Thomas Gerbasi, UFC - The beauty of sports is that there is a never-ending pool of talent that always replenishes each particular game, whether it’s football, baseball, basketball, or mixed martial arts. 2008 saw a talented group of newcomers make their way to the Octagon, and frankly, it was tough to narrow the field down to just ten standouts.
The beauty of sports is that there is a never-ending pool of talent that always replenishes each particular game, whether it’s football, baseball, basketball, or mixed martial arts. 2008 saw a talented group of newcomers make their way to the Octagon, and frankly, it was tough to narrow the field down to just ten standouts. So to help do so, there’s just one rule in addition to the fact that each newcomer needed to have made his UFC debut in 2008, and that’s that each fighter had to have had at least two official UFC fights during the calendar year (fighters with one fight can make it to the Honorable Mention list). And I stuck to that rule, with just one exception…
10 – CB Dollaway - 2-2 record in the UFC in 2008
As long as the man standing across from him isn’t named Amir Sadollah, CB Dollaway has shown himself to have the potential to make some noise in the middleweight division in 2009. His submission defense is still spotty, as shown by his two sub losses to Sadollah and his near-sub defeat against Mike Massenzio, but The Ultimate Fighter season seven finalist did finish off two quality foes in Massenzio and Jesse Taylor, and being in the Arizona Combat Sports camp with guys like Ryan Bader, Matt Riddle, Jamie Varner, and Carlos Condit is only going to make him better.
9 - Kevin Burns - 2-1
Wells Fargo’s loss is the UFC’s gain, as Burns turned from full-time employee and part-time fighter to part-time employee and full-time fighter over the course of a wild year that saw him come in on short notice to gain submission of the night honors over Roan Carneiro at UFC 85 and then split an exciting two fight series with Anthony Johnson. And despite his loss to Johnson in their second bout, Burns showed enough in that bout (and throughout the year) that he’ll be back in business sooner rather than later.
8 - Tim Boetsch - 2-1
“The Barbarian” made an immediate impact at UFC 81 in February as he face-planted David Heath in the first round before stopping him with strikes moments later. A loss to Matt Hamill in the altitude of Colorado halted Boetsch’s momentum for a bit, but after a ferocious first round stoppage of Michael Patt in September, Boetsch was back and ready to take on all 205-pound comers.
7 – The Miller Brothers - Jim 2-0 / Dan 2-0
If these two siblings from Jersey keep winning, it’s gonna be hard to tell them apart from each other. Lightweight Jim was able to fit in two fights from the time he made his debut in October, submitting David Baron and decisioning Matt Wiman, the latter victory earning him fight of the night honors, while middleweight Dan repeated the feat, submitting Rob Kimmons and decisioning Matt Horwich. There have been six brother tandems in UFC history (Miller, Hughes, Serra, Lauzon, Diaz, Shamrock) – the Millers are trying to become the best of the bunch.
6 - Efrain Escudero - 2-0
The winner of The Ultimate Fighter 8’s lightweight division, Escudero may have not gotten the attention some of his housemates received, but when the Octagon door shut and it was time to fight, he said all that needed to be said with his hands and feet. Fresh off a decision win over Phillipe Nover, Escudero has shown solid wrestling, athleticism, and jiu-jitsu, but it’s his fighting IQ that may be what separates him from the pack in the coming years.
5 - Junior Dos Santos - 1-0
Okay, okay, I know Dos Santos didn’t fight twice in the UFC in 2008, but when you come into the organization and take out a consensus top five heavyweight like Fabricio Werdum and you do it with one punch, you’ve got to make the list. Owner of perhaps the most spectacular debut of the year, Dos Santos came out of nowhere to starch Werdum and announce his arrival to the UFC. Now the only question is, how do you top that in 2009, Junior?
4 - Shane Carwin - 2-0
A Division II national wrestling champion and DII All-American in football, Carwin entered the Octagon with high expectations on his shoulders in May. Two first round wins later (over Christian Wellisch and Neil Wain), and it’s safe to say that he is living up to the hype. But you know what the scariest thing about Carwin is? No, it’s not that all 10 of his fights have ended in 2:11 or less, but that he still works full-time as an engineer in Colorado
3 - Amir Sadollah - 2-0
To say Sadollah came out of nowhere to land in the UFC in 2008 would be an understatement. But with five wins (and five finishes) as a member of The Ultimate Fighter 7 cast, Sadollah became an immediate star, and not just because of his self-effacing humor and humble attitude, but because he could fight. Despite having no previous pro experience, Sadollah took out UFC vet Steve Byrnes, Matt Brown, Gerald Harris, and CB Dollaway (twice). None of those guys are stiffs, but Sadollah finished them all. In 2009, the work begins all over again.
2 - Cain Velasquez - 2-0
Like Carwin, Velasquez heard the buzz before his UFC debut in April and he too responded with spectacular victories over Brad Morris and Jake O’Brien. But what even more people were talking about over the course of 2008 was what Velasquez was doing in the AKA gym in San Jose, as he showed off almost limitless potential while working with some of the best fighters in the game, including visitors like Lyoto Machida. Velasquez is only 26, and they say he’s getting better daily. Frightening.
1 – Brock Lesnar - 2-1
The no-brainer pick of the year, there is no question that Brock Lesnar was the UFC’s newcomer of the year in 2008. Starting off with a loss to Frank Mir in his heavily-hyped debut in February, Lesnar bounced back with a one-sided win over Heath Herring and the granddaddy of them all, a second round TKO of Hall of Famer Randy Couture in November that earned the former NCAA wrestling champ the UFC heavyweight belt. From a debutant to champion all in the space of 12 months? It would be hard to top the first year Lesnar had in the UFC.
Honorable mention: Mike Massenzio, Brad Blackburn, Ryan Bader, Paul Kelly, Chris Wilson, Yoshiyuki Yoshida, Dong Hyun Kim, Rousimar Palhares, Tim Credeur, Matt Brown, Goran Reljic, Rory Markham, Jon Jones, Dan Hardy, Steve Cantwell, Phillipe Nover, Junie Browning, Matt Riddle, Patrick Barry.