One of the most exciting parts of mixed martial arts is watching the rise of young guns entering the spotlight. We have been blessed with seeing eras change and new faces emerge. Sometimes it has been easy to see, while other times, an athlete comes from nowhere to shock us all.
10 Fighters to Watch Under 25
Who is next to awe us with their skills?
Let’s take a look at talent around the world to identify the men and women who can be those next standout athletes.
Here are ten fighters 25-and-under to add to your shortlist. Check out which stars could be the face of the sport for the next decade.
Umar Nurmagomedov (13-0)
An unbeaten Nurmagomedov? We have heard that before somewhere.
While it’s unfair to directly compare him to a generational talent that was Khabib, Umar Nurmagomedov is doing a solid job of replicating his success with impressive grappling pressure.
Nurmagomedov made his UFC debut earlier in 2021 with a second-round submission against Sergey Morozov. There is still a long way to go for the 25-year-old to become a contender, but with the proven pedigree of Eagles MMA, he may get a boost in his bid.
The Russian bantamweight will have a lot of eyes on each of his bouts, and if he can continue to ring the wins, the world will be talking.
Ilia Topuria (10-0)
24-year-old Spanish warrior Ilia “El Matador” Topuria holds a perfect professional record with a 90% finishing rate. Impressive.
“El Matador” is often overlooked with such a deep roster. But the Spanish athlete has two victories in the UFC and is coming off an impressive first-round knockout over Damon Jackson.
If the ascent of Topuria continues, it will be big for the Spanish mixed martial arts scene. His rise spotlights how much the sport has grown in the country and gives hope for a new generation of European hopefuls.
Topuria’s status as a top-end prospect was further cemented this weekend after he defeated world-class grappler Ryan Hall at UFC 264.
Iuri Lapicus (14-1)
Iuri Lapicus may be the best example of how an upper-level talent can come from nowhere. The unheralded Moldovan was a virtual unknown when ONE Championship signed him, and he immediately showed why with quick victories.
Although he failed in his first championship challenge against Christian Lee, the lightweight tagged the champion early on in their frantic battle.
Lapicus has a solid grappling background and has used it brilliantly, but it is his hands that have been shockingly good. Although, perhaps, it shouldn’t be so shocking. Lapicus trains at Team Petrosyan with one of the pound-for-pound greatest strikers on the planet, Giorgio Petrosyan.
Seeing how Lapicus will rebound will be one of the most intriguing things to witness in the lightweight division. He has future World Champion written all over him, and it is about time the world takes notice.
Stamp Fairtex (5-1)
2020 was not kind to Stamp Fairtex, but to suggest she isn’t one of the brightest young talents would simply be a lie.
The former ONE Atomweight Kickboxing and Muay Thai World Champion lost both of her straps in closely contested bouts and then suffered a controversial loss to Alyona Rassohyna in a match she was decidedly winning. A rematch is booked for the ONE Atomweight World Grand Prix.
Stamp’s striking is unmatched in her weight class. That much is undeniable. As a former two-sport World Champion in the striking arts, there is nobody in the mixed martial arts world at atomweight who can combat her in that area alone. It is the grappling where everybody has been watching her develop.
And it has evolved, but she still has a ways to go in that department. If she closes the gap against her grappling-heavy opponents, look for Stamp to quickly rise to the top of the division and be a serious title threat as she continues to eye history as a three-sport World Champion.
Edmen Shahbazyan (11-2)
Some athletes enter top-tier organizations with hype and flop, but others thrive. And thrive is what Edmen Shahbazyan did when he began his UFC tenure.
The Californian earned his UFC contract with a first-round TKO victory on Dana White’s Contender Series and immediately put on impressive performances inside the Octagon. Most notable was his first-round knockout over perennial contender Brad Tavares.
Once he entered the upper echelon of contenders, the roadblocks derailed his momentum. Losses to Derek Brunson and Jack Hermansson showed that Shahbazyan was not quite ready for title contention.
The learning experiences against the elite should help the middleweight return to form, re-enter contendership, and have a very bright future.
Angela Lee (10-2)
“Unstoppable” Angela Lee is perhaps the least shocking inclusion on the list. The ONE Atomweight queen has been sensational since arriving on the ONE scene and has put her talent on display in some memorable bouts.
Lee is undefeated in the atomweight division, where she has reigned since 2016.
Lee’s grappling is fantastic and has been a central piece of her game, but her hands have begun to catch up over the last couple of years. As she continues to refine her talents, Lee will continue to be a constant figure atop the atomweight mountain.
The ONE Atomweight World Grand Prix will give Lee a top contender when she is set to return after welcoming the birth of her daughter. We should see a brand new version of one of the brightest talents under 25.
Chase Hooper (10-2-1)
After a 5-0 start to his pro career, Chase Hooper moved to 6-0 in an important showing on Dana White’s Contender Series. The victory earned him a developmental contract with the UFC, and he went on to win two more bouts before joining the main roster.
The youngster was thrown into the lion’s den upon joining the promotion and has had mixed results. Given his young age, that was almost a given against incredible featherweights, but Hooper has flashed the brilliance that got him signed.
Hooper will still be maturing into his body at the same time he builds out his tool kit.
With his long frame, Hooper has the ability to give many within the division problems. His journey will be fascinating to watch and could be a massive success story in the years to come.
Maycee Barber (8-2)
Maycee “The Future” Barber may have dropped her last two bouts inside the Octagon, but the 23-year-old is still among the top prospects to watch in the flyweight division.
Barber began her career with eight straight victories before running into roadblocks against Roxanne Modafferi and Alex Grasso. However, those battles against top-tier veterans will only prove to improve the talents of the Colorado native.
Barber’s upside was seen early on in her martial arts journey, which is part of what makes her an interesting prospect. She has been training mixed martial arts as a whole from an early age and is fine-tuning her skills now at an elite camp. If she can elevate her game, there is little doubt she’ll become a title contender before she is 30.
Barber returns later this month in a bid to get back into the win column and prove she is ready for the next step.
Joshua Pacio (17-3)
ONE Strawweight World Champion Joshua “The Passion” Pacio has been at or near the top of the strawweight world since 2018. Although he lost the gold by split decision to Yosuke Saruta in 2019, “The Passion” quickly rebounded to regain and defend the belt twice.
Pacio brings with him a dynamic, fast-paced skill set. The talented Filipino has five knockouts victories and nine submissions to his credit to showcase his well-rounded abilities.
As the latest gold-carrying member of Team Lakay, Pacio is also one of the central figures in the rise of mixed martial arts in The Philippines. The 25-year-old continues to develop his skills and show out on a global stage.
“The Passion” will have more opportunities to convince the world of his outstanding abilities against a growing talent pool in the ONE strawweight division that now features American Jarred Brooks. Should the two meet in the future, you will want to carve out time to watch that electric matchup.
Christian Lee (15-3)
The inclusion of the ONE Lightweight World Champion was a given. Not only is Christian “The Warrior” Lee one of the best athletes under 25-years-old, the United MMA star may be one of the pound-for-pound best in the game.
And it should not be shocking.
Lee gained extensive experience as an amateur, including amateur World Championships. As he turned pro as a teenager, Lee’s experience in ONE’s Circle assisted in his rapid development.
Since dethroning Shinya Aoki, Lee has continued to look impressive by defending the gold twice and winning the ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix. Lee still has a long career ahead and more growing to do, which should be terrifying for his opposition.