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Maggie Hendricks

You decide: Cagewriter breakthrough performer of the year


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Cagewriter readers, it's your turn to decide the best of 2009. Today, we ask you to choose the best breakthrough performer of the year. These fighters (and one promotion) may have been known before this year, but 2009 was the year that they became the subject of discussion at MMA's collective water cooler. The nominees, in no particular order:

Jon Jones: A mix of overall aggressiveness, technically sound Greco-Roman wrestling and moves he picked up off of Youtube, Jones is fun to watch and has a bright future. Despite ending the year with a DQ loss to Matt Hamill, Jones made his mark in 2009 with wins over Jake O'Brien and Stephan Bonnar.

Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal: With four wins this year, it's hard to believe that the world-class wrestler has only been training mixed martial arts full-time for a little more than a year. Now with Strikeforce, Lawal enjoys putting on a show both in and out of the cage.

Ben Henderson: "Smooth" turned heads in the WEC lightweight division in 2009, submitting Anthony Njokuani, knocking out Shane Roller and winning a five-round classic with Donald Cerrone to give Henderson the interim belt. His next task is a bout with champ Jamie Varner at WEC 46 on Jan. 10.

Anthony Njokuani: Though he started out the year getting submitted by Henderson, Njokuani came back to win three straight Knockout of the Night bonuses, taking out Bart Palaszewski, Muhsin Corbbrey and Chris Horodecki along the way.

Cain Velasquez: A Division-I All American wrestler and training at American Kickboxing Academy, Velasquez vaulted into the upper echelon of UFC heavyweights with wins over Denis Stojnic, Cheick Kongo and Ben Rothwell this year.

Jose Aldo: On his way to winning the WEC featherweight belt, Aldo has fought a total of 12:22 over four fights. All four wins were by TKO, including a championship-winning bout over Mike Brown and a highlight-reel flying knee over Cub Swanson.

Takeya Mizugaki: Not many fighters make a name for themselves by taking a beating, but that's exactly what Mizugaki did. He went five rounds with Miguel Torres, won over Jeff Curran, and then took another beating from Scott Jorgensen. Why is this impressive? In these fights, Mizugaki became known as one of the toughest fighters in the WEC.

Tyron Woodley: The All-American wrestler at Missouri has taken his wrestling skills and added striking and jiu-jitsu learned at American Top Team. He first turned heads on the undercard at Strikeforce:Lawler vs. Shields, and then again with Strikeforce:Challengers wins over Zach Light and Rudy Bears.

Bellator Fighting Championships: With a tournament system, distribution on ESPN Deportes (ESPN's Spanish-language channel) and a mix of up-and-coming fighters and veterans, Bellator started off as an interesting addition to the MMA landscape. They distinguished themselves with fighters delivering stunning knockouts and submissions and a late-year signing spree to set up another amazing season next year.

Marius Zaromskis: Is Zaromskis Lithuanian for headkick? It may as well be, with "The Whitemare" winning four times in 2009, three of those wins coming via vicious headkicks. After fighting with Dream, Zaromskis signed with Strikeforce and is set to take on Nick Diaz on Jan. 30, so we can look forward to more headkicking action here in the U.S.

Now, it's your turn to decide. Who is the breakthrough performer of the year?

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