5 YRS AGO: The Top Ten Fighters to Watch in 2012 – Who made the list and how did their careers end up going?

By Brad Walker, MMATorch columnist

Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz (photo credit J. Rebilas © USA Today Sports)

Five years ago today, MMATorch columnist Brad Walker presented his list of 10 fighters to watch in 2012. Some names have gone to have great highs since, such as Michael Bisping, Nate Diaz, and Glover Teixeira, and others have dropped off the radar. Check out the list below.

Well, since so many people have responded positively to my lists in the past, I have decided to try to do one every week so you all can tell me what you think (or at least how much my lists suck). Whether or not you agree with the picks I make does matter to me, your input is what ultimately balances the whole equation out. So here it is, the 10 fighters to watch in 2012 – in my opinion, and why. For some I will also add who I would like to see them fight next, or who they are scheduled to fight next.

10. Pat “HD” Barry – UFC – Heavyweight

In one of my prior columns – the heavyweight stock exchange to be exact – I wrote that Pat was on the brink of dropping to the .500 mark after his fight with Cheick Kongo. Well, Pat does what he gets paid to do and went into the ring with Christian Morecraft and made me look like a clown. He escaped numerous submission attempts, and then landed an incredible knockout win. People often state that because of his size he should be moving down to light heavyweight, but if you look at his very muscular build, that has the same likelihood of happening as Roy Nelson hitting middleweight. It is very clear that the training at Team DeathClutch is molding Pat into much more than just a kick boxer and he has the ability to become the most exciting man in the division.

Next Fight: vs. Lavar Johnson at UFC on Fox 3

9. Pat “Paddy Mike” Curran – Bellator – Featherweight

Yes, it is indeed another Pat, but this time a much smaller one, and he wears a shiny new belt. Pat coming right out in the third round of his championship fight and putting a vicious beating on Joe Warren opened a lot of eyes about how dangerous a man he can truly be. His striking is incredibly powerful, and I would love to see a future for him inside of the UFC cage – but for now he will be staying in Bellator. He has risen to the top in quick fashion, winning tournaments in two weight classes, and finally taking home the belt just a couple of weeks ago. His coming fights will show us if he is capable of maintaining his edge while defending his title, and if he can he will only rise higher within the ranks in the division.

Next Fight: vs. Patricio Pitbull

8. Michael Bisping – UFC – Middleweight

Bisping proved a lot of his doubters to be fools when he made it to the final bell against Chael Sonnen, and made an extremely strong case for the possible victory. It was an incredibly close fight, and now finally Bisping is in the title picture that he has longed to get into. If he continues to fight at the level he did against Sonnen in Chicago, he will find himself standing across the cage from either Sonnen himself, or Anderson Silva – only time will tell. Despite his departure from the Wolfslair MMA academy, I expect to see a better Bisping in each fight moving forward, as he is a very dedicated fighter. The question will be looming though, is he truly capable of finally winning that title he’s always wanted?

Next Fight: vs. Tim Boetsch at UFC 148

7. Ryan Jimmo – UFC – Light Heavyweight

Jimmo is among the newest signees in the UFC, and he is a former champion who hasn’t lost a fight since his professional debut in 2007. He has equal ability to knock out and submit his opponents, and his game is extremely well rounded. He has beaten a couple of former UFC fighters in his career and I look forward to him finally debuting in the Octagon. He’s not the most intimidating guy inside of the cage, but he has an endless amount of talent. I think a great matchup for him would be a guy like Stephan Bonnar or Cyrille Dibiate.

Next Fight: TBA

6. Stefan Struve – UFC – Heavyweight

The “Sky-Scraper” has been on an absolute roll over the past year, and he is quickly making an argument for a spot in the top 15 fighters in the division. Stacking up a 7-3 record in the UFC, and winning four of his last five, Struve has shown improvement in all areas of his game in the cage. His extremely long limbs make him a very dangerous opponent standing and on the ground – there is no such thing as a safe place in the Octagon with Struve. He submitted Pat Barry and then pounded out Dave Herman, he is still very young and his evolution is very apparent. If he keeps up this level of fighting he will find himself in the top 10 by the end of the year.

Next Fight: vs. Mark Hunt at UFC 146

5. Rousimar Palhares – UFC – Middleweight

Since joining the UFC roster in 2008 Palhares has only lost two fights, to Dan Henderson and Nate Marquardt, so the reputation doesn’t exactly take a hit with losses to names like that. Palhares has shown that he is an absolute killer with his ground game, and will happily amputate your leg for you if given the chance. Coming off of three consecutive wins, he is standing just outside of the top 10, and with a couple more wins could even find himself in title contention. His submission is some of the best in the division and possibly the world, but we are yet to see him master his striking to set up the jiu-jitsu opportunities. If he stays on track I expect to see him across the cage from Anderson Silva before too long.

Next Fight: vs. Alan Belcher at UFC on Fox 3

4. Jake Shields – UFC – Middleweight

Shields, having just announced his planned return to middleweight, has excited many to see him return to his former stomping grounds. He has taken apart some of the best in the division at 185 and will look to do the same once he returns to it. He has taken a couple of hard losses since joining the UFC, but I have no doubt he will bounce back. Moving back up was the right move and it really makes for a much more exciting future than he would have at 170; perhaps he will make it to a fight with Anderson Silva, perhaps not, but he will fare much better at his comfortable weight. He took out at least one great fighter while at 185 in Strikeforce, now I expect him to do the same in the UFC.

Next Fight: TBA

3. Johny Hendricks – UFC – Welterweight

There is not a whole lot to say about Hendricks that isn’t absolutely obvious, he has heavy hands, and he knows how to use them. His astoundingly fast knockout of John Fitch garnered him a lot of unexpected attention, and shocked many fight fans around the world. If he can repeat his victory a couple of times he will be the next guy in line for GSP or Condit. His heavy hands are the most powerful in the division and right now he can give anyone at 170 a run for their money inside of the cage. He’s already generally ranked as a top five fighter; he can easily climb the ladder in the next few months.

Next Fight: vs. Josh Koscheck at UFC on Fox 3

2. Nate Diaz – UFC – Lightweight

Nate Diaz has racked up two consecutive big wins inside of the Octagon against Donald Cerrone and Takanori Gomi. His ability to get inside of his opponents heads and make them fall into his game plan is an asset most fighters don’t have. Once you mix in his striking and cardio you have one of the best rounded fighters in the division. I expect Nate to only grow from his last fight with Cerrone and be in line for a title shot inside of the next six months. He’s an exciting fighter and one you can love to hate at the same time, which makes him very important in Dana White’s sales strategies.

Next Fight: vs. Jim Miller at UFC on Fox 3

1. Glover Teixeira – UFC – Light Heavyweight

Yeah, I know right now the rest of the torch staff are preparing punch lines for me on twitter, but I’m writing this anyway. Now that he has entered the elite ranks of the UFC, Glover is going to show the world what he is made of. His heavy hands and well-rounded game make him a threat to anyone at 205, and did I forget to mention he trains out of The Pit with Chuck Liddell and John Hackleman? His game is already very evolved, and with the extreme step up in competition I expect to see his metamorphosis continue. He is an extremely underrated and very talented fighter, so his entrance into the UFC should show us one way or the other what he is capable of doing.

Next Fight: vs. Kyle Kingsbury at UFC 146

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