New Blood

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.

Luke Rockhold

Name: Luke Rockhold Camp: American Kickboxing Academy Professional Record: 3 – 1 Notable Wins: Nik Theotikos and Josh Neal

If you take one look at Luke Rockhold, the last thing you would guess is that he is a professional mixed martial arts fi ghter. But that is exactly what he is. Rockhold is laidback and calm, and does not bring much attention to himself. He does all his work in the ring, where he has become one of the brightest prospects in the Strikeforce promotion.

Rockhold began training in Brazilian Jiu- Jitsu several years ago and quickly took to the martial art, advancing all the way up through the ranks, earning a purple belt from Dave Camarillo at the American Kickboxing Academy. That is where he began training for mixed martial arts, rapidly taking to kickboxing, just like he did Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He made his mixed martial arts debut shortly thereafter.

He made quick work of his opponent, winning the fi ght by way of submission, which would become a theme for the young middleweight fi ghter. He would go on to taste defeat in his next fi ght as he caught his opponent in a triangle choke but was slammed on his head, stunned and then fi nished off with strikes.

Unlike most young fi ghters who would take a loss and regress from it, Rockhold instead trained harder and learned from his mistake, winning his next fi ght by submission in his Strikeforce debut over Josh Neal. Injuries and misfortunes would keep Rockhold from fi ghting again until late in the year, when he got the biggest chance of his career.

He faced off with Nik Theotikos in the opening bout for the nationally televised Strikeforce: Destruction, which aired live on HDNet. Although he was considered an underdog because of his inexperience, Rockhold quickly took down Theotikos and wasted no time in getting his back and sinking in the rear naked choke for the victory.

Training with UFC veterans Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck, Mike Swick, and Cain Velasquez at American Kickboxing Academy can only make Rockhold all that much better, as he has the training partners to make himself into one of the best fi ghters in the world.

Even offi cials at Strikeforce are optimistic about Rockhold, as one offi cial put it bluntly: “Luke is going to be the next big star in Strikeforce.” With the pace of his skills developing at the rate that they are, that could be sooner rather than later for this rising star.

Emanuel Newton

Name: Emanuel Newton Professional Record: 11-3-1 Association: Bodyshop Fitness Notable Wins: David Heath and Roger Hollett

With the Ultimate Fighting Championship having the majority of the top light heavyweights in the world, it’s rare to fi nd a 205-pounder outside the Octagon with much of a following or potential; but Emanuel Newton is slowly building himself quite an impressive resume.

After starting his career at a disappointing 2-3-1, Newton has gone on a nine-fi ght winning streak that has spanned all over North America. He made a name for himself in local California shows like King of the Cage and Gladiator Challenge, but he was soon given a chance to fi ght in the International Fight League, which would give him his fi rst national exposure. Newton didn’t waste the chance. He submitted his opponent and was victorious on the national stage.

It would be a while before Newton would get another chance to shine in front of a big audience; but once he got the chance, he wouldn’t let it get away from him. Newton would go on to fi ght UFC veteran David Heath in the Maximum Fighting Championships in Canada. A lot would be riding on this for both fi ghters, as the winner would get a shot at MFC light heavyweight champion Roger Hollett. Newton dominated Heath, as he never gave him a chance to get going in the fi ght, fi nally fi nishing the fi ght with strikes as he had Heath’s back.

Newton would train hard for the fi ght with the Bodyshop Fitness Team, which is led by IFL standout Antonio McKee and it paid off. He would get the biggest win of his career by defeating the touted Canadian prospect Roger Hollett to become the MFC light heavyweight champion.

All throughout the fi ght, Newton was the quicker and smarter fi ghter by avoiding Hollett’s power shots and controlling the fi ght both on the feet and on the ground with much better technique. The big thing for Newton is that the fi ght was televised live on HDNet for the whole world to see.

With that kind of exposure, it may not be long before Newton fi nds himself in a bigger organization with larger paydays. The future is bright for Newton. At the young age of 24, he still has a lot of years left in his fi ghting career to accomplish much, much more.

Raphael Assuncao

Name: Raphael Assuncao Professional Record: 12 – 1 Association: Ascension Mixed Martial Arts Notable Wins: Joe Lauzon, Jorge Masvidal, and Poe Pearson

With a 12-1 professional record and ranked as one of the Top 10 featherweight fi ghters in the world, it would seem surprising that more people haven’t heard of Raphael Assuncao. But the fact is, he is little known outside of the hardcore fans of the sport.

A Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Assuncao has fought and defeated several world-class fi ghters. His hit list includes UFC fi ghter Joe Lauzon and highly regarded Jorge Masvidal. In fact, his only loss is to fellow Top 10 ranked 145-pounder Jeff Curran under Curran’s own XFO banner. The judges’ decision in that fi ght was so controversial that Curran gave Assuncao his winner’s purse.

Currently riding a four-fi ght winning streak – most recently defeating Joe Pearson by knockout – Assuncao is on the cusp of a major jump in his career, or at least he feels that way. He was locked into a contract with the struggling American Fight League and troubled by management that he felt was promising more than it could deliver, but he’s nearing the resolution to both situations.

“I am very excited for 2009,” said Assuncao. “I’m shopping for the best management, the best organization.” Initially unable to accept an offer from World Extreme Cagefi ghting due to his ties with the AFL, Assuncao says that he has been released from his contractual obligations to that organization and now fi nds himself with a couple promising options. “I haven’t signed a deal yet, but I’m talking with Bellator and WEC,” he said.

Bellator Fighting Championships is putting together a television show that will be part reality show, part fi ght show and will air on ESPN Deportes, the network’s Spanish language channel. So Assuncao now fi nds himself with a decision to make, but it’s a good one after having fought for years on smaller promotions, paying his dues.

Until negotiations settle down and he signs on with a new management team, Assuncao can be found running Ascension Mixed Martial Arts with his brother, UFC veteran Junior Assuncao, in Atlanta, Ga. He also spends time training with his friends at American Top Team in Florida.

If 2009 turns out to be the year that he has planned, you’re sure to hear more about Raphael Assuncao and his no frills, aggressive submission style as he knocks down the doors to the big leagues.

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