Who is MMA's breakout fighter in 2010? - ESPN

Among other things, exposure has never been greater for mixed martial artists. Opportunity is not in short supply. In an instant you can go from being Anthony Pettis, intriguing prospect, to the kid with a championship shot and a kick named after him.

Then there's Phil Davis, the 2008 NCAA champion wrestler for Penn State who is beginning his third year in MMA and went 4-0 in 2010 with two impressive submissions.

It was a longer road for 33-year-old George Sotiropoulos, but a 3-0 record in the UFC in 2010 pushed him to 7-0 in the company, meaning this was the year he became a contender.

Ben Askren did what he said he was going to do: win the Bellator welterweight tournament. With that the two-time Dan Hodge Trophy-winning wrestler at Missouri and Olympian in Beijing solidified himself as one of the most intriguing prospects in MMA.

Cole Konrad, NCAA champion wrestler for the University of Minnesota in 2006 and 2007 and one of Brock Lesnar's chief training partners, went 7-0 in 2010, including the Bellator heavyweight championship.

Whose emergence was the most meaningful?

Jon Anik: Ben Askren -- As always, there are a lot of good candidates for breakout star. Most impressive for me was the relentless Askren, who is one of a handful of true-to-the-definition world-class wrestlers in MMA. He showed improvement in several disciplines, while proving that his wrestling will be more than functional for MMA. When Askren gets a few more repetitions under his belt, look out.

Josh Gross: Anthony Pettis -- The "Showtime" kick capped a 4-0 year for the new WEC lightweight champion and set Pettis up as the top contender for UFC's lightweight title.

Franklin McNeil: George Sotiropoulos -- His performance improved with each fight in 2010. Sotiropoulos is at least two wins from a title shot.

Chuck Mindenhall: Phil Davis -- There's an unnerving cold about the way Sotiropoulos goes about beating guys, but as far as star power it's Davis. That one-armed kimura (the "Philmura") he pulled off against Tim Boetsch began to color up the potential.

Brett Okamoto: George Sotiropoulos -- I actually thought Sotiropoulos broke out in 2009, with two submission wins in the UFC. He followed it up this year with just-as-slick performances against even better competition.

Darius Ortiz: Anthony Pettis -- It comes down to who wasn't on your radar at the end of '09 that you can't wait to see in '11. For me, it's Pettis -- between the in-cage athletics and the MTV backstory, "Showtime" made waves in '10.

Jake Rossen: Anthony Pettis -- It might not be fair to boil an entire year -- and a 4-0 record -- down to one kick, but that's what happens when you do Hong Kong wire work in a sport that usually punishes creativity. There might not be anyone in MMA who's gotten famous faster.