The UFC’s continued reign of fantastic matchmaking, along with a wealth of new, explosive athletes, did not disappoint in 2008. We saw titles change hands, the rise and fall of legends, and a new breed of talent begin developing amongst the stacked divisions of the UFC.
As the contender pool in each division becomes deeper and deeper it becomes more daunting to pick out those who shine. Many fighters are on the cusp of having a breakout year within their respective divisions. There are not the fighters whom have already been officially ushered into the contender slots such as Lyoto Machida, Demian Maia, and Kenny Florian. These are the fighters whom have endured success in their UFC run thus far and are bound for a run into the spotlight in 2009.
Heavyweight (265 lbs)
Shane Carwin (11-0 MMA, 3-0 UFC)
Carwin has torn through his first three opponents in the UFC, including a recent TKO of highly touted heavyweight Gabriel Gonzaga. Amongst the three fights, all first round stoppages within the first 2 minutes, Carwin has spent a total time of 3:24 in the octagon. The recent pummeling of Gonzaga suggests that Carwin is ready for the step up in competition. Some have even said the Carwin is ready for a title shot. The UFC will want to showcase Carwin’s skills in a lacking division before throwing him to the wolves. Expect the UFC to throw some challenges at Carwin in 2009 and look for him to continue his tear through the division en route to the title picture.
Close follower(s): Cain Velasquez, Cheick Kongo
Light heavyweight (205 lbs)
Jon Jones (8-0 MMA, 2-0 UFC)
Jones is not your typical MMA fighter. While like most of his fellow fighters, he has endured success as National Junior College wrestling champion. What sets him apart from his fellow fighters is the fact that he has been training MMA and fighting professionally for only about one year. Even more impressive is the fact that Jones holds a dominant decision victory over TUF veteran Stephan Bonnar. Jones is tall and awkwardly strong for the division. Look for his size and reach to give trouble to his opponents. The UFC won’t coddle Jones, and we should expect an even tougher set of opponents for him in 2009. First on the list is former heavyweight Jake O’Brien. The two will square off at UFC 100 in July.
Close follower(s):Luiz Cane, Brandon Vera
Middleweight (185 lbs)
Dan Miller (11-1 MMA, 3-0 UFC)
An MMA veteran and former IFL standout, Miller made a quick mark in the UFC with decisive wins over Rob Kimmons, Matt Horwich, and former NCAA wrestling national champion Jake Rosholt. Miller is no stranger to finishing fights quickly. The majority of his fights have ended within the first few minutes of round 1. Look for Miller to have a tough road ahead in the tail end of 2009. He is slated to fight Japanese powerhouse Yushin Okami, whom is coming off of a decision win over Dean Lister back in December 2008. Nonetheless, keep an eye on this scrappy veteran to further make his mark in the division.
Close follower(s):Nate Marquardt, Nate Quarry
Welterweight (170 lbs)
Martin Kampmann (15-2 MMA, 6-1 UFC)
For the past few years, Kampmann has spent his time in the UFC’s middleweight division. Now at his more natural and ideal weight, this well-rounded Danish standout has appeared unstoppable in his first two appearances at welterweight. Most recently, Kampmann put on an impressive showing against former WEC world champion, Carlos Condit. The victory solidified Kampmann’s spot amongst the world’s best at welterweight. The logical next step for Kampmann would be the likes of Jon Fitch, Thiago Alves, or Josh Koscheck, all of whom have their next fights scheduled. The UFC has high hopes for Kampmann in his new slot at welterweight and they are projecting success for Denmark’s finest.
Close follower(s):Mike Swick, Marcus Davis, Paulo Thiago
Lightweight (155 lbs)
Clay Guida (25-9 MMA, 5-3 UFC)
Guida is probably the least expected fighter on this list given his track record. He has seen his ups and downs, most recently having an undefeated 3-0 record in 2008 with notable wins over Nate Diaz and Mac Danzig. The consistency with Guida lies with his conditioning. Guida is arguably the best conditioned athlete across any division in the UFC. Guida relies on his relentless pace to wear down his foes across the duration of his fights. Guida’s three losses in the UFC can all be argued. Two of Guida’s decision losses to Din Thomas and Tyson Griffin, were fights that many thought the victory belonged in the hands of Guida. The other loss came at the hands of former lightweight contender Roger Huerta back in 2007. The submission loss to Huerta came after Guida dominated the majority of the fight, nearly scoring a TKO in the second round. Despite these arguments, a loss is a loss. Guida looks to carry over his success from 2008 when he meets Diego Sanchez in June at TUF 9 Finale in June. Look for fireworks and an astounding pace when these two fighters clash in this potential fight of the year candidate.
Close follower(s): Diego Sanchez, Gray Maynard