MMA: Most Popular Fighter in 2012

Kyle Symes@ksymes88Correspondent IIIDecember 20, 2012

MMA: Most Popular Fighter in 2012

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    You know 'em. You love 'em. You hate 'em. No matter the stance you have on these fighters they were always sure to be near the top of any MMA page.

    Remember the popular kids in high school? You know the ones you said you hated but still could not stop talking about? That is kind of where these fighters find themselves following 2012. They are undoubtedly the most popular fighters of 2012 and always bumped to the front page.

    Some of the fighters achieved their popularity by actions in the cage while others were more crafty with a microphone. Some of the top fighters on this list were able to do both.

    No matter the method used by the fighters on this list, they are the most talked about competitors in all of MMA in 2012.

15. Erick Silva

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    There are not too many fighters that see their stock go up following a loss. Erick Silva enjoyed such a boost after losing via disqualification against Carlo Prater at UFC 142. Silva dropped Prater early in the first round and initially looked to be the victor until referee Mario Yamasaki ruled that Silva had won via illegal strikes to the back of the head.

    After taking out Charlie Brennamen in June, Silva was on the cusp of going from prospect to title contender. All that stood in his way was the former welterweight title challenger, Jon Fitch. Ultimately Fitch proved too much for the 28-year-old Brazilian and the AKA fighter was declared the victor after a tough 15 minutes of fighting.

    Silva is a name that a lot of people believe will be a title contender in the future and the Brazilian has a chance to reach that potential by erasing the loss to Fitch and defeating Jay Hieron at UFC 156.

14. Mauricio Rua

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    After coming off one of the best MMA fights in the sport's history, Mauricio Rua had some high expectations going into 2012. The aging Pride and UFC veteran was set to face off against Brandon Vera and was a fight away from getting another UFC title shot.

    Although Rua did not get the title shot after the victory, he did engage in a Fight of the Year candidate that saw both men come within seconds of taking out the other. Rua had another chance to reinsert himself into the UFC title picture by taking out the highly touted prospect Alexander Gustafsson earlier this month.

    Rua showed his age in both the Vera and Gustafsson fight and questions over how much longer he should continue fighting have been popping up more and more. Still, I am convinced Rua could never win another MMA fight and still remain one of the most popular fighters in the sport.

13. Mark Hunt

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    Mark Hunt only competed once in 2012 due to injury but still enjoyed a huge boost in popularity. His improbable run added another highlight reel finish as he dropped Cheick Kongo at UFC 144. Hunt was supposed to face Stefan Struve at UFC 146 but was forced off the card due to injury.

    Prior to the injury fans began to hit the message boards and Twitter with the #RallyforMarkHunt trend. Fans were clamoring for Hunt, perhaps the most unlikely of title challengers in UFC history, to step up and face Junior dos Santos when Alistair Overeem was forced off the card.

    Hunt's fanbase grew even more after the former Pride and K-1 competitor created a Twitter account. Hunt quickly became one of the more active fighters on the social media site and could win the award for highest jump in popularity over the course of 2012.

12. Alexander Gustafsson

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    Alexander Gustafsson possesses a unique physical frame that combined with his talents in a cage have made him one of the favorites to give UFC champion Jon Jones a run for his money.

    The Swede began his 2012 fight campaign by headlining the UFC's first event ever in Sweden and earned a victory over the very tough Thiago Silva. He capped off the year by taking out Mauricio "Shogun" Rua earlier this month. Gustafsson struggled early against Rua but was able to take an unanimous decision and likely earn a future title shot.

    Gustafsson is a man who has had a lot of expectations placed upon him last year due to his physical gifts but let's hope the Swede can learn to properly use those and can at least force Jones into a competitive fight.

11. Daniel Cormier

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    Daniel Cormier was a name that came up in a lot of conversations about the heavyweight division in 2012. And rightfully so.

    Cormier had a dominant 2012 campaign despite only competing once. Josh Barnett is a durable, talented veteran and Cormier simply walked through him in the finals of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix. Cormier showcased an improving striking game as well as his wrestling skills in pulling off one of the biggest suplexes in MMA history.

    Cormier attempted to get his name out there more by challenging UFC champ Jon Jones but those challenges fell on deaf ears. He was scheduled to face Frank Mir in November but an injury to Mir forced him off the card.

    Now fans will have to wait for 2013 to see Cormier in a Strikeforce cage for the last time. After January's event, I do not expect him to sit on the sidelines for too long once crossing over to the UFC.

10. Glover Teixeira

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    Glover Teixeira is one bad man. The Brazilian came to the UFC with quite a bit of hype surrounding him and he's done nothing but exceed expectations since competing in the Octagon.

    It began with Teixeira's performance against Kyle Kingsbury at UFC 146. Kingsbury, a very tough fighter in his own right was manhandled like a small child. Teixeira put on a horrific one-sided beatdown en route to a first round finish.

    The Brazilian outdid himself at UFC 153 by destroying at least half the brain cells left in Fábio Maldonado's head. Maldonado received a great deal of praise from fans and MMA pundits for surviving the beatdown let alone stunning Teixeira at one point.

    Still, the only reason Maldonado even made it to the end of the second round was because the fence happened to be right behind him.

    It says something when you have only competed once in the Octagon and very few opponents are willing to step up and face Teixeira.

9. Rory MacDonald

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    Rory MacDonald sounded and looked like a trained killer in 2012. The Canadian fighter finally seemed to reach the expectations placed upon him in recent memory by absolutely mauling Che Mills and taking out the legendary BJ Penn in 2012.

    Against Mills, MacDonald wasted little time with an opponent who had no business being in the cage with him. MacDonald used a violent display of ground and pound to take the Englishman out in the second round. It's worth noting that Mills looked like he had been through a five round war rather than nearly 10 minutes of fighting.

    MacDonald's performance against Penn demonstrated that the Canadian has the mental toughness to handle the spotlight by walking through the legendary lightweight. MacDonald displayed a very impressive striking game and was even able to take down Penn in their contest.

    He challenged Carlos Condit to a rematch in 2013 and it appears both men are set for a fight that could give the winner a crack at the 170-pound title.

8. Chael Sonnen

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    Chael Sonnen was at it once again to begin 2012. He was busy calling out rival Anderson Silva despite having a very important fight with Michael Bisping coming up. He was able to come away with a decision victory and the rematch with the UFC middleweight champion was on.

    What ensued was "Chael P. Sonnen" at his best. For months Sonnen managed to piss off virtually every Brazilian except Vinny Magalhaes en route to a clash with "The Spider" at UFC 148. Sonnen was able to control the first round but fell flat (literally!) in the second after a missed spinning back fist attempt.

    Where Sonnen's popularity received a huge boost is in the UFC 151 debacle. In some public relations miracle, Sonnen actually appeared to be the good guy when UFC champion Jon Jones refused to face the out of shape Sonnen on eight days notice.

    Now after moving to light heavyweight full time, Sonnen will coach against the champion Jones on the upcoming season of The Ultimate Fighter and challenge for the UFC title in April of next year.

7. Junior Dos Santos

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    Who says nice guys finish last? Junior dos Santos and his UFC belt would beg to differ.

    The Brazilian capped off a fantastic 2011 by taking the UFC title from Cain Velasquez. Entering 2012, dos Santos was set to participate in perhaps the biggest heavyweight clash since Brock Lesnar-Frank Mir II. The heavyweight championship was to be on the line when dos Santos faced off against K-1 champion Alistair Overeem.

    Unfortunately a failed drug test caused Overeem to be suspended and dos Santos faced the jiu-jitsu artist Mir instead. Dos Santos fended off a deep single leg by Mir in the first round and dropped Mir in the second round to take the TKO victory.

    A war of words has ensued between dos Santos and Overeem the past few months but let's hope JDS' focus remains on his opponent at UFC 155; the former champion Velasquez.

6. Georges St-Pierre

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    Georges St-Pierre began 2012 on the sidelines watching a new champion be crowned in the welterweight division. Carlos Condit earned the interim championship after defeating Nick Diaz and let it be known he wanted to wait for GSP.

    That set the scene for months of build up in anticipation of not only for GSP's return from an ACL injury but also for a very good welterweight bout. The wait was well worth it as St-Pierre and Condit put on a performance that should have both men up for Fight of the Year.

    St-Pierre came under some fire for how he's handled talk about the potential superfight with Anderson Silva but ask any number of UFC fans and you will be sure to find a handful of GSP supporters regardless of the decision victories and evasive talk.

5. Anderson Silva

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    The UFC Middleweight champion has been a bit of a polarizing figure since the Thales Leites/Demian Maia fights but he definitely has a strong support system with his fan base.

    Silva remained untouchable after disposing of rival Chael Sonnen in the promotion's biggest event since UFC 129 and clowning Stephan Bonnar at UFC 153.

    The champ received some backlash for how he handled himself in the media with being picky about who he faces next as well as his astronomical requests to face Jon Jones but nobody can argue with his performances in the Octagon.

    As long as Silva continues to put on amazing displays in his fights,  a'm inclined to believe fans will be willing to deal with the media circus.

4. Johny Hendricks

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    Johny Hendricks entered 2012 as one of the most talked about prospects in the welterweight division. Following a one-punch KO of former title challenger Jon Fitch, Hendricks catapulted into the title picture.

    Despite a shaky performance against Josh Koscheck, Hendricks was placed in a number one contenders bout against Martin Kampmann at UFC 154. Hendricks more than seized the opportunity by dropping the notoriously iron chinned Kampmann with a single punch.

    Hendricks was expecting a title shot to follow his impressive showing at UFC 154 but instead saw Georges St-Pierre choose Nick Diaz as his next opponent. Instead of waiting, Hendricks will now face Jake Ellenberger in 2013 and although it is no consolation for the rightful number one contender, Hendricks now knows he has a solid fanbase behind him.

3. Benson Henderson

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    Benson Henderson had a pretty fantastic 2012 campaign. The former WEC champion won the UFC lightweight strap after defeating Frankie Edgar at UFC 144. The decision was pretty close and an immediate rematch was awarded to Edgar.

    The two met once more at UFC 150 with Henderson once again taking a razor close decision. The UFC 150 scores were even more hotly contested than the UFC 144 scorecards but Henderson payed no mind to what the fans were arguing about. Instead, he chose to focus on number one contender Nate Diaz.

    Diaz brought his fiery personality, volume punching, and slick submission game into the title contest but none of it proved effective against the UFC champ. Diaz tried pulling out all the stops but it just simply wasn't good enough to defeat Henderson.

    The UFC Lightweight champion will enter 2013 with a bit of uncertainty as a clear challenger to his throne has yet to be determined. 

2. Chris Weidman

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    Chris Weidman may ride into 2013 on a white horse with shiny armor on. It certianly seems like everyone is painting Weidman as the savior of the middleweight division after his performance in 2012.

    To begin the year Weidman stepped in on extremely short notice to face the grappler wizard Demian Maia at the UFC on Fox 2 event. Although the fight was rather lack luster given the level of conditioning for both men, Weidman impressed fans with his gritty performance against the former title challenger.

    Running his undefeated streak to eight wins had fans paying some attention to Weidman but it was not until his fight against Mark Munoz when the hype became a reality. Munoz, a tough wrestler with perhaps some of the best wrestling in the division was absolutely manhandled by Weidman.

    In one of 2012's "Oh Sh*t!" moments, Weidman sliced through Munoz's forehead with an elbow that caused one of the most spectacular finishes in UFC history.

    Weidman will be on the shelf for some time due to an injury but will be pressing for a title shot in 2013 upon his return.

1. Ronda Rousey

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    Ronda Rousey became the face of Women's MMA in 2012. She began the year as one of the most heralded prospects in recent memory and ended it as a dominant force in WMMA.

    A 3-0 record coming into 2012 may not sound like much to write home about but look at how Rousey handled the talented grappler Miesha Tate and proficient striker Sarah Kaufman. Rousey was able to dispose of both in the first round and both tapped out to the arm bar. The Kaufman win was impressive in particular for how quick Rousey ended the contest.

    Rousey is one of the few fighters to enjoy acceptance from the main stream sports world as she appeared on numerous TV shows and also in "The Body" edition of ESPN the Magazine. 

    Sure Rousey got on a lot of people's nerves from overexposure but there is no denying that although her star is shining bright right now, it could be a lot brighter in 2013.


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