Mixed martial arts is the fastest growing sport in the world. It garners more attention and new fans daily. The emergence of so many new athletes sometimes makes it hard for fans to notice some of the fi ghters on the verge of making it to the next level. MMAWeekly.com takes you deep inside the sport and presents you with some of the upcoming New Blood.
KEY VICTORY: Luis Eduardo da Paixao
WEIGHT CLASS: 205 lbs.
On any given day at Team Nogueira in Brazil, the mats could be filled with fighters such as Anderson Silva, Junior dos Santos, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. For a fighter like undefeated light heavyweight prospect Wagner “Caldeirao” Prado, training alongside legends is something that he is honored to do on a daily basis.
Prado started fi ghting full-contact Muay Thai when he was 19 years old. Within a few years, MMA caught his eye, and he couldn’t resist the challenge. Three years later, Prado made his pro MMA debut, beating two fi ghters in a one-night tournament. It was right into the fire for the young fighter, who then parlayed that opportunity into an appearance on the popular Brazilian variety show Caldeirao do Huck, where he met his future coaches and training partners.
“I’m fortunate enough to train with my idols,” says Prado. “Training side by side with them is the best thing for me. I’m training with the best to become one of the best.”
Prado is quickly joining those ranks, amassing an undefeated 7-0 record with six (T)KOs. For a young man who has only been fighting for a few years, he’s ahead of the learning curve.
“I have evolved a lot in a short period of time, but I know that I still have much more to learn, and I am working hard for that,” says Prado. “Currently, besides my boxing, Muay Thai, and BJJ practices, I have been concentrating on my wrestling and strength and conditioning, which are new to me. I have had great results, so the tendency is to keep improving.”
While Prado’s own improvement has continued to develop, he’s also watched the sport of MMA develop in his home country. Since the UFC’s return to Brazil in 2011, the country has MMA fever.
“This whole expansion has taken me by surprise—it’s been very fast,” says Prado. “MMA and the UFC are in style in Brazil.”
Not only are Brazilians watching the UFC, the UFC continues to watch the best young talent come out of Brazil, and Prado’s name is high on the list.
A devastating striker with knockout power in both hands and a rapidly improving ground game have made Prado an easy sell to audiences all over the world.
“My biggest dream is to be the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, and thank God, I’m on the right track, but I’ll go up one step at a time,” he says. “I’m working toward achieving my goal, and one day I’ll be there.”
KEY VICTORIES: Bryan Lashbomb, Tuan Pham
WEIGHT CLASS: 125 lbs.
NICKNAME: Shorty Rock
Sean “Shorty Rock” Santella was doing pretty well as a bantamweight, making his way up the MMA ladder by earning an 8-3-1 record. However, now that the 125-pound fl yweight division is becoming more prominent, Santella is ready to break out.
“I had a good run at 135 pounds, but I couldn’t really compete with those guys who have 20 pounds on me,” Santella says. “I’ve waited for the UFC to add the fl yweight class for so long.”
Now that the division is going to be a fi xture in the UFC, Santella is excited for the possibilities. Since dropping to 125 pounds earlier this year, Santella has added the Cage Fury Flyweight Title to his collection of accolades, but he’s got his eyes set on the same prize as most other fighters—the bright lights and bigger paydays of the UFC. He knows that he’s got to pay his dues to get there, but Santella feels that he is right on the cusp of a call from UFC matchmakers Joe Silva and Sean Shelby.
Joining AMA Fight Club in Whippany, NJ, with UFC fi ghters Jim Miller, Frankie Edgar, and Charlie Brenneman, Santella has the training to go along with the skills to be successful in the Octagon—it’s just a matter of getting the opportunity.
“It’s a waiting game, but I’m going to fight regardless. I love to fi ght,” says Santella, whose record now stands at 10-3-1, with back-to-back victories in 2012. “When they call, I’m going to be ready. But on the same end, I’m not going to sit around. I’m going to keep fighting the best guys I can, so I’ll be ready when that call does come.”
Until then, he’ll do what he does best—train and fi ght—and get tossed around by some of the best fighters in the business.
“I’m excited every morning when I get up to go train, knowing I’m going to get my ass kicked by the best guys in the world,” he says. “It’s kind of sick, but it puts a smile on my face.”
KEY VICTORY: Kamal Shalorus
WEIGHT CLASS: 155 lbs.
NICKNAME: The Eagle
Khabib Nurmagomedov is not a name that easily rolls off the English-speaking tongue, but it is a name that fight fans, regardless of their linguistic abilities, should get used to. Nurmagomedov is a Russian fighter who has distinct abilities in his country’s national combat sport of Sambo, which relies heavily on grappling skills. He is a National and World Sambo Champion, and he has carried those skills into his MMA career.
In just three years, he amassed a spotless 16-0 record fighting in Russian and Ukrainian promotions. Nurmagomedov scored six submissions, but he proved his fists are just as worthy as his ground prowess, with six knockouts on his résumé.
Fighting in a ring in Russia and stepping into the Octagon under the bright lights of the biggest MMA promotion in the world is another story. But it’s a story that Nurmagomedov knows well.
Following his success in Russia, Nurmagomedov made the move to the United States, training in New Jersey, primarily at K-Dojo with a host of other Russian fighters, but also alongside numerous UFC veterans and fellow New Blooder Sean Santella at AMA.
All of his training helped lead to a successful Octagon debut at the inaugural UFC on FX event in Nashville, TN, in January. Taking on seasoned fighter Kamal Shalorus, Nurmagomedov had to go deep into the fight, but his submission skills paid off with a third-round rear naked choke submission.
Successfully handling the move from the ring to the Octagon, Nurmagomedov continues to forge his way in foreign territory. He will face the toughest test of his career in the form of Gleison Tibau at UFC 148 in July, where a victory would put him several rungs up the lightweight ladder.
It may be a bit early to talk titles for Nurmagomedov, but with his background, and the way he’s handled the move to the UFC, it’s also not completely out of the question. Keep an eye on this Russian fighter—and remember the name because you will be hearing it a lot.