MMA's Young Guns: The Best Fighters Under 25
If Ponce de Leon were still alive and searching for the Fountain of Youth, he'd no doubt look to this group of fighters as motivation.
While most people in this age bracket are busy taking college exams or just beginning their trek into careers, these fighters have become amazing athletes on some of biggest stages in the MMA world.
A lot of young fighters suffer from mental lapses or simply need more seasoning in the game, but this group of guys have seen their stock skyrocket through a series of impressive performances.
The current crop of MMA fighters is perhaps the best it has ever been, but the future is looking even brighter with these young guns preparing to carry the MMA torch.
It seems John Hathaway has become a forgotten man in the midst of the welterweight rankings.
A top prospect in 2010, Hathaway defeated Diego Sanchez by unanimous decision and seemed poised to become England's next breakout star. But a decision loss to Mike Pyle all but derailed all momentum the young fighter had built up.
Hathaway rebounded with a victory over Kris McCray in his lone 2011 appearance and will look to begin his way back to the top when he takes on another improving prospect in Pascal Krauss.
Dustin Poirier didn't have an easy time with his UFC debut. Not only was Poirier battling Octagon jitters, but he was also making his first appearance in the featherweight division against a tough opponent in Josh Grispi.
Since then, Poirier has won three straight. Included in those wins are two submission victories, one by D'Arce choke and the other by a mounted triangle-arm bar combination.
Poirier has quickly risen up the ranks in the wake of destruction left behind by champion Jose Aldo and will look to firmly insert himself “in the mix” when he takes on Chan-Sung Jung in May.
Standing at 6'11”, Stefan Struve is an imposing figure when stepping inside the Octagon. This Dutch-born fighter offers more than just height as he has some solid kickboxing skills along with slick submissions.
Struve made his UFC debut against the current heavyweight champion in Junior dos Santos at UFC 95. Since then, Struve has been able to beat the average fighters but has yet to produce a win over a top-level opponent.
His biggest problem has been protecting his chin and not utilizing his reach properly, but given his ability to submit opponents so easily with his long limbs, we may see Struve start incorporating a bit more of ground fighting into his bouts.
Many MMA fans do not know who the next featherweight title challenger, Erik Koch is. Although he's only made two UFC appearances, make no mistake about it, Koch is the real deal.
Koch picked up right where he left off in the WEC, winning Knockout of the Night honors in his UFC debut against talented veteran, Raphael Assuncao. Next, Koch defeated Ultimate Fighter winner Jonathan Brookins via unanimous decision.
Facing Jose Aldo is a tough task for anyone, but for Koch, the biggest battle will be the one against his own body in preparation for the biggest fight of his career. He's had a history of injuries, and the UFC can ill-afford Koch to pull out of his scheduled bout.
Michael McDonald has quickly become one of the top prospects in the UFC. Barely old enough to have a beer in the U.S., McDonald is on the cusp of an UFC Bantamweight title shot following his latest outing.
McDonald took on the tough and talented former champion Miguel Torres at UFC 145 in a classic old vs. new fight. McDonald made quick work of Torres, dispatching him inside the opening round in devastating fashion.
With a lack of depth in the UFC's bantamweight division at the moment, McDonald could be pushed into the title picture very soon in his career. After Renan Barao, any MMA fan would be hard pressed to find a more qualified challenger than McDonald.
Patricio Freire has only one blemish on his record, a split decision loss to then-champion Joe Warren. The fight was one many MMA fans believed Freire had won, and it seemed he was poised to prove it in a rematch with Warren last year.
A broken hand forced Freire out of his rematch with Warren and forced Bellator to set up their summer featherweight tournament. Freire saw his title shot go out the window as Pat Curran passed him over and is now the new champion.
When Freire returns, he will have to make the choice of trying to avenge his defeat against Warren or making a run at the new champion.
One of, if not the top prospect in MMA right now, Rory MacDonald finally returned to the Octagon at UFC 145 after an extended absence.
It was well worth the wait as MacDonald put on a show by thoroughly beating Che Mills in a dominate performance. Prior to this, MacDonald's two most high-profile bouts were his victory over Nate Diaz and his near-victory over Carlos Condit back in 2010.
The UFC seems intent on bringing MacDonald along slowly, and why not? The welterweight title picture is very clogged at the moment due to Georges St-Pierre's injury. Also, the UFC is probably looking to avoid dealing with another, “I won't fight my training partner” issue like they previously dealt with the AKA guys.
Another prospect to emerge from the famed Nova Uniao camp, Eduardo Dantas is wearing some new jewelry as of late.
After entering Bellator's bantamweight tournament last year, Dantas earned his way to a title shot with Zach Makovsky. Dantas used his jiu-jitsu skills to secure an arm triangle choke and become the new Bellator Bantamweight champion.
The Brazilian has never been finished in his career, and his last loss occurred in 2009. Given his striking prowess and great jiu-jitsu background, Dantas could be wearing Bellator gold for a long time.
After making a name for himself fighting in the regional promotion XFO, Pat Curran has officially found a home inside the Bellator cage.
Since joining the promotion, Curran has only lost to former lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez. After losing in the lightweight tournament final, Curran dropped to 145 pounds and is now Bellator's Featherweight champion after knocking out former champ Joe Warren in devastating fashion.
Curran's run through the featherweight tournament last year was dominant to say the least as he secured three finishes in four fights en route to securing the Bellator title.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Jon Jones is arguably the greatest fighter in all of MMA right now. He's made quick work of a handful of former world champions and made it look easy in the process.
Possessing not only incredible physical gifts, Jones has added a great deal of talents en route to becoming the UFC Light Heavyweight champion. Not since the old days of Chuck Liddell have we seen someone rule over the 205-pound division.
Jones recently conquered his biggest challenge in former teammate Rashad Evans and will take on the ageless wonder Dan Henderson in his next bout. If Jones emerges victorious again, the calls for his move to heavyweight will only intensify.