MMA is a tough sport to reach superstardom in. A well placed head kick (Ronda Rousey vs Holly Holm) or a solid wrestler (Francis Ngannou vs Stipe Miocic) can derail the hype train very quickly. That said, there’s always a new generation of MMA fighters working their way up the ranks, taking on the current stars of the sport and trying to make their name.
Whilst nothing is for certain, here at Fight Quality we love looking at the Prospects that could become superstars in the future, and at the moment there’s plenty of them in MMA. Three months into 2018 we’ve put together a list of our 5 favourites who we think have big years ahead of them:
Darren Till jumped onto everyone’s radar after a seriously impressive win over fan-favourite Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone at UFC Fight Night 118. Till finished Cowboy via punches in round one, and everyone’s now waiting with baited breath for his return to the ring – he recently tweeted to say he was waiting on the UFC giving him a match up, and listing the 170lb fighters in his crosshairs; Karamu Usman, Gunnar Nelson, Santiago Ponzinibbio (after he beat Mike Perry, who’d called out Till after the Cowboy fight) Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson or literally anyone else.
Tills background is in Muay Thai, having trained since he was 12, and turning pro at just 15. He transitioned to MMA at 17, but after a near death experience at a party in his hometown of Liverpool in 2012 (Till was stabbed twice in a confrontation, the knife narrowly missing a major artery) he moved to Brazil to continuing developing his MMA skills – though planning to stay for 6 months Till remained in Brazil for three and a half years.
With what appears to be an extremely well rounded game and being very big for a 170lb fighter it’s going to be exciting to see him back in the Octagon in 2018.
Pico is a Bellator prospect fighting at featherweight, with a 3-1 record. Whilst his Bellator debut against Zach Freeman was less than the impressive performance everyone was expecting (losing via submission in just 24 seconds) his next two performances have been stellar – two first round knockouts, the most recent being a nasty left to the body of Shane Krutchen.
Pico’s wrestling pedigree is impressive – qualifying for the US Olympic Freestyle team at just 19 (making him the first teenager to make the team in 40 years) but he’s also won several Pankration tournaments and a National Junior Golden Gloves Championship in 2009.
With Scott Coker touting him as having ‘all the makings of MMA’s next great superstar’ it’s going to be interesting to see how 2018 unfolds for him.
Dern is a 6-0 Strawweight fighting who’s grappling background is on another level. She’s collected 3 golds at the BJJ World Cup, medalled 6 times in the Pan Jiu Jitsu Championship, collected 4 no-gi World Championship Medals, 5 Mundial medals and an ADCC gold medal. She started training when she was three (both her dad and stepmother are black belts, her father Wellington ‘Megaton’ Dern is also a decorated grappler)
Having made a somewhat shaky start to her UFC career with her debut at UFC 222, she had a tough fight against Ashley Yoder, but battled through to a split decision win. With the looks and skills of a UFC superstar (queue all the Ronda Rousey comparisons) 2018 has the potential to be a massive year for Dern.
The UFC’s heavyweight division is always hunting for young talent, and Tai Tuivasa is a prospect who could be exactly what they need. A 24 year old, 263.5lb Australian who’s got a boxing and kickboxing pedigree (3-2 and 14-2 records respectively) Bam Bam actually started out as a pro rugby player before moving into fighting.
Having built up a 5-0 record on regional Australian shows Tuivasa was picked up for a multi fight contract by the UFC, and his two performances so far have been impressive; a flying knee KO of Rashad Coulter in his debut and a punches and elbows TKO of Cyril Asker at UFC 221.
Tuivasa has never seen the second round of any of his pro MMA bouts, and has a brilliant stable of training partners including Robert Whittaker, Mark Hunt and Light Heavyweight Tyson Pedro, so it’s going to be interesting to see him tested further in the UFC. As long as he doesn’t succumb to the same wrestling issues that derailed Ngannou’s hype-train he’s got the potential to rise to the top of his division in exciting fashion.
Sugar Sean O’Malley is one of the best products from Dana Whites Tuesday Night Contender series, using the a KO on the show as a platform to reach the UFC. His debut against Terrion Ware demonstrated his toughness and determination, and his most recent performance at UFC 222 saw him showcasing his fantastic striking and solid ground game, until he broke his foot with a head kick in round 3. Things looked disastrous for Sugar, but the fought on for the rest of the round either off his back or hopping on one leg. Unable to rise after the fight he won a unanimous decision, celebrated and conducted his post fight interview with Joe Rogan all from the canvas, before being carried from the cage.
Showing some beautiful striking skills (particularly his kicks), and serious heart, in his two UFC fights O’Malley has moved to 8-0, and looks set to take the 135lb division by storm – once his leg heals up.
So who do you think are the rising stars in MMA at the moment? Let us know in the comments who your top prospects are!