UFC's Up-and-Comers: Top Prospects to Keep an Eye On

Greg RiotAnalyst IMay 5, 2009

The UFC continues to evolve, as more and more top-notch athletes continue to file in looking for the money and respect that comes with being a pro mixed martial arts fighter.

The talent level has never been higher in the UFC, and some young—or in some cases, simply new—prospects in the organization have the potential to be all-time greats.

Here are the top five up-and-coming fighters in the UFC today.

5. Ryan Bader

The season eight winner of The Ultimate Fighter trains out of Arizona Combat Sports and has a remarkably strong wrestling base that he uses to control his opponents at light heavyweight.

He has been criticized already for being a “lay and pray” fighter, but he can also knock people out, and even made a solid attempt at submitting Carmelo Marrero in his last fight. That shows he is willing to evolve and is learning quickly.

4. Jon Jones

His recent win over popular veteran Stephan Bonnar was eye-opening because “Bones” made it look so easy and so stylish, with suplexes and spinning elbows among his preferred moves.

Jones is fast and has power, but also stays calm in the octagon, which is a sign of a smart fighter who knows how to pick his spots. The light heavyweight division is more stacked than it has ever been, and Jones and Bader are two of the main reasons why.

3. Demian Maia

Even if Maia loses to Nate Marquardt in their just-announced, highly anticipated UFC 102 showdown, he will remain a top prospect and one of the greatest challengers to Anderson Silva’s throne.

His jiu-jitsu is the best in the division, and he is a tough-as-nails takedown artist. He is a much more talented prospect overall than recent Silva's victim Thales Leites.

2. Cain Velasquez

The heavyweight has a tough match coming up against Heath Herring at UFC 99, but most expect him to win, which says a lot about a guy who has had only five pro MMA matches so far.

But Velasquez, an excellent striker, is remarkably strong and athletic, and is also a former All-American wrestler.

1. Shane Carwin

Simply put, Carwin is a monster on the same level as Brock Lesnar. The word is that he even has bigger hands, and his MMA wrestling is just about as impressive.

His knockout power is about as good as it gets, and his UFC 96 win over Gabriel Gonzaga also showed that he has an chin of steel.

A possible Carwin-Lesnar fight would be one of the biggest heavyweight throwdowns of all-time.