7 UFC Fighters with the Highest Ceiling

Dan Hiergesell@DHiergesellFeatured ColumnistMay 6, 2015

7 UFC Fighters with the Highest Ceiling

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    The bottomless talent pit that is the UFC often exceeds our expectations.

    With elite-level artistry and unparalleled athleticism, the promotion's long list of champions, contenders, prospects and even heralded veterans never seems to disappoint.

    Even in the wake of indefinitely shelving the best fighter of all time, the UFC will continue to shine under the bright lights.

    But throughout each of its 10 competitive divisions, a handful of fighters possess a great deal of potential beyond everyone else.

    Marked by raw skill, budding finishing rates and divisional excellence, here are seven fighters with the highest ceilings in the UFC right now.

Paige VanZant

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    At just 21 years of age, women's strawweight contender Paige VanZant is already taking the UFC by storm.

    People will argue that her rise to stardom has been fueled by her beauty, but it has been her ability to transform into a beast inside the Octagon that has installed her as a true title threat.

    The proud owner of an impressive two-fight win streak, landing at least 60 significant strikes in each affair, VanZant is merely one more victory away from earning No. 1 contender rights.

    And with the MMA world at her fingertips, a UFC belt could propel the blonde bruiser into a one-woman stratosphere.

Khabib Nurmagomedov

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    Russian bulldozer and elite lightweight contender Khabib Nurmagomedov remains undefeated at 22-0 for a reason.

    Equipped with some of the best takedowns the 155-pound division has ever seen, The Eagle is starting to soar above his peers.

    Recent injuries have derailed his successful title run, but a 2014 victory over current champion Rafael dos Anjos at UFC on Fox 11 will keep him afloat while he licks his wounds.

    When Nurmagomedov comes back, his rise to international stardom will come full circle when he finally gets his hand on the lightweight championship, assuming his suffocating offense doesn't get thwarted by the likes of Donald Cerrone, Anthony Pettis, Benson Henderson or Michael Johnson.

Dominick Cruz

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    A desperate Dominick Cruz is the most dangerous type of fighter.

    Granted, the former UFC bantamweight champ has fought just once in the past three-and-a-half years, but he still encompasses unparalleled greatness.

    Blessed with some of the best footwork this sport has ever seen, Cruz's ability to pick apart opponents on cue has rendered him elite.

    Add in the desperation that the hungry 30-year-old displayed in his return to the cage opposite Takeya Mizugaki at UFC 178 and you have a true pound-for-pound force when he's healthy.

Rory MacDonald

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    People tend to forget that welterweight sensation Rory MacDonald is only 25 years of age.

    In the MMA world, Ares hasn't even reached his prime. That's scary to think about because the perceptive Canadian is already freezing his opponents.

    Just ask Tyron Woodley.

    At the end of the day, MacDonald remains the heir to Georges St-Pierre's throne. He always has been and always will be.

    The well-rounded superathlete will have his chance to claim the divisional crown this July at UFC 189 opposite current champ Robbie Lawler, who defeated him just 18 months ago.

Luke Rockhold

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    Luke Rockhold destroyed Lyoto Machida at UFC on Fox 15.

    It was easily his most impressive performance of his career and an Octagon appearance that finally shed some light on his overall potential.

    Seen as one of the best grapplers in the middleweight division today, Rockhold pairs his skill set with an athletic bravado that enables him to overwhelm everyone from pinpoint strikers to powerful wrestlers.

    His divisional ascension should culminate with a showdown against current champion Chris Weidman (assuming Weidman can defeat Vitor Belfort at UFC 187) by the end of the year, which could turn into one of the best rivalries in MMA today.

Ronda Rousey

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    It would truly be foolish to leave UFC women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey off of this list.

    Now while Rousey's recent split-second dominance may lead you to believe that she has plateaued, the undefeated Queen of Mean is too prolific to lay off the pedal.

    In other words, her stock has room for improvement.

    Whether it's her ability to sell more pay-per-views in the future or secure memorable knockout finishes, Rousey has yet to reach her ceiling.

Conor McGregor

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    Assuming his apparent excellence lacks substantial smoke and mirrors, Conor McGregor is destined to become the face of the UFC.

    With tantalizing striking, unflappable confidence and a quick-minded gift of gab, the elite featherweight could be a once-in-a-lifetime type of fighter.

    Some people are hesitant to buy into McGregor's stock because not only hasn't he defeated a wrestler (which is something a fighter should never be blamed for), but he has an overzealous sense of entitlement.

    But when you get down to brass tacks, The Notorious One does whatever he needs to do to sell fights (including eating a picture of current UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo).

    And in a sport based around fan interest, open wallets and highlight-reel finishes, McGregor is on the fast track to international immortality.

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