10 MMA Fighters Poised to Have a Breakout 2014
Want to be the smartest guy at the bar? So do I. One day I'll get there.
And it's going to be one of two things that does the job for me. The first is my jukebox acumen. I specialize in the adult contemporary pop hits of the late '70s and early '80s. I'm not even joking. Trust me: if you get the right Steely Dan or Boz Scaggs tune on the speakers at the right time, you can get the whole place going. Seriously, try it some time.
The second one is MMA prospects. I'm sure there's a place out there where everybody knows Rory MacDonald's name. That's the place I want to frequent, and it is where my star will truly shine.
So that's what I have going on. In 2014, these 10 fighters are going to have it going on. Because they're all poised for big years when the big calendar flips.
10. Tuerxun Jumabieke
Photo credit: Bill Eng via RUFF promotion
When he's not posing for photographs in the prison shower area, Tuerxun Jumabieke enjoys steady work as the best Chinese bantamweight on planet Earth. Maybe the best Chinese fighter, period.
Of course, the magic C-word means he's solid marketing gold for the UFC, which snapped him up in April.
9. Bubba Jenkins
Photo credit: Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com
Promotion: Resurrection Fighting Alliance
An extremely accomplished wrestler, Bubba Jenkins has shown a nose for the finish early in his MMA career. He's in an unabashed UFC feeder league with the RFA and got some good exposure as a coach on The Ultimate Fighter.
8. Doo Ho Choi
No question about it. I love me some Super Boy. The 22-year-old Doo Ho Choi is beating a wide path through DEEP and probably won't stop until he finds the Octagon.
Here he is forcing a corner stoppage in his last fight. Production value? Japan's still got the touch. Dig those lightning bolts. Eat your heart out, Dana.
7. Nikita Krylov
I feel I've failed you, reader, and it's disturbing. Not only does he have a spotless record, but they're all finishes, and all in the first round at that. Not only is his nickname "Al Capone," it's "THE Al Capone." These are all good recommenders, as we say in the business.
Well, the UFC didn't overlook him, and I suppose that's all that matters. He may need some seasoning, but based on these bona fides, I'm comfortable calling him the 2014 UFC heavyweight champion. OK, maybe not. But he could get himself a win or three in that division.
6. Michinori Tanaka
Promotion: Pacific Xtreme Combat
Michinori Tanaka seems to fight with velcro on his body. Once he samples you by physical contact, you simply can't break free.
He only improved his position when he took a convincing decision May 18 over hard-hitting Crisanto Pitpitunge to take possession of the PXC bantamweight strap.
Not bad for a 22-year-old. If I were a major-league promotion looking for depth at bantamweight, I'd take me a look at Mr. Tanaka.
5. Andre Fili
Promotion: Pancrase/West Coast Fighting Championship
Andre Fili had a comfortable little spot at the top of the Tachi Palace Fights promotion. But then Tachi entered a state of flux, and the comfort dissipated.
Fili, a member of Urijah Faber's high-profile Team Alpha Male camp, is only 22 years old but currently sits on a tidy eight-fight win streak (five by stoppage). So he could've rested on his laurels. Could've but didn't.
Since Tachi entered its uncertainty, Fili has one win and already has his next bout queued up in late July for Pancrase 250.
Here he is TKOing a dude in his most recent fight.
4. Cathal Pendred
Photo credit: Dolly Clew/Cage Warriors
Promotion: Cage Warriors
It's a marketing feast. Best welterweight in Europe (and I don't see a close second), Irish, trains with overnight celebrity Conor McGregor, spent some formative years in Boston, which is where Dana White also spent some formative years and where there just happens to be a UFC event later this year.
What more is there? If he beats Che Mills this weekend, put him on the list for Boston. It just makes sense.
3. Brandon Thatch
Brandon Thatch signed on the UFC's dotted line earlier in May. The Muay Thai wrecking machine has all nine of his wins by stoppage and trains with Georges St-Pierre. He should add some spice to the welterweight division.
2. Josh Thomson
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Before UFC on Fox 7, Josh Thomson was known mainly as a guy who couldn't stay healthy, and lost that trilogy with Gilbert Melendez.
That all changed in April when he put a Knockout of the Night-winning head kick on Nate Diaz. Now it seems the sky is the limit.
1. Vitaly Minakov
After Vitaly Minakov wins the next Bellator heavyweight tournament, he'll win the Bellator heavyweight belt. I'm guessing that happens toward the end of 2013.
So perhaps the excitement won't all happen in 2014, but he'll have plenty of title defenses in 2014.
Here, the 27-year-old gets a TKO in his Bellator debut.