What fighter is on everyone's lips as we enter 2014 who was hardly on anyone's radar just one year ago? This inexact criteria is basically the litmus test for who we nominated for Yahoo! Sports 2013 MMA Award for Breakthrough Fighter of the Year.
With as topsy-turvy a year as 2013 was for mixed martial arts, the choices are many. Before he bloodied up the UFC's biggest star, Georges St. Pierre, how many other than devoted MMA fans knew much about Johny Hendricks?
Who, other than die-hards, gave the lanky Swede named Alexander Gustafsson much of a chance against the first ever MMA fighter with a global Nike sponsorship deal, Jon Jones before they fought in the fall? Then, Gustafsson went out there and proved he's at least as good as "Bones," and thrust himself into the spotlight.
Chris Weidman went from being just another soft-spoken, young contender to dominating Anderson Silva twice in 2013. Small-men like flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson and featherweight newcomer Conor McGregor turned out to be huge attractions for the UFC in 2013 as well.
Our choice for 2013's Breakthrough Fighter of the Year, however, combined championship dominance, buzz-generating celebrity and history-making pioneering. For that reason, the Yahoo! Sports 2013 MMA Breakthrough Fighter of the year is...
Rousey nabs her second award of 2013 from us, as she's already been named Female Fighter of the Year, but we simply could not come to any other conclusion in this category.
Few groups have historically been more discriminated against in MMA than women, collectively. Just a couple short years ago, UFC president Dana White said that there was not enough female talent in the world (or interest in watching them fight from the public) to justify allowing them into the big leagues.
Ronda Rousey made White and the UFC realize they were dead wrong. Beginning with her first ever UFC title defense in February, all the way through her historic coaching stint on The Ultimate Fighter and successful title defense last month against rival Miesha Tate, Rousey has garnered more attention for the UFC than perhaps any other fighter on their roster.
Her only competition, St. Pierre and Anderson Silva, may be on their way out. Rousey went from being relatively unknown to headlining two pay-per-views and a reality show.
"Rowdy" Ronda is not just MMA's biggest female star, she may on her way to becoming the UFC's most recognizable and valuable active fighter.
Check out the awards yet to be announced below.
Jan. 7: Event of the Year
Jan. 8: Trainer of the Year, Television Commentator of the Year, Referee of the Year, Biggest upset of the Year