1. Thiago Alves
While everyone expected Anderson Silva to turn all of Cote into Swiss cheese, not just his knee, it was Thiago Alves who played the role of fistic executioner at the expense of Josh Koscheck. With a presumptive shot at the welterweight title up for grabs, Alves put in his best Octagon showing yet by stifling Koscheck’s all-universe wrestling and turning the “TUF” alumnus’ head into a heavy bag. By answering the long-simmering questions about his suspect takedown defense in such emphatic fashion, Alves announced himself as more than the next would-be welterweight usurper -- he may be the next in a long line of dominant welterweight champions.
2. Junior dos Santos
If the sudden rise of Brock Lesnar taught us anything, it’s that the heavyweight division is ripe for relative unknowns to make their market at the expense of increasingly inconsistent veterans. A state that was confirmed when Junior dos Santos turned the UFC heavyweight division upside-down with a perfectly placed uppercut on the jaw of supposed top contender Fabricio Werdum. With a big-time win in hand and the backing of well-placed Black House teammates such as “Minotauro” Nogueira and Anderson Silva, Dos Santos joins the short list of promising next-generation heavyweight contenders.
3. Sean Sherk
There was a time when voluntarily watching a Sean Sherk fight was like signing up to be a human guinea pig -- the side effects were always enough to scare anyone off. But it now seems like Sherk has gotten in touch with his inner Thomas Hearns, minus the reach, and become the division’s resident slugger. While the trade-off is that his decision over Tyson Griffin was fraught with far more danger than the native Minnesotan is accustomed to, Sherk has finally blossomed into something more than a pile of fast-twitch muscle fibers. That something is starting to look like a fighter worth watching.
4. The Heavyweights
If you’ve got a UFC contract and can’t make the light heavyweight limit, the sight of Dos Santos turning Werdum’s face into a floor mat was like Christmas come early. Once the current heavyweight title situation sorts itself out, the division will be short on contenders and Werdum appeared to be at the top of that short list. Now knocked off his perch by “Cigano,” Werdum is left out in the cold while the UFC’s prized blue-chip prospects like Shane Carwin and Cain Velasquez get a chance to cut in line and take over a division in need of some bullies.
5. Illinois MMA Fans
Thanks to a record-setting $2.8 million live gate at the Allstate Arena, fight-starved MMA fans in Illinois, especially those in the greater Chicago area, can look forward to joining fans in both California and Ohio as one of America’s most sought-after fight audiences. Of course, the UFC stands to benefit as well by tapping into yet another underserved MMA market and turning it into another cash cow to fuel their ongoing efforts to spread the sport east. At this rate, a much dreamt about UFC in New York can’t be far away.