The Beaten Path: Justin Gaethje and Top MMA Prospects in Action July 4th Weekend
On Independence Day weekend, MMA is like inexpensive grilling meat. The stuff is just everywhere.
For the second consecutive weekend, two UFC events are going down. The first is UFC 175 on Saturday, and the second is the finale of The Ultimate Fighter 19 on Sunday.
But another upstart competitor is in the mix. World Series of Fighting 11 goes down on July 5 on NBC. That's the NBC, not some cable derivative. WSOF has pulled out all its stops and stars to make it as exciting an event as it can be.
WSOF has excelled at signing and grooming up-and-coming prospects in the sport. And the UFC always has the talent mill churning. Between the two companies, there's a lot of young talent in action this weekend.
We here at The Beaten Path want to make sure you're up on your MMA prospects. This latest article in our ongoing series of interviews and lists will get your radar properly calibrated for this weekend's best young up-and-comers.
Prospects are listed in no particular order.
Division: Women's bantamweight
This weekend's fight: Sarah Moras, TUF 19 Finale
Outside of the season's TUF contestants, this event will have at least one interesting prospect in Alexis Dufresne.
And I want you to save your The Shawshank Redemption jokes. Dufresne, aka "Sneaky Zebra," is nasty, and she's legit enough on her own merits. Though she isn't the most ballyhooed fighter on this list, she has already racked up an impressive rap sheet, notching all five of her wins by first-round stoppage. Her last three—including a win over Kim Couture—came by knockout.
She'll have another aggressive fighter in her grille when she takes on Sarah Moras this weekend in her UFC debut. Given Dufresne's self-proclaimed desire to "punch b****** in the face," this should be a good thing. Maybe the best of things.
This weekend's fight: George Roop, UFC 175
Rob Font may not have five-star status, but he could be a tough test for just about anyone.
Dropping down from featherweight to make his UFC debut, Font is a kickboxer first and foremost. He has a lot of cardio and moves really well inside the cage. Training with Mark DellaGrotte in Boston can't hurt his chances, either.
Though he's a knockout-seeker first, he's not averse to grappling. He'll probably have his hands full with George Roop no matter where things go.
Is an upset conceivable? It sure is. We'll see what happens Saturday. If the CES featherweight champ can upend Roop, we'll a real up-and-comer on our hands.
This weekend's fight: Kevin Casey, UFC 175
Here's a good reason to tune into the Fight Pass portion of the undercard. Kevin Casey is a very good grappler, but he might just get beaten by newcomer Bubba Bush.
Unlike Casey, Bush is well-rounded in all areas and has very good cardio. If he can fend off Casey's early submission attempts, he could give his opponent a very long night.
Bush is competent in all areas, as evidenced by his four-fight win streak, which includes two knockouts and two submissions. He was a good pickup for the UFC and could show it against the better-known fighter on Saturday.
This weekend's fight: Dustin Ortiz, UFC 175
Justin Scoggins has turned plenty of heads since bursting into the UFC last December. The young man from American Top Team has unusual power for a flyweight, along solid striking and takedown defense and crisp foot and head movement.
The young man can grapple too, even if he doesn't prefer to take that route as a first option. He can land takedowns, pass guard and get your back if you're not careful.
Dustin Ortiz is an impressive young buck in his own right, and the 25-year-old bested another well-regarded prospect, Ray Borg, in his last outing. He's more of a grinder than Scoggins, but this one still has some back-alley potential. If Scoggins can excel, he should get a big bump up the UFC's relatively short flyweight ladder.
This weekend's fight: Justin Gaethje, WSOF 11
The knock on Nick Newell is his relatively low level of competition to date. Though the one-handed fighter is talented and inspirational, skeptics say that he doesn't have the tools to hang with the true elites.
We'll know for sure this weekend when he fights Justin Gaethje for the title (more on Gaethje momentarily). If Newell can wrap up one of his signature chokes or pull off something else on national broadcast television, it would probably be the biggest win in WSOF history and likely one of the biggest and best stories in MMA this year, and perhaps beyond.
This weekend's fight: Nick Newell, WSOF 11
I hesitate to even call Justin Gaethje a prospect any more at this point. He is World Series of Fighting's lightweight champ, after all, and one of its best fighters by any measure.
But he is still just 25 years old and only 11 fights into his career. His bout against Newell this weekend on national television will be telling. Can he perform under the big lights?
He certainly has the game to do so. His wrestling is very difficult to resist, he is a monster in the clinch, and he has cinder blocks where most people have fists. Since joining WSOF, he has never really been threatened. It will be interesting to see if he keeps that going against Newell.
Scott Harris writes about MMA prospects and other topics for Bleacher Report and other places. The Beaten Path regularly highlights the sport's top up-and-coming fighters. For more, follow Scott on Twitter.