Many fans and journalists are calling 2013 the best in the roughly 20-year history of mixed martial arts. There are a number of reasons for this. There have been amazing cards, great fights and polarizing stories. A story that is likely to spark debate during the final few weeks of the year is who is most deserving of being called 2013’s ‘Fighter of the Year.”

The year 2013 has been a great year of fights and cards. This is largely due to the performances that certain fighters have put on. The list of candidates for “Fighter of the Year” is probably the most extensive it has been in recent memory. The list includes three grizzled veterans who are having the best runs of their careers, mixed in with some young champions who are exceeding most expectations laid out for them.

If you would have told the majority of the MMA fan base at the beginning of the year that Robbie Lawler, Urijah Faber and Vitor Belfort would close out the year a combined 10-0 and reside as the No. 1 contenders in their divisions, most would have called you crazy. However, that is exactly what has happened.

Lawler made his return to the Octagon having lost three out of his last four in Strikeforce. He chose to return as a welterweight, but received a tough match-up against Josh Koscheck in his first outing. Lawler knocked him out, and then he went on to knock out Bobby Voelker over the summer and scored a huge upset win over Rory MacDonald in November. Lawler will now fight Johny Hendricks for the welterweight championship that Georges St-Pierre recently vacated. That isn’t too bad for a guy who many thought could be on his way out had he lost to Koscheck.

With the success Faber has had throughout his career, it would be tough to say which year was his best. Yet, that decision is fairly easy after the year he has had in 2013. Faber only fought once in 2012, losing a decision to Renan Barao. Faber had to go to the back of the line and work his way back up to the top of the division if he wanted to earn that elusive UFC belt. He is the only one of the candidates on the list that won four times this year. That is almost unheard of in today’s day and age, especially at the level at which Faber is fighting. “The California Kid” knocked off four guys who were all considered title contenders and finished three of them. He capped off the year with what I believe was the best performance of his fighting life when he submitted Michael McDonald. It will only be fitting that Faber would be the man who finally scores Team Alpha Male’s first UFC title.

Probably the most surprisingly dominant out of these three veterans has been Vitor Belfort. Belfort finished all three of his opponents with spectacular knockouts and could arguably be the year’s most improved fighter even at this advanced stage of his career. Many even believed that Belfort would lose his first two bouts against Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold. Belfort head-kicked them to the back of the line. Before November, no one had ever knocked out Dan Henderson. Belfort made it look easy and literally lifted him off the ground to do so. With those credentials, it could be an open and shut case for “The Phenom,” but the cloud of TRT usage still looms over the Brazilian and could cost him some votes.

Demetrious Johnson is another strong contender for this award. The man defended his title three times, all in the main event of Fox UFC Saturday cards. Another thing that makes that run so impressive is that Johnson beat each man in a different way. He won a hard-fought, comeback decision victory over John Dodson in January, dominated John Moraga for four rounds before submitting him in the fifth, and knocked out Joseph Benavidez in mere minutes. The diversity in wins and the fact that it was against probably the three guys ranked right below him makes Johnson a front-runner.

Cain Velasquez and Anthony Pettis both weren’t quite as active as the first four contenders for the honor, but both had stellar years. Velasquez won virtually every minute that he was in the cage in his two title defenses, and Pettis spent less than 10 minutes in the cage en route to finishing two top-10 guys and becoming the lightweight champion. Both are strong contenders, but with only two appearances a piece, it is hard to imagine either getting the nod over Faber or Johnson.

There is, however, one man who will only fight twice this year that could steal all of the accolades. That man is Chris Weidman. Weidman scored one of the biggest wins in UFC history when he knocked out Anderson Silva back in July. He is the first man to do that since Silva came into the UFC. Weidman will fight once more in just over a week when he gives Silva his rematch. Faber, Johnson and Belfort are all neck and neck for this award right now, but, simply put, if Weidman beats the best fighter in the history of the sport twice in one year, well, then the award belongs to him.

Photo: Chris Weidman (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

Trey Downey
Staff Writer

A Central Florida native, Trey Downey's interest in MMA came after a trip to Blockbuster and the rental of UFC 47 on VHS. He has been blogging about the sport since 2011 and hosted a podcast called The TD Experience focusing on football and MMA (touchdowns and takedowns). Trey studied radio and television at the University of Central Florida and will soon be attending the Connecticut School of Broadcasting. Trey enjoys watching sports, pro wrestling and is an avid runner.