MMA: 5 Rising Stars in the Middleweight Division

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterAugust 31, 2012

MMA: 5 Rising Stars in the Middleweight Division

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    There's more to the middleweight division than Anderson Silva and that tangled string of challengers. Fact is, it's a pretty interesting weight class.

    So why don't we break out the big drill and see if we can't dig down a ways and unearth a few hidden gems? Here are five of the brightest stars moving up in the division, across all promotions.

    Before we proceed, allow me to acknowledge the decidedly non-Chris-Weidman-inclusive nature of this list. He's not rising anymore. He's there. Ditto to those of his ilk. On the flip side, no prospects, either. 

Honorable Mention: Luke Rockhold

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    I admit it: I had no idea how to slot this guy.

    Since he's already a champion, can he really be rising? Since that championship is with Strike "Last One Out Turn Off The Lights" Force, can he really be a star?

    There is no question the Santa Cruz, California native is a fighter to watch. Still just 27, Rockhold on a nine-fight win streak that includes two title defenses.

    The fly in the frosting: those defenses came against Tim Kennedy and some early trick-or-treater in a Keith Jardine mask.

    A true mixed martial artist in "the new mold," Rockhold can do it all. I just can't decide whether he qualifies as a rising star. So I copped out and gave him an honorable mention.

5. Derek Brunson

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    Promotion: Strikeforce
    Record: 9-2 
    Age: 28

    Has he beaten anyone of consequence? Nope. Isn't he on a two-fight losing streak? Sure is. 

    Hear me out, though. Brunson fought valiantly in a losing effort against Kendall Grove before a fit of recklessness undid him against Ronaldo Souza. Neither defeat, however, took away his electrifying style or unteachable charisma. It doesn't hurt that he can name Greg Jackson and Renzo Gracie among his coaches, either.

    Call it a hunch, but here's guessing Brunson and his Twitter army come back with a vengeance.

4. Tor Troeng

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    Promotion: The Zone FC
    Record: 15-4
    Age: 29

    The Swede showed some stern stuff when he tore off four straight wins (two of them stoppages) in the wake of a 2010 momentum-stalling loss to Thales Leites. In May he bested Mats Nilsson, another well-regarded young Swede.

    If the UFC ever returns to the land of Robyn and mythical body art—or even if it doesn't—here's hoping Troeng gets a chance to step into the Octagon.

3. Costa Philippou

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    Promotion: UFC 
    Record: 11-2 (1)
    Age: 32

    If you're sleeping on Costa Philippou, wake up. There's a lot to like about the New Yorker's sprawl-and-brawl game. 

    His most recent win, over Riki Fukuda, doesn't exactly belong to the ages. But he showed exceptional toughness when he battled through a groin shot and a late eye poke. Each of the four Ws in his current win streak came over solid UFC competition. 

    You know who he should fight next? Hector Lombard. I know Lombard's coming off a loss, but this could reveal a lot about the Bellator transplant. No offense to Tim Boetsch, but if Lombard doesn't unscrew his feet from the ground against Philippou, he will get hurt. 

2. Lorenz Larkin

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    Promotion: Strikeforce
    Record: 13-0 (1)
    Age: 25 

    In weathering an early storm to capture a unanimous decision victory over Robbie Lawler, Lorenz Larkin showed a robust blend of aggression, toughness and smarts. The victory was Larkin's first as a middleweight and kept his unblemished record intact. 

    He also showed a human side when he begged parent company Zuffa to provide postfight bonuses for Strikeforce fighters after the fight. That takes a lot of poise and guts, especially for a 25-year-old.

    I'd like to see Larkin tangle with fellow up-and-comer Roger Gracie. Winner gets a title shot.

1. Mamed Khalidov

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    Promotion: KSW
    Record: 25-4-2
    Age: 32

    I feel like this guy's been rising for five years now. When does he finally top the hill and break into major league MMA?

    Currently, the very well-rounded finisher (11 wins by T/KO, 13 by submission) is riding a five-fight win streak. Lest you think Mamed Khalidov is preying on weaker competition out there in the promotional boondocks, all five of those opponents are UFC veterans.

    Khalidov has played footsie with the UFC before. If the Octagon contingent (or any other promotion) is falling victim to pound-foolishness in this case, here's hoping they get past it and get him under the tent, as doing so would give anyone an instant new factor at middleweight.

    Here he is in May, KOing Rodney Wallace with the nonchalance I use to select my afternoon sody pop.

    Follow Scott Harris on Twitter @ScottHarrisMMA