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Generation Next: The Top 10 MMA Fighters Under 25

Derek BolenderSenior Analyst IAugust 18, 2009

The sport of mixed martial arts is in good hands.

With thousands of new gyms sprouting up all over the world due to the surge in the sport's popularity, and kids honing their skills younger and younger, there should be no shortage of talent in the pipeline for many years to come.

People of all ages are chomping at the bit to participate in the sport. However, a very small percentage of these individuals will eventually make an impact as a professional fighter in a major organization. An even smaller few may even have superstar potential—the ability to challenge for a belt, draw a crowd, and have his name ring out around the world.

Currently, a crop of megastars led by Fedor Emelianenko, Anderson Silva, and Georges St. Pierre are carrying the torch, but in time they will leave the sport on top or gradually slide back down the ladder to make room for others.

The revolving façade on the Mount Rushmore of MMA will once again have to be filled.

As the MMA gods look down into their crystal ball and peer into the future, what do they see?

A list of new names and faces trickling out of the proverbial woodwork who, collectively, are a group of young and hungry potential stars-in-the-making.

“Generation Next” is a group of talented fighters who are currently under the age of 25.

Some of the names may be more recognizable than others and they have had varying degrees of success so far in their brief careers.

One thing they all have in common is that they will be instrumental in writing the next chapter in the evolution of MMA.

Without further ado, here are the top 10 fighters under the age of 25:

1) Gegard Mousasi—24 years old—Strikeforce/DREAM —(26-2-1)

At the ripe age of 24 this mild-mannered Dutch-Armenian fighter has already cemented himself as one of the top MMA fighters in the world today.

This teammate and striking coach of Fedor Emelianenko at Red Devil Sport Club is coming off an impressive and dominating performance against Renato “Babalu” Sobral in which he recorded a first round TKO to become the Strikeforce light heavyweight champion. 

“The Dreamcatcher” really stormed onto the scene in impressive fashion in 2008 when he captured the DREAM Middleweight Grand Prix Championship in Japan.

He defeated Korean judo specialist Dong Sik Yoon, Dutch kickboxer and muay thai wrecking machine Melvin Manhoef, and jiu-jitsu world champion Ronaldo Souza consecutively to capture the title.

To cap off the year he defeated former world heavyweight muay thai champion and K–1 World GP finalist Musashi via first round TKO fighting under K-1 rules. 

Cumulatively he was 6–0 in MMA and 1–0 in K-1 in a single calendar year against some of the best competition in the world.

“The Dreamcatcher” is next scheduled to fight Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou at DREAM 11 on October 6 in the semifinals of the Super Hulk tournament.

Mousasi continues to make the slow transition from middleweight to his eventual final pit stop at heavyweight, where he eventually would like to follow in Fedor’s footsteps.

Their mutual Red Devil Sport Club teammate Kirill Sidelnikov may already stake his claim to the “Baby Fedor” nickname, however, it may be more appropriate for Mousasi.

2) Jon Jones—22 years old—UFC—(9-0)

Jones burst onto the scene on the undercard of UFC 94 and took it to UFC veteran Stephan Bonnar displaying a wealth of striking and wrestling talent.

He followed that up with another impressive performance against Jake O’Brien at UFC 100, which saw him win via submission in the second round and run his undefeated record to 9 - 0 overall in his relatively brief career.

With a deep 205 pound division sitting in front of him the UFC is slowly feeding him opponents so he continues to master his craft and build up a fan base.

  

"Bones" may not be a household name yet but someday he could be mentioned in the same breath as the elite fighters in the UFC. It appears to be only a matter of time for a guy who has this much raw talent and natural ability.

3) Jose Aldo—22 years old—WEC—(15-1)

Quick, explosive, powerful, and hungry; these are all adjectives to describe this up-and-coming Brazilian superstar.

This Nova Uniao product is a handful to deal with for any featherweight in the WEC.

His highlight reel flying knee knockout of Cub Swanson just eight seconds into the fight was enough to convince the WEC management to grant him his first title shot.

The win ran his WEC record to 5–0 with all victories coming by way of KO or TKO.

He will now take on current featherweight champion Mike Brown in November in what is the opportunity of a lifetime and the toughest test in his relatively brief MMA career.

4) Jamie Varner—24 years oldWEC—(16-2, 2 no contests)

This Arizona native is the current WEC lightweight champion.

After losing his UFC debut at UFC 62 via submission to Hermes Franca back in 2006 he made the move to the WEC and it has been his best career move to date.

Since joining he has gone 4-0 including impressive victories over quality opponents like Rob McCullough and Donald Cerrone.

The Cerrone fight, which won both men Fight of the Night honors, was stopped by the referee in the fifth round because of an unintentional knee strike from Cerrone.

Varner ended up winning on the scorecards but came away with blurred vision, a broken foot, and a broken hand.

While Varner recovers, the WEC has put together an interim lightweight title match between the aforementioned Cerrone and Ben Henderson, which will take place at WEC 43.

5) Dustin Hazelett—23 years old—UFC—(12-4)

Hazelett, like Varner, has seen his ascension halted by an unfortunate injury he sustained in his preparations for his UFC 96 matchup with Ben Saunders.

This Jorge Gurgel-trained jiu-jitsu black belt had accumulated a 5-2 UFC record up to that point including submission victories over Jonathan Goulet, Josh Burkman, and Tamdan McCrory.

His standup is still very raw, which was evident in his overwhelming loss to Josh Koscheck at UFC 82.

His ground game, on the other hand, is world class. Nine of his 12 career victories are via submission.

At just 23 years old he has plenty of time to develop into a more well-rounded fighter.

Make no mistake about it, “McLovin” remains a top tier UFC welterweight and a tough matchup for anyone in the division even at this early stage in his career.

6) Nate Diaz—24 years old—UFC—(10-4)

This Ultimate Fighter season five winner is the younger half of the flying Diaz brothers.

Both have already made a name for themselves in the sport and continue to improve with each passing fight.

They are still honing their skills under the tutelage of Cesar Gracie in California alongside fellow “Scrap Pack” members Jake Shields and Gilbert Melendez.

Nate is as dangerous as any UFC lightweight on the ground having registered seven of his 10 victories via submission.

He stormed onto the UFC scene winning five fights in a row. But he certainly has struggled of late losing back-to-back fights against top flight lightweights Clay Guida and Joe Stevenson.

He will look to get back into the win column when he headlines UFC Fight Night 19 on Sep. 16 against Melvin Guillard.

7) Dominick Cruz—24 years old—WEC—(14-1)

Cruz is coming off a dominating performance over previously unbeaten Joseph Benavidez at WEC 42.

At this point Cruz has probably done enough to earn a title shot against newly crowned bantamweight champion Brian Bowles.

The problem, however, is that Bowles is rumored to be out until 2010 due to a broken hand he sustained in his victory over longtime champion Miguel Torres at WEC 42.

He could conceivably wait it out or fight once in the interim.

Nevertheless, his victory over Benavidez went a long way in proving to the world he is a championship-level fighter.

At 135 pounds he is extremely tall and skinny, and uses his long reach to his advantage. He’s a tough matchup for anyone in the division because of his physical attributes and his well-rounded skill set.

8) Joe Soto—22 years old—Bellator FC—(7-0)

Soto has gone from relative unknown to champion over the past few months.

“The Hammer” defeated Ben Greer, former EliteXC bantamweight champion Wilson Reis, and Yahir Reyes consecutively to lay claim to the first ever Bellator FC featherweight tournament championship.

This former Iowa Central Community College teammate of UFC fighters Jon Jones and Cain Velasquez has transformed himself from a pure wrestler to a well-rounded mixed martial artist in a very short period of time.

Look for him to only get better with each passing fight as he progresses in his blossoming career.

9) Jorge Masvidal—24 years old—Bellator FC—(18-4)

This American Top Team product is known for his aggressive and above average striking that is a staple of all ATT fighters including training partners WEC featherweight champion Mike Brown, Thiago Alves, Sengoku middleweight champion Jorge Santiago, Thiago Silva, Gesias Calvancante, etc…

“Gamebred” has notable career wins over Joe Lauzon, Yves Edwards, and former IFL lightweight champion Ryan Schultz. However, he has had mixed results so far since signing with Bellator FC.

He was expected to reach the finals and take on Eddie Alvarez in the inaugural lightweight tournament.

He defeated Nick Agallar via TKO in the first round of the tournament but then suffered a disappointing loss to Toby Imada in the semifinals.

He was on the receiving end of a highlight reel inverted triangle choke from Imada that is arguably the best submission of the year in 2009 to date.

He quickly bounced back and submitted Eric Reynolds via rear naked choke at Bellator 12 in June 2009.

Look for him to continue his winning ways some time in early 2010.

10) Rani Yahya—24 years old—WEC—(15-4)

This former Abu Dhabi submission grappling tournament world champion is a menace on the ground where 14 of his 15 career wins are via submission.

Yahya is currently trying to round out his game at The Arena MMA in San Diego, California alongside Diego Sanchez and Xande Ribeiro. 

Since losing the WEC bantamweight championship in 2007 to Chase Beebe he has rattled off three consecutive WEC victories and three Submission of the Night awards as well.

He has once again begun knocking on the door for a potential crack at the title against current champion Brian Bowles.

***Note: I did not include anyone that was 25 years old. Only the true "Under 25" crowd (24 years old and under).***

Derek Bolender is a staff writer for MMAmania.com and InsideFights.com. He is also syndicated to FoxSports.com, CBSSports.com, and CNNSI.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/DerekMMAwriter and Facebook.com/Derek.Bolender. Look for future articles from him Bleacher Report.

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