Six ‘Other’ Fighters of the Year

By Tim Leidecker Jan 6, 2008
The die is cast: Quinton Jackson (Pictures) has become the official heir to Chuck Liddell (Pictures) as's Fighter of the Year, leaving fellow UFC champions Randy Couture (Pictures) and Anderson Silva behind in second and third place respectively.

While "Rampage" is absolutely deserving of the award, there are other fighters, including the six profiled here, who have had fantastic years in 2007 and who have not received much attention.

Siyar Bahadurzada (Pictures)

The "Afghan Killa" became the first Shooto world champion from the Middle East when he defeated previous titleholder Shikou Yamashita (Pictures) via unanimous decision in July.

The 23-year-old kickboxer also joined the elite list of Alexandre Franca Nogueira (Pictures), Joachim Hansen (Pictures), Vitor Ribeiro (Pictures), Anderson Silva, Jake Shields (Pictures) and Erik Paulson (Pictures) to become only the seventh non-Japanese Shooto world champion in the history of the oldest mixed martial arts promotion in the world.

Bahadurzada fought a total of five times in 2007, finishing four of his bouts early. Besides the title win against Yamashita, the other marquee fight he had was against Nathan Schouteren. Before the fight, Bahadurzada claimed that he would retire from MMA should he lose the rematch against the Dutchman who beat him on points in 2004. In the end, he finished the "Satan" with a flurry of strikes near the end of the first round.

In 2008, he is bound to continue fighting in Japan. In December he signed a contract with upstart promotion World Victory Road, where he will compete in the inaugural event called "Sengoku" on March 5.

Although nothing has been confirmed, all rumors point to a clash between him and Japanese Olympic judo silver medalist Makoto Takimoto (Pictures). Possible opponents for his first Shooto title defense are Brazilian knockout artist Leandro Silva (Pictures) and experienced Shooter Akihiro Murayama (Pictures).

Rafael dos Anjos

Dos Anjos is the latest on a seemingly endless list of fantastic Brazilian lightweight fighters. The 22-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt started out in local shows in the southeast of Brazil before shifting up a gear and taking his trade to Rio de Janeiro last year. Therefore the star pupil of three-time BJJ national champion Aldo "Caveirinha" Januário left his master and joined the newly formed Gracie Fusion team, which also features ADCC champion Marcio Cruz (Pictures), IFL veteran Delson Heleno (Pictures) and the Deep-experienced Fabricio Monteiro (Pictures).

Dos Anjos is an absolute power plug at a muscular 5-foot-7. He combines his excellent ground skills with unusually good wrestling for a jiu-jitsu fighter. His biggest strength is his conditioning, though, and only two of his opponents last year managed to hang with the fighter from Rio over the distance. The other four fell prey to his frenzied pace and lost via submission.

The biggest "scalp" on his record is a win via Kimura over highly regarded Nova União fighter Danilo Cherman (Pictures). He also won a four-man lightweight tournament with very solid competition in April.

After two wins in Fury FC -- the biggest promotion in Brazil -- Dos Anjos is bound for a shot at the show's vacant lightweight title, perhaps against Takafumi Otsuka from Abe Ani Combat Club. Should he make it past the Japanese fighter, it is almost certain that Dos Anjos will follow his prominent predecessors like Gesias Calvancante (Pictures), Vitor Ribeiro (Pictures) and Marcus Aurelio on the road to the land of the rising sun.

Mamed Khalidov

Mamed Khalidov is without a doubt the hottest commodity at 205 pounds in Europe right now.

Similar to former Pride Grand Prix winner Mauricio Rua (Pictures) in his fighting style, the "Cannibal" has cut a swath of destruction through his opponents. 2007 was a career year for the 27-year-old Chechen as he finished all five of his opponents, four even inside the first round, to improve his record to 15-3.

Khalidov's aggressive and exciting style has made him a fan favorite in his adoptive country of Poland, where he trains at MMA Olsztyn. He is also the top ace for Polish promotion Konfrontacja Sztuk Walki, known for its old-school eight-man tournaments.

In the past 12 months, he has beaten some of the very best in Europe in his weight division. Submission victories over Mirko Cro Cop's training partner Igor Pokrajac, German wunderkind Martin Zawada and ultra-experienced Dutch veteran Dave Dalgliesh have pushed Khalidov to a point where he has to fight even tougher opponents to advance his career. If he isn't snatched up by a bigger promotion, he will be back in action for KSW in late spring.

Hector Lombard (Pictures)

A participant in the Sydney Olympic Games in judo, Cuba's Hector Lombard (Pictures) has always had a tendency for the extraordinary.

With only five MMA fights under his belt, he put himself, or rather his contract, up on eBay for a random promoter to pick up. Pride eventually won the auction and used the man who is built like a slightly smaller version of Kevin Randleman (Pictures) in the Bushido Grand Prix, where he lost both of his fights. After that it went quiet around the 29 year old.

That was until he went on a rampage on the Australian MMA scene.

Lombard fought eight times in 10 months and on top of that even twice within the same month on two different occasions. He started the year with a controversial knockout of Pancrase veteran Eiji Ishikawa (Pictures) and submitted Australian fighter James Te Huna, who is two natural weight classes above Lombard, five weeks later. His four-fight win streak was stopped by Kyle Noke (Pictures), who managed to draw with the Cuban, which earned Noke a contract with EliteXC.

Lombard's feats didn't escape the notice of UFC matchmaker Joe Silva either. However, the fighter's scheduled meeting with fellow judoka Karo Parisyan (Pictures) was scrapped when Lombard was unable to get a work permit for the United States.

Instead he fought three more times in Australia, capped by winning the Cage Fighting Championships middleweight title against fellow PRIDE veteran Jean Francois Lenogue (Pictures). If he continues his pace, Lombard could make his first title defense as early as February.

Antonio Mendes

If it weren't for Mendes, Lombard would certainly have to be considered the Jim Marshall of last year's "season."

However, the "Samuray" from Brazil fought an even more unbelievable nine times in seven months to take home the title of MMA's "Iron Man" for 2007. In his native country, the 26-year-old Muay Thai specialist was just one of many. His 5-2 record was decent but nothing to write home about.

His career exploded when he moved to Europe, though. Initially he had only planned to fight on a single show -- the grand final of the German "Martial Arts X-treme" reality show that never took place. After the MAX event was cancelled, Mendes decided to make the best of the situation and fought all over the continent in Portugal, England, Italy, Germany, Poland, Holland and Russia, winning all nine of his fights.

This hard slog had two big highlights in store for the man from Fortaleza in northeast Brazil. In June he won the star-studded KSW 7 eight-man light heavyweight tournament, working his way to three decision victories over Polish grapplers Robert Jocz and Michal Materla as well as Germany's Martin Zawada.

Then in July he outlasted Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures)'s star pupil, Kiril Sidelnikov, in a brutal war on the Russian's home turf, which should have definitely earned him a contract with M-1 Global for 2008.

Yoshiyuki Yoshida (Pictures)

In a year that hasn't exactly been a bed of roses for Japanese MMA, Yoshiyuki Yoshida (Pictures) has been one of the few native success stories. The namesake of judo Olympic gold medalist Hidehiko Yoshida (Pictures) has come out of the obscurity of the Shooto circuit to become the major discovery for Greatest Common Multiple -- one of the few Japanese promoters that use a cage.

Competing in the eight-man 170-pound tournament, he only seemed a marginal note beside the much more illustrious names like King of Pancrase Katsuya Inoue (Pictures), former Shooto middleweight champion Akira Kikuchi (Pictures) or Cage Warriors titleholder Dan Hardy (Pictures). However, Yoshida surprised even the biggest experts by knocking out both Inoue and Kikuchi in spectacular fashion.

Even though his win over Hardy in the finals was clouded by controversy -- Hardy was disqualified for an unintentional kick below the belt -- the 32-year-old knockout artist took home the tournament victory and won a contract with the UFC.

He could make his debut in the big leagues as early as April at the second UFC Fight Night of 2008. Possible opponents include TUF alumni Josh Burkman (Pictures) and George Sotiropoulos (Pictures) as well as Brazilian bad boy Thiago Alves (Pictures).
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