Georges St. Pierre will be spending most of 2012 in his civvies. | Photo: Brian Townsend
1. Georges St. Pierre (22-2)
The welterweight division’s French Canadian king managed only one Octagon appearance in 2011, a five-round decision win over Jake Shields in April. Having recently undergone knee surgery, GSP will sit on the shelf well into 2012, when he’ll ostensibly unify his UFC championship with the winner of Feb. 4’s Nick Diaz-Carlos Condit interim title bout.
2. Nick Diaz (26-7, 1 ND)
It’s been an up-and-down year for Stockton, Calif.’s Diaz, who has seen two chances to fight divisional ruler Georges St. Pierre slip away. With GSP on the sideline for six to nine months, Diaz will attempt to capture the UFC interim welterweight title against Carlos Condit at UFC 143 on Feb. 4.
3. Johny Hendricks (12-1)
Two-time NCAA wrestling champion Johny Hendricks entered his Dec. 30 bout with Jon Fitch as a live underdog, but who was banking on a 12-second knockout? With his picture-perfect left hook, the former Oklahoma State Cowboy has put himself in position to potentially contend for the UFC welterweight title in 2012.
4. Jon Fitch (23-4-1, 1 NC)
Jon Fitch’s three-plus-year odyssey to get another UFC welterweight title shot was waylaid at UFC 141, as Johny Hendricks needed just one punch and 12 seconds to lay the former Purdue Boilermaker out. It will be a long, slow climb back to Fitch’s former perch as welterweight’s second banana.
5. Josh Koscheck (16-5)
A short-notice booking yielded big-time gains in September when Koscheck stepped in for Diego Sanchez and punched out former champ Matt Hughes. Originally booked against Carlos Condit on Feb. 4, the American Kickboxing Academy standout will instead meet Mike Pierce in Las Vegas at UFC 143.
6. Jake Ellenberger (26-5)
Ellenberger looked to be on the fast track to title contention after his 53-second demolition of Jake Shields in September, but the ongoing St. Pierre-Diaz-Condit shuffle has impeded the Nebraskan’s progress. In the meantime, he’ll tangle with perennial contender Diego Sanchez in the main event of the UFC’s Fuel debut on Feb. 15.
7. Jake Shields (26-6-1)
On Sept. 17, Shields was knocked out for the first time in more than 10 years by Jake Ellenberger. Now, Shields will return to Japan, where he initially broke out in the Shooto ranks almost a decade ago, as the Cesar Gracie disciple will take on Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 144.
8. Carlos Condit (27-5)
Condit fell into a title shot in October and then lost it just as quickly when champ Georges St. Pierre suffered a knee injury. The “Natural Born Killer” can cement his status on Feb. 4 at UFC 143, where he’ll take on former Strikeforce champ Nick Diaz for the UFC’s interim 170-pound belt and the right to face the returning GSP.
9. Martin Kampmann (18-5)
After suffering narrow defeats against Jake Shields and Diego Sanchez, “The Hitman” finally got a decision to fall his way on Nov. 19 when he took a split not over tough wrestler Rick Story. Kampmann will again have his hands full on March 3 when he meets fellow striker Thiago Alves at UFC on FX 2 in Sydney.
10. B.J. Penn (16-8-2)
B.J. Penn’s temporary hiatus from MMA following his October loss to Nick Diaz had all but removed “The Prodigy” from the sport’s headlines. However, a Twitter tirade against the aforementioned Diaz has got many itching to see the Hawaiian back inside the cage in 2012.
Other contenders: Ben Askren, Charlie Brenneman, Rory MacDonald, Rick Story, Tyron Woodley.
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