Evolution and positive change are intrinsic to mixed martial arts. While that aspect is generally most imposed on the athletes, it's a burden that fight promotions must endure as well.
Though longtime heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos was just unseated by Cain Velasquez, most of the UFC's perennial champions who've been embedded atop their division for years are still firmly in place: Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre, Jose Aldo and Dominick Cruz. However, the arrival of 2013 seems to carry with it a notable makeover in almost weight classes; an exceptional populace of fresh contenders and new blood. Let's take a look at some of each in every weight class who might make some waves in 2013, starting with the big boys.
Alistair Overeem: "The Demolition Man" soared in 2010-11 by acquiring the DREAM heavyweight strap in addition to already having become the inaugural Strikeforce heavyweight champion in the pre-Zuffa-takeover era of 2007. The latter laurel was diminished in prestige by Overeem's extended absence in the promotion, but his dual defenses in 2010-11 (Brett Rogers, Fabricio Werdum) revivified the honor, just like Overeem snaring the K-1 2010 World Grand Prix kickboxing championship did to his overall MMA status. This unparalleled momentum culminated when Overeem debuted in the Octagon and clobbered former UFC champ Brock Lesnar, but subsequently sputtered when he was suspended afterwards for failing a drug test. Overeem is slated to pick up where he left off against Antonio Silva at UFC 156 on February 2nd.
Daniel Cormier: The Olympic-level wrestler and AKA prodigy assumed the Strikeforce mantle that Overeem vacated when he migrated to the UFC. Having always been a rising prospect, Cormier authenticated his top-level skill by finally punctuating his resume with big-name, reputable wins in Antonio Silva and Josh Barnett. While no announcement has been made, the death of Strikeforce will likely foster Cormier's tenure in the Octagon.
Wildcards: Fabricio Werdum, Antonio Silva, Travis Browne
Dan Henderson: another Olympic wrestler, the Team Quest veteran waltzed back into the Octagon circa 2007 with the Pride welterweight and middleweight belts draped over each shoulder. Though both of those titles would be lost consecutively in unification bouts at light-heavyweight (Quinton Jackson) and middleweight (Anderson Silva), "Hendo" went on to win 7 of his next 8 and become the Strikeforce light-heavyweight champion, snipe off a heavyweight legend in Fedor Emelianenko and register a "Fight of the Year" performance against Mauricio Rua in his 3rd Octagon stint at UFC 139. He was aligned to challenge Jones for the belt but a knee injury sparked the ill-fated cancellation of UFC 151. Henderson will face Lyoto Machida at UFC 157 in February.
Alexander Gustafsson: though the Swedish "Mauler" may lack the wrestling and submission acumen to test Jones, he's a fierce boxing specialist and the only legit threat in the division who can hold a candle to the champ's cartoonish reach length. Gustafsson has also worked tirelessly to reinforce his wrestling from a defensive standpoint, much of which transpired by training with Phil Davis, the man responsible for Gustafsson's sole career defeat.
Chris Weidman: If there were any doubts surrounding whether Weidman was for real, he answered them convincingly by thoroughly dismantling contender Mark Munoz in every aspect of fighting. Weidman, along with Bellator featherweight champion Pat Curran, is the most shining example of devastating 3-dimensional prowess to spring up recently, and all 3 dimensions were on full display against Munoz, whom he took down, wreaked havoc on from the front headlock with submission attempts and eventually finished with a picture-perfect standing elbow. "The All American" was expected to face Tim Boetsch at UFC 155 but withdrew with an injury.
Hector Lombard: the former Bellator middleweight champion took a step back in his UFC debut against Tim Boetsch; a lackluster split-decision loss that was predicted to be pure fireworks. However, Lombard re-righted his progress recently with a commanding TKO over submission specialist Rousimar Palhares and also brings Olypmic-level credentials (Judo) and legit 3-dimensional capabilities to the table.
Nick Diaz: in another case of declined momentum, Diaz re-entered the UFC as a welterweight after attaining the Strikeforce title and is one of the most exciting fighters in MMA. He managed to sustain his trend of jaw-dropping performances by pelting B.J. Penn relentlessly but suffered a harmful setback when he was yanked from his anticipated title shot with St. Pierre. Diaz will fulfill that once-lost opportunity against GSP in March.
Rory MacDonald: a consummate up-and-comer and stablemate of St. Pierre's at Tristar Gym, the 23-year-old Canadian has already made ground after the lone setback of his career; a last-minute TKO loss to Carlos Condit at UFC 115. "Ares" has proven to be an uncanny athlete with considerable size and skill and is currently riding a 4-fight win streak.
Wildcards: Strikeforce lightweight champ Gilbert Melendez, who is expected to join the ranks in the future, Myles Jury, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Caros Fodor, Mizuto Hirota, Pat Healy, Tim Means, Jon Tuck, Abel Trujillo
Frankie Edgar: the former lightweight champion, always knocked for being undersized, will try his hand at 145-pounds in 2013. "The Answer" has been expedited to an immediate title shot against Jose Aldo at UFC in what is one of the most anticipated fights and new weight class debuts of the year.
Dennis Siver: the former lightweight contender has proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that he's a force at featherweight. The German kickboxing champion and leviathan-sized 145er has somehow managed to maintain his startling size and strength without sacrificing any quickness, and is off to a 2-0 start in his new weight class.
Renan Barao: Riding the most obscene win-streak in MMA (29), a collision with Dominick Cruz is inevitable this year after Barao ran through a trio of perennial contenders in Brad Pickett, Scott Jorgensen and Urijah Faber. But first, Barao will appear on UFC on Fuel TV 7 in February against ...
Michael McDonald: another shockingly youthful (age 21) and multi-dimensional talent has been rising up the ranks like willdfire; first outside of the UFC, now in it. The mass appeal with McDonald is that he has literally years to stumble and fall in order to make the finite tweaks to become a champion.