20 Fighters the UFC Should Build Its Future Around

Dan Hiergesell@DHiergesellFeatured ColumnistMay 7, 2013

20 Fighters the UFC Should Build Its Future Around

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    It's no secret that the UFC is blessed with the most talent-rich divisions in mixed martial arts today.

    They've marketed hundreds of fighters throughout the world in order to promote their product as a whole and cash in on an uncontrollable force.

    However, as it is for any sport evolving by the nanosecond, the UFC isn't going to be able to count on their top sellers forever.  The glorified champions that grace the Octagon year in and year out may be setting trends now, but they aren't immune to age, injury and obscurity.

    So the company that has built a global brand in the matter of a decade has to plan for the future.  They must hone the young talent they currently possess in order to secure their future potential.

    With that said, assuming Anderson Silva doesn't fight into his 50s, here are 20 names destined to bolster the UFC brand from here on out.

Uriah Hall

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    UFC Record: 0-1

    Divisional Rank: N/A

    Age: 28

    Discipline: Karate

    Nobody really knows for sure how good Uriah Hall can be once his head is put on straight, but if his devastating finishes on The Ultimate Fighter were any indication, he'll ascend the middleweight ladder rather quickly.

    The UFC will be looking for the explosive striker to partially fill the void left by Anderson Silva when he decides to abandon his throne.

Gunnar Nelson

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    UFC Record: 2-0

    Divisional Rank: N/A

    Age: 24

    Discipline: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

    Based on sheer potential, Gunnar Nelson is one of the most promising talents in the UFC today.

    He sports world-class grappling at the young age of 24 and already looks cool, calm and collected on his feet through just two Octagon appearances.

    If he can stay healthy, the Icelandic counter-puncher will serve as an intricate part of the welterweight division for the next decade.

Erik Koch

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    UFC Record: 2-1

    Divisional Rank: No. 9

    Age: 24

    Discipline: Taekwondo

    Despite his recent woes opposite a hungry and aggressively fueled Ricardo Lamas, Erik Koch still possesses elite talent.

    With rangy standup, solid clinch work and an appetite to brawl, "New Breed" serves as a respected and formidable ambassador for the UFC's new wave of evolving talent.

Michael McDonald

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    UFC Record: 4-1

    Divisional Rank: No. 3

    Age: 22

    Discipline: Kickboxing

    It's scary to think that Michael McDonald hasn't even grown into his body yet and he's already knocking people out like it's clockwork.

    Still only 22, "Mayday" has not only finished some of the best bantamweights the UFC has to offer, but he's already competed for a chance to own a title.

    Things didn't work out for McDonald, but it's a professional hiccup that will only help the young phenom in the long run.

Travis Browne

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    UFC Record: 5-1-1

    Divisional Rank: No. 10

    Age: 30

    Discipline: Muay Thai

    Many people don't consider Travis Browne an elite heavyweight contender, but when it really comes down to it, he's one of the more prolific finishers that the division has to offer.

    If it wasn't for a bum leg, Browne might have put an end to Antonio Silva last year, thus changing the entire blueprint for the heavyweight title picture.

    In any case, the Hawaiian is back in action and looks more focused than ever.

Joseph Benavidez

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    UFC Record: 5-1

    Divisional Rank: No. 1

    Age: 28

    Discipline: Wrestling

    Whether he can defeat Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson or not, Joseph Benavidez is, and always has been, the No. 1 flyweight contender on the planet.

    The UFC shouldn't shy away from giving him a rematch against the speedy champion, but Benavidez needs to take his licks, fight down the ladder and do what he has to in order to regain divisional supremacy.

Phil Davis

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    UFC Record: 7-1-1

    Divisional Rank: No. 8

    Age: 28

    Discipline: Wrestling

    Phil Davis may not have the striking capabilities of a Jon Jones or Alexander Gustafsson, but his wrestling, submission defense, conditioning and heart are all at the top of the division.

    The only problem for Davis is that the light heavyweight crop is so jam-packed with talent it doesn't seem fair.

    He'll need to win at least two more fights before he gets a shot at the title.

Conor McGregor

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    UFC Record: 1-0

    Divisional Rank: N/A

    Age: 24

    Discipline: Kickboxing

    Properly marketing a fighter is half the battle when it comes to making money, attracting new fans and putting loyal followers in the seats.  In Conor McGregor's case, the UFC has a gold mine on its hands.

    Hailing from Ireland, the 24-year-old featherweight carries an entire country on his back every time he steps inside the cage.  That's the type of potential the UFC is looking for and the reason why McGregor is the new Michael Bisping in training.

Chan-Sung Jung

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    UFC Record: 3-0

    Divisional Rank: No. 4

    Age: 26

    Discipline: Taekwondo/BJJ

    All Chan-Sung Jung does is finish fights.  He's done so in each of his three UFC bouts by securing a seven-second knockout, a first-ever twister and a fourth-round submission over Dustin Poirier which won 2012 Fight of the Year honors.

    Now the 26-year-old hasn't fought since his victory over Poirier nearly one year ago, but "The Korean Zombie" is scheduled to take on Ricardo Lamas for No. 1 contender rights later this year.

    If he wins that, there's no reason to doubt his potential against either Jose Aldo or Anthony Pettis.

Gegard Mousasi

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    UFC Record: 1-0

    Divisional Rank: No. 9

    Age: 27

    Discipline: Boxing

    Considering Alexander Gustafsson was unable to compete earlier this year against Gegard Mousasi, UFC fans are still waiting for the Dutch-Armenian's coming out party.

    Sure, a victory over Ilir Latifi is good for padding a resume, but a guy like Mousasi doesn't need that.  Once the UFC puts a top-five contender in his line of sight, the former Strikeforce standout will show UFC fans how brutal of a striker and how persistent of an attacker he truly is.

Demetrious Johnson

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    UFC Record: 5-1-1

    Divisional Rank: Champion

    Age: 26

    Discipline: Wrestling

    People tend to forget that Demetrious Johnson is only 26 years old.  I guess that's what happens when you're already a UFC champion and the pound-for-pound quickest fighter in the world.

    Regardless, "Mighty Mouse" is indeed still young.  He's still improving with each round and still has more to offer as one of the most well-rounded and skilled champions around.

    Once he peaks, there's no telling how many title defenses he can rack off in succession.

Renan Barao

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    UFC Record: 5-0

    Divisional Rank: Interim Champion

    Age: 26

    Discipline: BJJ

    Now is the time to put Dominick Cruz on the shelf and make Renan Barao the true UFC bantamweight champion.

    The Brazilian has been doing serious work inside the Octagon for the past two years in the "true" champion's absence and finally deserves his full share of glory.

    When you carry a 30-1-1 professional record and breeze past the best UFC contenders, all before you turn 27, you should get the whole pie instead of a slice.

Luke Rockhold

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    UFC Record: N/A

    Divisional Rank: No. 5

    Age: 28

    Discipline: Kickboxing

    Luke Rockhold has not even fought in the UFC yet and he's already ranked No. 5 in the division.

    Granted he's the reigning Strikeforce middleweight champion, but rarely does the UFC pay tribute to a fighter without seeing him on the grand stage.

    Rockhold must be the real deal and will finally showcase his potential later this month opposite Vitor Belfort in Brazil.

Alexander Gustafsson

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    UFC Record: 7-1

    Divisional Rank: No. 2

    Age: 26

    Discipline: Kickboxing

    With exceptional size and a technical striking prowess, Sweden's Alexander Gustafsson has been mentioned as the only light heavyweight in the world capable of stopping Jon Jones.

    Now while that's still up for debate, Gustafsson has displayed the innate skills and physical fortitude to take on a champion like Jones later in his career.

    For now he needs to stay healthy, improve his ground game and make sure he's absolutely, positively ready before he challenges the best in the world.

Cain Velasquez

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    UFC Record: 9-1

    Divisional Rank: Champion

    Age: 30

    Discipline: Wrestling

    Cain Velasquez can already be considered the best heavyweight of all time.  It's not solidified, but he's definitely part of the discussion.

    The fact of the matter is that Velasquez has not only defeated the very best heavyweights of his time, but he's made them look silly.  Guys like Brock Lesnar, Junior dos Santos, Antonio "Minotauro" Nogueira and Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva have resembled armless school girls when pinned against the champ.

    So even at his age, Velasquez's perfected conditioning and wildly expansive repertoire will be enough to prolong heavyweight success into his late 30s.

Ronda Rousey

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    UFC Record: 1-0

    Divisional Rank: Champion

    Age: 26

    Discipline: Judo

    Anybody who's anybody knows who Ronda Rousey is.  It was practically impossible to avoid the millions upon millions of pay-per-view previews leading up to her historic bout with Liz Carmouche.

    Now while history was made in regards to Rousey being the first woman to ever capture victory inside the Octagon, it also marked her seventh straight first-round finish by way of her perfected armbar.

    That type of skill, partnered with her personality and sex appeal, should launch Rousey even higher up the publicity chart as she becomes more familiar with UFC life.

Rory MacDonald

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    UFC Record: 5-1

    Divisional Rank: No. 3

    Age: 23

    Discipline: Wrestling 

    Nobody has been mentioned more than Rory MacDonald when discussing the future of the UFC.  Due in part to his predecessor, the 23-year-old has been labeled as GSP 2.0

    That sort of respect isn't handed out around the sport of mixed martial arts, so MacDonald must really have what it takes to command the UFC welterweight division for the next five years.

    The only problem is that George St-Pierre is still fighting and looks as dominant as ever.

Jose Aldo

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    UFC Record: 4-0

    Divisional Rank: Champion

    Age: 26

    Discipline: Muay Thai/BJJ

    If Jose Aldo's UFC record spanned six fights instead of four, he'd probably be considered the pound-for-pound best fighter on the planet.

    But unfortunately for the Brazilian, a guy named Jon Jones fends off title challengers almost three times a year.

    The day Aldo increases his yearly output and displays his talents outside of Brazil is the day he becomes the face of the organization.

Chris Weidman

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    UFC Record: 5-0

    Divisional Rank: No. 1

    Age: 28

    Discipline: Wrestling/BJJ 

    Chris Weidman at No. 2? 


    The UFC would certainly enjoy Weidman's presence atop the middleweight division.  He also creates problems for any fighter, which includes the always-elusive Anderson Silva, by implementing pesky wrestling, crisp boxing and forceful jiu-jitsu.

    Respect his resume or not, the New Yorker knows how to win.

    Editor's Note: Revisions have been made to this slide in accordance with B/R editorial policy.

Jon Jones

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    UFC Record: 12-1

    Divisional Rank: Champion

    Age: 25

    Discipline: Wrestling/BJJ/Muay Thai

    At this point in his career, through all the trials and tribulations, all the pay-per-view cancellations and historic title defenses, Jon "Bones" Jones is the UFC.

    He's the biggest star to come along since the days of Chuck Liddell and fans can always count on him picking apart the very best light heavyweights in the world with relative ease.

    But what eludes many minds around the sport is that Jones is only 25.  Half the fighters in the UFC today didn't make their debut until that age, let alone rack off six straight championship victories, sign a deal with Nike and be eventually forced out of the division on the heels of destroying every relevant contender.

    Like him or not, Jones is the best fighter in the world and commands the golden boy title of mixed martial arts.

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