The highlight reels from 2010 have been packed away and now it’s time to look ahead to 2011.
Here are five fighters to watch this year:
Jon “Bones” Jones — light heavyweight (11-1) — Officially, he has one loss on his record. But don’t let the blemish fool you. It came via disqualification following an illegal downward elbow in a fight he was well on his way to winning. Jones is a creative fighter with spinning elbows and back kicks. At 6-foot-4, he outreaches most opponents and despite being only 23, is well on his way to becoming a top-ranked 205-pounder. He will next take on Ryan Bader at UFC 126 in February.
Brendan Schaub — heavyweight (7-1) — Part of the new breed of lighter, faster heavyweights, Schaub has seven wins with six of those via (T)KO. Schaub has shown growth in each of his three fights since losing The Ultimate Fighter 10 crown to Roy “Big Country” Nelson. He’s only ventured past the first round once and that was in his decision win over former belt contender Gabriel Gonzaga. The former Colorado Golden Gloves boxing champ trains with fellow heavyweight slugger Shane Carwin. The 27-year-old’s next test will be against Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic at UFC 128 in March.
Dong Hyun Kim — welterweight (14-0-1) — The South Korean 29-year-old has gone six fights in the UFC without a loss. At 6-foot-2, Kim is a tall 170-pounder with a strong wrestling and judo background. He is coming off a victory over the scrappy Nate Diaz at UFC 125 and has already called out champion Georges St. Pierre. He is touted by some critics as one of the few welterweights who has a chance against Montreal’s St. Pierre.
Anthony “Showtime” Pettis — lightweight (13-1) — If you missed the highlight of the year, head over to YouTube now. Pettis landed a kick on former World Extreme Cagefighting champ Ben Henderson that looked more like a scene from The Matrix than an MMA move. He sprang off the fence with his right leg and snapped the same leg across Henderson’s face to drop the champ. Pettis later dethroned Henderson by decision to become the WEC’s last champ as the promotion will now be blended with the UFC. Pettis was to face the winner of last week’s Gray Maynard/Frankie Edgar title fight, but will now have to await the rematch after the fight was ruled a draw.
Jose Aldo, featherweight (14-1) — Aldo hasn’t lost a fight in more than five years. With the UFC adopting the WEC and its lighter weight classes, mainstream fans will be introduced to the 145-pound fighting sensation early in the new year. He was to have his debut at UFC 125, but injury forced him to withdraw. At only 24, he is an imaginative striker and is recognized by most pundits as one of the top three pound-for-pound fighters on the planet.