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1 Sleeper to Watch in Every UFC Weight Class

Dan HiergesellFeatured ColumnistAugust 26, 2014

1 Sleeper to Watch in Every UFC Weight Class

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Every sport has sleepers.

    In mixed martial arts, a sport defined by its depth, sleepers exist in the darkest of corners.

    They are the lurkers in the night. The unseen forgers of violence and beauty. Unheralded souls capable of doing the impossible just to be noticed.

    Whether it's an undefeated rising star looking for his breakout performance or a veteran five years removed from a world title shot who has now found his true groove, the UFC offers plenty of sleepers.

    Here is one for each weight class.

Women's Bantamweight: Jessica Eye

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    USA TODAY Sports

    After one positive marijuana test and a hard-fought defeat to a well-rounded Alexis Davis, people are already starting to write off bantamweight slugger Jessica Eye.

    Sure, she technically doesn't have a victory inside the Octagon, but her style is downright contagious, not only for onlooking fans but also for unsuspecting opponents who fall into her trap.

    While Eye is capable of throwing everything but the kitchen sink into each one of her strikes, she must learn how to harness her aggression, take less damage, remain patient and let her skill take over.

    At the age of 28, she isn't going anywhere, so now would be a good time to jump on the bandwagon before she starts knocking chicks back to the block.

Flyweight: John Lineker

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    USA TODAY Sports

    John Lineker is more of a title sleeper than a divisional dark horse.

    Fueled by constant pressure and overwhelming haymakers that could literally blow candles out, the young flyweight's striking has begun to take form.

    The scary part about Lineker's game is that he's only going to get better and more prolific on his feet as his conditioning and patience evolve with time.

    But that doesn't mean he'll be considered a threat when it's time to challenge for the championship.

    He'll have to show flashes of brilliance over his next two fights, maybe only one, to warrant an opportunity to stifle Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson.

     

Bantamweight: Johnny Eduardo

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    Felipe Dana/Associated Press

    After a nearly two-year absence from the Octagon, bantamweight sleeper Johnny Eduardo made his return, and, boy, did he make it count.

    In dramatic fashion, Eduardo leveled former title challenger Eddie Wineland with under a minute left in the first round at UFC Fight Night 40, finishing him via knockout.

    It was the Brazilian's 20th finish of his lengthy career, adding to his reputation as a hard hitter with formidable submission skills and an iron chin.

    While Eduardo's age (36) would suggest his chances of making a title run are slim to none, skill and hunger to prove you belong are stronger than a number on your driver's license.

    Raphael Assuncao remains the only fighter to have defeated Eduardo since 2008 (14 fights).

     

Featherweight: Lucas Martins

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Don't look now, but Lucas Martins has racked up three straight finishes stretching over the bantamweight and featherweight divisions.

    Widely considered one of the most promising young strikers in the promotion today, Martins has now finished 14 of his 15 professional victories, including his most recent destruction of former undefeated prospect Alex White.

    As it stands right now, he may very well be the best featherweight outside the division's top 10. He's a 25-year-old dynamo with length and power who is capable of competing at the highest level.

    He just has to keep a cool head and remain offensively charged to do so.

     

     

Lightweight: Ross Pearson

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    USA TODAY Sports

    People underestimate Ross Pearson for no good reason.

    Does he possess the promotional resume some other lightweights do?

    No, but that doesn't mean he can't make a title run in the near future.

    With some of the heaviest hands in the division, the 29-year-old Englishman is capable of standing and exchanging with any 155-pounder in the world.

    His takedown defense is pretty good, at 78 percent. Hs chin is more than capable of holding up under the heaviest of pressure, and his technical footwork is only getting better, as seen in his last bout opposite a declining Gray Maynard.

    If it wasn't for an unlikely decision loss to Diego Sanchez and an illegal knee by Melvin Guillard, The Real Deal could very well be on a five-fight win streak since making his return to the weight class in 2012.

Welterweight: Tarec Saffiedine

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    Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    As usual, no love for the Strikeforce guys.

    That includes the last welterweight champion and well-equipped Tarec Saffiedine.

    Having lost to only Tyron Woodley since 2009, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the Belgian is starting to cause divisional ripples in the UFC.

    Saffiedine gained some respect after battling and defeating Hyun Gyu Lim for five gutsy rounds back in January, but that fight will be a distant memory when the 27-year-old takes on Rory MacDonald this October.

    It will be up to the former Strikeforce kingpin to represent in fashion opposite one of the most athletic fighters we've ever seen.

    But with sensational kickboxing, an outstanding judo background and an appetite for back-and-forth exchanges, Saffiedine may pose a bigger threat than people think.

Middleweight: Thales Leites

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The evolution of Thales Leites has been fun to watch.

    Since his days of practically lying down and dying for former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva, Leites has transformed into a fighter who brings the action to his opponent.

    Whether it's his recent knockout over the dangerous Francis Carmont or his 45-second finish over Trevor Smith back in April, the 32-year-old Brazilian has made his second stint in the UFC count.

    Now the proud owner of a four-fight promotional win streak, Leites is merely a few fights away from really sniffing a title shot.

    If he can remain active on his feet, dangerous in the pocket and impenetrable on the ground, there's no saying how long this true comeback story can last.

Light Heavyweight: Patrick Cummins

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The second somebody brings up Patrick Cummins, Daniel Cormier is brought into the discussion.

    While Cummins was outmatched and outmuscled at the hands of Cormier back at UFC 170, that seems to be the norm for anyone man enough to test the will of DC these days.

    To base Cummins' potential and budding skills on one measly bout weeks removed from taking orders at a coffee shop is silly.

    Instead, how about we look at what the 33-year-old power wrestler has done in his last two Octagon appearances? He finished Roger Narvaez by strikes and dragged veteran Kyle Kingsbury to the canvas 10 times to earn a decision.

    Needless to say, Cummins seems to have shed his initial UFC jitters. That's scary, because he's one heck of an athlete capable of scratching the division's top 10 by mid-2015.

Heavyweight: Derrick Lewis

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Power is sexy, and heavyweight bruiser Derrick Lewis has power.

    I'm not saying Lewis is attractive, but whatever he's doing is working to a tee.

    With obvious choices such as Stipe Miocic and Travis Browne lurking in the shadows as the next top threats to champion Cain Velasquez's throne, guys like Lewis get lost in the pack.

    But that isn't always a bad thing. It actually plays into his role as the biggest sleeper on this list.

    Graced with unworldly power and an aptitude for punishment stemming from his days under the tutelage of boxing legend George Foreman, the 29-year-old is a volcano waiting to violently erupt.

    It's time to take notice and understand that Lewis may very well be the next great heavyweight knockout artist this sport has to offer.

     

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