This is it – the unofficial half-year awards seasons is just about and done, and all that’s left is to determine the top fighters of the first half of 2010. Will your favorite be here? Read on to find out.
5 (Tie) – Junior Dos Santos
Still only 25, Brazil’s Junior Dos Santos continued his whirlwind ride through the heavyweight division in the first half of 2010, knocking out veterans Gilbert Yvel and Gabriel Gonzaga with relative ease. With fellow young gun Cain Velasquez getting the next shot at champion Brock Lesnar, Dos Santos will have to keep busy as he waits for his turn, and he could secure his place in the pecking order with a win over Roy Nelson at UFC 117 next month.
5 (Tie) – Evan Dunham
Unheralded lightweight Evan Dunham quietly made a name for himself in the UFC in 2009 with wins over Per Eklund and Marcus Aurelio, but in 2010 he moved from prospect to contender with an impressive come from behind finish of Efrain Escudero and a clear-cut decision win over Tyson Griffin.
5 (Tie) George Sotiropoulos
Winner of seven straight (six in the UFC) dating back to late 2006, Australia native George Sotiropoulos has had his coming out party this year, as he’s dismantled both Joe Stevenson and Kurt Pellegrino, putting him squarely in the lightweight title picture. And with his improved all-around game, Octagon vision, and quiet intensity, he’s going to be a nightmare matchup for anyone at 155 points.
4 – Rashad Evans
Following the loss of his UFC light heavyweight title via knockout to Lyoto Machida in May of 2009, fight fans were wondering how Rashad Evans was going to react in his next bout. Well, in January he decisioned Thiago Silva, going back to his wrestling roots and surviving a late sequence when Silva got him in trouble. And four months later he headlined another major event when he took on – and beat – bitter rival Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson with another solid wrestling-based victory at UFC 114 in May. Some would say ‘Suga’ is back, but in reality, he never left.
3 – Chris Leben
Entering 2010, Chris Leben’s UFC career was on the line after back-to-back losses to Michael Bisping and Jake Rosholt, but amazingly, by the time he forced Yoshihiro Akiyama to tap out in the third round of their UFC 116 bout earlier this month, he was back among the ranks of middleweight contenders. This amazing transformation took place thanks to wins this year over Jay Silva, Aaron Simpson, and the aforementioned Akiyama, with the latter two victories occurring within a two week period.
2 – Frankie Edgar
Rightfully deserving of a lightweight title shot, Frankie Edgar still wasn’t considered likely to be the one to defeat the seemingly unstoppable 155-pound king, BJ Penn. Edgar and his team just ignored the odds, put together an intense training camp and fight plan, and walked into Abu Dhabi in April with one goal in mind – to win the belt. And after five close rounds, it was Edgar who shocked the world and took the title from ‘The Prodigy’ behind a disciplined 25 minute attack that he plans on replicating when the two meet in a rematch at UFC 118 in August.
1 – Mauricio Rua
It’s never hard for a fighter to get up for a world title fight. When you lose a controversial decision many think you won, it has to be difficult to go through the physical and mental trials necessary to do it all over again. But Mauricio Rua did it. And not only that, but in his championship rematch against Lyoto Machida in May, he scored the defining win of his career via first round knockout. What made the victory sweeter was the journey it took to get there, from a loss in his UFC debut to Forrest Griffin to two knee surgeries, Rua got to the top in the Octagon the hard way, and even though he may be sidelined for a while due to injury, the top fighter of the first half of 2010 was undoubtedly the man dubbed ‘Shogun.’
Honorable Mention: Martin Kampmann, Brock Lesnar, Cain Velasquez, Mark Munoz, Melvin Guillard, Brendan Schaub, Jon Jones, Georges St-Pierre, Kenny Florian, John Hathaway, Chris Lytle, Gerald Harris