By Christopher Murphy @MurphMMA
Looking back at this past year, a number of fighters stand out as having exceptionally impressive performances during the last twelve months. Fighters like Ronda Rousey, who became the first female champion in the UFC; Vitor Belfort, who scored three impressive knockouts over top-ranked middleweights; Demetrious Johnson, who successfully defended his belt three times; or Eddie Alvarez, who returned to action after over a year off to defeat Bellator champ Michael Chandler in an epic rematch.
There are plenty more, and we could spend all day recounting the successes of various fighters; but with the new year beginning on Wednesday, I’d like to take this time to look at several fighters who are on the brink of having break-out years in 2014.
There are, of course, more fighters than can be named who are going to do well in 2014. I can’t list them all, but some certainly deserve to be listed here.
-Robbie Lawler and Johny Hendricks, I believe, will put on a Fight of the Year candidate when they fight for the vacant welterweight title at UFC 171. Similarly, I expect the same from Dominick Cruz and Renan Barao when they finally meet at UFC 169.
-Demetrious Johnson had an amazing year this past year, and I expect him to carry his momentum forward to 2014.
-I’m looking forward to Alexander Gustafsson’s year. Assuming he gets past Jimi Manuwa, I expect an epic rematch between him and Jon Jones.
-Daniel Cormier’s drop to light heavyweight is promising, but he has a big challenge ahead of him in Rashad Evans. If Cormier gets past Evans, I expect a big year for him that will most likely see a shot at the title.
5- Chris Weidman
There will always be those who doubt Chris Weidman. In his first victory over Anderson Silva, despite scoring a knockout, fans will blame Silva’s antics for the loss rather than Weidman’s skill for the win. This past weekend will only add to that myth. Despite Weidman dominating the first round, some fans will see Weidman’s second victory as the result of a freak accident. Regardless of all that, Chris Weidman has the belt, and he is the rightful champion at 185 lbs. With his upcoming bout against Vitor Belfort, I expect Chris Weidman to show everyone why he deserves the belt. Furthermore, I expect a win over Belfort to be the launching point for a very successful run as middleweight champion.
4- Lyoto Machida
The only thing that can get in the way of Chris Weidman is Lyoto Machida. When Machida dropped down to middleweight, it meant two things: Anderson Silva was near retirement, as the two have sworn to never fight one another, and every middleweight fighter had to worry. Machida found huge success at light heavyweight, winning the title in a division where he was the smaller fighter. The drop to 185 lbs. puts him on an even playing field in terms of size; and if anything, it has enhanced the Brazilian fighter’s already incredible speed and quickness. He fights Gegard Mousasi at UFC Fight Night 36 in February, and I think that fight will be the next step on Machida’s path to Chris Weidman.
3- Marlon Moraes
The UFC dominates most of these lists, as their roster of fighters extensively covers the sport’s top talent; but the World Series of Fighting has been the home to rising bantamweight star, Marlon Moraes. He holds 4 wins inside WSOF with 2 first-round KO’s. As the WSOF continues to grow and expand, I believe Moraes, who fights in March for the inaugural bantamweight title, will be one of the poster-fighters for the organization.
2- Yoel Romero
When it comes to projection, Yoel Romero is a fighter with potential. He is an Olympic silver medalist in freestyle wrestling, and he is one of only a few people to beat renown Olympic gold medal wrestler Cael Sanderson. With a wrestling pedigree of that nature, it is amazing then to see Romero’s record of 6-1 with six T/KO victories. While he is currently unranked in the middleweight division, I predict Romero is going to make some huge waves at 185 lbs. this year, at the very least working his way into the division’s top ten by the end of 2014.
1- Tyron Woodley
Like Romero, Woodley has world-class wrestling; and his most recent knockout victory over Josh Koscheck clearly demonstrated the progression of his striking abilities. He is 2-1 inside the UFC, but he has earned a shot at former interim UFC welterweight champion Carlos Condit at UFC 171 in March. I believe Woodley is ready for that challenge, and I predict he will earn a title shot by the end of 2014.Tags: Alexander Gustafsson, Bellator, Chris Weidman, Demetrious Johnson, Dominick Cruz, johny hendricks, lyoto machida, marlon moraes, mma, MMA NEWS, renan barao, robbie lawler, Tyron woodley, ufc, ufc news, wsof, Yoel Romero