The UFC Dark Horses

nullEveryone knows who the champions are in the UFC.

But, to really know MMA is to know which fighters are the future of the sport.

I don’t pretend to be a psychic, but I do think I know a talented fighter when I see them. So, here is a list of one fighter in each division that is somewhat under the radar. Each of these guys has the raw ability to someday get to the UFC title, if they continue to evolve and strengthen their weaknesses.

Heavyweight – Travis Browne (10-0-1) – Browne is coming off a draw with Cheick Kongo at UFC 120, but that isn’t a terrible showing for just his second fight in the UFC. It was the first time Browne hadn’t won and he has knockout wins over Abe Wagner and James McSweeney to his credit. He also has five knockout wins that have come in under 60 seconds. If Browne can develop his grappling skills to match his punching power, he will become a very dangerous opponent in the heavyweight division. Browne will be showcased on UFC 130 as he takes on Stefan Struve.

Light Heavyweight – Matt Hamill (10-2) – In a stacked light heavyweight division, many are forgetting about Matt Hamill. Winner of five straight, Hamill has wins over Tito Ortiz and Keith Jardine, and technically is the lone black mark on Jon Jones’ career, though it was by disqualification. Still, Hamill has some of the best wrestling in the division and his boxing is getting better. He has also shown the ability to take a punch, which will come in handy at UFC 130, when he takes on Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. A win for Hamill has to put him in the top five for title contenders.

Middleweight – Chris Weidman (5-0) – Weidman is still pretty raw, but he has shown good boxing skills and he trains with Matt Serra, so his jiu-jitsu is going to keep getting better. In his debut against Alession Sakara, he handled the UFC veteran to get a decision, but seemed to struggle with his conditioning. He did take the fight on short notice though, which made his win even more impressive. He will once again step up for an injured fighter at UFC 131, as he replaces Court McGee to face Jesse Bongfeldt.

Welterweight – Jake Ellenberger (24-5) – It is hard to call Ellenberger a dark horse, but he is still behind a lot of guys in a stacked welterweight division. 15 of his 24 wins have been by knockout and he has only been stopped once in his career. Ellenberger has won four-straight after his knockout of Sean Pierson last Saturday and he now awaits a top-10 opponent in his next bout. Ellenberger was lined up to face Jon Fitch at one point, but Fitch got moved up to face B.J. Penn at UFC 127. Ellenberger’s striking will make him tough for anyone, and if he continues to improve his grappling, he can be a real threat to the title.

Lightweight – Edson Barboza (8-0) – Barboza is a long lightweight that brings some of the best Muay Thai striking in the 155-pound division. He decimated Mike Lullo in his UFC debut and then gutted out a decision over Anthony Njokuani, a fellow striker. Barboza has yet to be tested on the ground, but if he passes that test, I see a title reign in his future. He will have his toughest test to date at UFC 134 in Rio when he takes on UFC veteran, Ross Pearson.

Featherweight – Dustin Poirier (9-1) – Poirier has looked good in his last two fights and he dismantled then-No. 1 contender, Josh Grispi, at UFC 125 in his last bout. His lone loss came by decision to lightweight Danny Castillo, but up until Grispi, he had finished all of his opponents in each of his wins. Poirier has great striking and solid grappling and is a guy that can take the fight anywhere. Originally scheduled to take on Rani Yahya at UFC 131, Poirier will now face Jason Young, as Young will make his Zuffa debut for the injured Yahya.

Bantamweight – Renan Barao (25-1) – His name is actually Renan do Nascimento Mota Pegado, but Renan Barao is a little easier to say. In 26 career fights, Barao has 12 submission wins and 6 knockout victories. Not much is known about this bantamweight, but in his two WEC appearances, he won by submission. He will face another contender ion Cole Escovedo at UFC 130. A win would propel Barao into the top contenders category for the bantamweight division.

  

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