Alexander Gustafsson and 10 Fighters Who Will Earn a Title Shot Within 2 Years
The ultimate goal for any professional fighter is to be a champion.
For an MMA fighter, that means winning a UFC title. To be champion means you will forever be remembered in MMA history. Even challenging for an UFC title means you're among the best in the world.
The fighters who comprise this list could see their names on the main-event section of a fight poster sometime soon.
All of the fighters on this list have qualifications to make their place not seem as absurd as some preview pieces. Some fighters possess exciting styles that propel them above the rankings while others have amazing skill sets.
Whatever their qualifications may be, all of them are likely to be seen challenging for a UFC title within the next two years.
Michael McDonald sure knows how to leave an impression. In his UFC debut, the young bantamweight prospect earned Fight of the Night honors for his bout with Edwin Figueroa.
His most recent bout ended with an impressive knockout that earned him another UFC bonus, this time for Knockout of the Night.
McDonald is 3-0 inside the Octagon and looks to be a promising prospect in the bantamweight division. Despite not facing that stiff of competition, McDonald's stock benefits greatly from the lack of depth at 135 pounds.
The 21-year-old's next fight should tell us if he's ready to be thrust into the upper-tier of the division as he takes on former champion Miguel Angel Torres.
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Prior to losing to Chael Sonnen in January, Michael Bisping had won four straight inside the Octagon. The British bad boy has made a reputation from being the villain everybody loves to hate but could also back up all the talking he did.
Moving past the controversy at UFC 127, Bisping looked very impressive against Jason "Mayhem" Miller. When he was bumped up to face Sonnen, most fans were already preparing for a Sonnen victory parade.
Bisping would put up one hell of a fight and gave Sonnen everything he could handle.
Despite losing a controversial decision, Bisping remains in the top five in the middleweight division. Look for him to rebound at UFC 148 in an attempt to regain the lost momentum.
Although only 1-1 in his last two bouts Fabricio Werdum arguably looked impressive in both the win and the loss. The loss came to current number one contender Alistair Overeem but saw the grappling specialist get the better of the striking exchanges.
Werdum would impress again in his return to the UFC with a decision victory over the tough and durable Roy Nelson. Werdum showcased improvements in his striking game by utilizing a strong Muay Thai clinch.
If Werdum can maintain his improved striking and amazing grappling skills, there's no doubt he could make another run at the UFC heavyweight title.
One of the most heralded prospects in recent years, Rory MacDonald was last seen in the Octagon at UFC 133 in August of 2011. At the event, MacDonald stopped the durable veteran Mike Pyle inside the opening frame to win consecutive bouts.
MacDonald is most known for two fights in particular—his win against Nate Diaz and the loss to current interim champ Carlos Condit.
The loss to Condit showed MacDonald was a superstar in the making but was simply too young to make a solid run. The Diaz bout showed that MacDonald's training had come full circle as he dominated one of the most talented young fighters.
Originally scheduled to fight in December, a shoulder injury forced the young Canadian off the card. Now, MacDonald will make his 2012 debut at UFC 145. He's likely at least three fights away from being "in the mix," but being young and exciting certainly will help this future title challenger's career aspirations.
There's no denying Donald Cerrone is an immensely talented fighter, but he sometimes lets his emotions get the better of him which has hindered his title hopes.
In no other fight was that more evident than Cerrone's last bout with Nate Diaz. Despite losing the striking exchanges, Cerrone refused to adjust his strategy out of a misguided intent to take Diaz's head off with one strike.
If Cerrone can harness his emotions and use the mass amount of talent he has, then we will definitely see "Cowboy" in the lightweight title picture within the next two years.
Towering over his opponents at 6'7", Travis Browne has racked up an impressive undefeated record thus far in his career.
It's not just the fact he's winning, but also the manner in which he's won. Browne owns nine knockouts in his career which include two that occurred in under 10 seconds along with a superman punch KO that gave him the Knockout of the Night award at UFC 130.
Training at the Alliance Gym along with the guys at Greg Jackson's camp will no doubt provide Browne with a great skill set that will allow him to take advantage of his physical gifts. His next opponent, Chad Griggs, has a history of derailing promising careers, but hopefully, Browne can grab the win and make a run at an UFC title.
Stephen Thompson may be new to the MMA scene but has been around combat sports for almost as long as he's been alive.
Sporting an undefeated amateur and pro kickboxing record, Thompson is one of the most decorated strikers to enter the lightweight division. He validated his standup skills by scoring an amazing head kick KO in his UFC debut while earning Knockout of the Night honors.
Thompson has only had six professional MMA bouts but has displayed some serious striking skills. If he can work on his takedown defense to avoid some of the strong wrestlers near the top of the division, Thompson could see himself be "in the mix" in the next two years.
An intriguing young prospect who's also riding a four-fight win streak, Erik Koch has looked impressive in the few times we've seen him in the Octagon.
In his UFC debut, Koch knocked out the talented Raphael Assuncao in the first round. The KO earned Koch Knockout of the Night honors. He also won a unanimous decision over former Ultimate Fighter winner Jonathan Brookins in September of last year.
The biggest thing holding Koch back has been injuries. Both he and his opponents have had to pull out of multiple bouts due to being unable to stay healthy. If Koch can remain healthy and fight on a more consistent basis, he can make a run at the UFC featherweight title in the near future.
On the cusp of a title shot now, Alexander Gustafsson could find himself challenging for the UFC light heavyweight championship before the year is done.
Four straight wins have brought the Swede to the forefront of potential challengers for Jon Jones. Besides the fact he's won four in a row, Gustafsson has also finished all four opponents in impressive fashion.
Two first-round and two second-round stoppages have placed a lot of hype on Gustafsson's shoulders.
If Gustafsson can secure another stoppage over a very game Thiago Silva, he will have officially made the move from blue-chip prospect to title contender.
Jake Shields had a rough go at it with the UFC's welterweight division, going 2-2 since debuting in the promotion.
Losing to Georges St-Pierre is nothing to be ashamed of, but Shields looked absolutely awful against Jake Ellenberger.
The Ellenberger loss was likely caused by the passing of Shields' father only a few weeks prior to the fight. He did look to be on his way of rounding out his striking game against Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 144.
Shields looked lethargic at times while at 170 pounds and has since made the decision to return to middleweight. Without the the tough weight cut, Shields can focus on increasing his skill level. With an amazing top game, Shields can be a handful for anyone at 185 pounds.