8 Feb 2016
10 UFC Fighters To Watch Out For
MMA is officially the world’s fastest growing sport, with fans tuning in and turning up in record numbers to witness the UFC’s finest battle it out inside the cage. Looks like @deansugdenNMA will be at The O2 for UFC Fight Night in February, ‘What a card no wonder it is the fastest growing sport!!! Great match ups with blood guts n glory. Not seen…’
UFC - What a card no wonder it is the fastest growing sport!!! Great match ups with blood guts n glory. Not seen... http://t.co/eb3Mdoq0GN— Dean Sugden (@deansugdenNMA) July 12, 2015
And with the world’s premier MMA promotion getting closer, we thought the time was right to spotlight the sport’s hottest young prospects for 2016.
‘Super’ Sage Northcutt
Record 7-0-0 (wins-losses-draws)
He might look like the secret love child of Zach Morris and a Ken Doll, but make no mistake, this teenager from Texas has some serious skills. With dominant octagon victories over Francisco Trevino and Cody Pfister under his belt, bigger bouts are surely in store for the UFC’s youngest fighter.
Division Bantamweight (ranked 6th)
Every once in awhile a fighter comes along who forces everyone to sit up and take notice. With a perfect record that includes an astonishing 19 finishes from 20 fights (including four straight in the UFC) the fresh-faced Brazilian is surely on track for a title shot in 2016, despite his relatively young age. Still not convinced? Check out his brutal recent knockouts of Anthony Birchak and Brad Pickett.
‘Irish’ Joe Duffy
He might seem relatively old for a prospect, but since returning to MMA after a three-year hiatus – during which he went 7-0 as a professional boxer – Duffy has looked nothing short of sensational, finishing both his UFC opponents in the first round. He’s also the last man to defeat interim featherweight champ Conor McGregor (in the Cage Warriors promotion back in 2010) which sets up the prospect of a mouth-watering all-Irish rematch if and when the ‘Notorious’ one moves back up to the 155lb division.
Paige ‘12 Gauge’ VanZant
Division Women’s strawweight (ranked 8th)
Don’t be fooled by her clean-cut image, VanZant can scrap with the best of them, as witnessed during her gutsy, grinding UFC victories over veteran strawweights Felice Herrig and Alex Chambers and her equally admirable losing effort against fellow contender Rose Namajunas.
Britain has had its share of top-level MMA fighters over the years, but Darren Till has the potential to surpass them all. A slick submission fighter with devastating knockout power, the Scouse native fought a large chunk of his pre-UFC career in Brazil, before opening his octagon account with a clinical beatdown of Wendell Oliveira. A truly epic back and forth battle with Nicolas Dalby in his last bout ended in a draw, leaving fans hungry for a rematch in 2016.
Yair ‘El Pantera’ Rodriguez
There’s nothing like being an unorthodox striker to get you noticed in the UFC, and for Rodriguez, that’s an understatement. The Mexican featherweight showcased his full arsenal of flashy but stunningly effective Taekwondo skills on route to winning the inaugural Ultimate Fighter: Latin America reality show, and followed it up with a pair of octagon wins over Charles Rosa and Dan Hooker, earning ‘fight of the night’ honours in the process. ‘The Panther’ definitely deserves bonus points for having such an awesome nickname too.
‘The Celtic Kid’ Jake Matthews
He may have lost his second UFC bout – and the first fight of his career – to James Vick back in May, but the young Aussie fighter more than made amends in his subsequent outing, taking out talented scrapper Akbarh Arreola in front of an adoring home crowd in Melbourne at UFC 193. A young fighter with skills in abundance, an impressively mature attitude and plenty of time to piece it all together.
Julianna ‘The Venezuelan Vixen’ Peña
Division Women’s bantamweight (ranked 6th)
Peña seemed to have the world – or at the very least the 135lb division – at her feet when she became the first woman to win The Ultimate Fighter in 2013, but a horrific knee injury suffered in training the following month was to keep her sidelined for nearly two years. Still only 26 years old, ‘The Venezuelan Vixen’ came roaring back in 2015, smashing Milana Dudeva inside a round and taking a hard fought decision over Jessica Eye to send a bold statement of intent to the division’s top contenders.
Louis ‘Da Last Samurai’ Smolka
Division Flyweight (ranked 13th)
Following in the proud footsteps of former multi-division champion B.J. Penn, Hawaii’s own Smolka has displayed an extremely well-rounded game during his 4-1 run in the UFC. A dramatic main event submission victory over Dublin’s hometown hero Paddy Holohan in his last bout also showcased an ability to perform under pressure that bodes well for high profile fights to come.
Aljamain ‘Funk Master’ Sterling
Division Bantamweight (ranked 5th)
The former two-time NCAA Division III All-American wrestler has taken less than two years to crack the top five in the UFC’s bantamweight division, thanks to four straight wins that include impressive submissions of wily veteran Takeya Mizugaki and fellow prospect Johnny Eduardo. Victory in his next appearance could well catapult the ‘Funk Master’ into title contention in 2016.