Rory MacDonald. Robbie Lawler. Vitor Belfort. Just three examples of world class fighting talent that started their UFC careers at a very young age. Mixed martial arts is a gruelling sport and fighters put their physical health on the line every time they step into the Octagon, so starting young when fighters are in their prime fighting condition can be integral to having successful careers in combat sports, especially in the world’s biggest and most prestigious MMA promotion. This is why I have compiled a list of five young talents currently in the UFC that you need to keep your eye on for the future:
Paige “12 Gauge” VanZant had been on hiatus from fighting for most of this year as she was taking part in Dancing With The Stars, but she wasn’t dancing around in the Octagon as she finished Bec Rawlings with a vicious kick that knocked Rawlings out in the second round back in August. The former model turned fighter is now 4-1 in the UFC and 7-2 overall, a very commanding record from a woman who is only at the tender age of 22.
VanZant is an incredibly well-rounded fighter who rushes into her opponent quite aggressively, making for entertaining fights. Her imposing victory over Rawlings showed just how talented she is and even earned her a Performance of the Night award. VanZant is already an impressive competitor in the strawweight division and with the room to grow that she has, one can only imagine she is destined to challenge for that strawweight belt in the future.
There are a lot of things from Italy that improve with age, wine being one, and you can probably put money on that the same will apply to Marvin Vettori. With a record of 11-2 and unbeaten in his single fight in the UFC; sweeping aside Alberto Emiliano Pereira with ease by guillotine choke in the first round, and at only 23 years old, Vettori can really flourish in the UFC.
Vettori has an excellent ground game, with a background in wrestling and Brazilian jiu jitsu, and has won 8 of his 11 fights by submission. If he can get a fighter to the ground, “The Italian Dream” can be lethal. He also has training in kickboxing so is able to trade during stand-up, but his potency on the ground is the essential aspect of his fighting technique. If Vettori can prove his worth in his second UFC bout at UFC 207 against Antonio Carlos Junior, you may be looking at a real imposing fighter in UFC’s middleweight division.
With a nickname like “Bonecrusher” you expect a dominant fighter, and Marc Diakiese does not disappoint. The lightweight hailing from Doncaster is just 23 years old and is already a 10-0 fighter and has a win in his solitary UFC fight with an impressive knockout on Lukasz Sajewski at UFC 204 in Manchester. His next UFC fight is in a weeks time against Frankie Perez, and asserting his dominance once again can prove to combat sports fans across the globe that Diakiese is someone to be afraid of in the lightweight division.
Diakiese has a very solid boxing and wrestling background and has proven he has knockout power in his hands as half of his fights have been won by knockout. His last fight against Sajewski was stopped after a barrage of punches and knees by Diakiese whilst Sajeweski was pressed up against the cage; showcasing how domineering he can be inside the Octagon and is something Perez needs to be worried about for their bout in a weeks time.
After being unbeaten in Invicta Fighting Championships for eight fights, the UFC signed Alexa Grasso to fight Heather Clark, and the Mexican did not disappoint. Winning the fight by unanimous decision despite being the heavy underdog, Grasso proved to everyone why the UFC signed her up in the first place. The 23-year-old is looking for another consecutive victory to make her a 10-0 fighter and I doubt women in the strawweight division will eager to fight her after proving she is a force to be reckoned with.
With 4 knockout wins already, Alexa has power in her hands to plant bombs and end a fight. While she currently has no submission victories yet, she is also a blue belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu which is not something to be overlooked and can prove to be lethal if her fights get taken to the ground.
With fighters like VanZant and Grasso thriving, you can’t help but think that UFC’s strawweight division is going to become a lot more competitive and current champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk might finally have some formidable opponents.
Mickey Gall is playing the UFC perfectly. After calling upon Dana White to give him a shot at CM Punk for the former professional wrestler’s MMA debut after easily disposing of Ron Templeton, he was given a UFC contract. He won his first UFC fight against Mike Jackson in just 45 seconds in a match billed as the “CM Punk Sweepstakes” and went on to fight Punk, finishing him in the first round also. He immediately turned his attention to budding UFC talent “Super” Sage Northcutt, granting Gall a big match up in the UFC. Gall is working his way into huge fights by using his charisma to call out fighters in his post-fight interviews, something that clearly gets the fans excited. It’s quite rare that you get such a talented fighter with great oratorical skills to book himself his next match, but that’s what you’ve got with Mickey Gall.
Gall has won all 3 of his professional MMA bouts with ease, finishing all of them with a rear naked choke in the first round. Gall has probably proven he is in a league above all his previous opponents, but that still doesn’t take away from his dangerous submissions and his skill in passing on the ground to make it to the back of each opponent he’s faced to choke them out. Time will tell if Gall can beat Northcutt, a formidable opponent, and rocket himself up the card in the UFC. One thing’s for certain though; he has the potential to become one of the biggest names in the company.
By Harry Robinson