UFC/MMA Top 5 'Fighters of the Year' in 2013

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

What do Anthony Pettis, Renan Barao, Robbie Lawler, Vitor Belfort and Demetrious Johnson all have in common? They are among the most successful mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters in 2013, who are all worthy of continued discussion and praise.

In addition to events and moments, it's important to recognize the talented mixed martial arts (MMA) stars who made significant impacts in 2013.

Impacts on peoples' faces and limbs, to be precise.

Who are the Top 5 fighters of 2013? Let's find out:

5. Anthony Pettis

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It was a long time coming, but Anthony Pettis finally got a chance to take a run at the UFC Lightweight title this year.

And what a run it was.

He started the year by utterly thrashing fellow World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) veteran Donald Cerrone, handing him the first knockout loss of his career courtesy of a rib-crushing liver kick. It took him all of three minutes.

When September rolled around, "Showtime" faced longtime rival Ben Henderson for the 155-pound strap. After controlling the majority of the first round on the feet, landing a series of vicious body kicks before an errant head kick resulted in "Bendo" taking him down.

That's when Pettis did the unthinkable, locking up a tight armbar from his guard and forcing the rubber-limbed champion to submit.

Injury may keep Pettis off the shelf until midway through 2014, but I, for one, will be awaiting his first defense with bated breath.

4. Renan Barao

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Barao just keeps finding new ways to impress.

After his dull defense against Urijah Faber in 2012, Barao spent 2013 earning back the fans' good graces, starting with his submission of young gun Michael McDonald in February. After surviving the young puncher's power, Barao began finding more and more success with his kicks and takedowns, eventually locking up an arm-triangle in the fourth frame.

His September bout with Eddie Wineland was even more impressive, as Barao uncorked a vicious spinning back kick to the face early in the second round to earn his first UFC knockout.

He faces Dominick Cruz in February at UFC 169 in a clash to determine the best Bantamweight in the modern era. That ought to be something special.

3. Robbie Lawler

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Robbie went 1-3 from 2010 to 2011. He's fighting for a UFC Welterweight title early next year.

Undoubtedly the "Comeback Fighter of the Year," Lawler returned to 170 pounds for the first time in almost a decade in February, starching Josh Koscheck in one of the year's biggest upsets.

He was next scheduled to face final Strikeforce 170-pound champ Tarec Saffiedine in July, only for "The Sponge" to pull out. When replacement Siyar Bahadurzada pulled out as well, Lawler settled for wrecking fellow import Bobby Voelker, sleeping him in two with a head kick.

His most impressive performance yet, though, came at UFC 167, where he out-dueled hot prospect Rory MacDonald. Lawler showed significantly-improved takedown defense and ability to scramble to his feet, which allowed him to bring his heavy leather to bear and drop Macdonald in the third round.

After taking a well-earned split decision, Lawler is set to take on Johny Hendricks for the recently-vacated UFC welterweight title, more than one decade since he first debuted in the world's largest fight organization.

2. Vitor Belfort

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Vitor's 2012 comprised a submission over an overweight Anthony Johnson and a rather one-sided defeat at the hands of Jon Jones. His 2013 has been a tad more violent.

He started things off by putting down Michael Bisping with a vicious head kick in January, following that up with a wheel kick knockout of Luke Rockhold in May. After making a considerable amount of noise about his unwillingness to fight at 185 pounds unless it was for a title and/or against Silva, he took on Dan Henderson at 205 pounds in November.

It would be his shortest night of the year and he battered and eventually finished "Hendo" with a massive left high kick, making it three straight knockouts, three straight head kicks and three straight "Knockout of the Night" bonuses.

So why isn't he "Fighter of the Year?" It rhymes with "see our bee."

1. Demetrious Johnson

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Demetrious Johnson earned the Flyweight belt in 2012. In 2013, he proved that he was a true champion.

His first defense pitted him against The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 14 winner and athletic freak John Dodson, owner of perhaps the biggest punch at 125 pounds. Though he ate some big shots early, Johnson demonstrated his determination and ability to adapt, brutalizing Dodson from the clinch in the later rounds to wear down "The Magician" to earn a close unanimous decision for "Fight of the Night."

He had no such trouble against John Moraga, handily outgrappling the wrestling standout before locking up a bonus-earning armbar.

He capped the year off in tremendous fashion with a one-punch knockout of Joseph Benavidez, the first stoppage loss of the Alpha Male vet's career and Johnson's first knockout since 2010. This also completed his bonus collection, earning Knockout of the Night.

Three title defenses, two finishes and all three fight night bonuses. Rock on, "Mighty Mouse."

Honorable Mention: Travis Browne

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I actually wrote most of this before UFC 168, but after seeing Travis Browne end one of MMA's great heavyweights with such ease, Josh Barnett, I realized I had some editing to do.

"Hapa" ended 2012 with an ugly loss to Antonio Silva, producing one of the year's better soundbytes afterward when he claimed he didn't want "Bigfoot" to "make a name off of him." Since then, however, he's been an absolute monster.

After crushing Gabriel Gonzaga with elbows, Browne pulled off one of the year's best comebacks in August, surviving a withering assault from Alistair Overeem to knock the Dutchman out via front kick to the face.

And last week, he repeated the Gonzaga performance against one of the toughest and savviest grapplers the heavyweight division has ever seen.

Ideally, the big Hawaiian will fight Fabricio Werdum for next crack at division champion Cain Velasquez. Personally, I can't wait.

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