With MMA’s big-name stars rapidly falling from grace, I take a look at a few select faces who could perhaps be destined to break on through to that elusive next level of stardom over the course of the coming year.
It’s a sad thing to admit but it has to be said, the UFC are seriously lacking in terms of star-power these days. Of course you have one mega-star in Conor McGregor who is leaps and bounds ahead of everyone else but if you remove him from the equation, who else is there?
Ronda Rousey, unfortunately, will have a lot of work to do to build up her credibility again after her shocking UFC 207 loss against Amanda Nunes, and even if she does, it’s doubtful her infamous air of invincibility will ever fully be restored. In Jon Jones, of course, you have one of the most naturally gifted MMA athletes the world has ever seen but with all due to respect to him, it’s hard to know exactly what his future holds given the personal problems that have shadowed his otherwise stellar career.
Brock Lesnar, as of right now, is a tough sell. Indeed they brought him in as a last resort in July for UFC 200 but with all of the commotion that followed that event concerning the suspicious circumstances surrounding his failed drug test, it just doesn’t seem like we’ll be seeing the former heavyweight champion inside the octagon again.
Georges St-Pierre is another whose career is dangling in an area of complete and utter uncertainty, with him reportedly in a dispute the with the UFC brass over their deal with Reebok and how it would compromise his own massive endorsement with Under Armour. It does seem as though it will be a tough one to figure out and with Georges growing older and older, we may never get another chance to see him compete in pro-MMA again, or at least not within the UFC.
So who exactly will fill the void? Conor McGregor will not be around forever but regardless, there are some fighters out there who may just have all of the necessary ingredients to establish themselves as the promotion’s new flagship stars over the course of the coming year.
Yair Rodriguez – Featherweight
Yair Rodriguez represents the new-wave as far as exciting young talents are concerned and even within that grouping, he stands alone. His insane stand-up skills make him a must-watch for anyone who enjoys seeing crazy spinning kicks utilised effectively and often and his perfect 6-0 UFC record has proven that his skills on the feet are no gimmick. He has a large fanbase already straight out of his home-country of Mexico and you can guarantee his following will only continue to grow as he matures into the later stages of his career.
Joe Rogan once remarked that Yair makes a habit of hitting pads with spinning techniques the way a normal fighter would practice a jab, and in his fighting style, you can see the persistence paying off. As the featherweight division’s number 10-ranked fighter, it will be interesting to see what will happen if they throw him to a highly-skilled wrestler but regardless, this 24-year-old is a guy with time on his side and all the makings of a future star.
Amanda Nunes – Women’s Bantamweight
The UFC have already made the huge mistake of underpromoting Amanda Nunes ahead of her UFC 207 matchup with Ronda Rousey, but given her performance in that historic bout, I can assure you that they will not make the same mistake again. Nunes hits a lot harder than any other fighter in her division and in her last two bouts, could well have retired two of MMA’s most iconic figures. She’s the first openly-gay UFC champion and her fan-base will only grow larger and larger as she continues to build her own legacy as one of the modern-era’s most devastating combatants.
The Lioness could well be the dominant champion the bantamweight division has been crying out for after the belt switched hands several times in the last few years and now, with the formation of a women’s 145lb division, we could well see Nunes step up and attempt to carve out her own slice of history and perhaps even present a challenge to the great Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino.
Cody Garbrandt – Bantamweight
Cody “No Love” Garbrandt has a huge future ahead of him. The 11-0 Team Alpha Male power-puncher blazed his way to his first UFC title with a dominant victory over Dominick Cruz and looks to have all the makings of a big star if he continues to do what he has been doing.
Scheduled to appear opposite his heated-rival TJ Dillashaw in the next season of the Ultimate Fighter, No Love has the age, the look, the talent and now the platform to establish himself as a superstar over the coming year. The way in which he defeated the legendary Cruz was not only a show of outstanding technique and gameplanning, but it also served a showcase for his magnetic in-octagon personality and showmanship.
With a potentially massive 135lb title fight with Dillashaw now on the cards for mid-2017, Cody has spoke about his desire to move up in weight-class and take on the 145lb champion José Aldo, as well as his interest in an electric matchup with the Notorious Conor McGregor. The UFC really do have something on their hands with this kid and at 25, it will be interesting to see if he can remain a solid fixture in the lighter weight-classes as the years go on.
Doo-ho Choi – Featherweight
How on earth would you not tune in to watch this guy fight? He walks into the octagon to the Superman theme-song, looks about 14-years-old and most importantly, can knock most people stiff with his truly frightening right-hand shot. Doo-ho Choi is a marketer’s dream because even if you know very little about mixed martial arts, your gut instinct would tell you that this guy just cannot be as good as he is, and the entire experience of being proven wrong by this amazing young Korean sniper is one that would most definitely draw you back to any of his future matchups.
His first 3 UFC bouts all ended by way of first-round KO and at 25, you can expect him to only get better with each passing fight. His precision punching is already at a world-class level and from what we’ve seen so far, he looks to possess a very well-rounded skillset both on the feet and on the mat.
In his last fight, a fight-of-the-year contender with Cub Swanson, Choi managed to prove his heart, toughness and quality to the world and despite losing the thrilling brawl by a close decision, came away that night with the praises of the masses, something he can build on as he quietly moves up the UFC’s featherweight rankings.
Tyron Woodley – Welterweight
Tyron Woodley is in a strange position right now. Ahead of him, he faces a very real threat to his crown in Stephen Thompson, but it has to be said, if he can overcome the challenge that is awaiting him at UFC 209, he could very well take the promotin by storm over the course of the next year.
Woodley’s biggest problem is that he comes across as a bit whiny to some, simply due to the fact that he feels as though he hasn’t been given the respect he feels he is due as a UFC champion. Fortunately for him, an easy way for him to remedy that is to go out there in his next bout and steamroll through the kempo-karate specialist Thompson and prove to the world exactly why it is that he deserves that belt around his waist.
To be fair to Woodley, he seems to have the style and charisma needed to be a star, he just needs to get his head in the right place for the coming year and understand that you cannot force respect. He’s a crazily athletic specimen of a man and on his night, possesses the power to knock anybody in the welterweight division out, so maybe don’t give up hope on the ‘Chosen One’ just yet, he may well prove you wrong before the year is out.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena
Read More About: amanda nunes, Cody Garbrandt, conor mcgregor, Cub Swanson, dominick cruz, doo ho choi, jose aldo, Miesha Tate, mma, no love, ronda rousey, stars, stephen thompson, the chosen one, tyron woodley, UFC, ufc 200, ufc 207, ufc 209, yair rodriguez