UFC 145: Jon Jones and the 7 Best UFC Fighters 25 Years Old or Younger

Rich Bergeron@XyiencesuckscomCorrespondent IApril 21, 2012

UFC 145: Jon Jones and the 7 Best UFC Fighters 25 Years Old or Younger

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    In case you haven't noticed, the legends of the UFC aren't quite what they used to be. Some old standbys are fading fast while others are already well into retirement. Guys like Matt Hughes, Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, BJ Penn, Kenny Florian and Randy Couture aren't walking through that cage door. It's up to the next generation now.  

    The younger crop, the group the UFC managed to expertly build around a strong core from The Ultimate Fighter series, is starting to grow up into an arsenal of fighters that will certainly kill even more legends down the line.

    Can Rashad Evans stop Jon Jones from rocketing his way to super stardom with a reality check Saturday, or will Jones put on a performance that will bump him up to the top spot on this list?  

    Jones is more than confident he'll win, leaving only one message for Rashad: "Bring it."

    "Why not believe I could be the greatest fighter who ever lived?" Jones asked the audience of UFC Primetime this week. 

    He is calm, he is cool, and just a little bit cocky, but every fight he's had in the UFC so far, Jones backed it all up with results. Rashad Evans is no slouch either, and it comes down to experience vs. youth.

    Evans wants to stand and bang with Jones and match his superior boxing with the dynamic striking of Jones. The UFC Light Heavyweight Champion will be tested, but will a win Saturday be enough to unseat the leader of this list?

    Two other fighters on this list will also fight on Saturday. They are young, they are hungry, and they rarely ever lose. These are the top 7 UFC fighters 25 years old or younger. 

1: Jose 'Scarface' Aldo

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    Also known as "Junior," Jose Aldo (21-1), 25, is a human wrecking ball. The stocky Brazilian packs an abominating punch in his short featherweight frame. Just ask Cub Swanson what four or five strikes from Aldo on a good day can do to your face.

    Since that beat down of Swanson, Aldo's mowed down Mike Brown, Urijah Faber, Manny Gamburyan, Mark Hominick, Kenny Florian and Chad Mendes. His 62 percent knockout percentage is perhaps his most surprising quality since the lighter weights in combat sports are not often known for explosive power.

    Aldo has it in spades, and he's never afraid to wade in with an opponent and trade blows. Somewhere between his crushing elbows and knees, slick submission and wrestling skills, and his brutal boxing attacks, his opponents always seem to wilt under the pressure he imposes on them. 

    It doesn't matter if the fight goes the full five rounds or it only lasts 30 seconds, Aldo will get the job done every time. As Ricky Bobby's kids would say, he comes at you like a spider monkey. Once Aldo finds a weak spot in your defense, he exploits it and ends your night on a bad note.

    Jon Jones is a rising star, but Jose Aldo's been there and done that. He might be a small guy, but he's large and in charge when it comes to his dominance over his division.

    There isn't a featherweight on the planet who can abolish his position as the supreme ruler of the division right now. He may very well retire as the champ at this rate.   

2: Jon 'Bones' Jones

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    Jon Jones (15-1), 24, faces Rashad Evans (17-1-1) this Saturday in the main event of UFC 145 in a fight that will determine how he'll be remembered in the history of combat sports.

    Coming off a win against the only man to ever defeat Evans (Lyoto Machida), Jones looks to be capable of victory here, but the crafty veteran that is Rashad Evans is going to make him earn it.

    These two have a very intense rivalry surrounding the concept of Greg Jackson's Arizona training camp and their FAMILY mantra. Evans left the camp not long after Jones agreed to fight his fellow team member and friend.

    Once the title was a factor, friendship simply had to be thrown out the window for these two, and Saturday they'll settle the score.

    Jones is someone who really came out of nowhere and crashed the MMA scene with some impressive wins to set the stage for what will be a Hall of Fame career.

    Choking out Machida with a standing guillotine made a real statement, but Jones has unfinished business to take care of in the fight with Evans.

    The two have been battling long enough in the press and on the sidelines. It's time for war, and Jones' championship mettle will win the day if he's truly as great as he looks to be.   

    Jones has everything going well for him right now. The UFC even decided to officially sponsor him for this bout. He's already in Bud Light commercials hanging out with Dana White, and he hopes his next sponsor will be Nike.

    He might even be making more in endorsement deals these days than he makes for an actual fight. He literally can't afford to lose Saturday. His legacy will take too much of a hit if that happens. 

    Jones is clearly ready for a brawl where he might actually be pushed around a little bit.

    "I hope I actually bleed this fight," he said on this week's UFC Primetime. "Let's do it!" Whatever happens on Saturday, Jones won't slip from this spot anytime soon. 

3: Anthony Pettis

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    Anthony Pettis (15-2), 25, dismantled Joe Lauzon at UFC 144 in the same style that allowed him to win eight of his first nine fights inside the first round.

    One of his kicks in a win over current UFC Lightweight Champion Benson Henderson earned him a place in viral video history. Nicknamed "The Showtime Kick," Pettis landed it on Henderson by running sideways up the wall of the cage and booting Henderson in the cheek.

    Henderson didn't go out cold on contact, but the strike put him down on his back for a few brief moments. 

    The only blemishes on this fighter's incredible record are decision losses to Clay Guida and Bart Palaszewski. Pettis knows not to leave it to the judges now, and Henderson's game will have to be much improved to retain his belt if he fights Pettis next.

    Henderson and Pettis have the potential to create the kind of rivalry Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta shared during their illustrious boxing careers. 

    Even though the rest of the guys on this list have only one loss, Pettis is the closest to a title shot with much more impressive past competition than those who appear ranked below him here.   

4: John Hathaway

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    It's been nothing but decisions for John "The Hitman" Hathaway since his UFC debut against Tom Egan ended with Hathaway elbowing his way to a first-round TKO. His only loss came to Mike Pyle (22-8) at UFC 120 by unanimous decision.

    This Brighton, England, welterweight is just 24 years old, but his potential is unfathomable. He'll get a real chance to prove his worth to his UFC bosses when he faces Pascal Krauss (10-0) on May 5 for the third installment of UFC on Fox.   

5: Alexander Gustafsson

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    Light heavyweight Alexander Gustafsson (14-1), 25, is not quite a Swedish Jon Jones, but he's still damn good for his age. He's on a five-fight win streak since losing to Phil Davis at UFC 112 by Anaconda Choke.

    Gustafsson is one of those lucky fighters who can claim that about half his career bouts have been fought under the UFC banner. His resume is impressive, and beating Thiago Silva at UFC on Fuel TV 2 on April 14 was the icing on the cake. 

    Gustafsson also has wins over Vladimir Matyushenko, Matt Hamill, James Te Huna, Cyrille Diabate and Jarred Hamman. The fight with Silva was the first time Gustafsson battled until the final bell.

    The anti-climactic decision made Gustafsson look fairly tame, but his strategy and technique won the fight for him.

    Gustafsson is ready for a step up in competition, and he would make a great match for either the winner or the loser of Jon Jones vs. Rashad Evans.  

6: Michael 'Mayday' McDonald

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    Michael McDonald (14-1), 21, really has a chance to shine Saturday at UFC 145 when he faces a man who could be considered the Julio Cesar Chavez of MMA.

    Miguel Torres (40-4) has a ton of experience and expertise in the cage. McDonald will separate himself from the rest of the youngsters in MMA if he can soundly beat Torres on a big card like this one. 

    This will be McDonald's fourth UFC fight, and his only loss so far in his career came against Cole Escovedo (17-9) back in May 2009. That was McDonald's first time fighting beyond Round 1. All his previous bouts ended in under four minutes. 

    He signed with the UFC in 2010 and never looked back. Torres is one of the only men out there who could hope to hand McDonald his first UFC loss. McDonald is a powerhouse striker with a 57 percent knockout rate, and he's been training in kickboxing since he was just 10 years old.

    He's also great on the ground with four submissions to his credit. Only two of his fights resulted in decisions. McDonald will move up a notch or two on this list with a victory over Torres. 

7: Rory MacDonald

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    22-year-old Rory "Ares" MacDonald (12-1) might still be undefeated if he didn't happen to draw Carlos Condit in his second UFC appearance. Despite the loss, MacDonald's performance earned him a "Fight of the Night" bonus.

    Nearly a year ago, MacDonald had his first rebound fight against Nate Diaz, winning that UFC 129 bout by unanimous decision. Last August at UFC 133, MacDonald made it two wins in a row by taking out Mike Pyle in just under four minutes with an onslaught of furious punches. 

    MacDonald turned pro at the age of 16, and he quickly found out how it feels to wear a title belt. It might be tough to imagine this young 170-pounder fighting at 205, but that's where he was a champion in the King of the Cage circuit.

    He's much slimmer and stronger now, and he's on the threshold of a chance to prove all his critics wrong. 

    MacDonald returns to the cage Saturday against Che Mills (14-4), who is coming off a successful UFC debut against Chris Cope on the UFC 138 undercard. The welterweight division is full of tough contenders, and MacDonald will have to face a tougher test before he moves up this list.