The UFC has evolved where the pioneers of the sport such as Chuck Liddell, Matt Hughes, BJ Penn, and Randy Couture were the must see athletes in their respected divisions, now we have current stars like Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre, and Cain Velasquez. So who are the next crop of fighters ready to take the UFC to the next level?
Here are a few fighters we believe to be top contenders:
Women’s Bantamweight: Sara McMann
Sara McMann recently signed with the UFC and is scheduled to fight Sheila Gaff at UFC 159. Sara is the first American woman in history to receive a silver medal in Olympic wrestling. She is currently undefeated with a 6-0 record. She could be the biggest threat to Ronda Rousey and her Women’s Bantamweight title.
Flyweight: John Dodson
John Dodson might be known for his flamboyant antics outside of the cage but he sure does pack a massive punch. Despite the loss to Demetrious Johnson at UFC on Fox 6, one thing that was taken away during that fight was the fact that he was able to knock down Mighty Mouse a number of occasions. It was his gas tank that proved to be the problem. If he works on that cardio, there is no doubt that he can earn another shot at Flyweight gold.
Bantamweight: Michael McDonald
Michael McDonald is another fighter who is currently coming off a loss in a championship bout, the beauty is this kid is only 22 years old and is constantly improving. Uriah Faber and Dominick Cruz may be the more recognizable names in the Bantamweight division, but as long as this kid keeps fighting and gains some of his momentum back, there is no doubt that he will be a force to be reckoned with, earning another shot at the title.
Featherweight: Pat Curran
Pat Curran is one of those few fighters who will always put on a good show. His knockout of Joe Warren was one that certainly gained Bellator some much needed mainstream attention. He is only 25 years old and is the Bellator Featherweight Champion. Do not be surprised if after his contract has expired that Dana White and Zuffa try their best to bring him on board with the UFC.
Lightweight: Bubba Jenkins
Bubba Jenkins may not be one of the biggest names in MMA yet, but his wrestling credentials cannot be ignored. He won the 2011 NCAA Championship in wrestling at 157 lbs. He is currently fighting for Resurrection Fighting Alliance and is the wrestling coach for Team Jones on TUF. With just a little more seasoning, and with the connections that he has, he’s likely to be brought into the big leagues in no time.
Welterweight: Rory MacDonald
Rory MacDonald may be getting more publicity for his bizarre interview skills and his wardrobe but he is a dominant force in the cage. His only loss was to Carlos Condit at UFC 115 in a fight that he was dominating the entire time but ultimately got caught within the last ten seconds of the bout. He is already being marketed as GSP’s successor. That must tell you something.
Middleweight: Chris Weidman
Chris Weidman is currently the number one contender to Anderson Silva’s Middleweight championship. There is a blueprint already out there on how to defeat the champion courtesy of Chael Sonnen. Weidman has the power, wrestling, and submission defense to truly bring it to Anderson Silva. Will he be able to dethrone The Spider? Only time will tell.
Light Heavyweight: Alexander Gustaffson
Alexander Gustaffson is one of the few fighters who constantly gets better each time around. He was scheduled to fight Gegard Mousasi this weekend but a cut to his left eye cancelled his appearance in the octagon for that event. He has already defeated UFC/Pride legend Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC on Fox 5. If he is able to defeat his next opponent, whomever that may be, there is no doubt that he should get his much deserved shot at the Light Heavyweight title.
Heavyweight: Travis Browne
With superstars like Junior Dos Santos and Cain Velasquez already leaving their mark at the top of the food chain in the Heavyweight division, there will be a need for others to earn their mark as well. Travis Browne may be coming off a loss to Antonio “Big Foot” Silva, but he has a great opportunity to bounce back with a fight against former heavyweight title contender Gabriel “Napao” Gonzaga. If he is able to win, he will surely get some bigger fights in the division and work his way up to a future title shot.