Mixed Martial Arts is a sport of meteoric rises and devastating falls from grace. The very nature of the sports lends itself to being over-analyzed. After each performance, we are left with 3-6 months to stew on our thoughts about that fighter's performance and what it could mean for his next fight or overall future in the UFC. As the sport of MMA continues its rise in popularity, we are beginning to see more athletic individuals enter into the sport. This has created a whole new buzz around the UFC and its future prospects. Here are the top UFC prospects in each weight class, along with their chances of becoming a future UFC champion.
Charles Oliveira burst onto the UFC scene with an impressive 1st round submission of Darren Elkins and UFC on Versus 2. His next fight was against Ultimate Fighter winner Efrain Escudero. This performance was even more impressive than his first, as Oliveira not only showed off his grappling, but displayed very good striking as well. Oliveira has display quick, crisp striking to go along with his superb grappling skills. His low kicks devastated Escudero and his unorthodox style make it hard to gauge what he might throw next. It is hard to say how Oliveira will fair against the division's elite, a lot will be answered in his fight against Jim Miller. As of right now, Oliveira looks to be one of the great up and comers in the UFC.
Wins until title shot: 3-4
Chances of becoming UFC Champ: 40%
Main hurdle: Climbing over a very deep, talented 155 division to find a title shot. He may need wins over legends like Sean Sherk, Kenny Florian and/or BJ Penn.
John Hathaway was in the running for this pick before he was beaten soundly by Mike Pyle at UFC 120, Carlos Condit also launched himself into the discussion with his KO of Dan Hardy. However, Johnny Hendricks was the pick due to the fact that he combines a devastating blend of elite wrestling skill and KO punching power. Opponents will always have to take Hendricks' striking seriously because he possesses the kind of power that can end the fight instantly. Hendricks also possesses the kind of wrestling that can negate the divisions elite strikers, and stifle most ground wizards. The one thing Johnny Hendricks needs to be careful of is not falling in love with his new found striking ability. Johnny's best weapon will always be his wrestling and if he can use that with help from his striking he could be looking at a title shot in his future.
Wins until title shot: 3
Chance of becoming UFC Champ: 30%
Main hurdle: Georges St. Pierre is arguably the most dominant champion the UFC has right now. Not to mention guys like Jon Fitch, Thiago Alves, Josh Koscheck, and now Jake Shields will be in his way.
The Middleweight division is arguably the shallowest division in the UFC. Champ Anderson Silva seemed to be unbeatable until Chael Sonnen rode top position for almost 5 full rounds, pummeling the champ before getting caught in a triangle. Every fighter in the Middleweight division is seemingly no more than 3 wins away from a title shot. Gerald Harris gets the Rising Star tag because he has two solid wins over two of the other up and coming guys (Mario Miranda and Dave Branch). Not to mention Harris has each UFC fight decisively, all by TKO. This is exceptionally impressive when you consider that Harris is primarily a wrestler. Gerald Harris' wrestling, power, and athleticism make him a force to be reckoned with in the UFC's Middleweight division. If Harris can keep improving and fight smart he could make big waves at 185.
Wins until title shot: 2-3
Chance of becoming UFC champ: 50%
Main hurdle: Is his wrestling good enough to get past the other great grapplers at 185 (Maia, Marquardt, Sonnen, Palhares)?
Jon Jones is the most hyped UFC up and comer since Brock Lesnar, but will Jones live up to the hype?
No surprise here. Jon Jones is easily the most high profile "up and comer" the UFC has had in a long time. After watching him fight its easy to see why. Jones brings a unique blend of unorthodox striking and athleticism that makes him a threat at any point during the fight. Combine that with his wrestling prowess and Jones is a seemingly unstoppable force in the Light Heavyweight division. In fact, Jon Jones is so highly thought of that he has already gotten questions about moving up to Heavyweight and competing for the Heavyweight title. Despite all the fanfare, the UFC has been patient with Jones. They have developed him slowly, building his reputation without overextending him as a fighter. All of Jones' victories and even his lone defeat (a DQ to Matt Hamill) have been very impressive, yet Jon has been able to stay very humble and level headed. Jones can be seen throwing spinning strikes, tossing his opponents with judo throws, and landing some of the most devastating ground strikes the UFC has ever seen (broke Brandon Vera's orbital bone). The only place Jones has not proven himself is off of his back, but with his skill set he may never find himself in that position. Jon Jones is on the verge of exploding, let's all just hope it doesn't go to his head.
Wins until title shot: 1-2
Chances of becoming UFC champ: 85%
Main hurdle: Staying grounded and not buying into his own hype.
Dos Santos is a vicious striker and training with the Nogueira's will make him formidable on the ground as well.
Six months ago, this spot would have been taken up by Cain Velasquez. Now with Velasquez as the new UFC Champ, Junior Dos Santos earns this spot. The UFC Heavyweight division is an enigma. There are two distinct sides of the spectrum when it comes to Heavyweight contenders: the young up and comers and the old veterans. When you think about Heavyweight contenders there is no real middle ground. There are guys like Dos Santos, Shane Carwin and Velasquez who have burst onto the scene demanding a title shot with their stellar performances. Then there is the old guard, guys like Frank Mir and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira who seem to be on the downside of their career. Dos Santos is the only fighter on this list with an immediate title shot, but keep in mind that he is only 26 years old. Junior is a great striker with devastating power, but he has also shown good wrestling in his latest fights. Not to mention, Dos Santos trains with the Nogueira brothers, so you can assume his Jiu Jitsu will continue to improve. Junior's youth and relative upside is what lands him as the Rising Star at the Heavyweight division, we have yet to see the best out of "Cigano."
Wins until title shot: 0 (next in line to fight Cain Velasquez)
Chance of becoming UFC champ: 60%
Main hurdle: Cain Velasquez. The current champ seems to be the better fighter right now, he is also only 2 years older than Junior, so he will always be in the way. Dos Santos might not beat Cain this time for the belt, but this will not be "Cigano's" only shot at the title.