Rory MacDonald and MMA's New Prototypes

Dan Hiergesell@DHiergesellFeatured ColumnistNovember 11, 2013

Rory MacDonald and MMA's New Prototypes

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    Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

    Every sport encounters evolution throughout its life. 

    So it shouldn't come as a surprise that mixed martial arts, in all its greatness and growth, falls under this spell as well.

    But the evolution of the fastest growing sport in the world doesn't just stem from international marketing, strategic rule changes and monetary expenditures.  More importantly, MMA's rapidly expanding nature manifests from the fighters.

    The fighters ultimately enable the sport to grow.  Whether it's by training multiple disciplines, exuding youthful excellence or challenging the laws of physics with natural gifts, fighters exponentially evolve into more equipped machines.

    Here are the new prototypes of today's MMA, where athletic superiority, mental determination and precision reign supreme.

Conor McGregor

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    Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 25

    Major discipline: Kickboxing

    Signature skills: Physicality; raw power; unorthodox strikes

    Claim to fame: Ireland's best

    As one of the most physically gifted featherweights to grace the UFC roster, Conor McGregor has limitless potential as a 25-year-old prospect.

    While his barbaric offensive approach may get him into trouble sooner or later, the Irishman's in-cage persistence, precision and tactical explosiveness set him apart from nearly every other divisional threat.

    If he can continue to use excellent footwork—credited to a background in capoeira—and allow his powerful strikes to take over, he'll find his way to a title shot by the end of 2014.

Renan Barao

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    Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 26

    Major discipline: Brazilian jiu-jitsu

    Signature skills: Kicks; submissions; takedown defense; timing

    Claim to fame: 21 straight victories

    Arguably the most overlooked pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, Brazil's Renan Barao displays brilliance every time he steps inside the Octagon.

    Fueled by an unprecedented knack for defending takedowns, the 26-year-old is at his best when his unorthodox strikes, pinpoint precision and sinister speed take over.

    So while he may not be mentioned alongside the other greats of the sport, Barao is as well-rounded as UFC fighters come. 

Ronda Rousey

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 26

    Major discipline: Judo

    Signature skills: Armbar; athleticism; throws

    Claim to fame: First UFC women's champion

    Ronda Rousey is not the best striker by any stretch of the imagination.  She often struggles to find her footing and sometimes looks uncomfortable.

    However, does that matter when she has finished every fight by first-round armbar?

    Her grappling skills, clinch game, submission prowess and conditioning are leaps and bounds above any other female warrior in the sport.

    And the fact that she's only 26 years old and just learning how to strike makes her an easy candidate for this list.

Demetrious Johnson

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    David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 27

    Major discipline: Wrestling

    Signature skills: Footwork; precision; speed; takedowns

    Claim to fame: Fastest fighter on the planet

    Not only does Demetrious Johnson possess elite athletic capability, but his quickness has been unseen before inside of a cage.

    For "Mighty Mouse," who uses strong wrestling techniques to keep a fight standing, speed is everything. 

    He is able to weave his way in and out of angles, pepper opponents with strikes, avoid damage and maintain pressure in every round.

    No other fighter in the world can do what he does.

Cain Velasquez

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 31

    Major discipline: Wrestling

    Signature skills: Clinch work; endurance; takedowns

    Claim to fame: Most knockout/TKO finishes in UFC heavyweight history

    If there was ever a genetically perfected heavyweight created in some underground MMA lab in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, his name would be Cain Velasquez.

    While his age doesn't stack up to other prototypes on this list, Velasquez arguably possesses the most durably constructed motor of all time.

    The UFC champ is able to bludgeon the biggest men on the planet for as long as he wants.  He can do it in the middle of the cage, in the clinch or on the ground.

    He's seemingly an unbeatable heavyweight force destined to forge a legacy built around tactical training, consistent game-planning and polished physicality.

Anthony Pettis

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    Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 26

    Major discipline: Taekwondo

    Signature skills: Athleticism; body kicks; striking defense; timing

    Claim to fame: "Showtime Kick"

    When it comes down to defending your body in order to fuel offensive potency, nobody does it better than Anthony Pettis.

    The bottom line is that the newly instated UFC lightweight king combines speed, athleticism, precision and skill so well that he's able to hit and not get hit back.

    Throw in devastating body kicks, excellent cage control and evolving submissions, and you have one of the most prolific young champions the sport has ever seen.

Rory MacDonald

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

    Age: 24

    Major discipline: Wrestling

    Signature skills: Athleticism; grappling; offensive consistency; takedowns

    Claim to fame: GSP 2.0

    Consistently labeled the successor to Georges St-Pierre's UFC welterweight title reign, Canada's Rory MacDonald is the epitome of the new MMA prototype.

    With superior athleticism at this disposal, MacDonald has evolved at a torrid pace.  Whether it's his wrestling, striking, grappling, defense, precision, mental fortitude or chin, the 24-year-old has proved his worth in multiple ways.

    As a 15-1 pro whose only defeat came at the hands of a last-second Carlos Condit TKO, "Ares" arguably has the brightest future out of any fighter on this list, even Jon Jones.

Jon Jones

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    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 26

    Major discipline: Wrestling

    Signature skills: Athleticism; physicality; submissions; takedowns; unorthodox strikes

    Claim to fame: Youngest champion in UFC history; 15 finishes in 19 career fights

    At this very moment, Jon "Bones" Jones is the best fighter in the world.  He has done it all at such a young age that his future sometimes seems uncertain.

    But through all of his accomplishments in one of the most competitive divisions in the UFC, Jones' skill stills reigns supreme.

    As an elite wrestler who prides himself in taking the fight where he wants to take it, he is always on control.  That's dangerous for any opponent unable to withstand the champ's persistent elbows, front kicks, spinning backfists and deadly knees.

    For now, Jones remains king.

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