10 Fighters Most Likely to Have a Breakout 2013

Dan Hiergesell@DHiergesellFeatured ColumnistApril 16, 2013

10 Fighters Most Likely to Have a Breakout 2013

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    Breaking out often defines the sport of mixed martial arts.  It's what makes the action inside the cage so unpredictable and the dedication outside of it completely and utterly essential for success.

    In the past, dedicated and focused fighters have found their niche in becoming the next big thing in their respective divisions. 

    But what makes these breakout candidates even more noticeable is the fact that they come from all walks of life.  Whether it's a young prospect trying to catch his break in the big show or an on-the-fence veteran facing a mid-career crisis, the epitome of a breakout star is not encapsulated by a sole definition.

    By understanding this, we're able to distinguish who has what it takes to outshine their competition and take the MMA world by storm in 2013.  Here's a brief list consisting of these notable names ready to take the next step toward a rewarding breakout.

TUF 17 Standouts

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    Dylan Andrews - Out of all the fighters hailing from The Ultimate Fighter 17, Andrews may pack the most potential.  He's gritty, disciplined, hard-nosed and can scrap with anyone in the division not named Anderson Silva or Uriah Hall.  The only problem is that his window of opportunity is closing quickly at 33 years of age.

    Kelvin Gastelum - With one of the most impressive runs in TUF history, Gastelum has become a serious player in the UFC.  The young and compact middleweight has shown an ability to stifle strikers with persistent clinch work and a powerful overhand right.  But luckily for the rest of the 185-pound fighters gracing the UFC roster, Gastelum has recently stressed his desire to cut weight and move to welterweight.  Should be interesting.

    Uriah Hall - Everyone was high on Hall for his fight with Gastelum at the finale, but the one-punch, one-kick phenom simply didn't show up.  Hall often looked overwhelmed and unable to find his groove.  That shouldn't be the case as he prepares to show his true striking prowess in the middleweight division before the 2013 campaign closes.

    Clint Hester - Hester is probably the rawest name on this list, but he's got a boatload of talent.  As a boxer, it's going to take him some time to grasp the ins and outs of grappling and how to successfully stuff takedowns, but with heavy hands and an in-cage mentality that can be molded to perfection, Hester has all the potential in the world to breakout in his next fight.

    Josh Samman - Despite a rather disappointing performance against Gastelum on TUF in a fight that would have pitted him against Hall at the finale, Samman still has what it takes to one day find his way to the division's top 10 rankings.  He's relatively young, very well-rounded, sports a devastating tendency to pounce on an injured foe and has all the natural skills to carry him far into next year.  His biggest challenge will be staying healthy.

Cat Zingano

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    After looking like Rocky Balboa opposite Miesha Tate at The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale, Cat Zingano has gained the respect of even the most male-chauvinistic UFC fans out there.

    She did it on the back of relentless pressure, angry standup and the ability to take damage at every turn of each round.

    Now, after knocking off the consensus No. 1 contender in the bantamweight division, Zingano has become next in line to fight the always popular and media-beloved Ronda Rousey for UFC supremacy.

    So even though she's well-known on the heels of her most recent victory, it's going to be a coaching stint on TUF that should expose Zingano's personality and professional profile en route to making her a big star.

Darren Elkins

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    Don't look now, but Darren Elkins has won five straight bouts since moving down to the featherweight division.

    The 28-year-old hasn't been overly dominant, winning four fights via decision, but it's been his persistent willingness to grind out victory after victory that lands him on this list.

    After all, in today's MMA, winning is everything.  Sometimes you don't need to knock guys out or snap limbs to make heads turn.  Elkins is a defining example of that notion.

    When he meets Chad Mendes this coming Saturday at UFC on FOX 7, "The Damage" will finally have his opportunity to show the world that he's more than an afterthought in the fastest growing division in the UFC.

Abel Trujillo

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    If you don't know who Abel Trujillo is, now is the time to take notice.

    As one of the Blackzilians' most explosive fighters, Trujillo has the potential to take the UFC lightweight division by storm.

    He might have to implement a more condition-based wrestling game so he doesn't gas so easily, but "Killa" should find immediate success by laying his naturally titanic hands on unsuspecting lightweight chins in the near future.

    Currently scheduled to take on Khabib Nurmagomedov, who stands as one of the hottest fighters in the game, Trujillo has all the talent in the world to secure back-to-back finishes that would propel him near the division's core group of contenders.

Nik Lentz

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    Many people overlook Nik Lentz's 25-5-2 professional record because he struggled so frequently as a UFC lightweight.  But the fact of the matter is that "The Carny" has been unstoppable since moving down to 145 pounds.

    In just two fights, Lentz has recorded an astonishing 14 takedowns, not to mention a first-round TKO of Eiji Mitsuoka in his divisional debut.

    Any way you look at it, Lentz is on a clear path of destruction and ready to prove that cutting weight was the only thing holding him back from contending for a title. 

    It may be too early, but if the redefined veteran can stop a 21-1-1 Brazilian hungry to impress in his UFC debut in Hacran Dias, then he deserves all the praise that a rising featherweight can stomach.

Brad Tavares

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    Brad Tavares often goes unmentioned when discussing the future of the UFC middleweight division for two reasons; he's still very young and lacks relative experience against top contenders.

    Well, as Father Time would have it, Tavares is ready to take the next step toward the division's top 10.  He's finally ready to cash in on his physical capabilities and overall ability inside the cage.

    Now the owner of three straight victories after defeating Riki Fukuda in Japan last month, Tavares has done everything in his power to show UFC brass that he deserves better and brighter opportunities heading into the future.

    His next fight has yet to be determined, but if other middleweights were to look at Tavares and what he's all about when everything is on the line, chances are they're going to pass on fighting him.

TJ Dillashaw

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    Ever since TJ Dillashaw lost to John Dodson at The Ultimate Fighter Season 14 Finale, he's been nearly impossible to beat.

    Over his last six frames, spanning three fights, Team Alpha Male standout Dillashaw has compiled seven takedowns, one submission victory and one devastating flying knee that nearly earned him Knockout of the Night honors.

    After witnessing the ferocity and natural gifts that Dillashaw possesses on a nightly basis, it's difficult to picture any bantamweight outside of the division's top five beating him.

    One more finish and he'll find his way into title contention by the end of 2013.

Jordan Mein

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    After dismantling Dan Miller in a matter of minutes in his UFC debut, Canadian standout Jordan Mein was crowned the next big star in the welterweight division.

    But even though Mein knocked off one of the hardest fighters in the sport to finish, he still needs to prove himself within one of the deepest divisions.

    That shouldn't be too difficult to do considering "Young Gun" is only 23 years old, but he needs to showcase a more well-rounded game before officially breaking out.

    Fortunately for Mein, he'll have that shot against the always formidable and especially gritty Matt Brown this coming weekend at UFC on FOX 7.

    A first-round finish over Brown, another fighter who has never been finished by punches, would suggest that Mein deserves to be mentioned alongside fellow Canadian Rory MacDonald as a future title threat.

Dennis Bermudez

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    One more win is all Dennis Bermudez needs to gain the respect and acknowledgement around the UFC as a future contender in the featherweight division.

    His recent victory over Matt Grice, which is arguably a top candidate for Fight of the Year thus far, showcased Bermudez's ability to withstand the best of power shots, regroup, implement his own explosive attacks and make every second of every round count.

    That type of persistence is sometimes all a fighter needs to propel him into stardom.  Bermudez is quickly becoming that guy.  One that resembles Clay Guida in his prime and Leonard Garcia throughout his entire career.

    In any case, the 26-year-old menace has progressed in every one of his UFC fights and should continue to climb the divisional ladder heading into the later part of 2013.

John Moraga

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    John Moraga was all set to take on Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson for the UFC flyweight title at The Ultimate Fighter Season 17 Finale, but an injury to the fastest champion on the planet took a career opportunity out of the 29-year-old's hands.

    However, Johnson's misfortunes will now give Moraga even more time to prepare a proper game plan that can stifle the quickness and elusiveness of an untouchable Octagon entity.

    Not too may people know who Moraga is outside of his scheduled title bout, which is often the case when it comes to flyweights not named Johnson, Ian McCall or Joseph Benavidez, but fans will find out sooner or later.

    As an established wrestler with one-punch knockout power, Moraga has what it takes to win the belt, retain it and enter 2014 as a future pound-for-pound beast.

    It may be a coincidence, but his only professional loss came against John Dodson in 2010, a man who nearly stopped Johnson on multiple occasions.

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