Rory MacDonald and the Top 25 Fighters 25 or Younger

Andrew MahlmannCorrespondent IMay 4, 2011

Rory MacDonald and the Top 25 Fighters 25 or Younger

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    A couple of times a year it is important to take a close look at who the young up and comers are in the sport.

    Although it is a sport that is in it's infancy, time can pass quite quickly for those of us paying close attention.

    We have seen tons of young dynamos rise up and entrench themselves into the spotlight, but for every batch maturing into veterans, there is a new batch hungrier and more talented than the last.

    Some are practically veterans by the age of 25, while others are hot prospects with unlimited potential.

    These are the top 25 MMA athletes that are 25 years or younger.

Honorable Mention

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    Dustin Hazelett

    Dan Lauzon

    Zach Mickelwright

    Steve Cantwell

    Bobby Green

    Avel Cullum

    -and keep an eye on Marco "Shaolin" Rua

25. Efrain Escudero

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    Efrain Escudero

    Age: 25


    Escudero won the esteemed honor of "Ultimate Fighter" barely before he turned 23 years old, and it looked there was an unlimited upside to his potential.

    An immediate threat at lightweight, Escudero made an impact, but soon learned just how vicious a shark tank the lightweight division is.

    After going 2-2 since winning "The Ultimate Fighter," the UFC decided to release Escudero who seemed to be getting too comfortable too quick with his new found celebrity.

    Since then he has reeled off three consecutive victories with an upcoming bout against fellow UFC veteran Fabricio Camoes on May 5th.

24. Todd Duffee

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    Todd Duffee

    Age: 25


    Duffee is another tale of a young guy getting a little too "big for his britches," so to speak, and the UFC released him after only a single loss.

    The promising heavyweight dove right back into deep waters by challenging Alistair Overeem, but the young star proved to be too over-matched and was knocked out in a violent 19 second battle.

    The good news is that at just 25 years of age, Duffee has plenty of time to regroup, get back on track, and fulfill his potential as one of the best heavyweights around.

23. Jeremy Stephens

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    Jeremy Stephens

    Age: 24


    Stephens will be turning just 25 later this month, but already has a deep fighting record that stands at 19-6.

    That record includes 11 UFC fights with three "knockout of the night" awards and one "fight of the night" award.

    His next fight will be against "Ultimate Fighter" winner Jonathan Brookins at the Ultimate Fighter 13 finale.

22. Cody McKenzie

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    Cody McKenzie

    Age: 23


    Heading into his last bout against Yves Edwards, lightweight Cody McKenzie was riding a ridiculous 10-fight win streak of consecutive guillotine victories.

    That is right, out of 12 consecutive victories, the last 10 were by way of guillotine.

    He would end up losing to the veteran in the "fight of the night," but McKenzie remains a hot young prospect in the lightweight division.

21. Chris Horodecki

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    Chris Horodecki

    Age: 23


    The Polish-Canadian lightweight fighter has already achieved an impressive 17-3 record with wins over a small handful of notable fighters.

    After his loss to Donald Cerrone in the final WEC event, Horodecki was not kept with Zuffa in light of the WEC/UFC lightweight division merger, but has already picked up a first round victory and is undoubtedly looking to get back into the big leagues.

20. Terry Etim

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    Terry Etim

    Age: 25


    British 6'1'' lightweight Terry Etim has already made a splash in the UFC going 5-3.

    The dangerous striker is also talented with submissions, having won "submission of the night" an impressive three times.

    Etim was removed from a fight due to injury last year, but we hope to see the young standout back soon.

19. Paul Sass

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    Paul Sass

    Age: 22


    At just 22 years of age, lightweight fighter Paul Sass is one of the most remarkable grappling talents to ever come out of England.

    Undefeated at 11-0, Sass has won a mind-boggling eight of those fights by way of triangle-choke.

    In his UFC debut he continually threatened with triangle chokes, but I thought at this level of competition they must be more aware and not let.... oh, yup, he won by triangle.

18. Chan Sung Jung

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    Chan Sung Jung

    Age: 24


    "The Korean Zombie" became an American sensation with his 'fight of the year' war with former title challenger Leonard Garcia last year.

    Although he lost that fight via split decision, and then suffered a knockout in his next fight, Jung famously rebounded by being the first to win via a twister submission in the UFC, in a rematch with Leonard Garcia.

    The spirited and versatile warrior will undoubtedly be a fan favorite and force in the division for years to come.

17. John Hathaway

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    John Hathaway 

    Age: 23


    British welterweight John Hathaway shocked many when he upset Diego Sanchez in a dominant performance last year.

    He was then upset by Mike Pyle for his first career loss, but Hathaway rebounded against Kris McCray and remains one of the future's brightest stars in the welterweight division.

16. Charles Oliveira

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    Charles Oliveira

    Age: 21


    Fans have been clamoring to see more of the young Brazilian star after he captured consecutive "submission of the night" awards in his two first UFC fights.

    A vicious striker and submission artist, Oliveira suffered his first loss when his third UFC bout came against Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Jim Miller.

    Regardless, Oliveira is a dangerous fighter with the skills to be around a very long time.

15. Pat Curran

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    Pat Curran

    Age: 23


    Cousin of oldschool fighter Jeff Curran, Pat is doing fantastic making job his name for himself.

    In his last three fights he has upset Roger Huerta and Toby Imada, and he went five rounds against top 10 ranked lightweight Eddie Alvarez for the Bellator championship.

    Alvarez commended Curran and the future is probably only going to get brighter as he plans a drop in weight to compete in the featherweight division.

14. Josh Grispi

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    Josh Grispi

    Age: 22


    Featherweight Josh Grispi joined the WEC in 2008 and racked up four straight stoppage victories, including submissions over the likes of Jens Pulver and Mark Hominick.

    In his UFC debut, however, Grispi was oustruck by fellow young phenom Dustin Poirier and suffered a decision loss.

    With knockout power and devastating submissions, do not expect it to take long before Grispi is pounding on top contender status.

13. Michael McDonald

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    Michael McDonald

    Age: 20


    Bantamweight McDonald is 12-1 with his lone loss being to Cole Escovedo, and was avenged a year later.

    The winner of the "fight of the night" award in his UFC debut, McDonald looks to keep pushing ahead as he takes on Chris Cariaso later this month at UFC 130. 

12. Erik Koch

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    Erik Koch

    Age: 22


    The only loss on Koch's 12-1 record is to top featherweight contender and undefeated wrestling powerhouse Chad Mendes.

    In his first UFC fight, Koch delivered a brutal one punch knockout in the first round earning him "knockout of the night" honors.

    The Duke Roufus trained stand out is nicknamed "New Breed", and it is a fitting name for this featherweight with an extremely bright future.

11. Christian Morecraft

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    Christian Morecraft

    Age: 24


    The 7-1 heavyweight has never gone to a decision and recently choked Sean McCorkle unconscious in his last bout.

    The UFC contender's only loss came to fellow youngster Stefan Struve in which Struve miraculously rallied from a terrific beatdown from Morecraft after the first round.

10. Bryan Baker

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    Bryan Baker

    Age: 25


    Baker is a 14-2 middleweight with wins over Jeremy Horn, Matt Horwhich, and Jesse Forbes.

    The WEC and Bellator veteran looks to collide with Joe Riggs this weekend in what should be the perfect litmus test for the young fighter.

9. Joe Soto

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    Joe Soto

    Age: 24


    Mexican-American Joe Soto became Bellator's first ever featherweight champion in 2009.

    Soto won two more fights, making him 9-0, before losing his title belt to Joe Warren in September of last year.

    He suffered a detached retina in the fight against Warren, but he will eventually return to action and continue to be a standout fighter in the featherweight division. 

8. Stefan Struve

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    Stefan Struve

    Age: 23


    It is not easy to establish oneself in the UFC heavyweight division, but 6'11'' 23 year old Struve is doing an amazing job at it.

    The talented fighter has won both "submission of the night" and "knockout of the night" awards in the UFC and has an overall record of 21-4.

    The UFC might not be looking to put him in line for a title shot in the immediate future, but sooner or later, I see it happening.

7. Dustin Poirier

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    Dustin Poirier

    Age: 22


    Poirier was doing fine as a lightweight, with a 9-1 record, before he dropped to featherweight and beat fellow youngster Josh Grispi pillar to post for practically the entire three rounds.

    The victory spoke volumes as Grispi was in line for a title shot before the defeat.

    Now Poirier hopes to ride his new found momentum straight to the top of the division.

6. Rory MacDonald

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    Rory MacDonald

    Age: 21


    Groomed from the get go to be an MMA star, Rory MacDonald has already made a significant impact on the UFC welterweight division.

    In just his second fight for the UFC he was matched against highly ranked former WEC champion Carlos Condit.

    MacDonald was winning the first two rounds, but faded in the third to lose with just seconds left.

    He bounced back in dominant fashion against Nate Diaz as if to tell the world "get ready".

5. Anthony Pettis

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    Anthony Pettis

    Age: 24


    Pettis is 13-1 with his last fight being a thrilling victory over Ben Henderson for the WEC lightweight championship.

    The fight gathered all kinds of attention as it positioned Pettis as a top contender for the UFC championship and featured "The showtime kick," a spectacular off the wall jump kick that landed on Henderson.

    Pettis now faces grizzled UFC veteran Clay Guida in June and if he wins, he is guaranteed a shot at the UFC lightweight championship.

4. Gegard Mousasi

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    Gegard Mousasi

    Age: 25


    The most accomplished fighter on this list in terms of international accomplishments and total number of wins.

    Mousasi is 30-3-2, having won middleweight championships in DREAM and Cage Warriors, and won light heavyweight championships in Strikeforce and DREAM. Both DREAM championships were also Grand Prix tournament championships.

3. Dominick Cruz

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    Dominick Cruz

    Age: 25


    Bantamweight champion Cruz is already fast threatening to become on of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport.

    He has defended his title twice with his UFC debut set to be against the only man to have ever beaten him, MMA superstar Urijah Faber.

2. Jon Jones

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    Jon Jones

    Age: 23


    Jon Jones has looked literally unstoppable.

    The UFC light heavyweight champion's only loss on his record is by disqualification due to an illegal strike, which was wrongly attribute by the referee for ending the fight.

    He is the youngest UFC champion in history, and people are already struggling to imagine potential threats.

1. Jose Aldo

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    Jose Aldo

    Age: 24


    Featherweight champion Aldo has defended his title three times and he is already considered by most to be one of the top three pound-for-pound fighters in the world; right behind Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva.

    Some have been calling for superfights for Aldo outside of his weight class, but considering the amount featherweight prodigies on this list alone, I doubt his work will ever truly be done trying to clean out the division.