Every year some fighters go from relative unknown to star and even contender. 2011 will be no different. The problem is that sometimes these “breakout stars” come from no where. Sometimes they simply make the most of an opportunity. For example, who would have guessed that Jon Jones would have had the meteoric rise he did when he made his UFC debut? Other breakout stars are more predictable. It only seemed like a matter of time until Cain Velasquez achieved stardom. We knew Shane Carwin was a guy to watch from day one in the UFC. As we try to see into the future there are some fairly safe bets. However, even with the so-called “safe bets” some of them will be busts.
Brendan Schaub: Schaub has a lot of name recognition already due to his stint on the Ultimate Fighter. His sole loss came int he finale to Roy Nelson. Since then Schaub has shown great stand up. He recently defeated Gabriel Gonzaga. Next up: Mirko Cro Cop in March. That would be a nice feather in his cap.
Shane Del Rosario: I don’t believe it is easy for Strikeforce or Bellator guys to get “stradom”, but I believe that Del Rosario will be on the map at the end of 2011. I look for a couple of higher level fights for him. He is a real threat to anyone.
Daniel Cormier: A highly decorated wrestler who has been very active. He fights in January against Devin Cole, but he needs better competition to move him up in the rankings.
Also Keep an Eye on: Stefan Struve
Phil Davis: Some may argue that Phil Davis has already “broke out”, however I expect him to have a meteoric rise in 2011. I expect him to get big named competition in the division. I love a Hamill vs. Davis match. I think Davis end up in the top 10 in the world by the end of 2011.
Also Keep an Eye on: Stanislav Nedkov and Alexander Gustafsson
Maiquel Falco: I think Falcao has real potential in the UFC. He looked great against Gerald Harris. He is now set to take on Alessio Sakara in March and if he wins that fight it is on to bigger things.
Also Keep an Eye on: Riki Fukuda and Chris Weidman
Rory MacDonald: MacDonald is 1-1 in the UFC, but that loss came in a tightly contested war with Carlos Condit. MacDonald is recovering from injury and when he returns I expect him to notch a few wins. I look for MacDonald to really be a force in the UFC’s welterweight division.
Also Keep an Eye on: Tyron Woodley, Jake Ellenberger, Carlos Eduardo Rocha, and Rick Story
Charles Oliveira: A disappointing loss to Jim Miller to close out 2010 is a set back for Oliveira, but he certainly has the skill set to progress in the UFC. Hopefully the UFC will give him a favorable matchup before moving him in against tougher opponents. I like a fight with Mark Bocek.
Paul Sass: Sass is known for his vicious triangle choke. The English fighter should be fighting in the first quarter of 2011. He is 1-0 in the UFC and I look to see him move up in competition. I am dying for a Sass vs. McKenzie fight. The triangle guy versus the guillotine guy.
Edson Barboza: Mark my words this guy is a force to be reckoned with. He will face Anthony Njokuani in March. He showed incredible Muay Thai in his fight with Mike Lullo. I believe Baroza could be the real deal.
Also Keep an Eye on: Williamy Freire
(Note: I would pick Anthony Pettis here, but I think he already broke out)
Chad Mendes: Mends will get his chance to breakout against Michihiro Omigawa at UFC 126. If he wins he moves into title contention. Some think that Mendes may be the guy to beat Aldo.
Also Keep an Eye on: Nazareno Malegarie (Just signed w/ Bellator to comepte in their 145 lb. tournament)
Renan Barao: This guy is way too overlooked. Barao has won 25 fights in a row since his loss in his professional debut. That is all that needs to be said. Barao has shown great jiu jitsu in his two WEC wins. He may be a title challenger by year’s end. Barao vs. Fabiano would be a great fight.
Michael McDonald: I believe that MacDonald may be the future of the division. Keep an eye on him. He is young and well-rounded. I really, really like this kid.