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 fighters 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 Victories: Heather Clark, Brianna Van Buren
Weight Class: 115 lbs.
Country: United States
Sometimes the best thing that can happen to a fighter is to get that first loss out of the way, retool, and come back stronger than ever. Following her first professional loss in March 2012 via brutal knockout to Kaline Medeiros, XFC 115-pound prospect Stephanie “Snowflake” Eggink was in bad shape in more ways than one.
“I got a pretty serious concussion from it, so I had to take some time off,” says Eggink. “I really wasn’t expecting to get knocked out by Kaline. I have a high-level background in boxing and she was a throw-from-the-hip kind of fighter, so it was kind of humbling and did some damage to me mentally.”
Following her physical recovery, Eggink took a big chance, stepping up to face veteran Heather Clark at XFC 21. It was a tough fight, but she managed to pull off the victory.
“It was my first fight back from my concussion, and it was more meaningful than just a win because I was honestly scared to get back in the cage after that,” says Eggink. “Even in my fight against Heather, I was afraid to pull the trigger, but I started letting go a little bit more in the third round. I wasn’t expected to win that fight. I won, so I think it shows that I’m a force in the 115 division.”
Eggink impressed the XFC enough with her unanimous decision win over Clark to earn a 115-pound title shot against Angela Magana at XFC 23. Unfortunately, Magana had to pull out of the fight and Eggink instead drew Brianna Van Buren in a non-title fight.
Van Buren gave Eggink a tough fight, but it only proved to be another plus for the XFC title contender, as she had to fight through the bullish striking attack of Van Buren to earn the unanimous-decision victory.
“I want that title fight against Angela,” says Eggink, who feels she has what it takes to make a solid run in the 115-pound division. “I feel good about being dominant at this weight class. I think my game definitely puts me up there, and I’m going to keep climbing up the rankings at 115 pounds.”
Key Victories: Brandon Becker, Julian Lane, Greg Soto
Weight Class: 170 lbs.
Country: United States
Seven years and 15 fights into his MMA career and Cage Fury Fighting Championships Welterweight Champion George Sullivan is feeling the best he’s ever felt. He won the CFFC Welterweight Championship with a victory over UFC veteran Greg Soto in 2012, and he has racked up three consecutive title defenses, getting sharper and more comfortable with each successive victory. Sullivan’s second-round TKO victory in February over former TUF 16 cast member Julian Lane is evidence of that.
“I was a little cautious because he was coming out real wild in the first round, and I think I played it smart,” says Sullivan. “Once I got down his timing in the second round, I hit him with some great shots and ended his day. I was in the best shape of my life, and I just felt like there was nothing he could do.”
Sullivan followed that victory with a similar performance against Brandon Becker in the CFFC headliner in May, once again defending his title with a TKO victory.
Sullivan’s confidence has been boosted by his work at former UFC lightweight Kurt Pelligrino’s gym in New Jersey. Since joining Pelligrino MMA, Sullivan has posted an 8-1 record, as he continues to develop into an all-around fighter.
“I feel like I’m ready to go to the next level,” says Sullivan. “I feel unbeatable. I feel that wherever a fight goes, I can stop it. If I hit someone, they’re going to fall asleep. As my wrestling gets better, it allows me to strike more. I’m a striker, and anyone I’ve ever hit, I’ve knocked out. If I can keep a fight on the feet, there’s nobody that’s going to be able to stop me.”
Having felt the crush of putting too much pressure on his own shoulders to succeed as fast as possible, Sullivan has backed off of lately and now enjoys fighting for what it is. He’s comfortable letting the opportunities come his way more naturally. Now he’s just enjoying the journey as the victories mount.
“The goal used to be that I had to get to the UFC, but I put too much pressure on myself,” he says. “I like fighting for Cage Fury, and I’m enjoying fighting now. I’m in no rush to get fights. I’ll fight any time they need me to fight. I’m just enjoying it.”
Key Victories: Ryan Benoit, Matt Leyva
Weight Class: 135 lbs.
Country: United States
Normally a busy fighter, Anthony Birchak is off to a slow start in 2013, not getting his first fight until May.
“I’m used to getting fights right off the bat in January or February to keep things rolling, but that was the second longest break I’ve had in my career,” says Birchak. “Six months was a long stretch for me.”
Birchak’s layoff wasn’t intentional, and in the end, it worked out well, as Canada’s Maximum Fighting Championship signed him.
“We went to Jackson’s MMA Series 10 and beat his top 135-pounder there. After that, we were just waiting in the wings to see if anyone called,” says Birchak. “We had talks with Mark Pavelich [MFC president] about being the face of their bantamweight division, and he’s the one that showed the most interest and pulled the trigger to sign me.”
The move paid off for both parties. Birchak moved up to the international ranks and got the exposure of fighting on AXS TV, while MFC got the new bantamweight star that it was looking for. Birchak even became one half of the MFC 37 main event when the card’s original headliner, a heavyweight title fight, fell apart at the last minute.
At MFC 37, Birchak and Ryan Benoit fought a back-and-forth battle that featured numerous submission attempts, strong striking displays, and a healthy dose of ground-and-pound. Birchak took a unanimous decision victory in the end, winning his MFC debut and earning a shot at the inaugural MFC Bantamweight Championship later this year.
“I feel like fighting for the MFC is where I’m supposed to be right now, and I plan on winning that title soon.”