The year 2008 was great, but 2009 will be fi ne … especially fi ne for three fi ghters who will have the opportunity to wrap some new bling around their waists. It wouldn’t surprise too many folks if Urijah Faber or Rampage Jackson reclaimed their title belts this year. That’s too easy to predict. It’s like saying Rashad Evans will tweak his nipples during his fi rst title defense. I like those odds. But which fi ghters have the opportunity to turn some heads this year and upset the balance of MMA nature? Here are three who have the brass to get the gold. Remember it, write it down, and take a picture: You heard it here fi rst.
1) Joachim Hansen 5’ 9”, 155 pounds, DREAM Record: 19–7
Here’s the sad thing: More so-called MMA fans know who Junie Browning is than who Joachim Hansen is. Unfortunately, it isn’t enough to be a stud in the cage anymore; you have to be willing to drink urine to get some notoriety these days.
Hansen, along with Eddie Alvarez and Shinya Aoki, constitute a trio of world-class Lightweight fi ghters not in the UFC. Therefore, a lot of fans have no idea who they are. But they are awesome in every way. Although Hansen has some gold as the current DREAM Lightweight champion, look for him to give newly crowned WAMMA Lightweight champion Aoki a good, old-fashioned Norwegian beating. Alvarez, Aoki, and Hansen are the three best Lightweights in the world not named Penn. Watching them duke it out for the WAMMA title is going to be entertaining.
2) Dan Henderson 5’ 11”, 185 pounds, UFC Record: 23–7
Henderson is the only man in the last few years to make Anderson Silva look fallible — albeit for just only one round in their 2008 fi ght. Given another opportunity at the UFC Middleweight championship, Henderson could wreak havoc on Silva with a disciplined game plan of dirty boxing, takedowns, and ground-n-pound.
Throughout his 12-year career, Henderson has fought the best competition in the world, including both Nogueiras, Rampage Jackson, Wanderlei Silva, Babalu, Renzo Gracie, Shogun, and Rich Franklin. Now, the former PRIDE Middleweight and Light-heavyweight champion is thirsty for his fi rst piece of UFC gold, and he has the tools to get it. Look for Hendo to dispose of Michael Bisping on his way to a title shot, and don’t act surprised to see Dan do a little Brazilian Samba after he beats the Spider.
3) Brian Bowles 5’ 7”, 135 pounds, WEC Record: 7–0
Bowles is a mini-wrecking ball. Of his seven professional fi ghts, none have gone the distance, and that includes four WEC wins over Charlie Valencia, Marcos Galvao, Damacio Page, and Will Ribeiro. WEC Bantamweight champion Miguel Torres could be the next name on that list.
Bowles may be giving up a sizeable reach advantage to Torres, but expect Bowles’ training camp at The Hard- Core Gym in Athens, Ga, to come up with a fi ght plan to negate the lanky champion. Torres and Bowles are two of the most well-rounded — and toughest — mixed martial artists in the game today. Neither fi ghter has shown any signs of weakness. Look for this fi ght to be one of the best of the year, and look for Bowles to wear the belt at its conclusion as he ekes out a splitdecision victory.