10 Best Fighters from the First 6 Months of 2012

Sean SmithAnalyst IJuly 1, 2012

10 Best Fighters from the First 6 Months of 2012

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    In 2011, Jon Jones put together what may have been the single best year an MMA fighter has ever had. After earning a spot in a championship fight with a win over Ryan Bader, Jones proceeded to take the light heavyweight title from Mauricio Rua and defended the belt he earned against former UFC champions Quinton Jackson and Lyoto Machida.

    Outside the cage, 2012 has not been nearly as kind to Jones, who recently pleaded guilty to charges of driving while intoxicated. Still, Jones has continued his success inside the cage, where he defended his belt against rival Rashad Evans and will soon look for a fourth straight title defense against Dan Henderson.

    With a couple more wins before the end of the year, Jones could once again separate himself as the top fighter of the year. However, let's see where he currently stands among the 10 best fighters of 2012.

10. Eddie Wineland

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    2012 Record: 1-0

    After facing stiff competition in Urijah Faber and Joseph Benavidez during 2011, Eddie Wineland got off to a strong start in 2012, knocking out former top bantamweight contender Scott Jorgensen.

    Having suffered those recent losses against Faber and Benavidez, Wineland has some work to do before he can earn a title shot. However, his knockout of Jorgensen shows he deserves to be recognized as one of the top 135-pound fighters in the world.

9. Demetrious Johnson

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    2012 Record: 1-0-1

    Following a loss to bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz in October 2011, the timing of the UFC's introduction of a flyweight division worked out perfectly for Demetrious Johnson. He was included in a four-man tournament to determine the UFC's first 125-pound titleholder.

    Johnson was named the winner of his first semifinal fight with Ian McCall, but it was later discovered that the scores had been added incorrectly. The fight had actually been scored a draw, so the two fighters were scheduled for an immediate rematch, which Johnson was able to win decisively.

    With his victory over McCall, Johnson earned a spot in the UFC's first ever flyweight title fight. The fight has not been scheduled, but Johnson is expected to meet Joseph Benavidez in the coming months.

8. Joseph Benavidez

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    2012 Record: 1-0

    With the only two losses of his career coming against bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, a move to the newly-minted flyweight division was a no-brainer for Joseph Benavidez.

    Already, Benavidez's decision to drop to 125 pounds has paid off, as he earned a spot in a flyweight title fight against Demetrious Johnson with a first-round knockout of former Shooto champion Yasuhiro Urushitani.

7. Nate Diaz

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    2012 Record: 1-0

    Since returning to the lightweight division after an unsuccessful stint at welterweight, Nate Diaz has won three straight fights and separated himself as the top 155-pound contender.

    Earlier this year, Diaz picked up what is probably the biggest win of his career by submitting Jim Miller in the first round of the UFC on Fox 3 main event. After beating Miller, Diaz announced he'll wait for a title shot against the winner of an upcoming championship bout between champion Benson Henderson and Frankie Edgar.

6. Martin Kampmann

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    2012 Record: 2-0

    Martin Kampmann has been far from flawless in his two showings through the first six months of 2012, but he has found a way to win and remain undefeated for the year.

    In his first bout, Kampmann was behind on the scorecards and less than one minute away from losing in a decision against Thiago Alves. However, a miraculous guillotine choke earned him Submission of the Night honors and a step up in competition.

    Against the highly ranked Jake Ellenberger, Kampmann found himself rocked multiple times before completing an incredible comeback by knocking his opponent out with multiple knees from the clinch. With his victory over Ellenberger, Kampmann separated himself as one of the best in the welterweight division.

    A win over Johny Hendricks at UFC 154 in November would earn Kampmann a title shot against the winner of an expected fight between champion Georges St-Pierre and interim champion Carlos Condit.

5. Carlos Condit

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    2012 Record: 1-0

    After winning four straight fights heading into 2012, Carlos Condit had become one of the top contenders in the 170-pound division. Initially, Condit was scheduled to fight Josh Koscheck at UFC 143 in February, but a Georges St-Pierre injury opened the door for Condit to meet Nick Diaz in an interim title fight.

    Though the fight's decision was controversial, Condit was able to do enough to beat Condit on the scorecards and capture the interim welterweight belt. To the dismay of many fans, Condit has opted to wait the better part of one year for a fight with St-Pierre, but it is a fight that could make him the best fighter of 2012 if he can mount an upset in the bout that is expected to take place in November.

4. Jon Jones

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    2012 Record: 1-0

    Though Jon Jones may have picked up the most important win of his career in April, a unanimous decision victory over rival and former teammate Rashad Evans, all of the attention he is currently getting is of the negative variety after pleading guilty to charges of driving while intoxicated.

    If he can pick up a win over former Pride and Strikeforce champion Dan Henderson in September, Jones would tie himself with Chuck Liddell and Frank Shamrock for the second-most consecutive 205-pound title defenses in UFC history. While it wouldn't absolve him of his crime, a Jones win over Henderson would redirect all the attention he is receiving towards his in-Octagon behavior. 

3. Junior dos Santos

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    2012 Record: 1-0

    After winning the heavyweight title in November, Junior dos Santos returned to the cage in May to defend his belt for the first time against Frank Mir. It might not have been as impressive as a win over Alistair Overeem would have been, but dos Santos' second-round knockout of Mir made him one of the more successful fighters of the first half of 2012.

    In September, dos Santos will already be looking to tie the record for most consecutive heavyweight title defenses in UFC history. The Brazilian champion's chance to do just that will come in a rematch against former champion Cain Velasquez, who dos Santos was able to knockout in the first round of the UFC's inaugural Fox event.

2. Jose Aldo

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    2012 Record: 1-0

    After knocking out Chad Mendes in the UFC's first event of the year, Jose Aldo had a chance to pick up his second title defense of 2012 in a scheduled July fight against Erik Koch. However, an injury recently forced Aldo out of that matchup.

    If Aldo can recover quickly and pick up another win before the end of the calender year, there is still a good chance he could top this list in December. The Brazilian has won five straight title fights and is coming close to eliminating all threats to dethrone him.

1. Benson Henderson

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    2012 Record: 1-0

    In beating Frankie Edgar at UFC 144, Benson Henderson was the only fighter to dethrone a UFC champion through the first six months of 2012. Henderson will get a chance to prove his victory wasn't a fluke when he meets Edgar in an immediate rematch in August.

    If he beats Edgar more decisively in their second meeting and picks up a second title defense before the end of the year, Henderson would almost definitely be a lock as the 2012 Fighter of the Year.