Photo of Ronda Rousey by Peggy Sirota for ESPN The Magazine
What do Chris Weidman, Jon Jones, Johny Hendricks, Renan Barao and Ronda Rousey all have in common? They are among the most successful mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters in 2012, who are all worthy of continued discussion and praise.
With Turkey weekend winding down and your stomachs undoubtedly full of stuff you're going to hate yourself for eating tomorrow, MMAmania's "5 Top 5s" now concludes with our search for the one pugilist who rose above the rest.
That's right, it's time to talk about the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) shining stars, as well as the one mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter outside the organization who will soon be inside as we head into 2013.
As a note, I'm basing this list off of what the fighters have accomplished in this calendar year. Otherwise, Nate Diaz and Chan Sung Jung would be on the list. Unfortunately, as of this posting, they have only fought once in 2012. Should Diaz defeat Ben Henderson in two weeks at UFC on FOX 5, place him at No. 2.
Follow me as we look for 2012's "Fighters of the Year" so far:
#5: Chris Weidman
Sure, his win over Demian Maia was less-than-pleasant to watch, but Weidman has taken out two consensus Top 10 middleweights this year. He has some of the best wrestling credentials in the UFC, prodigious Brazilian jiu-jitsu savvy, and is developing some nasty striking under Ray Longo. This is a man to watch in the coming years, folks.
#4: Jon Jones
UFC 151 shenanigans notwithstanding, Jones put a beating on Rashad Evans and showcased his mental fortitude in surviving a vicious Vitor Belfort armbar. It may not have been his historic 2011, but 2012 was another fine year for "Bones."
#3: Johny Hendricks
If you included last December's pasting of Jon Fitch, he'd be Top 3, but a win over Josh Koscheck and becoming the first man to ever put Martin Kampmann out cold, something Jake Ellenberger, Nate Marquardt, Paul Daley and Thiago Alves all failed to do, are still pretty damn impressive. I don't know if Johny can take out Georges St. Pierre, but he's a headache-in-the-making for anyone at 170.
#2: Renan Barao
Nothing sets off my skepticism like a 20-fight win streak, but Barao proved the doubters wrong in '11 and '12, running through some of the finest the bantamweight division has to offer on his way to securing the UFC interim bantamweight title. Whether he waits on sidelined champion Dominick Cruz on faces the rising Michael McDonald, I'm looking forward to seeing what this young man pulls off next.
#1: Ronda Rousey
You may not like some of the things she says, but nobody in MMA has been so completely and utterly dominant at the upper echelon this year than Ronda Rousey. Nobody's landed a punch on her. Nobody's threatened her with a submission. Nobody has managed a single piece of offense against her and nobody's gotten out of the first round.
Also, she pretty clearly had the best photoshoot this year.
Your opinions of women's MMA notwithstanding, Rousey has been utterly unstoppable and has, in my opinion, earned her place as 2012's "Fighter of the Year."
Anyone I missed? Anyone I overrated or underrated? Let me know in the comments and have a nice, relaxing Thanksgiving weekend.
See you around, Maniacs.