Generation Next: The Top 10 MMA Fighters Under 25

Derek BolenderSenior Analyst IOctober 13, 2008

The sport of mixed martial arts is in good hands.  With kids honing their skills at younger ages and new gyms popping up all over the world, there will be no shortage of MMA talent in the pipeline for many years to come. 

People of all ages want to participate in this growing sport on a first hand basis.  A small percentage of these participants will eventually make a dent as a professional fighter in a major organization. 

Currently, we are starting to see a trend where young professionals come in to an organization and have an immediate impact on their respective weight class.  There are a lot of newcomers who step in from day one that are already as well-rounded as the veterans who rule. 

Move over Chuck Liddell, Matt Hughes, Randy Couture, Dan Henderson, etc...  These are some of the best MMA fighters of all-time.  Each one has been instrumental in making the sport what it is today, but each one is also gradually making the transition to retirement. 

All of these fighters can now see the end of the tunnel and exiting the sport is coming sooner rather than later. 

A new breed of fighters is now ruling the landscape led by Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre, Forrest Griffin, etc...

Right behind those already established household names is another generation of superstars who are young and hungry.  I'm talking about "generation next," which is a crop of talented young fighters that are currently under the age of 25.   

The 10 best under 25 is the cream of the crop of generation next and represent the next set of MMA torch bearers. 

Some names are more recognizable than others and they have all had varying degrees of success up to this point in their young careers. 

Regardless, they will all be instrumental to the next chapter of the evolution of MMA. 


*** I did not include anyone who is currently 25 years old.  I only wanted to target the under 25 crowd specifically.  This cut a slew of 25 year olds off the list including Shinya Aoki, Thiago Alves, Gesias Calvancante, and Roger Huerta.  



1) Eddie Alvarez - 24 years old - DREAM/EliteXC - (15 - 1)


Alvarez, in my opinion, is the best non-UFC fighter in the world not named Fedor Emeliananko.  His toughness and world-class standup are virtually unparalleled in the lightweight division.  .   

I would rank Alvarez as the #2 lightweight in the world currently.  He is still undefeated (15 - 0) at this level.  His only loss was at 170 pounds against Nick Thompson who was able to use his superior size and strength to overwhelm Alvarez.  Alvarez wisely learned his lesson and has not fought at 170 since. 

Alvarez really made his mark in the DREAM Lightweight Grand Prix.  Prior to this event he had not really been tested by top competition, but the GP was a chance for him to prove his worth, and prove his worth is exactly what he did.   

In the first round of the tournament he defeated Andrei Amade via TKO, followed by Joachim Hansen via unanimous decision, and then Tatsuya Kawajiri via TKO in the semifinals. 

His knockout victory over Tatsuya Kawajiri, in my opinion, is the fight of the year in 2008 so far and it is not even a close debate.  Click here to see a replay of the fight if you missed it.  His fight with Joachim Hansen easily makes my top 10 as well. 

The bad news about the Kawajiri fight was that Alvarez sustained a cut and was not allowed to compete in the finals against submission ace Shinya Aoki.  Hansen subbed in and subsequently defeated Aoki to capture the crown while Alvarez looked on from the crowd. 

The UFC should have a bullseye on his back for a lot of reasons.  He's young and good-looking guy.  He was born and trains domestically in Philadelphia, and is one of the most exciting strikers in all of MMA already.  He is a marketing department's dream.  

Alvarez will get the chance to finally show stateside fans what Japanese fans have already grown to love already in a short span of time.  EliteXC has already scheduled him to fight Nick Diaz for the EliteXC lightweight crown that was vacated by KJ Noons.  Do yourself a favor and tune in to see this budding superstar.  I have no doubt he will leave you feeling impressed.          


2) Gegard Mousasi - 23 years old - DREAM - (24 - 2 - 1)


Mousasi started his MMA career when he was just 18 years old.  Currently, at the age of 23, he won his first championship having recently won the DREAM Middleweight Grand Prix.  He also has 27 professional fights along the way, which is unparalleled in MMA for a fighter this young.

He is currently on an eleven fight win streak.  He's beaten all types of fighters during this streak including a judo specialist (Hector Lombard), a deadly kickboxing striker (Melvin Manhoef), and a jiu-jitsu ace (Ronaldo Souza).   

There is no style that he cannot handle and Mousasi seems to be getting better and better with each fight.  What will his skill set be in 5 more years?  That is a scary thought.   

In my opinion, he is currently the second best middleweight fighter in the world behind UFC champion Anderson Silva.

Recently, it has been rumored that Affliction is going after Mousasi and would like him to face Vitor Belfort at their next event in January 2009.  If this is indeed true it adds yet another star to an already impressive Affliction lineup.   


3) Carlos Condit - 24 years old - WEC - (23 - 4)


Condit, like Mousasi, is essentially a veteran at the age of 24 already because of the 27 professional MMA fights he has under his belt. 

They both are current champions as well.  Condit has been the WEC welterweight champion since the WEC 26 even in March of 2007. 

Condit's most impressive career victory came over veteran Frank Trigg at the Rumble on the Rock welterweight tournament, however, he was defeated by a well seasoned Jake Shields in the finals.

He has also beaten the likes of Brock Larson, John Alessio, and Carlo Prater.  Condit and his management should consider moving over to the UFC, which is the other Zuffa, LLC owned company. 

There is essentially no one left for him to fight in his division in the WEC and moving to the UFC would present a huge challenge for him over the next few years.   


4) Tyson Griffin - 24 years old - UFC - (12 - 1)


It feels like Griffin has been patrolling the UFC lightweight division a great deal of time but in reality it has only been two years.  Since his first UFC fight in 2006 at UFC 63 he has gone 5 - 1 with impressive wins over Clay Guida, Marcus Aurelio, Gleison Tibau, Thiago Tavares, and David Lee

The Xtreme Couture-trained Griffin has now positioned himself likely only two wins away from a title shot.  His next fight at UFC 90 will be the biggest test of his young career when he takes on UFC veteran and former lightweight champion Sean Sherk.  That matchup is destined to be a war on the ground. 

With Kenny Florian slated to get the first crack at current champion BJ Penn if victorious over Joe Stevenson at UFC 91, Griffin could possibly get a rematch with Frank Edgar, who is another formidable contender and responsible for Griffin's only career defeat.  Roger Huerta, Nathan Diaz, and Gray Maynard also come to mind as possible future opponents for Griffin.    


5) Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou - 24 years old - UFC - (5 - 2)


Sokoudjou looks like he was born to fight.  He has a perfect combination of speed and power, but he has been relatively inconsistent so far in his MMA career which spans only seven fights. 

He truly burst onto the scene in PRIDE when he knocked out Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Ricardo Arona in back-to-back fights with vicious knockouts.  He showed incredible potential in the process.

He then made the transition to the octagon and the UFC and subsequently ran into a buzz saw by the name of Lyoto Machida in his first fight.  Machida used his patented precision counter striking and superior ground game to pick apart the overly aggressive Sokoudjou. 

Sokoudjou bounced back at UFC 84 and recorded his first UFC victory with a TKO victory over Kazuhiro Nakamura and is slated to do battle next against Luis Arthur Cane at UFC 89.

This is a guy who other light heavyweights do not want to see in the cage with them.  His quickness and strength are overwhelming for anyone at 205.  I will not be surprised if we see him receive a title shot within the next two years. 


6) Steve Cantwell - 21 years old - UFC - (6 - 1)


Cantwell is technically the former WEC light heavyweight champion now that the WEC has done away with his weight class and he has joined the UFC.

He was very impressive in his last fight against Brian Stann at WEC 35 and looked like a completely different fighter than the one who was knocked out by Stann at WEC 26.  When you can see a fighter progressing so much that it is noticeably to the naked eye then you know for sure he is making great strides. 

Can he keep the momentum going?  For his next fight he is scheduled to do battle at UFC Fight Night 16 against a replacement for Brian Stann, who was previously set to fight against Cantwell for the third time but withdrew due to injury.    


7) Goran Reljic - 24 years old - UFC - (8 - 0)


This Mirko Cro Cop-trained Croatian is an exciting newcomer in the UFC.  He introduced himself to UFC fans at UFC 84 with a TKO victory over American Top Team product Wilson Gouveia.

This was one of the top 10 fights of 2008 so far and won "fight of the night" honors.   

In this fight Reljic showed some flashes of greatness.  His powerful kickboxing and calm demeanor was also eerily similar to his mentor Cro Cop. 

His hands still need some work but his kickboxing is hard to combat.  We also have not seen much of his ground game yet in the UFC but he has a world class ground game as well.  He trained jiu-jitsu for a number of years under former Abu Dhabi and Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Roger Gracie.

Reljic was set to drop down to 170 pounds and take on Thales Leites at UFC 90, however, he had to withdraw due to a back injury.  Once he inevitably recovers he is a guy to keep your eye on in the welterweight division.


8) Jamie Varner - 24 years old -  WEC - (15 - 2)


Varner was thrown into the fire immediately in his career being paired up with former #1 lightweight contender Hermes Franca for his very first UFC fight.  It may have been too much too soon. 

He was submitted by Franca in the third round.  He then bounced back with a submission victory over Jason Gilliam at UFC 68 but was then moved over to the WEC. 

Since joining the WEC he has won three fights in a row highlighted by a brutal TKO victory over Rob McCullough to capture the WEC lightweight championship belt. 

Varner currently trains at Arizona Combat Sports under the tutelage of Trevor Lally and Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Gustavo Dantas.

Could a move back to the UFC lightweight division be in store for Varner?  Only time will tell.   


9) Nathan Diaz - 23 years old - UFC - (10 - 2)


Nathan, the younger brother of EliteXC middleweight contender and former UFC fight Nick Diaz, is now 5 - 0 in the UFC and is starting to gain momentum. 

The former Ultimate Fighter 5 winner has been on a roll lately.  In his last two fights he won the "submission of the night" award against Kurt Pellegrino and followed that up with "fight of the night" honors at UFC Fight Night 15 against Josh Neer.

In a relatively weak UFC lightweight division he is likely only two big wins away from being in the thick of the title picture. 


10) Dustin Hazelett - 22 years old - UFC - (11 - 4)


Hazelett is hard to figure out of late.  He was impressive in his submission victories against quality opponents Jonathan Goulet and Josh Burkman, but in between he laid an egg against Josh Koscheck, who dominated Hazelett with strikes.

Eight of Hazelett's eleven victories have come via submission.  He has a great ground game but Koscheck exposed his lack of standup skills.  The goods news is that he has plenty of time to iron out any weaknesses.    

There is no arguing that Hazelett has the potential.  He will continue to train diligently under the tutelage of Jorge Gurgel at JG MMA Academy in West Chester, OH hoping to hone his skills and continue progressing as a mixed martial artist. 





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