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Five Fighters who Will Lead the UFC Into the Next Decade

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 HazelettWelterweight. 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 MaiaMiddleweight. 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 JonesLight 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 VelasquezHeavyweight. 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.

27 COMMENTS
  • detroit_fan says:

    Good list, but i hope you’re wrong about Gray. I don’t find his fights very exciting and I hope he isn’t able to win the belt.

  • matt says:

    I think dan miller is another up and comer to look out for, i believe he is still in his 20’s and he is currently 3-0 in the ufc, he will be facing his toughest test to date when he takes on okami in may and if he gets by him he will be a guy to definitely keep your eyes on. Also Anthony Johnson probably deserves a shot on this list, he has tremendous power and speed in his hands and kicks, he is a great wrestler and is a huge welterweight, i think he is a future title challenger and possibly holder, he has a exciting fighting style and has a fun personality to go with it.

  • Miller definitely came to mind when I was putting this list together as did Anthony Johnson. When you are narrowing it down to one fighter there are always going to be fighters that are overlooked who deserve to be mentioned. Miller is as tough as they come and he destroyed a fantastic wrestler in Jake Rosholt last month at UFC Fight Night 17. Having a personality always adds to the equation but is not always a prerequisite.

  • RobbyMac says:

    Honorable mentions to other people in each division to:
    HW: Shane Carwin
    LHW: Ryan Bader
    MW: Dan Miller
    WW: Anthony Johnson
    LW: Tyson Griffen

  • KTru says:

    Whenever a list comes in, there is always debate on the ones that didnt make it.
    Good list and the reasoning was well thought out
    I am one of the few, I guess, that enjoy how Maynard man-handles his opponents. Anyone that saw the Maynard-Jim Miller fight, would know that it was very entertaining bout. On how Gray picked him apart on the feet and avoiding the ground with a BJJ brown belt. Jim Miller is a very tough fighter and should be known that Maynard dominated him.
    Coming from you, Detroit-Fan, and Maynard being a former MSU wrestler, surprises me for you having so much disdain towards him.

  • detroit_fan says:

    KTru- Not disdain, just not my favorite fighter to watch. I have nothing bad to say about him personally, I just enjoy watching a lof of LW’s more than him. That said, he’s probably going to be a force in the LW division for a long time.

  • ace328 says:

    I thought that some of Maynard’s earlier fights were pretty boring but his standup up looked much improved in his last fight which made it more entertaining. A lot of wrestlers have to rely on lay and prey when facing tough competition until their developing standup and submission games begin to catch up.

    As for people not on the list that could be I would say Dos Santos, Condit, and Bader.

  • Stan says:

    I am a huge Velasquez fan, but at least compared to the physical freaks of Lesner and Carwin, I don’t think he has huge power. Lesner’s opening punch against Heath Herring might be the hardest I’ve ever seen a man get hit… including Fedor’s midair hook vs Arlovski’s flying knee. And Carwin had a 1-punch knockout of Gonzaga, which is no easy task given the dude’s chin is more or less that of a neanderthal.

    But compared to those guys, Velasquez’s standup is far, far more fluid. His combinations vs Stonjic were really impressive, mixing in knees and kicks like he was born to do it. That’s really rare for a wrestler of his caliber. Lesner and Carwin get by on straight, freakishly strong punches… It works for them, but from a technical striking standpoint, Velasquez seems to be on another level. He’s not content being a wrestler that can get someone down and pound them out… and I think that’s his biggest asset at this point.

  • Angry Mike says:

    No disrespect to Jon Jones, but Rashad Evans continues to improve, and Lyoto Machida is still undefeated. Jones is way behind those guys, and both of them have years left in their careers.

  • DUGAS says:

    Great list, agree with damn near everything, just a few questions…how old is Florian? or is he excluded for already having fought for championship?

  • stevefiji says:

    Inane post by Levick. Its 2009 and for anybody to NOT think that GSP or Machida or even Evans or Lesnar are the leaders for years to come are outright retarded. Sure its trendy to name Valesequez or others but the title of the piece AND its main premise is about the ‘leaders’ not number 2 or 4 but #1 and so Levick writes yet another sensationalized post with stunning unability to understand language or to back up his pathetic assertions.find another discipline please you truly cannot write

  • Gameface says:

    Oh, this will be fun.

    Stevie
    First: Your insults have no purpose because Levick invited people to add names of fighters they thought belonged on the list.

    Second: The fact that you use no punctuation and make up the word “unability” makes you look twice as stupid being that you were insulting him for his INABILITY to write.

    There is nothing worse than a retard that doesn’t know he’s retarded.

  • hellblade says:

    I’m an MMA prophet, and 5 years from now the UFC champions will be these guys.

    LW- Gray Maynard
    WW- Anthony Rumble Johnson
    MW- Demian Maia
    LHW- Lyoto Machida
    CW- Jon Jones
    HW- Junior Dos Santos

  • MMA-LOGIC says:

    The only guy I’m excited about on your list is Jones. That guy is unreal and his victory over a veteran Bonnar was the most impressive victory of a newcomer I can recall. I’ll explain why, he won a dominant decision victory over a very good veteran fighter who has fought the likes of Machida and Griffin etc. It was no lucky punch or kick and although he tired he won in a dominant fashion. He will train hard and wont gas so easily next time. So I hope this guy delivers on his promise cuz I’ve never seen anything like him and his explosive throws.

  • MMA-LOGIC says:

    sorry Maia looks impressive too.

  • JJ Docker says:

    I’m surprised you have Hazelett at WW, I would have definitely opted for Anthony Johnson. If anyone is going to dethrone GSP in anything over than a fluke upset (i.e. Serra) over the next 3 or 4 years, it’s him. Personally, though, I still can’t see it. GSP is too far ahead of everyone else at this point.
    And I really don’t understand how anyone could put Dos Santos at HW above Velasquez, Carwin or even Lashley (!). He beat Werdum when Wedrum was being an idiot and not training properly. And don’t even mention Struve as anything close to credible. Theres more hype for Dos Santos around the camp he fights out of rather than the man himself.

  • This is what I am talking about. There is no better sport to debate about than MMA. All of you with the exception of person who I won’t bother to mention have come up with good choices.

    Dugas- Florian has become a personal favorite of mine. I am not ashamed to admit that I thought his career would go nowhere when I saw him of TUF but he has improved as much as any fighter during that time frame. The only reason I didn’t put him on is because he is already 33. I am looking ahead 3-5 years and while he will probably still be active and even competitive he will also be anywhere from 36-38.

    Game Face- Thank you for what you said. I know it’s impossible to make everyone happy but it’s obvious this guy has nothing better to do because this is the 2nd time he has personally attacked me but it is readers like yourself that make this all worthwhile.

    Hellblade- Great list and I am curious to see if the uFC does add a cruiserweight division. Wanderlei Silva said he has asked Dana about it. 20lbs is a big difference for some fighters. Silva is a small 205 but may be too big to cut to 185 so meeting in the middle would do wonders for him but I am not sure of the UFC is willing to add another weight class right now. I really like Rumble Johnson but I really love how Hazelett has transitioned his BJJ to MMA, not many fighters have done it as well.

    Logic- You hit the nail right on the head with Jones. While Bonnar may not be a title contender he is a legitimate fighter who is tough as nails and has a solid all around game. He has battled injuries and the steroid suspension over the past few years but that in no way shape or form takes away from the impressive victory that Jones holds over him.

    JJ- GSP will dominate as long as he wants to but will he do it as a welterweight? At 28 he is just entering his prime which is crazy because he will only continue to get better but as a big WW the cut will become more difficult as he gets older and if he continues on the path of destruction that he is on why would he bother to stay in that division?

    Thanks to all of you for your great points and opinions. It is what makes this sport so great.

  • stevefiji says:

    Gameface,

    I wrote my reply with a blackberry on a bumpy road in Fiji…sorry if i had a typo or two, Bro.

    Secondly, all of what i said holds true 100%… Levick specifically says LEADER…look up the word dude… “a person who rules” or “one who is in charge or commands” and seriously, which of these dudes will rule “INTO” the next decade?… NOT 5 years down the road …but ‘into’, or in other words, entering the next decade… this is the English language that he is using… Nitpicking? …maybe? Incompetence? …Definitely!!!

    Levick also disregards Machida/Evans, GSP, and Lesnar/Mir as is they are not relevant to leading in the next 3 -5 years….

    Levick then goes further to comment that GSP may move up in weight so I guess that somehow seems to disqualify him from this list… but i guess he will suck in the higher weight because then Levick must feel that GSP will seem to no longer hold sway anymore, eh? And if he sucks, well then, why would he move up at all when he officially dominates the WW division?

    These should never be the mistakes of a credible journalist. They are amateurish and sensationalized just like with all of other Levick posts… and his self-serving ass kissing of every friendly poster might make those few feel good, but it does nothing to dismiss his lack of talent.

    Levick’s list is nothing but quick drivel on a few younger, up and coming talents… let’s leave it at that and stop with the bogus sensationalism… and please stop begging in all your posts for ‘replies’ and ‘your views’ and above all, stop kissing ass to all your posters or ….. just like the WAMMA parasites… I’ll be here to call out the hypocrisy and point out your gross incompetence when i see it. If Levick wants to continue to write posts like this, I’ll thoroughly enjoy every beatdown.

    People may wonder why so harsh? Lighten up on the poor guy? Well, it’s because this is a damn good website and Levick is the friggin Steve Mazzagatti of the 5oP editorial team… enough said..

  • mmac says:

    Stevefiji… Wow – lighten up, dude…

    Maynard has gotten a little easier to watch during his last couple of fights, but he’s still a lay ‘n pray guy to me. Hopefully he’ll develop into a more exciting fighter.

    Maia should be on the list. Definitely an up and comer. Love to see if he has any standup.

    I’d like to see Jones against someone that knows something about Greco Roman wrestling – I think he himself stated after the Bonnar fight that Bonnar committed all sorts of Greco Roman rookie mistakes. He might not be so showy against an experienced GR wrestler.

  • Stan says:

    Can anyone recommend any good stress-relieving games for the blackberry? hah.

    There is no use of the word “leader” in the article or in the comments other than the comments from ComradeFigi. The question of someone who leads is a bit less confusing. One rather obvious difference between someone being “ZOMG HE’S THE BEST!” vs someone helping usher in the next wave of the sport is that the entertainment factor of the fighter is clearly front and center. Chuck Liddell really wasn’t the best fighter when he lead the UFC into its current glory days, but he was extremely good and always entertaining.

    Along those lines, that entertainment is essential to a fighter being able to usher in the next generation of MMA, I’m still down on Maynard from the Clementi fight. If he turns in a few more active fights, then I think he could become a star rather than just a very good fighter. If he’s content to ride to a lot of Ultimate Fight Night decision victories, he’ll have plenty of opportunities. But if he wants to step it up and be a PPV draw, it’s going to have to be something more. Lightweight is a rough weight class and aside from Sanchez, there really aren’t any young guns that make me mark my ppv calendar for a fight I HAVE to see. Roger Huerta had a shot, but Florian took the shine off him even if he were sticking around.

    And I think this is a fine idea for an article. There’s a lot of attention given to the prospects and contenders out there. The ground in between has a lot of great, hungry fighters that deserve more attention.

  • JJ Docker says:

    stevefiji you surely can’t expect to take every word of a headline or a line of an article in it’s purest sense. If you do that with every article you read and then judge them along the same guidelines then I imagine you would find almost every article “amateurish and sensationalized”. It’s pretty clear to anyone with a straight head on them (or anyone that knows that unability isn’t a word) that he was going to outline 5 rising fighters in the UFC in each weight class; outlining their potential. He doesn’t mean they will literally “lead” the UFC into Las Vegas once a month. The 5 fighters walking (“leading”) down the road with the UFC trucks and entourage following them behind. Is that what you thought? No wonder you are confused. As that scene would be ludicrous, and illegal, surely. And 5oz have done a nice job of assembling a team of writers from different backgrounds to suit the tastes of different readers. No one forces you to read their articles. Why don’t you start writing an MMA column for some shitty site and then apply to do that for 5oz, and you write the articles instead of Levick? Oh, because you couldn’t. If you know you don’t like his style or his articles don’t read them, there’s no need at all to get so personal.

  • RU486 says:

    Stevefiji:

    I enjoy all the speculative articles that center around “What if?”. For one, it’s just that, purely speculative. “YOUR” opinions (which obviously suck to me and apparently a majority of people on this thread) are “YOUR” opinions and speculation. “MY” opinions (which according to this thread are far superior to “YOURS”) are just that – “MY” opinions and speculation. The fact that Levick invited us readers to participate in “HIS” speculation is exciting to us that actually enjoy friendly discussions about speculative subjects. If you and your elitist views do not wish to speculate, then shut the fuck up and refrain from posting.

    For the record – a decade is ten years, and the connotation of the phrase “lead INTO the next decade” is merely subjective. How far does INTO go during the span of the given decade. You’re a douchebag. By the way, it seems that Penn, GSP, Silva, Evans, and Mir were all mentioned in the first stanza as being the dominant fighters of today, and therefore passing the torch to the guys on the list that followed in the next decade.

    Before using your analytical (or lack thereof) skills to attack someone who is diligently trying to enlighten and entertain us with their views, you should first ponder just how innately stupid and juvenile you come across to people that value the freedoms of journalism, respect the concept of opinion, and are ultimately more intelligent than you are and/or believe you are.

    Without further adieu, I enjoyed the article and regret that it has been tarnished by an absolute idiot.

  • stevefiji says:

    My last post on this topic

    Dudes, with all due respect… Was i nitpicking? Hell yeah. You guys may like the premise behind the article… even I feel it could have been interesting in the right context…but in execution, it was not even accurate as to his title.

    But please be aware, i have no grudge to hold against Levick other than his incompetence…. 5oP is a great site… he is just a poor writer…read his other stuff posted in this site as proof… Don’t just gloss over them for entertainment sake, read them for his analytical skills, his assertions and for his proof.

    As 5oP grows in popularity, just like MMA itself there will be growing pains… some fighters make the cut, some don’t. The same standard of excellence should be held to writers. What I find most problematic is Levick’s choice of topics… he tackles HUGE subjects… they are those of an expert, seasoned columnist crying for some real depth and his writing is that of an amateur. He begs for participation, pre-qualifies his own lack of depth and sensationalizes his assertions.

    Am i harsh? Absoultely… Over the top? Maybe…but people who are as passionate about MMA as many on this site, should equally care about what they read here. 5oP is now, most definitely an industry trendsetter and a widely read and influential medium and Levick’s topics are simply way too expansive for his skill set…. He is akin to a regional roadshow fighting talent, taking on dudes in the Octagon with contender status… and he’s getting exposed horribly.

    Examine his work closely guys… he might be a nice guy, a great family man and even know a thing or two about applying an omaplata…. but he is NOT a macro industry analyst and he’s in way over his head.

    Read his stuff close…listen to what he is trying to assert, if you are honest, most of you will draw the same conclusions. I love this site… that’s why i don’t like his work. Nothing more, nothing less.

  • wardog says:

    Stevefiji you seem to have a thing for Bryan. Let’s leave it at this: you are the only moron who seems to take a personal attack on the man. Other people are critical of his article (which by the way he welcomed) and he has commented on all of those critiques except yours. Score one for Mr. Levick.

    Now let’s critique your points: he is talking about guys coming to the forefront in the future. Now it would’ve been easy, like your approach to jump on Lesnar, Evans, Silva, and GSP and say “look these guys are going to be tops in their division for ever derrrrrr!” Bryan made points such as Silva may leave, Lesnar has 3 fights and already lost to Mir, Evans is facing Machida who is capable of beating any LHW, and GSP has few people left to face in the WW division. He did not say that ANY of the guys he mentioned would defeat ANY of the “front runners” your obviously super MMA brain mentioned. And yes I said front runners because someone like Evans has NO title defenses so you cannot call him dominant at this point, as you do (see I can pull apart your criticisms as well!).

    And you seem to like to use BIG words and critique Bryan’s writing like “macro industry analyst” when in truth you misuse the word yourself. And where are your great articles, since you seem to be Mr. MMA writing analyst? There may be some issues worth discussing with the author, which again he welcomes in this piece, but why get personal in your attacks? And why read him if you hate his writing so much? Just some sour grapes because no one would give you a place to voice your opinions, which I could only imagine would include articles like “Rashad Evans is the Most Dominant Light Heavyweight” or “Brock Lesnar is the Most Dominant Heavyweight Because He Fights in the UFC and gets to touch Dana White!” or some other idiotic titled piece. And of course when someone would disagree, as some other have but not in a attacking manner, you would respond with how great you are and the all powerful, all seeing, all knowing ruler of MMA and that they should shut up! You know “good writing!”

  • dpk says:

    I’m surprised no body went outside of the box and mentioned a guy like Mo Lawal, or Phil Davis, some up and coming prospects. As far as HW’s go, I’m higher on Cain then Dos Santos, mainly because I think he has the ability to take the fight to the mat if he needs to. Maia, Mousasi, and Dan Miller would be my choices to be ruling the MW division down the road. 5 years from now I wouldn’t be surprised if GSP is still the champ, he is an incredible athlete, and always takes care of himself. Guys like Rumble, Hazelett, and Johnny Hendricks will get their shots but GSP will probably be too much. Maynard, Diego Sanchez, or Efrian are all guys who could be running the LW division.

  • TheLevi75 says:

    I thought that anthony Rumble Johnson should have made the Wwt list.

  • mu_shin says:

    Not only an entertaining well considered article, but among the most spirited debates I’ve seen here at 5ozs. If several of you hadn’t said it so well, I’d have to chime in on microcephalic Stevie, but suffice it to say that there is room in “journalism” for hard news pieces, more editorially oriented pieces, and op-ed pieces. The point is well taken that an article such as the present piece obviously inspired a good bit of discussion, hence Levick’s obvious success,

    I really enjoy the lighter weight classes, and would suggest that even though he is a former champion, at 27, with a title shot on the near horizon, Uriah Faber may well be another fighter who will contribute to the continued growth of MMA “into the next decade”. I know, not technically UFC as stated in the title above, but WEC is Zuffa, and if Zuffa is smart, they will fold WEC into UFC and
    further popularize fighters like Miguel Torres, Mike Brown, and Faber.

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