MMA's 7 Best Up-and-Coming Fighters

Travis FlemingContributor IIISeptember 23, 2011

MMA's 7 Best Up-and-Coming Fighters

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    As the sport of MMA grows, so too does its talent pool. Every year, it seems more and more quality fighters enter the cage, looking to dethrone MMA's current stars and pave the way for the next generation.

    Never has there ever been this many fighters with so much potential, and that can only be a good thing for the fans.

    It seems like just yesterday that fighters such as Cain Velasquez, Jon Jones and Frankie Edgar were fighting their way up the ranks of their respective divisions, and yet before we knew it they had reached the top and had become the new faces of MMA.

    Things can change unbelievably fast, and just when you think the current crop of champions and top contenders are unbeatable, a new wave of fighters comes along and unseats them.

    So, which of today's current fighters make up the next wave?

    Here are seven fighters (one from each division) who have a chance to replace MMA's current stars and take up the mantle as the best in the sport.

Travis Browne

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    Currently undefeated, Travis Browne is one of the heavyweight division's most promising prospects. With nine of his eleven wins coming by way of knockout, "Hapa" is always a threat to end the fight early and rarely puts on a boring performance.

    Browne's last outing was arguably his most impressive, as he finished top heavyweight Stefan Struve with devastating superman punch just four minutes into the fight. The win earned him Knockout of the Night honours and surely made the rest of the division take notice.

    If Browne can register another win this Saturday at UFC 135 he may find himself just outside the division's top 10, and could force the UFC to step up his competition.

Alexander Gustafsson

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    Alexander Gustafsson is currently riding a three-fight winning streak, and at just 24 years old, the Swedish fighter still has loads of potential. With every fight, Gustafsson seems to take his skills to another level, and that's a scary thought for the rest of the division.

    An extremely talented striker, Gustafsson has earned 12 of his 13 wins by knockout, including an impressive TKO finish over long-time UFC veteran Matt Hamill.

    The victory immediately put him on the map in the light-heavyweight division and has him potentially one win away from challenging the elite at 205 pounds.

    The UFC has decided to test him against another vet, Vladimir Matyushenko. Should he earn another victory, he will likely vault himself up the light heavyweight rankings.

Court McGee

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    A former winner of "The Ultimate Fighter," Court McGee holds a perfect 3-0 record in the UFC. His grinding fighting style isn't flashy, but it's earned him an impressive 14 professional MMA victories and has him threatening to enter middleweight division's elite.

    His submission win over MMA vet Ryan Jensen, and recent unanimous decision over Dongi Yang have many asking for a step up in competition for the tough middleweight prospect, but the UFC will likely take its time bringing him along.

    However, a few more impressive performances may force them to test McGee against tougher opponents.

Rory MacDonald

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    Rory MacDonald is possibly the best example of the new breed of MMA fighter. Having trained in MMA since the age of 13, MacDonald is one of the most well-rounded fighters in the sport today and is constantly evolving.

    A teammate of UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, MacDonald is coming off dominant victories over highly respected fighters Nate Diaz and Mike Pyle. Both fighters were supposed to be a stiff test for the Canadian, but MacDonald ran through them with ease.

    His next opponent will be Brian Ebersole at UFC 140, and if he can earn a victory in that fight, it will hard for any expert not to rank MacDonald in the top 10 in the division.

Edson Barboza

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    A former Ring of Combat Champion, Edson Barboza is an undefeated Muay Thai practitioner from Brazil who's been tearing through opponents since 2009. He holds three victories inside the UFC and is quickly making his way up the lightweight rankings.

    At UFC 134, Barboza edged out "The Ultimate Fighter" Season 9 winner Ross Pearson in a fight that earned him Fight of the Night honours for the second straight time. With five of his nine wins coming inside the first round, Barboza has one of the best killer instincts in the sport.

    There is currently a log jam at the top of the lightweight division, but at only 25 years of age, Barboza can afford to bide his time. However, a few more decisive victories may have him being mentioned among the best at 155 pounds.

Erik Koch

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    22-year-old Erik Koch is one of the most exciting fighters in the featherweight division. The Duke Rufous-trained fighter is a pinpoint striker with an underrated ground game and is a threat to anyone at 145 pounds.

    Koch is currently riding a four-fight winning streak that includes one submission, two knockouts and two Knockout of the Night awards. His recent victory over Jonathan Brookins also displayed his improved takedown defence, something that seemed to be a weakness earlier in his career.

    With the depth in the featherweight division somewhat lacking, a few more wins may put Koch in a position to challenge for the featherweight championship.

Renan Barao

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    At just 24 years old, Renan Barao has already racked up a staggering 26-1 record. The Nova Uniao product hasn't lost a fight since his first bout in 2005 and has looked very impressive since coming over from Brazil.

    Barao has compiled three wins inside Zuffa promotions, including a first-round submission victory over Chris Cariaso, and a unanimous decision win over former WEC champion Cole Escovedo.

    Considering his impressive resume, it may be time for him to test his abilities against the best in the division.