UFC on Fuel 7, Youth Uprising in the UFC
In 2015, track down this column. Bookmark it, save it, print it out, whatever you need to do. You’ll be flabbergasted at how stacked this card was in retrospect.
Just a few years ago, there was a revolving door in the light heavyweight division, a 44 year old man was heavyweight champion, the lightweight champion was fighting at welterweight, and middleweight ran out of challengers for Anderson Silva. The UFC, while certainly not failing or floundering, seemed to have a rough time with new stars; after all, you can’t make someone win.
In the past three years, Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Matt Hughes, Brock Lesnar, and Rampage Jackson have all left the UFC. Five major pay-per view draws that the UFC doesn’t have to count on anymore. One of the casual draws for MMA around that time, where the lack of saturation as it pertains to weight division; UFC had 5 weight classes, separated by 15-20 pounds, as opposed to 5 or 7 by boxing, which could be confusing. However, with the growing number of events, and parent company Zuffa’s acquisition of multiple companies, three additional divisions were added. With this came card depth, more fights, and new stars.
While not exactly on the level of selling-power that the aforementioned legends and hall of famers are on, UFC on Fuel 7 was packed full of fighters who are likely to be within the top 10 rankings for years to come. James Te Huna, Matt Riddle and Cub Swanson all brought home their fourth consecutive victories, a feat in which typically earns a major jump in competition in the UFC; While Gunnar Nelson and Jimi Manuwa didn’t have impressive performances, they kept their hype trains rolling by winning their second fights in the UFC. Most impressive, however was Renan Barao and Michael McDonald.
Renan Barao, at all of 25 years old, defended the interim bantamweight title against 22 year old Michael McDonald, who was vying to become the youngest champion in UFC history. With champion Dominick Cruz sidelined since October 2011, and perennial title contender Urijah Faber coming off of a loss, the division appeared to be on life support. 135 pounders have found trouble in putting together consistent victories, and finishes. Both occurred for Barao, as he has been the epitome of consistence, not losing in over 29-32 fights (depending on which database you use).
While Barao doesn’t have the most exciting fights in the world of MMA, the wins pile up, and he has proven himself to be an excellent addition to the main event of televised events. With the UFC having 9 divisions now, not all champions will be PPV headliners. While the UFC is uncertain how Bantamweight, Flyweight, and some Lightweight headliners will fare on PPV, these fighters will instead earn national exposure and raise their stock on national and worldwide television, eventually earning the coveted PPV spot.
James Te Huna and Matt Riddle really displayed their willingness to use showmanship to gain a following. Matt Riddle had previously called out British-born Dan Hardy during a hilarious interview where he referred to residents as “buttertoothed brits”. Instead, he faced Jimi Manuwa, in England, and would go on to defeat him easily, all while getting the crowd riled up.
As it pertains to James Te Huna….well, this is what he did.
Yes, that happened, and yes, he won.
Whether it’s success in the cage, or entertaining fans, to getting a reaction out of them, a new crop of fighters are rising up and taking the vacated spots in the industry. The men you’re reading about now, are guys you’ll be reading about for years to come.
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