In November of this year, the UFC will be celebrating its 17th year in existence. In that short time span, we have witnessed the evolution of MMA along with a second generation of fighters that came into the sport at the beginning of the new millennium. Even that generation has since given way to young stars, such as Forrest Griffin and Rashad Evans that were developed through The Ultimate Fighter TV Show and are now considered seasoned veterans.
Last night on UFC's second live fight card free on the Versus network, we saw arguably the best of the UFC's next generation of young stars when 205lb. Jon 'Bones' Jones (pictured above) made quick work of Vladimir Matyushenko, a veteran from that second generation. In only his 11th fight, but sixth in the UFC, Jones is quickly becoming a sensation in the organization. Therefore, let's take a closer look at him along with four other fighters, one from each weight class that could possibly be the next generation of UFC superstars.
At 155lbs. Evan Dunham has quietly become a name and someone to reckon with inside the lightweight division. A native Oregonian, Dunham began his fighting career in 2007. In that first year alone he had five fights, winning four of the five via submission. An unassuming figure with an Opie Taylor type quality to him, Dunham is a wizard on the ground, recently being awarded a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black belt.
With a professional record of (11-0, 2 KO's 6 subs), Dunham is currently (4-0) in the UFC, with his most recent win being a unanimous decision over fellow rising star Tyson Griffin. His next fight will be in late September @ UFC 119 against former champion Sean Sherk. A win over Sherk could possibly mean a title shot is looming for this young 28-year-old.
In the welterweight division (170lbs.), the name Johny Hendricks not only brings an impressive record of (8-0, 4 KO's 1 sub), but an even more decorated amateur background. A former collegiate wrestler, Hendricks was a two-time national champion @ Oklahoma State University two years in a row in 2005 & 2006 and finished second his senior year in 2007 losing his only match all year in the finals.
Currently training under renowned MMA trainer and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt Marc Laimon, Hendricks has added submissions to his already impressive grappling game to go along with heavy hands. His next fight will be this Saturday @ UFC 117 against fellow up and comer Charlie Brenneman. Only 26 years old, the sky's the limit for this wrestling prodigy.
Next up in the middleweight division (185lbs.) is a true rags to riches story in Gerald 'Hurricane' Harris. The oldest of the next generation being profiled at a full grown 30 years of age, Harris a former school teacher and stand-up comic, was pondering giving up on his MMA career. A former cast member of the Ultimate Fighter series, he lost on the show and was never offered a contract in the UFC. That was until he went on a seven fight win streak, in what he likes to call the Bum-Fight circuit (the lower-tier promotions).
A chance phone call to UFC President Dana White in November while White was a guest on the MMA Junkie radio show, he took a shot, boldly asking for a job and got one. Nine months later Harris (17-2, 8 KO's 6 subs) is currently on a three-fight win streak within the UFC with three KO victories. His last loss was exactly three years ago today. His next fight will be Saturday August 28th @ UFC 118 against Alessio Sakara. What a difference a year makes!
That brings us to the light-heavyweight division where the aforementioned Jones resides. The youngest of the next generation, Jones literally turned 23 two weeks ago. Currently (11-1, 7 KO's 2 subs), his only loss was a disqualification against Matt Hamill for an illegal elbow strike, in a fight he was totally dominating.
Equipped with an unorthodox, yet effective striking style and a body frame @ 6'4" inches, that features an incredible reach of 84 inches, he closely resembles middleweight champion Anderson 'The Spider' Silva in style and stature. With six fights currently in the UFC, the future is shining extremely bright for this young star.
Finally, there's the young Mexican-American heavyweight Cain Velasquez who has a chance to become the next UFC heavyweight champion. A former amateur wrestling star @ Arizona State University, 28-year-old Velasquez was a two-time Division One All-American; he was also a Junior College National Champion. Sporting a record of (8-0, 7 KO's), he has punching power that goes along with his outstanding wrestling pedigree.
Training and fighting out of American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, CA, one of the top MMA camps in the country, his submission game is also coming together under the tutelage of Guerilla Jiu-Jitsu Master Dave Camarillo. At 6'2" 245 lbs., he will challenge Brock Lesnar for his title on October 23rd @ UFC 121.
Probably the best thing about all of these great young prospects and future champions is each one of these fighters has demonstrated extremely humble demeanor's and have quickly become fan favorites inside and outside of the octagon. With the sport growing at a rapid pace and new fighters coming on the scene everyday, these five are truly the next generation of UFC superstars.