There's no questioning the UFC's dominance, but there are always crops of excellence springing up throughout the MMA fiefdom. Seeing as how trading on potential energy is always more exciting than simply acknowledging what's in front of you, the hunt for those new crops will never wane.
This is a list of one fighter in each weight class who is currently employed by a lesser promotion, but who I believe has the talent and intangibles to become a star at MMA's highest level.
This is not supposed to be a list of the No. 1 prospect in each division or some hardcore scouting report; this is just a list of guys I think are good fighters, and who I think have star potential. Got some ideas of your own? Feel free to air them in the comments.
Promotion: Resurrection Fighting Alliance
Sergio Pettis has the same precision striking game as big brother Anthony. However, he's not trading on his family name; the Roufusport fighter, still just 19, is a top prospect for the UFC, where he intends to compete as a flyweight (via Sherdog).
Promotion: BAMMA USA
"The Real Deal" Chris Beal. I like it when a guy puts his nickname before his real name. Even better when it rhymes. That's why "The Dean of Mean" Keith Jardine is the greatest nickname ever.
I had something else to say. Oh, right—Beal is a very good fighter who also has a compelling back story. He's a cancer survivor and he wants to be a star. He's a ground-and-pound guy who would seem to need a few more tools in the toolbox, but the 27-year-old appears to have plenty of raw materials.
Promotion: Tachi Palace Fights
Andre "Touchy" Fili trains with Urijah Faber's Team Alpha Male and has seven consecutive wins. He's super long for a featherweight and knows how to use the reach. He's not bad on the ground, either, as you might expect based on his training partners.
Finally, though, Fili has the craziest hair I have ever seen on a fighter. That's saying something.
Promotion: ONE FC
He's been competing in various combat capacities for many years now. However, in 2011, he made the jump to ONE FC. He's gone 2-1 since but the loss was a close split decision in a scintillating tangle with Ole Laursen. He should fight for the promotion's lightweight title soon.
It also doesn't hurt that he looks like the second coming of Bruce Lee.
Perhaps the highest-profile fighter on this list, Andrey Koreshkov announced his Bellator presence with authority when he pounded out a dynamic striker in Marius Zaromskis. It was one of the worst late stoppages of the year, though Koreshkov obviously had nothing to do with that.
Free Mamed Khalidov!
All he does is beat former UFC fighters. Next up is Melvin Manhoef. He can grapple and he has dynamite in his hands. What needs to happen in order for Khalidov to get a UFC contract? I'll start passing the hat around if that helps you.
Meanwhile, here's his latest crushing of a UFC vet. This time, it was Rodney Wallace.
The powerful Pole has only lost once in the past four years, and that came to Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou. He avenged the loss six months afterward, and in so doing captured the KSW light heavyweight title. That was Nov. 2011. He hasn't given up the belt since.
Here's the 29-year-old in his most recent defense, which happened to come against former UFC sensation Houston Alexander.
Promotion: M-1 Global
Kenny Garner, quite simply, forced his way into this spot. A lot of people used to think Magomed Malikov was the next big heavyweight star. Then Garner knocked him out en route to a defense of his interim M-1 title.
Everyone assumed it was a fluke, and that next next big thing Guram Gugenishvili—the lineal champ—would send him back into oblivion.
The fight ended in a doctor's stoppage win for Garner.
Here's the fight in case you've never seen it.