous decision to Masakatsu Ueda, also holding eight finishes, six decision wins and a disqualification loss early in his career in addition to the defeat to Ueda.
Not only that, but he also holds the distinction of being the first man to beat flyweight-turned-bantamweight Alexis "The Exorcist" Vila, and now he's the man supporting the gold of the Bellator bantamweight class.
Featherweight: Jim Hettes
Jim "The Kid" Hettes is yet another featherweight under the Zuffa banner to have turned heads due to the exciting style he brings into the cage in each of his fights. But the reason why he's such an exciting fighter is his underrated ground-and-pound, as well as his fluid ground game. And that fluid ground game gets overlooked in a great deal due to the talent currently in the featherweight division.
It's easy to see fighters like Chad Mendes, Hatsu Hioki, Chan Sung Jung, Dustin Poirier, Erik Koch, Mark Hominick and others in what we'd like to pretend is "the mix" at 145 pounds. And in that mix is where guys like Hettes, Issei Tamura, and Daniel Pineda are among the collection of young lions that get lost in the shuffle.
Hettes especially gets lost in the shuffle despite a slick submission win over Alex Caceres and arguably one of the most dominant three-round unanimous-decision wins in MMA history in his UFC 141 win over Nam Phan. But if his 2012 is anything like his 2011, he may not stay underrated for very long.
Lightweight: Eddie Ng
ONE FC as an MMA promotion is as underrated as they come, as they have consistently put on great fight cards ever since their humble beginnings as an MMA promotion. While their first card featured Yoshiyuki Yoshida vs. Phil Baroni, and their second card featured Bob Sapp vs. Rolles Gracie, the fresh crop of Asian MMA fighters ranging from Eduard Folayang to Ole Laursen have given new fans something to appreciate from the promotion.
Conspicuous by their records and their iron wills inside the cage, Laursen and Folayang have remained among the top prospect to watch out for in 2012. But unlike the two men who raised the bar pretty high for ONE FC fights in 2012, one name has flown under the radar despite looking impressive in his current three-fight win streak is "The Magician" Eddie Ng, who decimated Jian Kai Chee.
Many consider Ng, who is Hong Kong's consensus No. 1 fighter at the moment, to still be inexperienced and the end potential for this kid is not known at this point. But for a kid who's supposedly inexperienced, Ng is coming along in every aspect of his game; and while not a beast in one realm or the other, he does aim to find more than one way to finish his fights,
Perhaps it's his lack of experience in the sport that has him flying under the radar, but he's already got people talking about him at this stage in the sport. So, one can only expect all the talk about this kid to get louder and louder before too long as he continues to grow in his still-young MMA career.
Welterweight: Erick Silva
Two fights, one controversial ending, one bout with Charlie Brenneman on the horizon (as of this piece) and yet we still are only beginning to see what Erick Silva can do at the level of competition on which he is currently competing.
Even though Silva technically lost his last fight against Carlo Prater, he did show the "hardcore" MMA audience that he can finish fights fast. And if he can do that in his first two fights as a UFC Welterweight, imagine what he could accomplish as he gets closer to the top of the division.
Scary in a Rory MacDonald kind of way, isn't it?
Middleweight: Tom Watson
You would think training with the Greg Jackson camp and scoring wins over the likes of Murilo "Ninja" Rua, Matt Horwich and John Maguire would make Tom Watson one of the more polarizing middleweights in the sport right now, but, alas, he's only BAMMA's best middleweight to date.
That distinction does come with the territory of being BAMMA World Middleweight Champion, but being seen as a Greg Jackson fighter is not enough when people haven't seen the organization in which said champion fights.
Fans who have seen Watson fight will take note of the brilliance he shows every time in the cage and they will recognize him as one of the most aggressive middleweights in the sport at this very moment. However, until more people catch on to BAMMA, it'll be hard to not wonder what a fighter of Watson's caliber might accomplish if he'd make the trip stateside and test out that circuit for a go-round.
Light-Heavyweight: Alexander Gustafsson
How does Alexander Gustafsson qualify as underrated?
He's in a division that is ruled by Jon "Bones" Jones, which by default causes the entire Light-Heavyweight division to qualify as underrated.
Gustafsson, however, may be the most underrated of the bunch, however, as he's the kid that very few saw coming after losing to now-teammate Phil Davis. Yet he bounced back from that defeat and has looked phenomenal ever since.
At this point in his career, he's looked dominant as a striker, his takedown defense is still impenetrable, and he's close to potential title contention. But in a division that just cannot seem to touch its current champion—despite Lyoto Machida's best efforts—guys like Gustafsson get lost in the shuffle.
Well, there's that and the whole Jon Jones-Dan-Henderson deal, which is obviously meant to add interest to UFC 149—the event that has left the door open for that particular title bout to happen. Gustafsson had his way with Thiago Silva in Stockholm, and with further development as a fighter, people will eventually find it in them to not shut up about him once his scrap with Silva has been completed.
Heavyweight: Daniel Cormier
If the 2011 version of Renan Barao was the most lethal and most promising bantamweight that you had never heard of at the time, then the 2012 version of Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix finalist Daniel Cormier might just be the most dangerous Strikeforce Heavyweight that you might not hear many talk about.
With his well-documented background, his Olympic credentials, and those sledgehammer-like hands of his, one would like to pretend that his spot opposite Josh "The War Master" Barnett makes him a contender and that a win over Barnett—as well as the "plus-one" supposedly still scheduled to face the Grand Prix winner before the Heavyweight division folds completely.
So, why isn't he?
UFC 146 comes to mind, as do the UFC return of Fabricio Werdum and the UFC debuts of Alistair Overeem, Lavar Johnson and Shawn Jordan, so maybe that has something to do with it.
This is clearly the opposite of the under-appreciated flyweight division, the seemingly bare middleweight division, or the Jon Jones-dominated light-heavyweight division—the heavyweight division is not a dry division at all, it's been the big-money division in combat sports even before the UFC existed. And the UFC Heavyweight title is the most slippery title in the sport right now, so it seems unfair to jump the gun and think Junior Dos Santos' heavyweight title run will outdo Anderson Silva's middleweight title run.
In hindsight, maybe it's more of what has happened in the heavyweight division—and less about the state of the actual division, the consensus of the division, or even the man ruling the roost in the division—that has us only remembering Cormier-Barnett whenever one of them gets quoted on something relating to their fight.
In MMA, however, the quotes are cheap—it'll come when the two face off in May, and if you think Cormier has come all this way just to let Barnett walk all over him, think again.