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10 Unsung Fighters with UFC Titles in Their Futures

Dan HiergesellFeatured ColumnistApril 10, 2013

10 Unsung Fighters with UFC Titles in Their Futures

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    Some fighters do everything in their power to capture the stardom and respect that the sport of mixed martial arts so often delivers.

    But no matter how hard they fight, how hard they battle, they still find themselves situated behind the more polarizing figures in the sport.

    That endless struggle to find some sort of consistent exposure and recognition within their respective divisions helps fuel a mindset of needing to prove one's worth.

    Well, in order to pull the blinds back and push these budding contenders to the front of the line, here are 10 unsung fighters with UFC titles in their future.

    Enjoy.

Brad Tavares

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    At 25 years old Brad Tavares is still a work in progress, but with a 5-1 UFC record, it's fairly easy to map his potential.

    Tavares hasn't had much luck finishing opponents inside the cage, but he's gritty, well-rounded, hard working and has a great chin.

    The Hawaiian may have to cultivate his striking and become more versatile around the edges, but as long as he can maintain his divisional momentum, the former TUF standout should progress through the rankings quickly.

Gunnar Nelson

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    Through just two promotional bouts, grappling expert Gunnar Nelson is starting to turn some heads.

    It may have taken the UFC a little longer than they hoped to land the Icelandic welterweight, but Nelson has made up for lost time by chewing up and spitting out tough guys DaMarques Johnson and Jorge Santiago.

    The 24-year-old still has a lot to prove before he'll get his shot to touch the division's top 10, but Nelson's athletic ability to utilize crisp counter-punching, suffocating clinch work and a naturally strong chin should propel him quicker than most.

    Mike Pyle is next on deck.

Khabib Nurmagomedov

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    Not only does Khabib Nurmagomedov possess one of the toughest names to pronounce in all of mixed martial arts, but he's one of the most promising lightweights in the world.

    Currently sitting undefeated in his professional tenure at 19-0, "The Eagle" has made his life as a UFC fighter look relatively easy, securing standout victories over Gleison Tibau, Thiago Tavares and Kamal Shalorus.

    Now while those names aren't going to launch Nurmagomedov into title contention any time soon, it's a good start for a young up-and-coming lightweight contender.

    Once he hones his skills as a fearless striker while maintaining a strong Judo base, the young kid should have no problem adding on to an already impressive 14 career finishes.

Tyron Woodley

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    Could Tyron Woodley have impressed the UFC more in his promotional debut opposite veteran Jay Hieron?

    Probably not.

    In just 36 seconds the former Strikeforce welterweight top contender finished Hieron with a punishing right hand.  The finish aided Woodley's case in rebounding from an uncharacteristic loss to Nate Marquardt back in 2012.

    At this point, even though he's slightly older than most names on this list, "The Chosen One" has a very bright future in the UFC welterweight division.  With the falling off of Nick Diaz, Josh Koscheck and Marquardt, Woodley should be able to make a smooth transition into the top 10 with a victory over Jake Shields at UFC 161.

    Beating a grappling specialist like Shields isn't going to be easy, but it's a great matchup for the heavy-handed Woodley.

James Te Huna

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    With all the hoopla surrounding rising top light heavyweight contenders such as Alexander Gustafsson, Glover Teixeira and Gegard Mousasi, the scarily heavy-handed James Te Huna has been forced to the sidelines.

    It's been an unfortunate set of events considering Te Huna has only lost once since 2008, but it shouldn't take long before the New Zealand product's devastating knockout power rises to the top.

    He'll get that chance when he takes on Teixeira at UFC 160 in May as a fill-in for the injured Ryan Bader.  It will be Te Huna's biggest fight to date as a win over a name like Teixeira would put him just outside of the division's top core of contenders.

    If he happens to knock the Brazilian out then there's really no reason to hold him back from fighting the winner of Dan Henderson vs. Rashad Evans.

TJ Grant

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    Some people just don't take TJ Grant seriously.  They don't see the potential.

    Now while he doesn't possesses the athleticism of a Benson Henderson, the bravado of a Nate Diaz or the natural power of a Gray Maynard, Grant is still one of the most well-rounded and disciplined lightweights around.

    He's more or less reinvented himself since moving down from welterweight back in 2011.  Since then, Grant has won four-straight fights against relative opponents, including Evan Dunham and Matt Wiman.

    Because of his recent efforts, as well as finally hitting his stride as a 29-year-old rising star, Grant has been given the fight of his life.  He'll take on Maynard late next month at UFC 160.

    A victory over "The Bully," whether it's by finish or a unanimous decision, would set the Canadian up for a No. 1 contender's bout later this year.

Eddie Wineland

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    Unlike anyone on this list, Eddie Wineland is already scheduled to fight for a UFC title.  He'll take on the always formidable and steadily evolving Renan Barao in June at UFC 161.

    Many people were surprised that Wineland received such an opportunity after a recent split-decision victory over Brad Pickett, but divisional experience and elite striking ultimately pinned him against one of the trickiest fighters in the sport.

    It's easy to forget that Wineland is a former WEC champion who has only lost twice since 2009 because mixed martial arts, like most sports, is an industry built around recent momentum and freshly dominant performances. 

    That sort of public and organizational ignorance isn't going to stop Wineland from doing what he does best, and it's only going to fuel his fire as he tries to regain his championship prowess.

Phil Davis

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    There aren't many top light heavyweight contenders in the world who possess the track record and future potential that Phil Davis does.

    People tend to forget that Davis was a win away from a championship opportunity a little over a year ago, but he came up short against the more experienced Rashad Evans.

    That defeat is Davis' only career blemish to date, as he's beaten some of the biggest names around, including consensus No. 1 contender Alexander Gustafsson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Brian Stann, Tim Boetsch and Wagner Prado.

    Unfortunately for "Mr. Wonderful," the UFC is taking it slow as he is eased back into title contention.  Instead of giving Davis the top guys in the division, Joe Silva and Dana White feel as if Davis deserves to fight guys unproven in the UFC, like submission specialist Vinny Magalhaes.

    In any case, Davis should be able to prolong success and regain the momentum he once possessed and nearly cashed in on.

Mark Hunt

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    Everybody remembers this knockout.  It's the punch that dug Mark Hunt out of obscurity and back into the UFC limelight.

    Now, on the heels of securing such a devastating finish over a top contender like Stefan Struve, Hunt is beginning to cash in on unsuspected fortune.

    With the fall of Alistair Overeem and the public outcry of Hunt's fans around the Twitter community, "Super Samoan" is getting a chance to fight for No. 1 contender rights in the heavyweight division.

    The 39-year-old is set to take on the recovering Junior dos Santos, who's hungrier than ever after getting beaten about by Cain Velasquez in December.

    For Hunt, a knockout over JDS could even cement him as a favorite against the winner of Velasquez and Antonio "Big Foot" Silva, but nothing is for certain.  At least he's finally getting the recognition he deserves.

Chan-Sung Jung

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    When it comes to finishing fights in unprecedented fashion, Chan-Sung Jung sits atop the throne.

    The fact of the matter is that "The Korean Zombie" has been one of the hottest, flashiest, impressive and well-rounded fighters in the UFC over the past two years. 

    During that span, Jung has earned Fight of the Year, Submission of the Year, Fight of the Night, Knockout of the Night and Submission of the Night two times and finished Mark Hominick in a record-tying seven seconds.

    That's a lot of work in just three fights.

    The only problem is that people forget how good the 26-year-old truly is because he hasn't stepped foot inside the Octagon since May 2012.

    That lack of recognition and familiarity should quickly fade away when Jung takes on top featherweight contender Ricardo Lamas in July at UFC 162.  The winner of that fight will take on the winner of Jose Aldo vs. Anthony Pettis.

    And if the Korean's natural makeup to eat punches, walk forward, tangle with foes and secure sneakily perfected submissions gives any indication to his potential moving forward, Aldo, Pettis and Lamas better prepare for war.

     

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