One of the great things about Mixed Martial Arts is all the speculation and fantasy match-making that goes on. We all talk about who should fight who and what guys we think are bound for greatness or destined to fail.
Like all of you, I'm prone to this kind of activity myself, taking it one step further with an actual list of up and comers at the start of 2009 while I was writing for another site.
Now that we've reached the midway point of the calendar year, I've gone back to that original list and made some revision. Not that I was too far off the mark or anything; actually, I've had a pretty solid year of prospecting.
Outside of Jake Rosholt, who suffered from the folding of the WEC Middleweight division and a sudden step up in competition, most of the list have done pretty well.
Actually, most of the revision come from guys succeeding and no longer really qualifying as prospects. After all, how can I rightfully call Eddie Alvarez a prospect after the display he put on during the Bellator Fighting Championships or give Brock Lesnar top billing when he has the UFC Heavyweight title around his waist?
I still think neither has reached their ceiling, but they're too well known for prospect status anymore.
There are, however, an ever-expanding crop of up-and-comers willing to step in where Rosholt fell off and Lesnar and Alvarez departed. These are my picks for the best prospects in Mixed Martial Arts today. As always, I look forward to your thoughts and recommendations in the comments.
10. Ben Askren
I'm hesitant about tossing another former collegiate champion with limited experience into the 10 spot again, as this is where Rosholt landed in the original incarnation. This one, like the selection of Rosholt previously, is completely predicated on Askren staying away from the name-brand organizations while he builds up his skills.
If he takes his time and adds to his impressive wrestling pedigree, he could be a star in a couple of years.
9. Luis Cane
Very much a known commodity after three impressive wins in the UFC, I truly believe the 28-year-old Brazilian can continue to climb the ladder in the Light-Heavyweight division.
His lone loss in the Octagon came via DQ for a knee to a downed opponent (James Irvin) and he looked great in dismantling Jason Lambert, Sokoudjou and Steve Cantwell. While he's currently the odd man out at 205—everyone else seemingly has an opponent lined up—Cane is in the mix and only a couple good wins away from talks of a title shot.
8. Gray Maynard
Another holdover from my original list, "The Bully" has since added another win to his undefeated record and earns extra attention through Frankie Edgar's win over Sean Sherk at UFC 98.
While some dislike Maynard's heavy reliance on his wrestling skills—you know, the old lay and pray—grinding out wins over quality opponents while continuing to improve the other areas of your game is okay by me.
September will be a serious test for the former Michigan State Spartan, as Maynard has been matched up against the returning Roger Huerta at Fight Night 19.
7. Blagoi Ivanov
Normally, guys who have never taken part in a Mixed Martial Arts fight would not make a list like this, but these are not normal circumstances. Anyone who beats Fedor Emelianenko at anything will garner my attention, whether it's Tic-Tac-Toe, a game of Gin or a Combat Sambo as Ivanov did back in November.
The day after Fedor takes on Josh Barnett at Affliction: Trilogy, Ivanov will make his debut at Sengoku 9 against veteran Kazuyuki Fujita. We'll find out very quickly if Ivanov has what it takes.
6. Anthony "Rumble" Johnson
I think Anthony Johnson has what it takes to one day be the UFC Welterweight Champion. That being said, he's not there yet. He's displayed outstanding striking and I loved the aggression he showed the second time around with Kevin Burns, but right now, he is able get by simply on athleticism and it will take more than that to become a champion.
I look for Johnson to take a step up in competition (Dustin Hazelett, Brock Larson) before the year is over.
5. Chris Horodecki
Maybe I'm a little biased because he's Canadian and from London, the last Ontario city I called home before becoming a West Coast kid. Or maybe Horodecki deserves to be on this list, thanks to his 13-1 record including wins over Ryan Schultz and Bart Palaszewski. Why don't we wait and see what happens at Affliction: Trilogy when "The Polish Hammer" takes on Dan Lauzon before making our final decision?
4. Josh Grispi
He's not yet 21, he's 13-1 and riding a three-fight win streak in the WEC with wins over Mark Hominick, Micah Miller and Jens Pulver, the last of which took just 33 seconds. What's not to like? The crazy thing is that Grispi isn't even the best prospect in the division...
3. Jose Aldo
That honor belongs to Aldo, who needed just eight seconds to split Cub Swanson's eyebrow open and close the book on their fight at WEC 41. The Brazilian sensation is just 22 and has decimated five consecutive opponents under the WEC banner.
We might find out real quickly if Aldo is as impressive as he's looked thus far, as many believe he will be the next challenger for Mike Thomas Brown's featherweight title.
2. Cain Velasquez
Personally, I think the Cheick Kongo fight was a bit of a step backwards for Velasquez, and I really don't like the matchup against Shane Carwin at UFC 104 either. But sometimes you have to take a step backwards before you can charge ahead.
Velasquez has all the talent in the world and he will surely continue to improve his striking. If he were a light heavyweight, he'd be afforded an opportunity to come along at a more reasonable pace, a la Luis Cane.
But the lack of strong competition and noteworthy contenders in the heavyweight ranks will force Velasquez to face a tougher challenge sooner than others.
1. Jon Jones
Where Velasquez looked just average against a veteran like Cheick Kongo, Jones looked outstanding against "The American Psycho" Stephan Bonnar at UFC 94. Yes, he also looked gassed by the end of things, but check the picture that led off this piece.
Dude broke out a belly-to-back suplex against a veteran like Bonnar, not to mention several other impressive throws and an assortment of spinning elbows and precise strikes. There are still elements he needs to work on - stamina being No. 1 in my books—but "Bones" has as bright a future as anyone in the business.
Originally posted at Watch Kalib Run by E. Spencer Kyte