By Zakuraba www.sherdog.net With the sky rocket rise of the UFC, and the fall of Pride, there has been a lot of shifting and manuevering in the world of MMA in terms of acquisitions and relinquishings. With the world's biggest and deepest talent pool of fighters being bought out, the market was flooded with top flight talent and world class fighters. Meanwhile, there were also a myriad of new organizations popping up around the world to take Pride's place and challenge the virtual UFC dominance. In this shuffle and boom, there are a LOT of great up-and-coming, as well as already established fighters that very well could, given the chance, CONTEND with fighters who are currently in The Big Show (the UFC, obviously). Organizations like the IFL, BodogFight, EliteXC, K-1 Heroes, and Strikeforce all are claiming their ground in the MMA world and vying for attention, with each of them garnering various fighters from the Pride limbo. To get to the point, I'm going to try and highlight 40 fighters that currently aren't in the UFC, that I think could either do well, or at the very least contend with fighters currently in the UFC. First off, I will NOT be choosing fighters who were well-established as PRIDE FIGHTERS, because, to be honest, if that were the case, this whole list would consist of Pride fighters. I originally was gonna only do a list of 20 fighters, but then that grew to 25, then 35...and finally 40. Anyways let's get to it, counting down. 40. Mark Miller (8-2-0 Welterweight): Miller entered the IFL by dropping a decision to Delson Heleno, but quickly caught everyone’s attention when he knocked out UFC veteran Josh Neer. Miller has also beaten tough journeyman Brad Blackburn, and sports a respectable 8-2 record. Who He Could Debut Against: Set him up with another lower level WW, Josh Haynes or Jonathan Goulet to see where he stands. 39. Glover Texeira (4-2-0 Light Heavyweight): Not much is known about Texeira, except that trains or has trained with Chuck Liddell and the Pit, and, more importantly, that he holds a KO win over another formerly obscure fighter by the name of Thierry Rameau Sokoudjou. In a way, Sokoudjou’s meteoric rise is a favor to Texeira, because while Sokoudjou has been KO’ing Pride superstars and top LHW’s, Texeira’s stock has also been rising, being the only man to not only defeat Sokoudjou, but knock him out as well. While the only available fight out there is his fight with Sokoudjou, from that one fight, Texeira seems to be a hard-hitting striker, much like his [former?] training partner Chuck Liddell. Who He Could Debut Against: Texeira looks to be a striker with heavy hands, and quite big at LHW. I originally thought that he would’ve made a perfect candidate for Jardine to fight back at UFC 71, when Jardine seemingly had no viable opponent. Now that Jardine is fighting Liddell, I still think the two of them would make for an exciting fight. They have similar styles and similar builds. Or, give Texeira the man that defeated Jardine and also made a name for himself as an underdog, Houston Alexander. 38. Reese Andy (7-1-0 Light Heavyweight): Reese fights for the IFL, and has beaten some of the best they have to offer at LHW. He’s even made the move up to HW in his last two fights, with positive results. Andy’s only loss is to journeyman Andy Stark. Andy’s a huge when he fights at LHW, and is a powerful wrestler with great positioning and control. He’s got credible wins over Mike Ciesnolevicz, Jamal Patterson, Kala Kolohe Hose, and Justin Levens. Who He Could Debut Against: Andy could provide a credible challenge for someone like either Nakamura or Machida, whoever should lose their fight. 37. Katsuya Inoue (15-5-1 Welterweight): Inoue was, and still is, considered one of Japan’s best WW’s. Inoue was on a tear before his fight with Japan’s other premiere WW, Akira Kikuchi at K-1 Hero’s in a bout that pitted the Shooto champ vs the Pancrase champ. Since the TKO loss at the hands of Kikuchi, Inoue has had mixed results until his last two fights, where he KO’ed Koiji Oishii and Fabricio Nascimento. Who He Could Debut Against: A fight against either Thiago Alves or Roan Carniero would be great, IMO. 36. Ryo Kawamura (6-1-2 Middleweight): Kawamura is a fighter from Shooto that most casual fans have not heard about. He first burst onto the scene when he KO’ed ChuteBoxe sensation Daniel Acacio, and then fought to a draw with another ChuteBoxe fighter, Nilson De Castro. followed up with a KO of Pride veteran Hiromitsu Kanehara. In his most recent fight, Kawamura faced yet another ChuteBoxe opponent in Fabio Silva, and was unfortunately knocked out himself this time around with his brush with the Brazilian team. Who He Could Debut Against: Regardless of his recent KO loss, Kawamura is still a gamer, and a very tough fighter. If he were built up right, Kawamura could really be a Japanese star for the UFC. Set him up against a TUF fighter like Kalib Starnes or Rory Singer. 35. Eddie Alvarez (11-1-0 Welterweight): Alvarez was one of the rising stars outside of the UFC, and one of Bodog's posterboys, with an undefeated record of 10-0 and stunning KO power. Alvarez burst on to the scene when he brutally KO'ed UFC veterans Derrick Noble and Aaron Riley in stunning fashion. However, Alvarez's train was derailed when he faced yet another UFC vet, Nick Thompson, and suffered his own KO loss. In the fight against Thompson, Alvarez looked like a dwarf and showed that he perhaps is too small for WW. Many people say that Alvarez should move down a more suitable division for his frame in the LW weightclass, where he wouldn't have to deal with being outsized by the taller, bigger 170 lbers. However, Alvarez has chosen to stay at 170 and since then has won a unanimous decision over Matt Lee. Alvarez might be too small for 170, but with his heavy hands he always has the ultimate equalizer, and were he to move down to 155, he could be a serious threat at LW for anyone. Who He Could Debut Against: Alvarez is aggressive and has seriously heavy hands. Who in the UFC LW division also is hyper aggressive and can throw bombs? Spencer Fisher. A fight between these two guys at 155 would be dynamite, and very well could be a duplicate of Spencer/Stout 2, except with a finish. At 170, Alvarez stands little to no chance, but at 155, he could be a contender. 34. Mike Pyle (14-4-1 Welterweight): Mike "Quicksand" Pyle is one of Randy Couture's regular training partners at Xtreme Couture and has been around for a long time. In his first MMA fight, he fought the current UFC LHW champion, Quinton Jackson to a decision loss. After that Pyle amassed a respectable record of 11-2, with his last two fights being finishes over Shonie Carter and Gustavo Machado. Then, Pyle made his way to the IFL as a highly touted prospect. Unfortunately, Pyle lost his debut and suffered a KO at the hands of Rory Markham. Pyle rebounded with a win, but then lost again to Matt Horwich by submission. Pyle then left the IFL, and headed to the newly formed EliteXC. Since then he is on a 2 fight winstreak over Ross Ebanez and Aaron Wetherspoon. Who He Could Debut Against: Pyle is solid on his feet and has a good ground game. More importantly, he is a finisher. Out of is 14 wins, only 1 has come by decision. At 170 Pyle matches up well against a lot of guys, because of his versatility. Guys like Luke Cummo or Drew Fickett would make for well-matched fights. 33. Joe Doerksen (39-10-0 Middleweight): Doerksen is a seasoned veteran of the game. He’s fought a lot of tough competition, he’s just never seemed to be able to pull off the right wins at the right time. Even before he went to the UFC, he had submission wins over the likes of future stars Denis Kang, Ed Herman, Lee Murray, and a decision win over Chris Leben. Once in the UFC, Joe unfortunately loss his debut against Joe Riggs but rebounded with a submission win over Patrick Cote. He would then lose to Matt Lindland, Jason MacDonald (outside of the UFC), and finally, Nathan Marquardt. Joe had a brief stint in the IFL before moving to the WEC, where he contended for the vacant WEC MW title against what many considered to be the # 1 fighter in the world at the weight, Paulo Filho. Joe was doing well before getting stopped by strikes. Although his UFC record was a disappointing 1-3, every one of Joe’s fights were entertaining. You can pretty much guarantee that if Joe Doerksen is fighting, you will get your money’s worth. He’s also proven that he can definitely hang with the UFC’s MW division, since he’s beaten 3 current UFC MW fighters, just not in the UFC. Who He Could Debut/Return Against: Joe Doerksen was the TUF Killer before Jason MacDonald, if you think about it. He’d beaten a lot of TUF stars before they went on the show, and realistically, he could resume that title in the UFC, if he were matched up against them. He could be a TUF gatekeeper, as it were, to see which one of them were really able to make a name for themselves. If not that, set him up against Ivan Salaverry, another versatile fighter who happens to be coming off a disappointing loss. 32. Rich Crunkilton (14-1-0 Lightweight): Rich “Cleat” Crunkilton had one of the most memorable undercard fights, and possibly most memorable period, of all time when he and Hermes Franca debuted against each other in the UFC. Franca cranked two near fight-ending submissions that disturbingly popped out Crunkilton’s arm, but “Cleat” refused to tap, and wounded up ending a competitive unanimous decision. After the Franca fight, one of the great mysteries of MMA would be why, after a stellar fight where he displayed skill and tremendous heart, wasn’t Crunkilton ever invited back to the UFC? In any case, Crunkilton went on to win every one of his next 6 fights, and is gearing up to fight Rob McCullough for the WEC LW championship. Who He Could Debut/Return Against: They had a tremendous fight the first time around, so I’d love to see him get a chance at revenge against Franca. However, that would be unlikely since Hermes beat him decisively, so why not give Roger Huerta a real test? 31. Satoru Kitaoka (18-8-8 Welterweight): Kitaoka built up an impressive record, and was given the opportunity of his life when he was scheduled to fight Fabricio Monteiro for a chance for the winner to enter the prestigious Pride LW Grand Prix. Kitaoka finished Monteiro and seemingly earned his ticket in, when Pride folded and the GP was put on hold. Kitaoka earned his shot at the big show and was blackballed by circumstances outside of his control. He’s a solid fighter with submission wins over great competition such as Kurt Pellegrino (rear naked choke), Carlos Condit (heel hook), and Paul Daley (guillotine choke). Who He Could Debut Against: Although Kitaoka was fighting for a spot in the WW (LW) GP, he regularly fights at 170. I’m guessing he was going to make the cut to 160, but I’m not sure if he could go as low as the UFC’s 155. If he were to get down to 155, I think he would be a great test for someone like Frankie Edgar or even Roger Huerta. At 170, I’d like to see him fight any of the other relative newcomers to the UFC, like Jess Liaudin or Anthony Johnson. 30. Caol Uno (24-9-4 Lightweight): Uno Shoten was one of the original UFC LW’s, but unfortunately could never make his mark in the division. Regardless, since his KO loss to Hermes Franca, which would become his last fight in the UFC, Uno has racked up an impressive record of 9-3-1, against some of MMA’s biggest names at LW, including Joachim Hansen, JZ Calvancanti, Tatsuya Kawajiri, and Kid Yamamoto, just to name a few. Regardless of who he is fighting, win or lose, Uno has proven time and time again that he can hang with the best of them. Since leaving the UFC, Uno Shoten has racked up wins against Ivan Menjivar, Kultar Gill, Rich Clementi, and Hideo Tokoro. Adding Uno to the already stacked UFC LW division would just give it that much more depth. Who He Could Debut/Return Against: Uno’s well-roundedness allows him to hang with anyone. Uno’s a decorated veteran, so a match with another veteran like Jason Black would work. Or, Uno could be used to prove TUF fighters like Manvel Gamburyan. 29. Trevor Prangley (16-4-0 Middleweight): Prangley is another fighter who has fought in the UFC with mixed results. Prior to fighting in the UFC, Prangley participated in the now legendary IFC Global Domination LHW tournament, beating Chael Sonnen before losing to the eventual tournament winner, Babalu Sobral. Prangley went on to rack up wins against good competition such as Andrei Semenov before being invited to the UFC, where he enjoyed two wins against Curtis Stout and Travis Lutter. Then, Prangley lost a heartbreaking controversial decision to Jeremy Horn, and then dropped another to Chael Sonnen on his way out of the UFC. Prangley then jumped over to BodogFight where he beat Andre Semenov again, and recently TKO’ed Pancrase legend and former Pride fighter Yuki Kondo. Who He Could Debut/Return Against: Prangley has been criticized in the past for his somewhat methodical fighting style. He’s a dominant wrestler with stifling control, but against a guy like Thales Leites, it could make for an interesting ground battle. 28. Rory Markham (12-2-0 Welterweight). Fighting out of the legendary Miletich camp, Markham is like another Miletich fighter, Robbie Lawler. Markham's got heavy hands and a crowd-pleasing style. He entered the IFL as an underdog with a suprise KO over Mike Pyle, and then went on to KO his next 3 opponents as well, including Brad Blackburne and Keith Wisniewski, before being TKO'ed himself by Chris Wilson. Markham has since then come back with another two KO wins. Unfortunately, Markham has been plagued with injuries that has forced him to bow out of both the IFL Championship Finals as well as the IFL Individual Grand Prix. Markham is by one of the IFL's most exciting prospects, and has finished all 6 of his IFL opponents. Who He Could Debut Against: Markham is a banger, period. He's a brawler who can throw bombs, and that always means excitement, win or lose. Matched up right, Markham will always put on a show. Markham might not beat a GSP or Matt Hughes, but he's always got a chance when he can put you to sleep. Set him up against a striker like Marcus Davis or Paul Taylor and you've got a fun fight. 27. Chris Wilson (11-3-0 Welterweight): Chris Wilson is a 6'1 weltereight striker training out of Team Quest. He was recently with the IFL, where he debuted with a disappointing loss to Brad Blackburn. Wilson quickly rebounded however by racking up wins over two of the IFL's best WelterWeights, beating Jay Hieron and KO'ing Rory Markham. Chris also holds wins over seasoned veterans Pat Healy (KO), TUF competitor Brandon Melendez (KO), and Laverne Clark (Triangle Choke). Wilson has since then left the IFL and signed with BodogFight. Wilson is a dynamic fighter who could add a lot of talent to the UFC's WW division Who He Could Debut Against: Wilson's an exciting, dynamic striker, so give him someone who would be willing to trade with him, say, Luigi Fioravanti. 26. Fabio Silva (9-2-0 Middleweight): Silva is a young talent from the ChuteBoxe academy. Silva’s biggest win to date was an impressive KO victory over previously undefeated ChuteBoxe nemesis Ryo Kawamura, who had KO’ed Silva’s stablemate Daniel Acacio. His only two losses have come by way of decision. Who He Could Debut Against: It’d be a long way down the road, but given the right match-ups and time to develop, Silva could provide for an interesting challenger to the reigning MW champ Anderson Silva. All the drama is there for a ChuteBoxe vs former ChuteBoxe fight. Seems improbable, but who knows. Anyway, for now set him up against someone like Ed Herman or Kalib Starnes. Someone who wouldn’t completely run him over, but instead gauge where he stands. 25. Paul Daley (15-6-2 Welterweight): Daley is an explosive striker and CageRage WW champion. A brief look at his record and one might dismiss him, but Daley recently showed that he’s serious when he outstruck and KO’ed what many consider to be the best WW kickboxer in MMA, Bang Ludwig. Who He Could Debut Against: Daley is very popular in England, so set him up against another hometown boy in Paul Taylor and you’ve got yourself ticket sales. Or, if Marcus Davis beats Paul Taylor, that’d make for a tremendous fight as well. 24. Nick Thompson (Welterweight 32-9-1): The Goat has already fought in the UFC, with mixed results. He won his debut against Keith Wisniewski, but then suffered a brutal pounding at the hands of Karo Parysian. In the fight against Karo, Thompson was absolutely dominated, and honestly, did not get to show his skills, or for that matter, even his skill level. However, since the Karo defeat, Thompson has been on a tear, going undefeated in his last 8 fights, and beating some very good competition. In his fights after Karo, Thompson has defeated Chris Wilson, Ansar Chalangov, Dustin Denes, and Eddie Alvarez. Thompson is currently the BodogFight 170 lb champion, a title he took from the previously undefeated Eddie Alvarez. Who He Could Debut Against: Now, Thompson got destroyed by Karo, and Karo, while definitely one of the best fighters in the world at 170, isn't even Top 3 in the UFC at WW. Thompson has improved leaps and bounds since the Karo fight, but I'm still unsure if he could hang with guys like GSP, Hughes, or Koscheck. At the very least, however, he could definitely add credibility to the rest of the weightclass. Give Thompson a fight against a solid WW like a Thiago Alves or Josh Burkman to see if can hang with the UFC's WW division. 23. Ben Rothwell (26-5-0 Heavyweight): Rothwell is one of the few HW’s that people consider to be a prospect outside of the UFC or Pride. Rothwell had an impressive record before joining the IFL, and since then has gone undefeated in his 8 IFL fights, seeming virtually unstoppable in the organization. It’s evident that there isn’t anyone in the IFL that poses a threat to Rothwell (besides Nelson for that one fight), so it’s only logical for Rothwell to test himself in a different setting with different fighters. Rothwell hasn’t beaten anyone worth mentioning in the HW division, but he is definitely destroying the competition. Who He Could Debut Against: Rothwell’s run through the IFL HW division, but I doubt he’s ready for the Top 10 fighters. Give him some warm-up fights against guys like Antoni Hardonk or the ultimate gatekeeper, Heath Herring. 22. Wagney Fabiano (7-1-1 Lightweight): Fabiano is a natural Featherweight who has moved up to fight in the IFL. He’s had no problem adapting to the weightclass apparently, because he’s submitted all 3 of his opponents in the first round. Fabiano’s sole MMA loss comes from Jeff Curran via decision. He’s easily starting to look like the IFL’s biggest threat at 155 lbs. Who He Could Debut Against: I’d like to see Fabiano against someone who would contrast his style like Matt Grice. Although, a match with Alberto Crane would make for some great grappling. 21. Akira Kikuchi (16-3-3 Welterweight): Kikuchi was considered Japan’s best WW before losing to Shinya Aoki twice by decision. Prior to that though, he was the Shooto WW champ and had beaten the likes of Jake Shields, Katsuya Inoue, Kiuma Kunioku, Sam Morgan, and Jutaro Nakao. Of Kikuchi’s 3 losses in 22 fights, he has never been finished. Who He Could Debut Against: Kikuchi is already a proven 170 lber, so I’d love to see him go straight at it with one of the top contenders at Welterweight. I’d say give him Josh Koscheck right off the bat. 20. Yoshiyuki Yoshida (7-2-0 Welterweight): A lot of people don’t know who Yoshida is. Hell, I didn’t know who he was until I heard he KO’ed Katsuya Inoue, which is no easy task. He’s also finished decent fighters in Luis Sapo (4-0 before Yoshida beat him, 6-1 now and just recently beat ChuteBoxe fighters Jorge Patino and Daniel Acacio) and Matt Cain (4-0 before Yoshida beat him, 5-1 now). Who He Could Debut Against: Yoshida’s an aggressive fighter with some vicious punches. A fight with any fighter that’s not one of the Top 5 in the UFC at WW would be fantastic. A mid-level talent like Edilberto Crocota, Roan Carneiro, Drew Fickett, etc. 19. Benji Radach (16-3-0 Middleweight): Radach had a lackluster career in the UFC, going 1-1-1 NC against Nick Serra, Sean Sherk, and Steve Berger respectively before KO’ing Gustavo Machado, only to lose an embarrassing fluke KO loss to an MMA nobody, and then have his jaw broken by Chris Leben. Radach bounced back though and has won his last 4 straight in the IFL, reinventing himself at 185, his more natural weightclass. Radach has got some of the best hands at 185, so he’d make an exciting addition to the UFC’s MW division. Who He Could Debut/Return Against: Radach always moves forward in his fights, and sometimes that gets him into trouble, but more often than not he will push forward and deliver more than he receives. Being a big puncher, there’s a lot of fun match-ups available for him at 185. Personally, I’d love to see him either get a rematch with Leben, or slug it out with Drew McFedries. You could pretty much guarentee either of those fights would not go the distance. 18. Delson Heleno (11-3-0 Welterweight): Delson “Pe de chumbo” Heleno might very well be one of the most dynamic fighters in the IFL period. Heleno had already beaten veterans like Nilson De Castro and Jorge Patino before joining the IFL, where he loss his debut due to an unfortunate DQ when he upkicked Dennis Hallman. Heleno exploded back in his rebound fight with a flying knee KO over Ben Uker. Heleno then defeated Daniel Acacio, thus avenging his first MMA loss outside of the IFL, and came back to win 3 straight in the IFL beating Gideon Ray and Mark Miller on the way. Recently however, Heleno lost a close split decision to Antonio McKee. Heleno is one of the most exciting fighters outside of the UFC. He’s massive for a WW and always busy and aggressive, either trying to knock you out or submit you. Who He Could Debut Against: Heleno has proven he has the skills to hang with some good fighters, so again, I’d like to see him go against some of the UFC’s mid-level talent at WW: Drew Fickett, Josh Burkman, Keita Nakamura, etc. I would like to see him fight Josh Koscheck however, as I think they’d match up very well against each other. 17. Bart Palaszewski (28-8-0 Lightweight): “Bartimus” is arguably the best LW in the IFL. He’s had tons of experience against a variety of fighters even before joining the IFL. Since then, however, Bartimus has really made a name for himself, going 7-1 in the IFL, with his sole loss against his nemesis Chris Horodecki. Palaszewski is an experienced, aggressive, well-rounded LW who always looks for the finish. Who He Could Debut Against: Because of his well-roundedness, Palaszewski can make for a good fight against anyone. I think he would be a good test for the better TUF alumni, but would beat down on a vast majority of them. Fights against guys like Kenny Florian or Terry Etim would be worth seeing. 16. Antonio Silva (8-1-0 Heavyweight): Silva is a huge aggressive Heavyweight that has shown that he has finishing power. In his first ever professional MMA fight, he crushed CageRage veteran Tengiz Tedoradze in 48 seconds. The MMA community really took notice when he demolished Tom “Big Cat” Erikson. Then, at the height of his rise, Silva was lost to Eric Pele in a controversial stoppage. Silva came right back to annihilate consummate journeyman Cabbage Correira at EliteXC’s inaugural event to show the world that he was back with a vengeance. Silva is a monster, even at HW. He’s shown much improved striking from the Pele fight to the Cabbage fight, so he seems to have fixed that hole in his game. Who He Could Debut Against: If by some chance he and Ben Rothwell were brought into the UFC at the same time, I think they would make a great fight between two HW prospects. I’d also love to see him against Tim Sylvia. Two of the biggest HW’s in the game going at it. 16.***Melvin Manhoef (17-4-0 Light Heavyweight): Manhoef had the fight of the year candidate last year against Cyborg Santos, and had an although underappreciated, a viable fight of the year candidate against Yoon Dong Sik. Manhoef is one of the most exciting fighters around with his explosive and powerful striking and hyper-aggressive style. He’s only had 1 decision in his career, with 16 of his 17 wins coming by KO. Put simply, Manhoef would add a lot of fire to the already stellar LHW division. Anyone who decides to stand with him would be guaranteed to take some hits. ***I totally forgot about Manhoef so had to squeeze him in. Who He Could Debut Against: Houston. Alexander. 15. Chris Horodecki (10-0-0 Lightweight): The Polish Hammer Horodecki, the face of the IFL. Horodecki became an instant draw in the IFL, being only 19 and sporting babyface looks. He quickly showed that although he looked like a kid, he could fight with the best the IFL had to offer, coming out the gate knocking out Ryan Schultz and defeating Palaszewski who had dozens of more fights. Horodecki remains undefeated in the IFL, with a win streak of 6 fights. He is highly touted as one of the IFL’s best talents and undoubtedly its biggest rising star. Who He Could Debut Against: He has proven to be a posterboy for the IFL, and I see no reason why he couldn’t be the same in the UFC. Horodecki is young, talented, and has all the tools to become a future contender, provided he is not thrown to the wolves. Match him up with some credible, but not dangerous fights first, like Rob Emerson, or Leonard Garcia. Give him the Huerta treatment. 14. Rob McCullough (14-3-0 Lightweight): “Razor” Rob McCullough is the current WEC LW champion of the world. McCullough sports an impressive 14-3 record, and has never been finished in his 17 fights. Armed with an extremely dangerous striking game, McCullough has gone on an 8 fight win streak since his last loss. While he has not beaten the best of competition, he has shown enough skill to prove that he can hang in the UFC. Who He Could Debut Against: Rob’s competent on the ground, but it’s clear that his striking is his bread and butter. McCullough owns a gym in Huntington Beach, so he’s got a huge following in Southern California. Set him up with some fights against other strikers. A fight with Sam Stout or Spencer Fisher could prove to be fireworks. 13. Josh Thomson (12-2-0 Lightweight): Josh “The Punk” Thomson is easily one of the most talented LW’s that was not contracted by either the UFC or Pride, although he had fought in both. Thomson entered the UFC with a KO win over Gerald Strebendt, and then won a close decision over Hermes Franca. Thomson then fought for what would be considered the uncrowned UFC LW championship, only to suffer a highlight reel KO kick to Yves Edwards. After that, the UFC LW division disintegrated, and Thomson left for greener pastures, fighting once in Pride and winning before settling home at Strikeforce. After the Edwards loss, Thomson has gone 6-1, his only other loss coming by way of decision against Clay Guida. He’s beaten the likes of Nam Phan and Duane Ludwig along the way. Who He Could Debut/Return Against: Although he is not in any Top 10’s at LW, Thomson on any given day could beat any LW in the world. He’s got all the tools to beat anyone. He’s massive for a LW, he’s got good stand-up, good wrestling, and solid submission skills. He’s already proven he could more than hang with the UFC’s LW division, so I say give him a real test right away. Let him settle the score with Hermes Franca, or Clay Guida, or let him fight Tyson Griffin or Din Thomas. Any fight between a top LW and Josh Thomson will be a good one. 12. Jorge Masvidal (11-2-0 Lightweight): Masvidal obtained a respectable record fighting in smaller shows before jumping to BodogFight. Once there, Jorge defeated sound opposition in Keith Wisniewski and Steve Berger. Jorge was most famous for his infamous street fights with a member of legendary street fighter Kimbo’s crew. That was, UNTIL he not only defeated Yves Edwards, not only KO’ed Yves Edwards, but KO’ed him with a head kick. Since then, Masvidal’s stock has risen significantly, and I think it would be the perfect time for the UFC to scoop him up. Who He Could Debut Against: Give him a Clay Guida or Terry Etim for a well-matched fight. 11. Frank Shamrock (22-8-1 Middleweight): Love him or hate him, Shamrock PROVED that he still has what it takes to beat today’s Middleweights when he destroyed Phil Baroni. Say what you will about Baroni, but he is as tough as nails, so for Frank to not only dominate him, but dominate him STANDING, something that has never been done before, and finish him is highly impressive. Simply put, Frank Shamrock would be a huge draw for the UFC. His name recognition and past would make for PPV gold. Who He Could Debut/Return Against: Shamrock is a primadonna and already a huge name in MMA, so I could honestly see him coming in and getting an immediate title shot by living off his past laurels of being the original undefeated champ. He’d definitely get a shot at either the champ, or the # 2 guy, so I suppose he’d fight Anderson Silva or Rich Franklin. 10. Vladymir Matyushenko (19-3-0 Light Heavyweight): Vladymir Matyushenko is without a doubt the IFL’s best LHW, and probably it’s best fighter in any weight class. Before coming to the UFC Matyushenko had already beaten the likes of Vernon White and Travis Fulton. He entered the UFC with a win over Yuki Kondo, before dropping a decision to Tito Ortiz. Matyushenko came back with a 3 fight win streak over top flight talent such as Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Pedro Rizzo before being brutally derailed by an Arlovski uppercut. This ended Matyushenko’s career in the UFC. After his unsuccessful career at HW, Matyushenko dropped back down to 205 and entered the IFL, where he remains undefeated at 4-0. Although his HW career was cut short by Andrei Arlovski, at LHW, Matyushenko can contend with anyone. Who He Could Debut/Return Against: Matyushenko is no stranger to the octagon or world class competition, so he could come right back against some serious competition, like Babalu for instance. 9. Jason Miller (19-5-0 Middleweight): Mayhem Miller got his recognition when he stopped Egan Inoue in Hawaii. The very next fight Miller stopped another local Hawaiian fighter in Ronald Jhun, and shortly after he was invited to the UFC. Unfortunately, he had the tall task of debuting against the future champion, GSP. Miller lost a lopsided decision, and was never invited back to the octagon. Miller decided to move up in weight to 185, and continued to defeat Hawaii’s best when he defeated Falaniko Vitale. Mayhem then fought UFC vet and brawler Robbie Lawler for the Icon MW championship, submitting him for the title. After the biggest win of his career however, Miller was TKO’ed by Frank Trigg, losing his championship belt. Since then, Miller has come back to build a 2 fight win streak and is currently fighting in the WEC. Who He Could Debut Against: Although he was dominated, Miller showed a lot of heart and skill in lasting to a decision with GSP. Miller’s got a slick ground game and is tough as nails. He was just on the brink of the Top 10 after beating Lawler, until he lost to Trigg. I think a fight against another fringe Top 10 MW would be perfect, so give him Yushin Okami. 8. Carlos Condit (21-4-0 Welterweight): Condit got his big break when he entered the Rumble on the Rock 175(?) lb tournament. Condit surprised everyone when he TKO’ed UFC vet Renato Verissimo with a big knee. Condit continued to shock fans when he submitted another UFC/Pride vet in Frank Trigg with a triangle choke. All of a sudden Carlos Condit was for real. Condit however, would lose to another up-and-coming WW in Jake Shields during the tournament finals. Condit dropped the ball following his impressive tournament performance by losing by submission to journeyman Pat Healy. Condit worked his way back up to build some momentum with a string of wins when he entered the WEC, where he beat John Alessio, and most recently, WW monster Brock Larson for the WEC WW belt. Who He Could Debut Against: Condit was widely known for his striking, but recently, he has been showing a vastly improved ground game by submitting the always tough John Alessio, and becoming the first person to ever finish Brock Larson. If the UFC wanted to build Condit up or give him time to develop, I think he’d match up real well against a guy like Luke Cummo, or if by some chance they brought in Chris Wilson, I think the two of them would match up perfectly given their similarities. If the UFC wanted him to contend right away, I think he’d be able to hold his own against Jon Fitch, having already done what Fitch couldn’t and finished Larson. 7. Jake Shields (18-4-1 Welterweight): Sheilds made his name in Shooto, where he acquired wins over the likes of legends such as Hayato Sakurai and Akira Kikuchi. Shields’ big break came when he entered the ROTR Welterweight tournament, and along the way beat an impressive list of fighters, including Dave Menne, Yushin Okami, and Carlos Condit on his way to winning the whole thing. Shields then bounced around, fighting at BodogFight and K-1 Hero’s and winning, before signing with EliteXC, where he is scheduled to fight Renato Verissimo on their upcoming show. Shields has shown that he has all the tools to be a force at 170 and a future world champion. He’s big, strong, has powerful wrestling, and good submissions to boot. Who He Could Debut Against: Shields is already one of the best Welterweights in the world, so throw him in the mix against the Top 5-7 guys. Fitch, Koscheck, Sanchez, and Karo would all make for tremendous fights. 6. Robbie Lawler (14-4-0 Middleweight: Lawler, who fights out of the Miletich camp stepped into the octagon early in his career and put on a show on his way to defeating Aaron Riley. Lawler then made a name for himself when he knocked out Steve Berger and Tiki Ghosn, giving the UFC two of its most memorable KO’s of the year, and giving himself a popularity boom. All of a sudden Lawler was a UFC posterboy. His road to stardom was sidetracked when he was injured in a fight against Pete Spratt. Lawler came back however with a win over Chris Lytle, before meeting Nick Diaz at UFC 47. Unfortunately, this would be a defining moment in Lawler’s career, as he was taunted at, outstriked, and embarrassingly knocked out by a fighter highly regarded as being a pure grappler. Lawler would have one more shot in the UFC, and moved up a weightclass, only to have another negative result when he was submitted by Evan Tanner. Lawler departed to Superbrawl, where he KO’ed Falaniko Vitale twice before once again losing, this time in a title bout against Mayhem Miller. Just when it looked like Robbie Lawler’s time had passed, Lawler returned with a highlight reel flying knee KO against Joey Villasenor, and a vicious KO of Frank Trigg. Who He Could Debut/Return Against: Lawler’s been away for too long. He’s reinvented himself at 185, and has shown that he can still KO the best of them. People love Robbie Lawler because he always puts on a show. He’s super aggressive and always looks for the KO, so give him someone who will either knock him out, or get knocked out. Patrick Cote, Steve Smith, Chris Leben. 5. Vitor Ribiero (19-1-0 Lightweight): Vitor “Shaolin” Ribiero might just be the best fighter to have never fought in either UFC or Pride. Ribiero is without a doubt, one of the best fighters in the world at 155. In Shooto, he had beaten fighters such as Tatsuya Kawajiri, Ryan Bow, Mitsuhiro Ishida, and Joachim Hansen. Ribiero’s first loss came when he rematched Kawajiri, only to be TKO’ed. With that loss, Ribiero left Shooto and compiled an impressive list of victims, including a myriad of UFC, Pride, and CageRage veterans amongst the likes of Chris Brennan, Gerald Strebendt, Jean Silva, and Abdul Mohammed. After clearing house in CageRage and running through the best they had to offer, Shaolin signed with K-1 Hero’s, where he is currently on a two fight win streak, including a submission victory over Kazuya Miyata in the opening round of the Hero’s MW(LW) tournament opening. Shaolin is scheduled for what could be his biggest test since Kawajiri when he faces K-1 Hero’s MW champ Gesias Calvancanti. Shaolin’s got one of the most aggressive submission games in the business, and he’s always looking for the finish. Who He Could Debut Against: I honestly would not mind seeing Shaolin get an immediate title shot, but he doesn’t have enough clout for that, so send him Joe Stevenson’s way. 4. Gesias Calvancanti (12-1-1 Lightweight): Calvancanti fights out of the prestigious American Top Team, and is widely considered their best LW, which is a huge compliment, considering the camp is home to Din Thomas, Jorge Masvidal, Cole Miller, and many others. Calvancanti’s sole loss comes from a controversial split decision to Joachim Hansen, in a fight that saw Calvancanti dictate the fight and take Hansen down. Prior to coming to K-1 Hero’s, Calvancanti had a win over Bart Palaszewski. Upon entering Hero’s during its first MW tournament, JZ defeated the physically biggest guy in the tournament in Hidetaka Monma. Calvancanti then went on to execute a picture perfect flying knee to defeat what was considered the best striker in the tournament, Hiroyuki Takaya. In the semi-finals, JZ subbed a much smaller, yet still world-class ADCC grappler Rani Yahya. Finally, in the tournament finals JZ won a decision against the legendary Caol Uno. Most recently, JZ TKO’ed hometown favorite Nam Phan at K-1’s inaugural U.S. event. Who He Could Debut Against: Just like Shaolin, JZ is already one of the best LW’s in the world. He’s massive at 155, extremely aggressive, strong as an ox, has a granite chin, and has shown that he can finish a fight from any position. Recently, Gesias showed his striking prowess by lasting with K-1 MAX ace Masato to a decision in a kickboxing match. For my money, I’d say JZ has the skills to beat any LW in the world. I think a match between him and Sean Sherk would be insane, and would prove who is the strongest LW out there. I don’t see many LW’s, even in the UFC, that could give JZ problems. 3. Matt Lindland (20-5-0 Middleweight): The Law just can’t get any love. He’s by far one of the best fighters in the world at MW, and he can’t even get a contract. Lindland won his first 4 fights in the UFC, beating fighters like Phil Baroni and Pat Miletich on his way to a title shot against Murilo Bustamante. Lindland would lose the fight by submission. The Law would work his way back up the ladder, beating Baroni again and Ivan Salaverry, before once more hitting a road bump when he embarrassingly KO’ed himself while attempting a slam on Falaniko Vitale. During his UFC career, Lindland would get the reputation of being boring, just a wrestler, etc. Lindland would avenge his loss to Vitale, beat Tony Fryklund only to ONCE MORE become sidelined when he got knocked out by newcomer David Terrell. After the Terrell fight, people started writing Lindland off. Lindland would then go on a win streak, defeating quality fighters and having two more fights in the UFC, winning both. Strangely however, Lindland was let go after beating both Joe Doerksen and Travis Lutter. This didn’t stop Lindland from fighting, however, as he would continue on and defeat Antonio Schembri, Fabio Leopoldo, and Mike Van Arsdale, all within the time limit. Lindland would then take a step up in weightclass to fight top LHW Quinton Jackson, losing a narrow, and some say controversial split decision Rampage. Lindland would continue to show his P4P ability when he stepped up to fight the baddest man on the planet, Fedor Emelianenko, holding his own before getting submitted. Even in these two losses, Lindland prove that he can fight with the best fighters in the world, regardless of weight. Not to mention between these fights, he KO’ed Jeremy Horn and subbed Carlos Netwon, thus dispelling the boring stigma that followed him. In his last 9 wins, Lindland has finished 8 of his opponents. Who He Could Debut/Return Against: Lindland is widely considered one of the Top 5 MW’s in the world. I think the UFC has to bring them in if they want to make their MW division the best. Lindland, in the MW division, has been on a tear lately, beating great competition. Lindland’s always said that he would destroy Rich Franklin, so that makes it a logical fight in my book. Besides, there aren’t many UFC MW’s that could hang with Lindland. 2. Norifumo Yamamoto (15-1-0 Lightweight): The infamous Kid Yamamoto. Like him, hate him, couldn’t care less about him, it doesn’t matter, because you have to respect what very well could be the best P4P fighter in the world. At barely 5’4, 145 lbs, Kid Yamamoto is hell on wheels. When he was fighting at 145, which, even then, he was undersized, he ran through the competition in Shooto, his only loss being a cut stoppage to Stephan Palling. Kid, having had enough of the title limbo at Shooto, decided to move up in weight to the more glorified 155 division where he dispatched of various MMA newcomers and K-1 kickboxers, before KO’ing Royler Gracie. Kid then followed up this win with a TKO of Caol Uno, and then, with his most impressive win to date, a KO over the flamboyant and fan favorite Genki Sudo. What’s most impressive about Kid is not that he wins, but that he wins against top competition in a weightclass far above his natural one. With K-1 MAX level striking experience, superior wrestling, and some of the most effective GnP south of Fedor, Kid Yamamoto is a force whether it be at 145 or 155. Who He Could Debut Against: Since the UFC has no 145 lb division, I suppose Kid would debut at 155. Which should be no problem, considering he’s already beaten some great fighters at LW. I would give Kid a chance against anybody in the UFC’s LW division, with maybe only Sean Sherk (and BJ, if he stays) having an advantage over him. I would kill to see Kid fight either Tyson Griffin or Frankie Edgar. 1. Nick Diaz (14-6-0 Welter/Lightweight): This might be a controversial choice for # 1, but let me explain. Nick Diaz always claims that he’s never been beaten in the UFC, and I believe him, in a sense. Diaz has lost 4 fights in the UFC, but he has NEVER been beaten down, or even dominated, for that matter. In each and every fight that he lost, he has always hung with his opponent and given them trouble. Nick Diaz has been finished once early in his career to the heavy handed Jeremy Jackson, who he has since beaten twice. Diaz made it big when he KO’ed UFC posterboy Robbie Lawler. Following the biggest win of his career, Nick unfortunately loss a razor thin split decision to Karo Parysian. Diaz then destroyed Drew Fickett and Koji Oishi. Then, Diaz dropped 3 decisions in a row, albeit extremely close ones, to Diego Sanchez, Joe Riggs, and Sean Sherk, and after that, everyone pretty much wrote him off as a UFC can. These people were idiots. Nick had 2 more fights in the UFC, finishing Josh Neer and Gleison Tibau, before being dropped. In his fights in the UFC, Diaz pretty much proved that he could compete with any WW in the world. Despite having 4 losses, he had never been finished or for that matter in danger or hurt in any of them. Diaz had also proven that unless you are a Top 5 fighter at WW (or Joe Riggs, I guess), he would run through you, as evident by his beatdowns of quality fighters such as Josh Neer, Drew Fickett, and Gleison Tibau. Finally, Diaz made his way to the other big show, Pride, intended to be a feeder fight for their LW champion Gomi. Everyone counted Nick out, saying Gomi would destroy him, only to witness one of the best fights of the year, and Gomi get his worst beating since losing to BJ Penn. Diaz outstruck and finished Gomi with a beautiful gogoplata and showed the world that Nick Diaz is a top fighter, be it at Welterweight or Lightweight. Diaz needs to be in the UFC, regardless of either division. The guy destroyed the Pride champion for Christ’s sake, and barely lost a decision to the current UFC champion. Unfortunately, Diaz is currently signed with EliteXC, and is scheduled to be on their next card. Who He Could Debut/Return Against: At 170, Diaz has already proven that he would destroy anyone who isn’t Top 5 material, so guys like Josh Burkman and Thiago Alves would probably get beat down. I would like to see Diaz fight Josh Koscheck, or hell, even rematch anyone he lost to in the UFC. At 155, if he could make the weight cut, I’d favor him over every LW currently on the UFC roster, except maybe Sherk. But even then, Sherk could not take Diaz down the last time they fought, so if Diaz commits to the stand-up like he did against Gomi, I think the title would switch hands. Only person in the UFC at 155 that I’d favor against Diaz is BJ Penn. ***I completely forgot 4 fighters that should have been on this list in Cung Le, Carlo Prater, Ricco Rodriguez, and Yoshihiro Akiyama. I excluded the 145 fighters, so don’t be upset when you don’t see guys like Urijah Faber on the list. This is simply because the UFC right now, has no 145 weightclass, therefore there is no place for Urijah Faber, unless he were to move up. However, Faber himself has admitted that he has to put on pounds to fight at 145, so this is unlikely. I did use WEC fighters however, and yes, I know that the WEC is owned by Zuffa, the parent company of the UFC, but they are nowhere near as exposed as the UFC. Also, just so people don’t wonder at why I’m not putting guys like Sokoudjou on the list, this is because Sokoudjou was securely a Pride fighter when Pride dissolved. Now, why do I have guys like Matyushenko and Radach on the list when they were former UFC fighters? The difference between them and Sokoudjou is that guys like Matyushenko and Radach were let go, and had to build their way back up to prominence, whereas Sokoudjou was securely a Pride fighter with a contract.