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: Nick Thompson and Akihiro Gono
You don’t typically expect a fighter with a 19–2 professional record to pop up in a New Blood feature, but that’s smack where Dan Hornbuckle lands. He is a finisher with nine wins by way of knockout or technical knockout and seven wins by submission. Hornbuckle has largely flown under the radar of most mixed martial arts fans due to fighting in smaller promotions in the Midwest.
In 2008, Hornbuckle made an appearance on an MMA mainstage, but lost via triangle choke to UFC and IFL veteran Mike Pyle at Sengoku 2 in Japan. After getting a couple of smaller wins under his belt, he rattled off the two biggest back-to-back wins of his career, knocking out veteran Japanese fighter Akihiro Gono and former EliteXC and Bodog champion Nick Thompson.
Still under contract with Sengoku, Hornbuckle will take a shot at building his name in the United States as part of Bellator Fighting Championships’ second season. If he can fight his way through a tournament loaded with eight 170-pounders, he’ll get a shot at undefeated Bellator Welterweight Champion Lyman Good.
The 29-year-old fighter has been out of action since his September win over Thompson, but he’s been using the time to prepare for the Bellator tournament.
“The downtime is really good right now, especially with what is on the line,” says Hornbuckle. “Bellator is coming together strongly, creating a really great second season. I have a lot of motivation from those two big wins, which has given me time to work on the holes in my game that I’ve seen and to really sharpen it up and bring it to a top-10 level.”
A member of the Eastern Band Cherokee tribe, Hornbuckle is calling on his Native American heritage to carry him to the top of the heap at Bellator.
“My heritage is where I pull my energy from,” he says. “Every time I fight, I feel like my whole tribe is there with me inside the cage.”
Hornbuckle faces Canadian Sean Pierson in the opening round of the Bellator welterweight tournament on April 15.
KEY VICTORIES: Beau Baker
Jacob Patrick McClintock, at just 22 years of age, joins Hornbuckle as one of the top welterweight prospects that Bellator has reigned in for its second 170-pound tournament.
Unlike Hornbuckle, McClintock has just six pro fights to his record, but he has won every single one of them.
Despite a penchant for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu—he has competed at a world-class level in BJJ and currently holds a brown belt—McClintock brings some heavy hands to accompany his strong submission game. He has knocked out or TKO’d four of his six opponents and submitted the other two.
Perhaps a more telling detail is that of his six victories, none have gone past the first round. That’s a statistic that bodes well for any tournament competitor.
Like most fighters of his kind, it’s not surprising that Mc-Clintock sprouts from a strong team that has helped take his raw talent in jiu-jitsu and added the wrestling and boxing chops that are necessary in mixed martial arts.
McClintock calls Arizona Combat Sports his home and counts among his brothers UFC fighters Ryan Bader, C.B. Dollaway, and Aaron Simpson; Strikeforce welterweight contender Joe Riggs; and former WEC Lightweight Champion Jamie Varner. That’s definitely a collective influence that propels a young fighter to the top at an accelerated rate, and McClintock has taken full advantage of the situation.
Now, he gets the opportunity to take his game to an entirely new level, competing with other top welterweights including Hornbuckle and his first round Bellator opponent, highly touted Jim Wallhead.
“Signing with Bellator is truly a dream come true for me,” McClintock says. “MMA is definitely something that I was put on this earth to do, so I just want to take advantage of this opportunity as much as I can.”
KEY BOUT: Brian Stann
Not many fighters get the fifth fight of their professional career in the UFC’s Octagon. However, most fighters don’t have the wrestling pedigree of Phil Davis. He was a four-time All-American and a 2008 Division I National Champion while wrestling for Penn State University, compiling a career record of 116–20.
His golden touch hasn’t stop with wrestling. He’s brought it with him in his transition to mixed martial arts. Davis made sure that he went straight for the top in his MMA training. He splits time between American Kickboxing Academy—home to Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck, Mike Swick, Cain Velasquez, and others—and Team Lloyd Irvin with fellow UFC light heavyweight Brandon Vera.
In adding to his grappling skills, Davis has been quick to take to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He competed at the World Championships as a blue belt last year in Brazil, taking first place in the super heavyweight (under 221 pounds) category.
He got his feet wet in MMA, competing mostly in smaller promotions in the eastern part of the United States. Four fights in, however, he got the call from the UFC.
Davis’ first UFC bout was a showdown with former WEC Light Heavyweight Champion Brian Stann. Davis utilized his wrestling skills against Stann, constantly putting the U.S. Marine on his back throughout the bout and controlling position. He couldn’t mount a sustained ground-and-pound finish or secure the submissions he was searching for, but Davis dominated his way to a unanimous decision in his Octagon debut.
Davis definitely used Stann as the first rung up the tall ladder that is the UFC lightheavyweight division and the first step toward his ultimate goal to become the best fighter in the world.
Davis will take the second step when he faces Swedish fighter Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi.