By Brad Walker MMATourch
Here is a brief summary of what I will be doing here; I’m going to look at the current champ from each division and label them “now.” Then I will look at who I feel has the best chance to dethrone that champ and label them “next.” Next I will select two each of the following: fighters with rising stock, fighters with stagnant (unchanging) stock, and fighters with dropping stocks. I will give explanations as to why I feel each one is placed where they are, and feel free to give me any feedback you believe would be a credible argument, after all analysis is partially opinion, now let’s roll our sleeves up and dig in.
Now: Dominick Cruz. Cruz is currently the lightest weight champion in the UFC, and one hell of a dominant fighter inside of the cage. His wresting is impeccable, and his boxing isn’t too shabby either. Cruz holds wins over almost every fighter at the top end of the division, and has only lost once in his seven year career, which was to Urijah Faber. He has the ability to hold guys down and hammer on them for entire rounds, but he doesn’t have the most sparkling jiu-jitsu game to go along with his strength. Dominick has defended his UFC Championship twice, but prior to that he held the WEC Title, which he defended twice as well. He’s game for any fight, and will do whatever it takes to bring home the win. Cruz needs to work on his BJJ before he becomes a full-fledged dominant champion, because his lack of submission defense led to his only career loss. We are going to be seeing a lot more of him in the months to come coaching opposite Faber on The Ultimate Fighter.
Next: Urijah Faber. The California Kid – a man who has a huge fan following throughout the world, and the abilities to capture the title from Cruz. After all, he is the only fighter ever to defeat him, but then again, he did lose the rematch in a fight of the night effort from both men. Faber has a phenomenal jiu-jitsu game that he has shown off frequently, winning 14 career fights via submission, including one over Cruz. His stand up is pretty solid too, taking home seven ko/tko wins meaning he has finished 21 of his 26 career wins. Faber is probably one of the most solid fighters in the game right now; his only problem is he needs to remember that his strongest point is submissions, not knockouts.
I don’t know if I would place a bet of Faber to defeat Cruz in their rematch following the next season of TUF but I do know that I would place a solid bet that it’s going to earn a fight of the night nod, and if it doesn’t make it to the judges probably a submission or knock out of the night too. Urijah has become a phenomenon in the cage and fans just seem to gravitate towards him, but now he needs to rise to the occasion and capture his first UFC gold.
Rising Stock: Renan Barao. This guy is so dominant inside of the cage that he hasn’t lost since his very first MMA fight seven years ago – and since then has gone 28-0-1. That is one hell of a streak, and most fighters never even see their winning streaks go into double digits, much less 29 fights without a loss. Barao’s jiu-jitsu is insane, and he never misses a chance to show it off, whether it’s an arm-bar, rear naked choke, or a kimura he’s going to make you tap one way or the other. His striking is pretty solid for his size, but he uses it properly, and strikes to set up take downs and submission attempts. His fight against Scott Jorgensen at UFC 143 was extremely impressive and he took home a very decisive victory against a very game opponent. I expect to see Barao’s next fight be labeled a title eliminator fight with Dustin Poirier which could very well be a bitter war on the ground to see who can lock in the first submission.
Rising Stock: Michael McDonald. Perhaps the biggest statistic in McDonalds favor is his age; this guy is only 20 years old with a 14-1 record. He’s fought mostly top notch talent throughout his career and may just have the heaviest hands in the division. With a staggering eight career wins by knockout it makes me wonder why people want to stand and trade with him He’s still very young and has more than enough time to build momentum and sharpen his skills inside the cage. He’s already held bantamweight gold once in his career (in Tachi Palace Fights) and its hard to imagine that he won’t get his hands on the UFC strap in the future. In a division stacked with submission experts McDonald brings weapons to the table that will have them scrambling for guard in a heartbeat. His next test will be his biggest to date going toe to toe with Miguel Torres, if he gets a win there hes going to be sitting pretty just within reach of the title picture.
Stagnant Stock: Miguel Torres. I don’t know which is scariest about Miguel Torres, whether it be his sheer size at 135 pounds, or his incredible jiu-jitsu game that is nearly unmatched. Since joining the ranks of the elite fighters in mixed martial arts, he has posted an impressive eight wins against three losses in the WEC and UFC.Â Torres’ overall record of 39 wins and four losses is extremely impressive and one of the best amongst active fighters right now, and with 23 of those wins coming via submission this is not a dude you want to be stuck on the ground with. I had the fortunate luck to bump into Miguel twice over the UFC on Fox 2 weekend in Chicago, and he looks absolutely massive for a bantamweight. He sports an impressive 76 inch reach and the scariest mohawk in all of MMA.
The only thing holding Miguel back right now is the quality of the opponents he has beaten lately, and I would like to see him get a step up in competition and see him flash more of his BJJ skills inside of the cage. Once he can get a few fights against better opponents behind him I fully expect to see him make his way into the title picture.
Stagnant Stock: Mike Easton. Easton is just barely getting his feet wet inside the UFC right now with only two fights behind him so far, but he has won both of them, most recently a fantastic war with Jared Papazian in which he edged out a majority decision. This guy is so overwhelmingly impressive, his physique is downright scary and his striking is extremely crisp. To date his most notable win was in 2008 over the most recent TUF winner John Dodson, and that’s not the most impressive name to have on your resume. I would love to see Easton get tested against a Brian Bowles or Miguel Torres to see how stable his game will stay as the level of his opponents increases. I’m not saying we should throw this guy in the shark tank, but we can start him out with a few stingrays and go from there. I expect to see him take a loss or two, but come back stronger and ready for a new challenge.
Easton has nowhere to go but up from where he is now, but he needs to be fighting guys who are not making their first appearance inside of the Octagon.
Falling Stock: Eddie Wineland. Now don’t get me wrong, I am certainly not saying Eddie is a bad fighter because that is very far from the truth, all I’m saying is that he hasn’t looked like himself lately. Eddie made his UFC debut on a four fight win streak coming out of WEC, and has since lost two consecutive decisions to Faber and Benavidez. If you look at the statistics Wineland has never been the most consistent fighter as he always seems to pick up a couple wins then take a decisive loss. The fact is Eddie needs to get back to basics, his striking has always been his strongest point and he needs to work on his wrestling and jiu-jitsu skills to maximize the amount of time he can spend on his feet utilizing his power. I have no idea who I would recommend he fights next because the division is so deep, but whoever they put him in the ring with, I hope he comes prepared, or else we may see him get the chop from Dana White.
Falling Stock: Damacio Page. Page started out his career impressively, racking up a clean 5-0 record before taking three consecutive losses. Since then he has seemed to stay on the same path of being wildly inconsistent in his fights, and he seems to be the easiest guy to submit in the division. Of his six career losses, five have come via submission, and considering he fights out of Jackson’s Gym in Albuquerque I seriously wonder how this can continue to happen. His next fight will be against Brad Pickett in April, but Pickett has nine wins via submission, so I have to ask myself if Page is going to stand a chance. We all know that UFC tends to hold fighters to the three strikes and you’re out rule, so if Page loses to Pickett, he’s probably out.
Don’t get me wrong, Page himself has had some very impressive fights and great knockouts in his career, but I have to question whether or not he is in the right camp for his type of fighting and what he needs to learn to become a better fighter. We haven’t seen him in the cage since last March because of injuries, but I truly hope we see a whole new fighter when he makes his return, otherwise we won’t be seeing much of him anymore in the future.