Everyone seems to be focused on the here and now and that is by no means the wrong way to think. I, on the other hand, am always thinking what if or what could be. We all know what fighters are leading the pack today. You have B.J. Penn, Georges St. Pierre, Anderson Silva, Rashad Evans, Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir at the top of their respective divisions.
What happens when these fighters either retire, move to a different weight class or decide to try their hand at something else? Anderson Silva has been on again, off again, with talks of retiring by 35 and fighting Roy Jones Jr., when will he decide he has had enough? GSP faces a stiff test in Thiago Alves in July but if he is successful who is next in line in the welterweight division? Does he go after a super fight with Silva? BJ Penn is without a doubt one of the most talented fighters ever born but where is his head at? For all we know he could leave and challenge Fedor. The light heavyweight division is on its third champion in two years and may be heading towards another change at the top after May. We have two champions in the heavyweight division one of which has 3 fights to his credit.
With that being said here are five fighters I see leading the charge in the next decade.
Gray Maynard- Lightweight. Maynard really caught my eye after he defeated Frankie Edgar. He lived up to his nickname and bullied a game Edgar all over the octagon. At the time Edgar was 8-0 and had been the only man to defeat Tyson Griffin which was no small feat. Maynard is a stud wrestler who trains at Xtreme Couture which we all know to be one of the best camps in MMA. He also has victories over Dennis Siver, Rich Clementi and Jim Miller. The Miller fight really got me back on his bandwagon as I was a bit disappointed by his effort against Clementi, but after thinking more about it Clementi is a tough savvy veteran who makes it hard for anyone to defeat him. Maynard showed some tremendous boxing skills against Miller and handed the New Jersey native his second career loss. Maynard has all the necessary tools to become a champion and is just entering his prime.
Dustin Hazelett– Welterweight. The man known as McLovin trains with Jorge Gurgel, and unlike Gurgel, he uses his superior Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skills to his advantage. At just 23 years old, he has 16 fights under his belt and has fought Josh Koshcheck, Jonathan Goulet and Josh Burkman. He has been awarded two submission of the night bonuses and one fight of the night bonus. He was recently awarded his black belt in September of 2007. I would say he was most impressive in a loss to top welterweight contender Josh Koshcheck. Even though he lost he showed much improved stand up skills and gave Koshcheck all he could handle until getting caught with a kick to the head. He is probably most remembered for an unbelievable flying armbar submission of Burkman at The Ultimate Fighter Finale 7. His submission skills are top notch and if he continues to improve his stand-up he will certainly be contending for the welterweight title sooner rather than later.
Demian Maia– Middleweight. Even though Maia is already in contention for a title shot, that shouldn’t exclude him from this list. What he has done to his opponents each and every time out has been extraordinary. He has made very good fighters look like mere mortals. At 10-0 I don’t think he has even sniffed what defeat smells like. It seems like he is next in line to take on the winner of Anderson Silva-Thales Leites sometime this summer. I believe he could Silva a run for his money now but I think he would be better served facing another challenger like Nate Marquardt. The more experience he has the better he will be. He made Nate Quarry look like he had no business being in the octagon with him. While Quarry is more of a gatekeeper than he is a contender, he is still a tough fighter who on any given day can give anyone a run for their money. Next up was standout wrestler, Chael Sonnen, who has been in the cage with the best of them. Sonnen knows what it takes to beat a standout BJJ fighter as he fought Paulo Fihlo twice, and yes, I know Fihlo may have not been himself, but let’s not discredit Sonnen as he was the first man to beat Fihlo. Maia controlled Sonnen from the start and once he had taken him down you knew it was over he had earned his fifth win in five tries in the UFC all by submission. Does he have standup skills? He hasn’t had to show them as of yet, but that is what makes him dangerous to other fighters. How can you prepare for him when you haven’t seen his full arsenal yet?
Jon Jones– Light Heavyweight. Everyone seems to be jumping aboard this freight train as of late and for good reason. At just 21 years old he is gaining valuable experience fighting on the big stage. His two wins in the UFC have been very impressive and each time out he shows us some new tricks. He took on a tough Stephan Bonnar and threw him around like a rag doll. He threw elbows and knees from angles I have never seen them thrown from before. His work in the clinch is top notch and he utilizes his Greco Roman skills extremely well. He is a standout wrestler who only has room to learn and grow. Being a former Junior College National Wrestling Champion is nothing to sneeze at and he is as athletic as any other fighter in the UFC today. It may not be for another two or three years but before long he will be fighting in a main event and for a championship. I am more excited by this fighter than any others I have listed or contemplated listing.
Cain Velasquez– Heavyweight. Where do we start? He is a stud wrestler, he is as strong as a bull, he is only 26 and he trains with American Kickboxing Academy. This man has so much room to grow and he will. His raw talent is so evident as is his ferocious strength. If he stays healthy he will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. The UFC is doing the right thing with him by bringing him along slowly. Build his confidence up and this man will pay off huge dividends. I will never forget the look on Jake O’Brien’s face as he was pinned under Velasquez eating punch after punch. O’Brien is a great wrestler in his own right and he was absolutely helpless. He has trained alongside some great wrestlers as he earned All-American honors twice at Arizona State University. His next fight will be at UFC 99 in June against Heath Herring and if he sticks to his game plan, Velasquez should be able to take Herring down at will, and while he may not be able to finish the veteran, he will impose his will and earn another impressive victory. While Brock Lesnar and even Shane Carwin are getting most of the attention right now Velasquez will get his time to shine soon enough.
So there you have it. Like I said I am not looking for these five fighters to jump right in and compete for a championship right now. Maia is without a doubt the closest one of the group and he will more than likely get his chance this summer. Whether or not he is successful only time will tell but even if he is not he will be back and he will be a championship fighter sometime in the next decade. All of these fighters have impressive backgrounds whether it be in wrestling or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Today’s fighters are much more well rounded than they were a few years ago and I believe all five of these fighters have the necessary tools to learn other aspects of the fight game to become champions.
If you don’t agree with me let me know who you believe belongs on this list. Maybe you know of someone who isn’t on the UFC roster yet and is fighting for a regional promotion. I am all for a great debate. These are just my opinions and I do not consider them to be locks. So if you don’t agree with me that is fine then let me know who is on your list.