Lucky ’13: Four Fighters Poised to Make the Most of the Year to Come

By Raphael Garcia

With a little more than four weeks left in the year (that is, if the world doesn’t end next month like the Mayans predicted) there is a lot from 2012 that we as mixed martial arts fans can be happy about. Yet, as with most sports, our eyes are set on the future, and “what comes next.” 2013 will hopefully be an even bigger year for the sport, as it continues to gain mainstream acceptance and strive to catch the eye of the mainstream sports fan. With that in mind, here are some athletes that stand to have a lot to gain in 2013 if they can put on strong performances when the light shines brightest:

Nate Marquardt 
When Nate was cut from the UFC in June of 2011, many felt that he became one of the top free agents on the market. The former title contender was always ranked near the top of the middleweight division, and his drop down to welterweight had opened up some interesting possibilities for his future. However, those possible fights never materialized, as it took him more than a year to get back to competition. And by the time he finally did, he was back under the Zuffa umbrella, fighting in Strikeforce and knocking out Tyron Woodley to win their 170-pound title. Luck has recently struck again for Nate, as it has recently been reported that Strikeforce will be folded into the UFC in 2013. With that development, Nate’s career will get a much-needed lifeline.

While the debate around the “fairness” of his release can be waged for years, that is now a moot point, as he will soon be competing in the Octagon where he belongs. Marquardt has demonstrated an ability to remain one of the elite fighters in a weight class for an extended period of time, and though he previously never had the opportunity to prove that moving down to welterweight would be a shot in the arm for his career, now that moment is upon him. If he can defeat Tarec Saffiedine and do so in spectacular fashion, he can quickly vault himself towards the top of the UFC’s welterweight contenders list. While he won’t be a top five ranked fighter in the weight class anytime soon, he definitely could demand one more fight, which could lead to a title shot. Nate “The Great” has the skills to get to the big dance, but he’s struggled recently with over the hump. If the downs of 2011 through 2012 provide an inspiration, 2013 can be a great year for him.

Anthony Pettis 
Anthony Pettis knows what it is like to stand on the cusp of MMA stardom. After landing the “Showtime Kick” on Benson Henderson and winning the WEC lightweight title, he was expected to walk into the Octagon and get a title shot upon his debut with the promotion. However, that was not to be, due to bad timing and a loss to Clay Guida. Since then, he’s only fought twice, but both of those have been victories. The highlight reel knockout of Joe Lauzon is going to remain with him for a long time, and his war of words with Donald Cerrone through Twitter and the media have set the stage for one of the most anticipated lightweight fights in the first month of 2013.

With a victory, especially another knockout finish, Pettis can demand the title shot that eluded him in 2011. Imagine the publicity that could accompany a rematch between Henderson and the only man to defeat him since 2007. And if Nate Diaz takes the title at UFC on Fox 5, the UFC can quickly build Diaz-Pettis up, as both fighters are known for being outspoken about their opponents. Regardless of who he fights, however, Anthony Pettis is in a position to make 2013 an even bigger year than 2010, when he was widely considered the sport’s “Breakout Fighter of the Year.”

Glover Teixeira
The UFC finally got their gem when they were able to bring Glover Teixeira over to the United States. An individual that was flying under the radar in Brazil is now in the Octagon and giving fans fights that have them talking once the event is over. The beating that he put on Fabio Maldonado at UFC 153 was almost scary to view, to the point that the UFC felt obliged to pay Fabio an extra check. 2012 was a great way for Teixeira to introduce himself to the mainstream MMA fan, and in 2013, he can only build upon that exposure.

Glover has now been placed again in a matchup with Quinton Jackson on free television, and this is the opportunity to create the kind of buzz that pushes him directly into the title picture. Defeating “Rampage” and stopping the former champion places him on a short list of title contenders in a division where Jon Jones has dispatched everyone placed in his way. Many experts are already subscribing to the hype that Glover has created, and see him as capable of defeating Jones. This is yet to be seen, but it is a fact that Glover knows how to put memorable beatings on opponents, and that is a fantastic way to get himself into an important position in 2013.

Demetrious Johnson
Being the little guy has finally paid off for Demetrious Johnson, as he has become the first Flyweight champion in UFC history. After battling his way to a shot at the bantamweight title against Dominick Cruz, he was given the opportunity to move down to his true weight class. To get the belt he had to defeat arguably the two top flyweights in the sport, in Ian McCall and Joseph Benavidez. Now, he has the opportunity to have a division built around him after proving to be the top of the class.

To take advantage of this opportunity, Johnson should do all he can to keep all of his fights on free television. Being a champion gives him at least a co-main event slot, and that will not only potentially increase the number of eyes that see him compete, but his sponsorship money will benefit as well. The flyweight division needs exposure and a stable champion to build the division around; Johnson fits that bill to a T. As he prepares to face John Dodson this January on Fox, this fight can be the start of a 2013 run that solidifies Johnson as a champion and 125 as a division that fans want to see.

We have a lot of reasons to feel good about what lies ahead in 2013 within the world of MMA. Every year we seem to catch something new as this sport grows in front of our very eyes. Hopefully, we have more “Oh my God” and “Did you see that?” moments because of impressive fights, rather than cancellations due to injury and failed drug tests. But either way, drink up to another great year of MMA, where these stars, along with others, could take their places in the spotlight.

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