Martin McNeil, SB Nation
We in the media spend a lot of time highlighting main-event fighters, former champions and top contenders, which means that unfortunately, some otherwise worthy mixed martial artists can fall under the radar. Guys like Matt Wiman.
At 29 years old, the Colorado-based lightweight may never reach the level of UFC champion. Or maybe he might and we've just been too distracted to notice his promise. That remains to be seen. But what I do know is that Wiman is one of the most intense, game fighters in the sport today. That's my own personal opinion, based upon a few years of watching him, and maybe you don't necessarily agree, but it's hard to disregard the ferocity with which he fights.
Wiman is an aggressive, action fighter who is well-versed in every aspect of the fight game and competes from bell-to-bell, keeping a furious pace throughout. Judging from the fact that he had his wife as one of his corners this past weekend at UFC on FUEL 5, he also seems like a standup dude.
While main-event guys like Stefan Struve enjoy all the limelight, he doesn't get it without the help of guys like Wiman, who come to scrap and prime the audience for what is to follow. Maybe one day, he'll be in the position to enjoy that main-event stage himself.
On to the predictions...
The "Skyscraper's" win on Saturday was important for more than just the victory to propel him up the rankings. After disappointments against rugged bangers like Junior dos Santos and Travis Browne, Struve has needed to win back the doubters who questioned whether he would always struggle against powerful strikers who refused to play the ground game with him. Beating Miocic was a positive development in that direction, although it does remain troubling that he let Miocic connect on over 50 percent of his strikes. His standup defense and ability to better control range are two aspects of his game that need further development, but since he's still just 24 years old, improvement remains a possibility.
Prediction: He takes a big step up and faces Fabricio Werdum
Everything seemed to be going just fine for Miocic until the end, when Struve began finding him with power shots and Miocic quickly faded. It was a disappointing finish to a promising start, but given his potential, Miocic will certainly be given the chance to rebound. Most of the UFC's heavyweight division is booked up, but Miocic should fight an experienced opponent to see how he responds to the first adversity he's encountered as a pro.
Prediction: He faces Mike Russow
I'd characterize Hardy's performance against Amir Sadollah as "mature," as he mixed up his offense well between striking, takedowns and groundwork. At the start of 2012, Hardy was on the verge of getting cut from the UFC, but now he's won two straight and seems more willing to use strategy rather than brawn, which is probably a good sign for his future. It's onward and upward for "The Outlaw."
Prediction: He faces the winner of December's Mike Swick vs. Matt Brown fight, possibly setting up a rematch with Swick
The Brit's standup looked spectacular against Yves Jabouin, culminating in a first-round finish. The victory gives Pickett wins in three of his past four, and moves him within range of one of the top contendership positions. Of course, the top of the division is still on ice due to Dominick Cruz's injury and Renan Barao already being set to fight him, so this is a good time to clearly delineate what's coming next. I'd suggest Urijah Faber, but I'm not sure he's recovered from his broken rib.
Prediction: A fight with Michael McDonald seems to make a lot of sense
Wiman has been an underrated fighter for some time, not in the sense of what his ceiling is, but for what he brings to the octagon, which is overwhelming gameness and an undying competitive spirit. Don't look now but on top of that, Wiman has now won five of his last six. Is he a serious contender? Well, it seems about time that we find out.
Prediction: He faces the surging T.J. Grant
UFC president Dana White was critical of Hathaway's win over John Maguire, which comes across as a bit strange one week after lambasting those who criticized the UFC flyweight title fight. Hathaway's performance wasn't a thrill ride, but it was very workmanlike, and even on the ground, he worked hard to try and pass Maguire's guard and stay busy with short punches. He also stayed out of Maguire's crafty traps and was active with offense from the bottom, so I'm not sure why he deserved any backlash. Anyhow, he's won seven of eight fights in the UFC, so that should count for something.
Prediction: He faces the winner of October's Aaron Simpson vs. Mike Pierce fight
Nelson arrived in the UFC with a reputation as a talent with all the potential of a future champion, and in his debut match against a far bigger opponent in DeMarques Johnson, he didn't do anything to dissuade his supporters. Nelson looked sure on his feet, and then quickly took Johnson down and overwhelmed him. Since he's just 24 years old, there's no reason to rush him just yet, and he deserves another opponent towards the middle of the UFC pecking order.
Prediction: He faces Sean Pierson
Fans who complain about the lighter-weight fighters being unable to finish should keep an eye on Peralta, a featherweight who has now finished 12 of his 16 career wins by KO after starching Jason Young in just 23 seconds. Peralta can't call out division champion Jose Aldo just yet, but it may be just about time to pit him against a seasoned veteran to see how he does.
Prediction: He faces Mike Brown
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