So far, the UFC has been moderately exciting for the first month of 2015. Jon Jones beat Daniel Cormier in a fight that was not boring by any means, and more recently, the Mauler Alexander Gustafsson was tuned up by Anthony Johnson. Both were big fights in the Light Heavyweight division and at this point it looks likely that Jon Jones (if substance abuse doesn't get in the way) is going to meet Johnson to defend his belt at some point soon.
Jon Jones was, when he won the Light Heavyweight belt, the youngest UFC champion of all time, a record that still stands. While other sports, such as football or hockey often see players hit their prime in their early or mid 20's, and then performance drop in the late twenties and after, mixed martial arts is often a different case. Obviously elite talents can last into their forties in hockey, and many quarterbacks in the NFL compete in their thirties and sometimes late thirties, but many mixed martial artists reach stardom in years past their twenties.
Jon Jones, on the other hand, got his title back when he was just 23 years old. The UFC has had, and continues to have, champions of all ages, but every year few new young fighters step up into contention for belts. 2015 is no different, as some scrappers in their early and mid 20's stepped up and looked great in 2013 and 2014, and some look like they may have title shots in their future. Obviously "young" is subjective, but for our sake, young can be any fighter under the age of 27. Here are ten young fighters, relatively new to the UFC, who are threats to make a run at titles in the near future.
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10 John Lineker: Flyweight
This one depends heavily on a fight that will happen in just two days time. John Lineker is a 25 year old Brazilian who is 5-2 in the UFC (missed weight three times however). At the end of the month, he is taking on Ian "Uncle Creepy" McCall. McCall and Lineker are the numbers three and six in the Flyweight division. While beating McCall would catapult Lineker into a position that could potentially warrant a title eliminator, it would not be enough to give him a shot at Demetrious Johnson.
9 Myles Jury: Lightweight
Until just a few weeks ago, Myles Jury was undefeated in MMA, but he got beaten up by Donald Cerrone and lost via a convincing unanimous decision. He dropped to number eight in the division, but he is still a major threat to the entire division and is also 6-1 in UFC competition. After his tough loss, it will take at least two fights before Fury gets a title eliminator. It is highly possible that such a fight is within his reach in 2015. Two of his notable wins came against Takanori Gomi and Diego Sanchez; both fighters somewhat on their way out. Cerrone was his first major test and he put up a decent effort but got tossed aside. At 26, he still has plenty of time, and only has one professional loss. A title shot looks like it may well be in his future.
8 Dustin Poirier: Featherweight
Having fought in the UFC's Featherweight division since early 2011, Dustin Poirier is a great contender who has a solid submission game and has knocked out two of his last three opponents. He got TKO'd by Conor McGregor in September of 2014, but is 3-1 in his last four fights. He is sitting at number seven in the division but the 26 year old is just a couple of wins away from a title eliminator. He will be facing Carlos Diego Ferreira in April, and a win could put him at number six and continue his rise, but a loss will be the end of his title shot hopes for the time being.
7 Michael McDonald: Bantamweight
McDonald has slipped slightly since he lost to Renan Barao back in February 2013, but he is still 5th in the division. The 24 year old Californian lost to Urijah Faber at the end of 2013, and his next fight is a make or break event for him. A win will put him back into the picture for a title eliminator, but a loss will drop him out of the top five. With 19 fights under his belt at age 24, he is wise beyond his years, which plays in his favor, but this is the UFC and coming off his injury, he will need to generate some buzz quickly with a big win this spring, whenever he is selected to step into the octagon.
6 Charles Oliveira: Featherweight
After a rough start in the UFC at Lightweight, Oliveira dropped to Featherweight and has gone 5-2 since. His two losses at Featherweight came to Frankie Edgar and Cub Swanson, but his three wins in 2014 are why he belongs higher than ninth in the division. His next fight will likely be in late spring or early summer, and with two or three wins this year, he could easily be in a title eliminator by the year's end. His biggest downside right now is that his striking game is not quite top tier. If he can gain some confidence in that part of his game, he will improve his stock int he division.
5 Kyoji Horiguchi: Flyweight
The 24 year old shootist has just one loss in 16 professional fights and is currently undefeated through his first four UFC fights. While he currently sits at eighth in the division it won't take much more than another fight or two to put him in a title eliminator. He seems like he has the natural talent to be at the top of the Flyweight division and his dominant win over Louis Gaudinot at the start of January was proof of his abilities. One more win like that should be more than enough to start thinking of him as a future threat to Demetrious Johnson.
4 Kelvin Gastelum: Welterweight
After going 5-0 in small promotions in Arizona and Mexico, Gastelum has gone 5-0 in the UFC. The 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu practitioner is one of the most intriguing fighters in the promotion today, at just age 23. His next fight is just a couple of days away and he is set to face one of the best Welterweights out there: Tyron Woodley. Woodley is currently number three in the division, and a win over him, which is a very distinct possibility, could put Gastelum on deck to fight for the Welterweight belt.
3 Joanna Jedrzejczyk: Women's Strawweight
Her name may sound a bit like someone choking on their tongue, but she can beat someone so brutally that they will actually end up unconscious and choking on their tongue...hypothetically. The 27 year old striker from Poland is currently the number one contender in the women's Strawweight and has won her two UFC fights via decision, but her most recent, back in December was a controversial call which many analysts questioned. She and current Strawweight champ Cara Esparza will likely square off in early summer for the belt.
2 Rory MacDonald: Welterweight
The top three at Welterweight, Rory MacDonald, Johny Hendricks and "Ruthless"Robbie Lawler are quite possibly the best matched three fighters at the top of a division in the UFC. Lawler and Hendricks are 1-1 against each other and MacDonald has fought Lawler once and lost. Hendricks and Lawler have yet to meet in the octagon. Whether they do or do not meet, the 25 year old is 18-2 in his career and is second in line for a shot at the title. He is scheduled to fight Hector Lombard in April, and if he wins, he really deserves a crack at "Ruthless" Robbie before another rematch with Hendricks takes place.
1 Khabib Nurmagomedov: Lightweight
From Russia with an undefeated record, ladies and gentlemen, Khabib Nurmagomedov. He is probably one of the most accomplished and well-rounded fighters in the Lightweight division, having advanced training in several martial arts from different forms of wrestling to Judo and Sambo. He has shown his abilities in his 22 professional fights and can wrestle and submit fighters as well as stand and trade strikes.
He handed Rafael Dos Anjos, the number one UFC Lightweight, his only loss since 2011 back in April 2014. While Dos Anjos may well be the next in line to challenge Anthony Pettis for the belt, Nurmagomedov deserves a shot just as much, especially given his convincing win over Dos Anjos less than a year ago. He is one of the most threatening and talented young fighters in the promotion today, and while it is a while off still, he is likely to be facing Donald Cerrone in May. Cowboy fought twice in January, earning two unanimous decisions (but his win over Benson Henderson was very controversial). Either way he is one of the most exciting fighters ever. A win by Nurmagomedov should leave no question that he is ready for a title shot.
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