Anthony Fusco, staff

The UFC had a stellar year and rose to new heights in 2011 under the direction of their animated president, Dana White. We saw the debut of the lighter weight classes with the WEC merger which brought many excellent fighters to the organization including Dominick Cruz, Urijah Faber, Jose Aldo, Donald Cerrone and Benson Henderson.

In the light heavyweight division, it was a year to remember for current champion Jon “Bones” Jones. He started by defeating a rising prospect in Ryan Bader, went on to challenge Shogun Rua and beat him to become the UFC light-heavyweight champion. Before the year was out, he defeated two more former champions.

Over the course of 2011, many legends stepped away from the octagon. Chris Lytle retired after a submission win over Dan Hardy. Three former champions also fought in the Octagon for the last time with BJ Penn, Randy Couture and Brock Lesnar all deciding to retire.

There are a number of UFC prospects who are poised to make some noise in their respective divisions for 2012. The following are my top picks. With the flyweight tournament starting up, I would pick Demetrious Johnson as the favourite because his elite skill means he has never been finished in his MMA career. Bantamweight Michael McDonald has displayed excellent skills and knockout power. Among the featherweights, Dustin Poirier is my pick because he is young and aggressive and can just as easily submit or knock out his opponent.

In the lightweight division, Tony Ferguson has used his wrestling and knockout power to become a legitimate prospect since winning the Ultimate Fighter. Rory MacDonald is a 22 year old Canadian welterweight who has faced elite competition and has passed with flying colours, drawing comparisons to welterweight champ, Georges St. Pierre. Chris Weidman is the top middleweight prospect in the UFC due to his undefeated record and well-rounded skill set.

With regards to light-heavyweight, Swedish born Alexander Gustafsson is my pick because he has won every fight but one since entering the UFC and has done so in dominating fashion. Travis Browne’s devastating knockout power and undefeated record make him the best heavyweight prospect in the UFC.

I also foresee some belts changing hands in 2012. Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber should be an action packed title fight and if Faber fights to settle the trilogy, we could potentially see a new bantamweight champion. The only other belt I could possibly see changing hands would be the lightweight belt held by Frankie Edgar. Benson Henderson has dominated every opponent he has faced since he entered the UFC and has earned himself a title shot against Edgar at UFC 144 in Japan. There certainly is plenty to look forward to this year inside the octagon and it looks like 2012 will be as exciting as 2011 was.