MMA: Previewing the Next Crop of Superstars
MMA has enjoyed a "golden age" in recent years. The sport exploded in popularity following the success of The Ultimate Fighter and has become one of the fastest growing sports internationally. Unfortunately, that growth has slowed a bit recently.
The sport still has superstars like Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre but will need a new crop of fighters to take their place. Fans have witnessed "the old guard," guys like Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell, be replaced by fighters like Jon Jones and Silva.
It's only a matter of time before the stars of today lose their status or step back from fighting. That leaves the question of who will step up and take their place? Luckily for the sport of MMA and fans, there isn't a shortage of young fighters who can fill the superstar void with ease.
Erick Silva left UFC 153 the same way he entered—a highly touted prospect. There's no shame in losing to Jon Fitch who was clearly more motivated coming into the fight and still is one of the best fighters in the world at 170 pounds.
Silva has yet to have a boring fight, thus far, in his career and still sports a 14-3 professional record. He has an exciting style that will keep him in the spotlight as we all know that the more exciting you are, the more exposure you get.
The Brazilian will learn from the Fitch loss and come back a better fighter in his next outing. With a solid training team behind him at Team Nogueira, the sky is the limit for a fighter who's just entering their MMA prime.
Attila Vegh didn't enter Bellator with good performances. He took a split-decision victory in his Bellator debut, and then after submitting Zelg Galesic, won another fight via controversial split decision.
However, the Slovakian cemented his place in the Bellator light heavyweight scene by dropping veteran Travis Wiuff in just 25 seconds. The win gave Vegh a big payday along with a future title shot at Christian M'Pumbu.
Although Vegh doesn't have the belt yet and certainly isn't a lock to beat M'Pumbu, he does have the skills to take the title. He's displayed KO power in his hands but has 11 wins via submission as well.
It's tough for European fighters to become big stars in the United States, but one thing I like about Vegh is his willingness to fight. Just check out the guy's record and you'll notice he likes to stay active.
He's already fought four times in 2012, five times in 2011 and an amazing nine times in 2010. Now, he won't need to be that active fighting for Bellator, but it sure would be nice to see a champion actually compete—something M'Pumbu hasn't done since October of last year.
Michael McDonald entered Zuffa as its youngest fighter, but he's looked like a veteran, thus far, into his career.
He had an entertaining back-and-forth battle with Edwin Figueroa in his UFC debut which also earned Fight of the Night honors. McDonald also earned another fight bonus by KO'ing Alex Soto in just 56 seconds at UFC 139.
But, it was his bout against Miguel Angel Torres that is most telling about McDonald's career and future. Torres entered the contest with a bit of momentum and seemed ready to prove McDonald wasn't ready for the best bantamweight's in the world.
McDonald silenced all the doubters with a vicious KO of Torres inside the first round. The win effectively put McDonald "in the mix."
At only 21 years of age, McDonald is poised for a lengthy and successful UFC tenure. He's yet to taste defeat in the promotion and has looked impressive, thus far. He has explosive power in his hands along with a solid ground game.
The only thing holding McDonald back at this point is Dominick Cruz's ACL tear which has caused the rankings at the top of the division to freeze in place.
Nate Diaz could very well be the next UFC lightweight champion by the time we flip our calenders to 2013. He's won three straight fights since moving back to 155 pounds and will challenge Benson Henderson on one of the most stacked cards in UFC history in December.
Diaz seems to have turned a corner in his career as he's finally utilizing all of his skill set. He has the same boxing style of his older brother and a rock-solid ground game. Both have been on display in his return to the lightweight division as he submitted Jim Miller in May and out-struck Donald Cerrone in December 2011.
Henderson is a step above all those men, and if Diaz can defeat him, there's no doubt Diaz will become an instant superstar. He's always an exciting fighter and has the brash personality to make fans love him or love to hate him.
Either way, the UFC will enjoy the ratings boost courtesy of the Diaz hype machine.
Glover Teixeira is a bad man. Props to Fabio Maldonado for taking that fight, but he just found out why everyone else said no.
The Brazilian put a massive beating on Maldonado to the point where the only reason Maldonado was standing was the fact he was leaning on the cage. It may be a preview of what's to come for the rest of the 205-pound division.
At 32 years of age, Teixeira isn't a young gun by any means, but he did get a late start to MMA, so he doesn't have as much wear and tear as one would expect an over 30-year-old fighter to have.
He's looked great, thus far, into his MMA career, and while I'm not going to anoint him "the man to take down Jon Jones" like some fans, there's no doubt Teixeira is going to cause some problems for a lot of light heavyweights. Getting high-profile fights will be the key to getting Teixeira to become a household name because he has the fighting style to get a lot of fans.
Of course, high-profile fights mean high-profile talent will have to say yes to fighting him.
It may have been a case of too much, too soon for Travis Browne. The Jackson's MMA fighter had strung together an undefeated record including 11 via KO/submission.
Browne faced a huge test in going against Antonio Silva earlier this month and was finished inside the first round. A leg injury likely contributed to Browne's poor showing, but there is no shame in losing to a talented fighter like Silva.
The loss will send Browne stumbling down the rankings, but he has the talent and physical gifts to become a force in the division. At 6'7", Browne is a huge heavyweight who also possesses some incredible athleticism for a guy his size.
With physical gifts like the ones Browne has, it's just a matter of time before Greg Jackson and his coaching staff can put the pieces together to make a future world champion.
Phil Davis was a mere 25 minutes away from possibly challenging for the UFC title earlier this year. Unfortunately, Davis didn't look wonderful at all against Rashad Evans and was summarily dominated through five rounds of competition.
"Mr. Wonderful" bounced back nicely at UFC 153 by dominating Wagner Prado and was able to secure second-round tapout. The win was a statement fight for Davis, announcing that he is back to being the dominant fighter he was after entering the UFC.
Davis' striking game will need to continue to evolve if he wants to hang with the top 205-pounders, but his grappling game is top notch. Any light heavyweight is going to have their hands full with a Division I National Wrestling Champion and a Lloyd Irvin student.
John Dodson earned the next crack at the UFC flyweight title by taking out the highly touted Jussier da Silva at UFC on FX: Browne vs. Bigfoot on Oct. 5.
The win was Dodson's fifth consecutive victory and pushed his UFC record to 3-0. Included in that streak was a victory over Team Alpha Male's T.J. Dillashaw to win The Ultimate Fighter.
Dodson is an explosive fighter and a little "out there" which helps make him a can't-miss attraction in the flyweight division. Training with the guys at Jackson's MMA will only help make Dodson a better overall fighter—something he will need when facing Demetrious Johnson.
What's going to help Dodson rise to superstardom is the lack of depth in the UFC's flyweight division along with Johnson's performance at UFC 152. "Mighty Mouse" was once a very popular fighter, but he burned a lot of bridges with fans with his Cruz-like performance.
Going against a guy fans don't like will help Dodson gain more fans for himself along with the exposure that comes with challenging for an UFC title.
Ask anyone outside the Chicago-land area who Ricardo Lamas is and you'll likely to be met with a look of confusion. Nobody knows who this guy is even after defeating the "golden child" of featherweight MMA, Hatsu Hioki.
Hioki was brought in to challenge Jose Aldo right away, but Lamas derailed those plans by dominating the Japanese star for 15 minutes. When the UFC was scrambling to find a replacement for an injured Erik Koch, Lamas wasn't even a name that was mentioned prior to Frankie Edgar stepping up.
Lamas is an extremely dangerous fighter for anyone at 145 pounds given his skill set. Lamas possesses good striking along with an excellent grappling game. Lamas was a three-time All-American at Elmhurst College and holds a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
With three straight victories over very quality opponents, the time for Lamas to be inserted into the title picture will undoubtedly come soon.
Chris Weidman may very well already be a superstar after his performance against Mark Munoz back in July. Munoz is a tough fighter with very good wrestling credentials and Weidman just walked through him like a routine sparring practice.
The finish was especially spectacular as Weidman used an elbow to slice Munoz's forehead before finishing him with punches on the ground. It was as violent a finish as we've seen this year.
Weidman brings a Division I wrestling background along with some solid jiu-jitsu skills due to his tenure at Serra-Longo. His striking continues to improve, and he's already defeated a number of quality middleweights while having under 10 professional MMA bouts.
He hasn't been shy about calling out Anderson Silva, but it appears "The Spider" doesn't view him as a credible challenger which could mean we will be seeing Weidman take on Michael Bisping soon. It's a fight that makes sense and would give Weidman a ton of exposure due to Bisping's trash-talking nature.
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