Earlier this year, Nate Diaz was in contract negotiations with the UFC and Dana White stated, ” Nate Diaz is not a needle mover.” Regardless of if you agree with that statement or not, one thing is undeniable: the UFC needs more needle movers on their active roster. 2014 was a turbulent year at best for the UFC and they will be looking to rebound in a big way in 2015. So, who do they have within their ranks to achieve this task? Who can help them achieve the biggest numbers on pay-per-view and be a positive brand ambassador?

#10 – Urijah Faber 

Urijah Faber is about as good as it gets when it comes to being a brand ambassador. He knows how to talk to the press, he embraces his fans, and he gives back more than he takes from the sport. One of the most active fighters in the UFC, he takes a decent event and turns it into a good one. Regardless of who he is fighting, both casual and hardcore fans alike always want to see Faber do his thing. The story line in 2015 is such that if he keeps winning, he may end up in what could be the biggest fight in bantamweight history. Current Champ T.J. Dillashaw trains out of Faber’s gym, Team Alpha Male. Faber and Dillashaw have both admitted in the right circumstances, they would fight each other. If that happens, it will be one of the most compelling storylines in MMA history.

#9 – Conor McGregor

You can’t say needle mover without Conor McGregor coming to mind. With skills on the mic and in the octagon, he may be the fastest rising star in the history of the UFC in terms of popularity. Often compared to Chael Sonnen in terms of his ability to promote a fight, a closer comparison would be to Muhammad Ali. McGregor most certainly hypes up a fight, but it’s real. He isn’t spewing nonsensical jargon in the way that Sonnen would. He is pointing out things he feels are facts about his opponents with little care for their feelings on the matter. McGregor’s skills have not only made him a must watch fighter, but also the face of a nation. The UFC Fight Night in Dublin, Ireland was one of the most exciting events in UFC history and it had more to do with the level of excitement in the crowd than the fighters in the cage. He has an entire country and an entire culture behind him. In 2015, it’s expected that he will face long time featherweight champion Jose Aldo in a fight that will generate big numbers in almost every continent.

 #8- Jose Aldo

Jose Aldo lets his actions do the talking which keeps him on the back end of this list, but he is a needle mover nevertheless. He has occupied the role of champion longer than any current champion in the UFC and that creates must watch fights regardless of what you think of him. Fans of his will tune in to watch him pick apart hyped contenders and others will tune in just because they don’t want to miss it if he loses. Quite possibly the most anticipated potential fight in 2015 is a fight between Aldo and McGregor. Featherweight is one of the most talent-rich divisions in the sport, but Aldo has beaten just about every one of the potential contenders except the ever popular newcomer Conor McGregor. After defeating Chad Mendes Aldo said, “I think the court is now complete here. I’m the King, Chad’s the Prince, and now we have a Joker.” The Joker he was referring to was McGregor.

#7 – Anthony Pettis

Anthony Pettis’ nickname is “Showtime” for a reason. Flashy and confident inside and outside of the Octagon, Pettis is both a needle mover for pay-per-views and a tremendous brand ambassador. He has only defended his title once so far in the UFC, but it was certainly enough to get people to tune in and watch his next fight. He has one of the greatest highlight reels of all time and people will watch not only to see if he wins or losses, but to see if he can pull off a trademark strike that has never before been seen inside the octagon. His elite level skills combined with his fashionable clean look have earned him a spot on a Wheaties box. At first this seems like not such a big deal, but it is a landmark for MMA’s journey into the mainstream and acceptance in U.S. culture.

#6 – Robbie Lawler

What makes a good fight isn’t only the abilities of the two athletes competing, it’s the storyline. It’s difficult to think of another fighter that embodies a storyline as great as Robbie Lawler’s. The reason the movie franchise Rocky has been so successful isn’t because of the fights in the movie, it’s because of the challenges Rocky had to overcome both in the ring and in his personal life. Lawler was considered to be a hot prospect in the UFC in 2002, but after losing to Evan Tanner and Nick Diaz back-to-back, he was cut and largely forgotten by the MMA community. Since that time, he has fought in almost every major organization, Elite XC, King of the Cage, Pride, and Strikeforce to name a few. His return to the UFC was only brought about due to Strikeforce being acquired by Zuffa, LLC, but since his return he has put together a record of six wins and one loss. In his most recent outing, he defeated Johnny Hendricks to capture the welterweight championship. If he can hang on to his belt in 2015 he will certainly be a needle mover. His first defense is slated to be against Johnny Hendricks, which will be a great fight, and if he wins that he has to face Rory MacDonald. Lawler will generate some big pay-per-view numbers if he can hold on to the belt.

#5- Anderson Silva

Making his return this January for the first time since suffering two back-to-back losses to the current champ Chris Weidman, Anderson Silva is still a definitive needle mover. Weidman has two wins over the former champ, but still refers to Silva as the greatest of all time. With good reason, too. Silva’s record and the talent he defeated were questionable at times, but he was pivotal in elevating the sport to the level it is at today. His showboat style and canned responses for the media created one of the biggest personalities in the history of the sport. You either love him or hate him and that sells tickets. He will make his return this January against Nick Diaz and if he is anything like what he once was, he will most likely come out the victor. If that happens, there are a slew of high-profile fights that could happen, up to and including a title fight against Weidman if the stars align. Even though Silva has fallen to Weidman twice, it would be one of the most anticipated trilogies of all time if it takes place.

#4 – Chris Weidman

The All-American wrestler from Hofstra University has quickly ascended into his role as the UFC middleweight champion. He is the man that did the impossible by defeating the former champ Anderson Silva twice and that alone makes him a needle mover. Since defeating Silva, he has gone on to beat his team mate, Lyoto Machida. The Machida fight wasn’t a one-sided affair, it showed that Weidman is not super human, but also has the characteristics of a champion. One can argue that his resilience in the Machida fight was better for his public relations than if he finished Machida in the first round. Weidman also embodies the spirit of America in a way that isn’t often exhibited in combat sports. He is a board member with the non-profit Livetofight.org and his altruism extends to his role in the Long Island, NY community during Hurricane Sandy. In behind the scenes footage, you can see him with his team praying in a way that you know he means it. He doesn’t hide his values in faith and family, combine that with his ultra-violent style in the cage and you have a fighter that you can’t dislike. Weidman is definitely one of the UFC’s best needle movers in 2015.

#3- Ronda Rousey

No other fighter in the history of mixed martial arts has reached a wider audience than Ronda Rousey. She not only reaches more people, she brings in fans that would have never watched the UFC if it wasn’t for her. She generates good numbers on pay-per-view and often fights in the co-main event slot, which takes a good card and turns it into a great one. As a fighter, she has aggressively dismantled every opponent she has been faced with. Fans either lover her or hate her and that creates numbers as well. It’s another case of people will watch to see how she wins and people will watch because they don’t want to miss it if she loses. She is the reason why women’s MMA is flourishing right now, both inside the UFC and outside of it. That alone earns her a spot on this list.

#2 – Cain Velasquez

Heavyweight title fights are notorious for generating numbers and the champion, Cain Velasquez is no exception. The biggest problem with Velasquez has been his unreliable nature due to injuries. Since 2010, the most he has fought in a year has been two times, and in 2014, he didn’t fight at all. If he is able to get his health in order and return in 2015 for at least two fights that would generate some big numbers for the UFC that they didn’t have last year. The length of time off combined with his dominant wins in his last couple fights will make his return a must watch. In his return he will be facing an interim champion, currently that slot is held by Fabricio Werdum. Title unification bouts are good for pay-per-views as well. Velasquez will either generate big numbers in 2015 or nothing at all and it all depends on his health.

#1 Jon Jones

It can be argued that Jon “Bones” Jones is the greatest of all time. Some still have Anderson Silva in that spot, but with a quick review of their records, it’s undeniable that Jon Jones has defeated a lot more big names than Silva has. He is currently scheduled for his ninth title defense and it may be one of the biggest fights the UFC has ever put on. Jon Jones will be defending his title next against the former Olympian Daniel Cormier. On paper, this is a great fight: both men more or less undefeated, Cormier coming down from heavyweight. There are a lot of story lines involved, but nothing more compelling than their very real personal disdain for each other. A photo opportunity turned brawl, an ESPN interview turned verbal war, and everything else that followed. Even on the off chance that this is Jones’ only fight of the year, it will still generate serious numbers for the UFC.

  • Frank Kelly

    Where’s Machida?