Determining the best fighter of the first six months of the year is a little bit of a fool's errand. For example, the sport's longtime middleweight king Anderson Silva has yet to even step foot inside the octagon in 2013, so he's immediately out of the running, and well, that just doesn't seem fair, does it? Yet he is. Every single one of the other UFC champions (with the exception of injured bantamweight Dominick Cruz) has only fought a single time. Most of Bellator's champs have only fought once as well. You see where I'm going here; it's simply a very small sample size to choose from, but choose we must.
Given our place on the calendar, there are only a handful of fighters at the big-league level who have competed more than once in 2013, and when it came down to it, the decision was between Vitor Belfort and T.J. Grant.
Both had compelling cases. Belfort has starched two top 10 middleweights during that time, while Grant blitzed his way to a lightweight title shot with back-to-back knockouts.
Ultimately, in a split-decision, we chose Belfort, and the reason was that his wins had come against a slightly superior competition level. He also had the "Wow" factor on his side, with two highlight-reel stoppages, one of which has attained "Knockout of the Year" buzz.
We must remember that when Belfort fought Michael Bisping, the Brit was on the verge of a title shot. He simply needed a victory to advance to a championship match against Silva. Yet he barely made it into the second round with Belfort, who dropped him with a hellacious head kick and finished him with ground strikes. Four months later, Belfort returned against Luke Rockhold, who had closed out his Strikeforce tenure as the middleweight champion. Belfort promptly unleashed a crushing spinning heel kick of doom for the finish.
Two top-10 opponents, two knockouts.
There may be some who object to Belfort's selection based upon his testosterone replacement therapy usage, but once his bouts are sanctioned and occur, the outcomes still must count for something. To ignore them would be an exercise in futility. After all, Rockhold and Bisping did suffer those defeats, including the physical pain of it all. That really happened.
And so, Belfort it is. For derailing two title shots, for two highlight-reel finishes, Vitor Belfort has been the best fighter of 2013 so far.
2. T.J. Grant
To be honest, Grant deserves to be 1b) rather than in this spot, but that's just a nicer way of saying he's No. 2, and let's face it, that's a pretty amazing achievement for a guy who was considered to be a prototypical journeyman when he competed as a welterweight. Since moving to lightweight, Grant has become a powerhouse, with five straight wins. In 2013, he's knocked out Matt Wiman, and then, far more surprisingly, he wrecked Gray Maynard in a first-round bulldozing. Next up? Lightweight champ Benson Henderson. And if Grant wins, he has a fairly good chance of leapfrogging Belfort for Fighter of the Year when 2013 is over and the award actually matters.
3. Pat Curran
Curran has quietly amassed increased consideration as a top three world featherweight for his sharp, technical striking, ground instincts and finisher's mentality. So far, he's defended his Bellator strap twice this year, first in a brilliant scrap with Patricio "Pitbull" Freire, and again in a technical submission win over the gritty Dagestani Shahbulat Shamhalaev.
4. Glover Teixeira (2-0)
Coming into 2013, Teixeira had a strong reputation with insiders, but needed a win over an established name to let everyone else know he was a true force to be reckoned with. Check. He got it with a strong decision win over Quinton "Rampage" Jackson on national television. In his follow-up fight, he steamrolled James Te Huna in front of his idol Mike Tyson. After years spent figuring out visa issues, Teixeira is finally on the cusp of fighting for a UFC belt.
5. Josh Burkman
If I were to tell you before the start of 2012 that Burkman would step into the cage and finish both Aaron Simpson and Jon Fitch in back-to-back fights, you'd be pretty damn impressed. That shouldn't change much one year later. Burkman has pulled off a late-career revival, and for that, he's earned his place on the list.
Jose Aldo (1-0, beat Frankie Edgar)
Joseph Benavidez (2-0)
Emanuel Newton (3-0, won Bellator 205-pound tourney, including upset of Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal)
Khabib Nurmagomedov (2-0, set a UFC record with 21 takedowns in a single fight)
Josh Thomson (1-0, became first man to finish Nate Diaz on strikes)