In any sport when the fans favorite athletes get older and their production goes down, you always look at the future stars and prospects who will rise up and fill those shoes. MMA is no different. In the last few years we have seen some of our favorite fighters either semi-retire or retire for good. Big names like Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Brock Lesnar, BJ Penn, and Kenny Florian all have either called it quits for good or are taking a long break to contemplate whether coming back to the cage is something they want to put time, energy, and focus into anymore. I want to put the focus on some rising future stars and young prospects in MMA that some people might not have heard of or on the cusp of greatness with another win or 2.
I will start with some fighters who are not in the major promotions but are on there way to being signed by either Zuffa or Bellator in the near future.
1 - Mamed Khalidov - 185 lbs - 31 years old and fights with KSW promotion based in Poland.
This Chechen born fighter is only known to true MMA hardcores. He has amassed a 25-4 record with 2 draws. He has 11 KO's, 13 submissions, and 1 win by decision. In his 25 matches he is 22-1-2. He has notable wins over MMA vets like Jorge Santiago, Matt Lindland, Jason Guida, Igor Pokrajac, Jesse Taylor, Rodney Wallace, and James Irvin. He is regarded by many as one of the top Middleweights not signed by Zuffa. His nickname is "The Cannibal" and has backgrounds in Muay Thai, Wrestling, BJJ, and is a Black Belt in Karate. He certainly brings a level of intimidation when he fights.
2 - Tom "Kong" Watson - 185 lbs - 29 years old and fights with BAMMA promotion of The UK.
This Middleweight fights out Southhampton, Hampshire, England. He is the BAMMA Middleweight Champion who has a 15-4 record with 7 wins coming by way of KO, 1 submission win and 7 wins by way of decision. His fighting style is based on Muay Thai, and BJJ. He has notable wins over Jack Marshman, Murilo "Ninja" Rua, Alex Reid, Matt Horwich, and a TKO win over current UFC fighter John Maguire. He has a big reputation in Europe and maybe soon he will bring his talents across the pond to the US.
3 - Conor McGregor - 145 lbs - 23 years old and fights with Cage Warriors Fighting Championships
This Featherweight who is a Dublin, Ireland native is a brash and confident young fighter. On Saturday June 1st he captured the vacant Cage Warriors Featherweight belt with a 2nd round submission by way of rear naked choke over English fighter Dave Hill. He has a pro record of 11-2, with all his wins coming by TKO and KO! 9 of his 11 wins have come in the 1st round. There is no doubt he hasn't faced top competition yet, but he has shown that he possesses the confidence to take his skill set to the next level. He has said his dream is to fight in Vegas and in the UFC. In my opinion the UFC featherweight division is on need of more depth and McGregor can help with that.
I will now talk about some fighters who are currently fighting in the UFC, Strikeforce, or Bellator who are early in their careers or are just now getting fight fans attention.
Bellator Fighting Championships
1 - Alexander Shlemenko - 185 lbs - 28 years old.
Alexander "Storm" Shlemenko has an unbelievable pro record of 45-7 with 27 wins coming by way of KO. He holds impressive wins over MMA vets like Ikuhisa "Minowa Man" Minowa, Vitor Vianna, Brian Rogers, Brian Baker, Sean Salmon, and Matt Major. He had a hard fought loss by decision over the much heralded and feared Hector Lombard. Shlemenko showed tremendous heart in this fight. He will fight Bellators season 6 Middleweight Tournament winner Maiquel Falcao for the belt vacated by Lombard when he left the promotion and signed with the UFC.
2 - Pat Curran 145 lbs - 24 years old
Curran is 17-4 in his pro career. He fought most of his career at 155 and is 4-0 at his current weight class of 145. He lost to Lightweight standout and former champion Eddie Alvarez at Bellator 39 after winning the lightweight tournament. He then moved down to 145 and won that tournament and was awarded with a fight with champion Joe Warren. His destruction of Warren with a 3rd round KO really put him on the map. He also hold wins over Marlon Sandro, Ronnie Mann, Toby Imada, and Roger Huerta. A Great athlete who I would like to see one day fight UFC Featherweight champ Jose Aldo.
1 - Tyron Woodley - 170 lbs - 30 years old.
Woodley, the St. Louis, Missouri native has a division 1 wrestling background at Missouri University. He has a Pro record of 10-0. He has wins over fellow prospect Jordan Mein, Paul Daley, Tarec Saffiedine, and Andre Galvao. He has trained very hard with American Top Team in Florida to work on his stand up skills and has showed real progress. He will fight for the vacant Welterweight belt at the next Strikeforce card on July 14, 2012 against UFC vet Nate "The Great" Marquardt.
2 - Tyler Stinson - 170 lbs - 26 years old
Stinson, who goes by the nickname of "The Evolution" is a promising up and comer in MMA's welterweight division. He has a 23-8 record. He has a kickboxing background and is known to be an extremely tough and fearless fighter who likes to mix it up. He lost a close split decision to Tarec Saffiedine at Strikeforce- Rockhold vs Jardine in January. The Kansas native will fight Jordan Mein at the next Strikeforce event on July 14, 2012.
3 - Jordan Mein - 170 lbs - 22 years old
Jordan Mein is let's just say, old for his age! He had his 1st amateur fight at the tender age of 14! He has already amassed a Pro MMA record of 23-8 with 13 wins by KO. He has wins over experienced MMA fighters like Josh Burkman, Joe Riggs, Marius Zaromskis, and Evangelista Santos who Mein TKO'd with a nasty barrage of elbows. In his last fight he lost a close split decision to Tyron Woodley at Strikeforce- Rockhold vs Jardine. In his next fight the Canadian will meet fellow prospect on my list Tyler Stinson in a welterweight matchup of top contenders.
Ultimate Fighting Championships
1 - Renan Barao - 135 lbs - 25 years old.
Renan Barao fights out of Rio de Janeiro at the famed Nova Uniao gym where UFC Featherweight champ Jose Aldo comes from. He boasts an incredible pro record of 28-1. His only loss came in his 1st fight. He has a 3-0 record with the UFC with wins over the highly regarded Brad Pickett, and veterans Scott Jorgensen , and Cole Escovedo. He is a Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu but his striking is equally dangerous. He is fighting Urijah Faber for the Interim Bantamweight belt as a replacement for the injured champion Dominic Cruz at UFC 148. This is a huge opportunity for Barao. I feel he will win and then beat Cruz and hold the belt for some time.
2 - Rory MacDonald - 170 lbs - 22 years old.
Rory MacDonald has a pro MMA record of 14-1 with 6 wins by way of KO and 7 by submission. He is one of the highest rated prospects on any MMA website. He has so much potential as a future champion. He trains at Montreal's famous Tristar Gym. Home of many UFC fighters, most notably UFC Welterweight Champion George "Rush" St-Pierre. He is actually GSP's protege so they both say they have no interest in ever fighting each other if MacDonald ever reached that level. MacDonald says he would move up to Middleweight before he would fight St-Pierre. GSP says the same! Rory has UFC victories over Mile Guymon, Nate Diaz, Mike Pyle, and Che Mills. His only pro loss came at the hands of current UFC Interim Welterweight Champ Carlos Condit by TKO in a fight that he was winning on the score cards until a late comeback by Condit. MacDonald has a bright future and the supreme focus to accomplish his goals.
3 - Michael McDonald - 135 lbs - 21 years old.
Michael "Mayday" McDonald is a California native and Brown Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He has a pro MMA record of 15-1 with 9 victories coming by way of KO. He is 4-0 in the UFC. His most impressive victory to date was his last one against Miguel Torres at UFC 145. He answered a lot of questions that people had about him, like if he can take that step up in competition at such a young age. He put Torres away with a 1st round KO. What makes McDonald such a promising prospect to me is his maturity level. He has said the best thing to happen to him in his career was when he was TKO'd by MMA vet Cole Escovedo in 2009. This made him realize that he is beatable and made him a much more determined man. Wise words beyond his years. I can see future match ups with Urijah Faber, Dominic Cruz, and Renan Barao in the future. He can hold his own with all of them.
4 - Joseph Benavides 125 lbs - 27 years old.
Benavides, nicknamed "Joe B- Wan Kenobi" is a Texas native who's pro MMA record is 16-2. His only losses in his career came at the hands of Bantamweight Champ Dominic Cruz at 135 lbs. Now that the UFC has started the Flyweight-125 lbs division he is at his natural fighting weight. He trains with Team Alpha Male with MMA vet and Ex-World Champion Urijah Faber. They have a reputation of training extremely hard and finishing fights with guillotine chokes which he has finished 4 fights with. In his last fight he looked very impressive with a TKO of Yasuhiro Urushitani in the 1st round of a 4 man tournament set up to crown the very 1st UFC Flyweight Champion. He will fight the winner of Ian McCall and Demetrious Johnson to see who will be crowned champ.
5 - Siyar Bahadurzada - 170 lbs - 28 years old.
This UFC Welterweight was born in Afghanistan and his family moved to Holland when he was 15. He has a few colorful nick names like "The Killer, Siyar The Great, Afghan Killa, and Unstoppable". He is 21-4 with with 11 wins by KO. He fights with the rough and rugged Dutch gym Golden Glory. Siyar has an aggressive style and he would prefer to KO an opponent instead of having a boring fight. Their was a lot of talk about him on MMA podcasts and websites in the few years leading up to his arrival in the UFC. He KO'd UFC vet Paulo Thiago with a quick right hand to the chin as Thiago was rushing in at UFC on Fuel TV that was held in Sweden. He was supposed to fight Thiago Alves on the UFC 149 card being held in Calgary, Alberta. He has a lot of potential in a suddenly deep Welterweight division. It will be interesting to see who the UFC can find to replace Alves. I am not sure how healthy he is but maybe a match with Amir Sadollah would be an interesting stand up match.
6 - Paul Sass - 155 lbs - 23 years old
The Liverpool, England native who goes by the nick name "Sassangle" because of his tendency to finish his opponents with the Triangle choke (9 out of his 12 career submissions has come by way of this move). He has a pro record of 13-0. He is 3-0 in the UFC with wins over TUF season 12 runner up Michael Johnson, Jacob Volkman, and Mark Hoist. He is tall for this division, and no doubt his long limbs help him with his submission game. He has 2 submission of the night honors in hIs 3 UFC fights. Definitely catching the eye of UFC brass. We can expect big things from this Englishman in the near future.
7 - Charles Oliveira - 145 lbs - 22 years old.
Charles "Do Bronx" Oliveira is 16-2 as a pro. He has a 4-2 record in the UFC with 1 no contest. He originally came in the promotion as a Lightweight but after suffering 2 losses to Donald Cerrone and Jim Miller he decided to take his Black Belt in BJJ to the Featherweight division where he would face guys a little closer to his strength level. This was a smart move. He has looked very impressive on his first 2 fights at 145 in submitting Eric Wisely and Jonathan Brookins. In the fight with Brookins on the TUF 15 Finale he even looked sharp with his standup as well. I think Oliveira can make waves in this division especially with his abilities to finish a fight when hits the ground.
8 - Max Holloway - 145 lbs - 20 years old.
Holloway boasts the title of being the youngest man in the UFC today! The Hawaii native is 5-1 as a pro and 1-1 in the UFC. He looked extremely impressive on the TUF 15 Finale on June 2, 2012. He picked apart Pat Schilling with wicked body work and good takedown defense. Needs a little work on finishing his opponents though, but that will come when he gets a little man strength. Many people compare his style to UFC star Anthony Pettis because of his flashy kicks and daring attempts for acrobatic maneuvers. Jeremy Stephens even brought him in to mimic "Showtime" Pettis in there recent match. Holloway can have a solid future with the UFC when he can fill into his frame and get stronger.
This portion of my future stars and prospects editorial is just a quick list of current fighters that have established themselves already and are either young champions or top contenders
1- Daniel Cormier- Heavyweight Gran Prix winner in Strikeforce
2- Benson Henderson- Lightweight Champion- UFC
3- Carlos Condit- Interim Welterweight Champion- UFC
4- Luke Rockhold- Strikeforce Middleweight Champion
5- Tim Kennedy- #1 contender for Strikeforce Middleweight Belt
6- Alexander Gustafsson- Light Heavyweight Contender - UFC
7- Hector Lombard- Bellator Middleweight Champion - now with UFC
8- Michael Chandler- Bellator Lightweight Champion
9- Nate Diaz- Top Contender- Lightweight- UFC
10- Anthony Pettis- Top Contender- Lightweight- UFC
By: Randy Neidich mmathinktank.com http://wp.me/p2sF5i-2y