The world of MMA has been turned on its head the last four years. Former pound-for-pound listers Chuck Liddell, Rich Franklin, Wanderlei Silva and Matt Hughes are all on the verge of being non-factors.
It's simply evolution. As more athletes have been exposed to the sport, the depth and competition has become that much tougher. Well-rounded was a term reserved for a few, now you've got dozens of fighters around the world who can legitimately carry that label. Look no further than 2008 for breakout stars and you can see how good some of these guys can be.
Cage Writer sat down with Larry Pepe of ProMMARadio and came up with a solid list of the guys who could move closer to stardom in 2009. Listen to Cofield with Pepe, the breakout fighters discussion starts around 43:00:
REACHING NEW HEIGHTS IN 2009 - These are established fighters who could become household names with casual sports fans:
1. Brock Lesnar
2. B.J. Penn
GETTING MORE LOVE FROM MMA FANS - Fighters who could advance in the mind of the average American MMA fan:
1. Shane Carwin
2. Eddie Alvarez
3. Ben Saunders
DEEP SLEEPERS - MMA fans will clamor for bigger fights for these guys in 2010:
1. Bobby Lashley
2. Mark Munoz
3. Jim Miller
Former Olympic wrestler Ben Askren (pictured) is a very deep sleeper. Maggie Hendricks tossed out the name of flyweight Henry Cejudo. Who are the fighters you think will take a big step forward this year?
Check out the entire conversation with Pepe, we also covered some of the best of 2008 topics: KO of the Year, Fight of the Year, Fighter of the Year and Story of the Year. For the opposite approach there are some great lists over at Fightlinker.com. Our favorite glass half-full site is voting right now on Worst Fight of 2008.