Every fighter tends to wish they could be younger. After all the years of punishment and training, it takes a toll on them. To go along with that sentiment, the popularity of MMA has grown tremendously over the years. Now we’ve seen so many new fighters come in and build themselves up as possible title contenders at such a young age.
UFC’s top five fighters 25 years old-and-younger
This will be a ranking of the top five pound for pound best fighters in the world that are 25 years old or younger. There is a lot of great young talent, particularly in the welterweight and featherweight division. We’ll see more fighters come up, as the sport continues to grow. Here are a few fighters that could be competing for a championship within the next two to three years.
1. Rory MacDonald-24 years old
This shouldn’t be a surprise. His potential is unlimited when you look at his overall skillset. He is the biggest welterweight in the division to go along with his striking being so diverse. Everyone witnessed how good his jab was against Jake Ellenberger to go along with leg kicks that can frustrate a wrestler like Ellenberger. Then in his best performance to date, he dominated BJ Penn with strikes to the body and being able to change levels in his kicks at a rapid pace.
It seems after every fight, everyone begins to realize how good he can be. His striking accuracy is scary to watch, especially with his reach advantage. His reach is at 76’5 inches, which is the same length as light heavyweight Alexander Gustafsson. That is a great advantage to have and it’s becoming more obvious that his game plan is to use his reach more going into each fight.
Despite his lackluster fight with Ellenberger, he is still very dynamic and poses so many problems from his striking to ground game. If there is anything to criticize, I’d like to see more of a killer instinct out of him like we saw in his fight against Che Mills last year. He is capable of finishing fights; it will come down to him imposing his will more rather than playing it safe or showboating like he did against Penn. In a division with so many great fighters, he’ll need to start finishing fights if he wants to compete for the championship whether it’s against someone like Carlos Condit or Robbie Lawler.
2. Michael McDonald-22 years old
The men’s bantamweight division is arguably the least publicized division in the UFC. With the flyweights gaining more attention from being in the main event on Fox and women’s bantamweight division featuring Ronda Rousey, they don’t get featured much. It’s a shame because the division still has many talented fighters with McDonald remaining on top of the list.
He is one of the top strikers in the division with accurate boxing and leg kicks. In the title fight against Renan Barao, he really took the fight like nobody has before to Barao. His takedown defense was excellent and he landed some punching combinations. Eventually, his takedown defense was his downfall and was caught off guard by them after Barao busted his nose up with some unique head kicks.
It was a great learning experience for him and that won’t be the last time they probably face. If he can tune up his ground game and work on his wrestling, then we could see him challenge Barao or Dominick Cruz for the title. He’ll need to be more consistent with his takedown defense if he wants to become champion someday.
3. Erik Koch-24 years old
It was close between him and Dustin Poirier for the spot. We’ll know by the end of the month, who is the better fighter. That should be an excellent fight and Koch should look at that as the road back to earning a title shot. It still has to sting that he lost out on his title shot against Jose Aldo, then looked very rusty in a one-sided loss to Ricardo Lamas.
After a sixteen-month layoff, it didn’t surprise to see him look that rusty. We are used to seeing him constantly moving and looking to keep the fight standing. He utilizes leg kicks well to set up a left high kick or a hook. When you watch him fight, you can’t help but see how athletic he is.
The long layoff has hurt his stock, but more people will start to recognize him once he fights more. Koch is becoming more well rounded, along with being more disciplined. He is another big prospect in an underappreciated featherweight division. It’s starting to become stacked with top fighters and Koch will be around the top of the division for years to come.
4. Stefan Struve-25 years old
He has already fought in 31 fights, yet he’s only 25 years old. That is an amazing achievement for someone that has been viciously knocked out repeatedly over the years. He remains to be an enigma with so much potential, yet is plagued by reckless striking and not moving around enough defensively.
After receiving devastating knockouts by Travis Browne and Roy Nelson, Struve put together a four fight winning streak and seemed to be on his way to becoming a perennial top ten heavyweight. Then he fought Mark Hunt and let that opportunity slip. He took way too many punches and started to cover up so much defensively to the point where he barley could throw a counter strike. His lack of movement cost him in that fight and he received a broken jaw for his foolish game plan.
Struve possesses so much talent on the ground and having the size advantage. His uppercut is very dangerous, which led to knockout wins over Christian Morecraft and Dave Herman. If he can tune up his striking, use more movement in fights, and be more accurate then he can become a true force in the heavyweight division. An effective jab would do wonders for him, which would lead to him finally abusing his opponents with his absurd reach of 84.5 inches.
5. Dustin Poirier-24 years old
In a fantasy world, I’d book a 25-minute fight between Poirier and Frankie Edgar immediately. Poirier is on that level of being exciting and constantly puts on good performances. He is a magician on the ground being only one of the few fighters in the UFC to manage to win multiple fights by using the d’arce choke.
It shows how high the UFC is on him by putting him in major fights against Chan Sung-Jung (Korean Zombie) and Cub Swanson. He lost both fights, but both were highly competitive including the fight with Sung-Jung being awarded as fight of the year in 2012. He was fatigued near the end of both fights, along with taking too many punches and not using good head movement.
Many people including myself remain very high on Poirier. His striking has improved, along with having a strong chin. He still needs to improve defensively, but he can take punishment and never seems to be out of a fight. A win over Koch would put him right in line for another matchup against a top five fighter.
A few fighters missed the cut, but they are still fighters that you should keep your eye out for. Khabib Nurmagomedov is only 24 years old, yet he’s already won 20 fights and remains undefeated. His wrestling is among the best in the division with accolades in grappling and judo. He set a UFC record with a remarkable 21 takedowns in his last fight against Abel Trujillo. His next fight against Pat Healy will be a great test considering Healy is a top ten fighter and arguably the biggest lightweight in the world.
Jordan Mein has already competed in 36 fights, yet he’s only 23 years old. That is an incredible amount of punishment to already sustain at such a young age. As insane as this may sound, analysts and journalists tout him as a great “prospect” in a stacked welterweight division. He is very dangerous on his feet, along with utilizing vicious knees and elbows in the clinch. If he can add more muscle to defend takedowns against elite wrestlers, you can very well see him in the top ten of the welterweight division by the end of 2014.
Even though he lost convincingly in his last two fights, Charles Oliveira deserves some recognition. He still needs to work on his striking and overall strength. Everyone knows how special he is on the ground, but that doesn’t help when you’re being held against the cage or on the ground. His fight with Frankie Edgar was a learning experience and I’m expecting him to start putting together a string of wins. It was a major confidence booster to see him hold his own against someone as talented as Edgar.
It still shocks me to see some of the young fighters like Struve and Mein compete in so many fights already. Unless they retire early, they could very well end their career with at least 50 fights. That would be remarkable and could very well have a championship reign or two in their resume.
I’m expecting to see at least two of these fighters on the list to win a championship within the next three years. Rory MacDonald is bound to do so, while Koch or Poirier or Michael McDonald could win one as well. There is a lot of potential all around and expect these fighters to live up to it.