By the time that 2010 is over Zuffa will have signed nearly 100 fighters throughout the course of the year. Some of those fighters were prospects who had been knocking on the door of the big time (Maldonado, Ferreira, and Sass). Some of those fighters were veterans seeking another chance (Edwards, Diabate,and Petruzelli), some were busts (Loiseau) , and some were big name stars (Gomi, Shields. If trends hold for 2011 we can expect to see more of the same. There will be signing and cuts to the UFC roster. So, what names can we expect to sign between now and this time next year?
1. Ricardo Arona
Arona had made clear his desire to fight in the UFC. However, injuries and inactivity have not helped his case. The UFC wants him to get one mroe win and if he does I expect he will get a chance. There is a good chance we see Arona fight in Bitetti in December. There is a slim possibility that the UFC could sign him anyways. Barring an upset loss in his “to get in” fight I expect Arona in the UFC. Plus, there are several compelling fights for him in the 205 lb. division.
2. Jay Hieron
Hieron is officially a free agent now following his release from Strikeforce. Honestly, I am surprised that we do not know more about his future plans. I have no clue what Hieron will do, but he has hinted at UFC. It would not shock me if he signed elsewhere, but if Hieron wants to fight the best welterweights in the world than UFC is the place. I look for something to be known sooner rather than later regarding the future home of the former IFL champion. He could probably sign somehwhere like Bellator and do fairly well, but I would venture that at this point in his career Hieron wants to test himself against the best.
3. Bibiano Fernandes
I am hearing that Fernandes is officially a free agent as well. I know he has a growing frustration with DREAM and the MMA scene in Japan is shaky at best. Fernandes is one of the top 5 featherweights in the world and he would be a welcome addition to the UFC. The merger between UFC and WEC has to be more enticing for a guy like Fernandes. However, i think that his signing will come down to money. The DREAM featherweight champion very well could challenger Jose Aldo.
4. Michihiro Omigawa
It was reported that Omigawa was in talks with Zuffa and was even offered a fight at WEC 53, however nothing else has been heard regarding his potential move to the UFC featherweight division. He may want to stay and fight in Japan and he has found the American MMA scene to be much different than that in Japan. However, UFC is where the best 145’s are and where the money is now. Omigawa is a UFC veteran, but he did not fair too well in the UFC lightweight division, but he seems to be a force at 145. Will he try for a second stint with Zuffa?
5. Tim Sylvia
Yes, Tim Sylvia. Dana White has never said that it was impossible for Sylvia to come back. A few cryptic tweets from Sylvia and a report of a potential UFC contract for “Big Timmay” if he beats Pedro Rizzo have increased speculation. I don’t know if he can hang with the new guys in the UFC (Cain, Carwin, Lesnar and Dos Santos), but he may very well get another chance in 2011. The former UFC champion is very polarizing, but he still has some fight in him. If he is in shape and well-trained he could be an interesting fight for several guys.
6. John Alessio
Alessio wants to be in the UFC. He was fofered a fight at UFC 124 in Canada, but could not take it due to his obligation in the Golden Glory tournament this January. If he gets by Siya Bahadurzada I expect him to get a shot in the UFC. Alessio had a chance in the UFC and he went 0-2 against Siego Sanchez and Thiago Alves. He also went 5-2 in the WEC with his losses coming to Condit and Larson. Hopefully, Alessio will get a chance to develop in the UFC and not thrown to the lions.
7. Din Thomas
Thomas won’t win a world title, but he can certainly compete. Now fighting at 145 lbs he has a chance to head back to the UFC. Thomas may need to win a fight before this happens, but I certainly expect the UFC to have interest in signing Thomas.
8. Efrain Escudero
Escudero just signed with Shine fights, but I would not be surprised if witha few wins he earned his way back to the UFC. His cut from the UFC roster was a bit of a shock. Escudero failed to make weight for the Oliveira fight and he paid for it with his job. The UFC set an example using Efrain. However, Efrain is a likeable guy and a talented fighter who has room for improvement. I would not be shocked to see him back in the UFC in 2011.
9. TUF Guys
There are always a couple of guys who emerge from the Ultimate Fighter. Granted, the stars the show has produced has dwindled in recent years, but guys Like Court McGee (season 11), Brendan Schaub (season 10), and John Madsen (season 10) have been solid roster additions. With an upcoming season to feature middleweights and welterweights there are several prospects who have interest in the show. Solid veterans like Andre Galvao and Karl Amoussou auditioned. Prospects like Vitor Vianna, Myles Jury, Zak Cummings, Dhiego Lima, Jorge Lopez and Chris Weidman were there too.
Keep an eye on these names: Marcos Rogero de Lima (just beat Paulo Filho), Papy Abedi, Jimi Manuwa, Erick Silva, Yan Cabral, Myles Jury, Nazareno Malegarie, Chris Weidman, and Kevin Belingon.