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.
Name: Junior dos Santos Nickname: Cigano Professional Record: 7 – 1 Height: 6’4” Weight: 240 lbs. Discipline: Kickboxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Notable Wins: Fabricio Werdum
Coming from obscurity and diving headfi rst into the spotlight, Junior dos Santos is poised to make a big impact on the UFC heavyweight division. The fi ghter from Bahia, Brazil made a huge statement in his Octagon debut when he knocked out highly regarded PRIDE veteran Fabricio Werdum at UFC 90.
“I trained very hard for this fi ght with my coach, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. I believed in my hands. I knew going to the ground I was a little sketchy, but I knew standing up that I could get him,” dos Santos said after his win.
“The uppercut is probably one of my best punches. I train that a lot. Once I hit him with a couple of jabs, I knew that he always dropped his head. So once I hit him with a couple of jabs, he ducked down and I landed the uppercut perfectly.”
zz Santos’ huge victory over his Chute Boxe opponent earned the distinction of “Knockout of the Night” and earned dos Santos a fi ght bonus of $65,000.
The UFC newcomer nicknamed “Cigano,” which translates to gypsy, trains with some of the best in the business, including brothers Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Anderson Silva, Paulo Filho, Edson Draggo, and Rafael Calvancante.
In addition to the Nogueira brothers, dos Santos has had the help of UFC veteran Amaury Bitetti to sharpen up his Jiu-Jitsu, where he currently holds a purple belt. Junior is a former Bahia State Jiu-Jitsu champion, an accomplishment that underrates his ground game since he is primarily known as a striker.
With his fi rst fi ght on American soil behind him, dos Santos is brimming with confi dence. The Brazilian defi ed the odds and defeated a highly respected contender in Fabricio Werdum. He has made his mark in the UFC, and people have begun to take notice. Junior dos Santos now has a head start into what many are predicting to be a promising career.
Ana Michelle Tavares
Name: Ana Michelle Tavares Professional Record: 7 – 2 Height: 5’2” Weight: 122 lbs. Discipline: Boxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Notable Wins: Lisa Ward, Carina Damm
Great talent can come in small packages 5 feet 2 inches, to be specifi c. Ana Michelle Tavares is one of the hottest prospects in Women’s MMA today. Originally from Natal, Brazil, Tavares has been training since age 15 at Kimura, a branch of Nova Uniao.
“I decided to become an MMA fi ghter because Dedé [Andre Pederneiras] thought I would do well; he had a fi ght lined up in Japan and decided to put me in. I didn’t know anything about my opponent, and Dedé thought it was best not to tell me who she was until after the fi ght. After I fi nished her with an armbar from the triangle, Dedé told me she had been undefeated in 10 fi ghts. She had not lost a fi ght since losing to me, now with 19 fi ghts.”
Now an accomplished grappler with many championships under her belt, the Nova Uniao fi ghter has shown that she can also stand and trade. “I’m an aggressive fi ghter. Despite my being from a Jiu-Jitsu background, I like standing and trading. I always move forward, never back,” the 2008 Mundial champion said.
Nova Uniao has produced some of the best fi ghters in the world including Thales Leites, Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro, Wagnney Fabiano, and Marlon Sandro. Considered to be the best female fi ghter on the team, Tavares hopes that one day her name will be recognized as a part of that list.
“Training at Nova Uniao gives me a lot of security because I get a lot of expert guidance and attention. I have a lot of fi rst-rate training partners and a very professional environment to work in,” the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt commented.
Tavares is coming off one of the biggest wins of her career, a unanimous decision over Fatal Femmes champion Lisa Ward in the second round of the SmackGirl world tournament. Unfortunately, SmackGirl folded as an organization shortly afterward.
“For me, it was very important to have beaten her as she is a top-competitor, a champion,” Tavares said regarding her victory over Ward. “However, I couldn’t enjoy the accomplishment entirely because my job was not done. My thoughts were on the GP fi nal, which never happened due to Smack- Girl being canceled.”
As women’s MMA continues to grow, more opportunities become available. Ana Michelle Tavares eagerly awaits her next challenge. “Truth is, at this point I just want to fi ght. Since I’m not signed to an organization anymore, I would gladly go anywhere where they give me a fi ght,” Tavares said. “To my fans I just want to say thanks for all the support and affection. I will always work hard to be at my best.
“To the girls that aspire to be fi ghters, all I can say is that they should train hard and always look for fi ghts that will help build them. I would like to quote Eleanor Roosevelt: ‘The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.’ ”
Name: Mohammad Lawal Nickname: King Mo Professional Record: 2 – 0 Height: 6’0” Weight: 185 lbs. Discipline: Wrestling Notable Wins: Travis Wiuff, Fabio Silva
Mohammad Lawal’s entry into Mixed Martial Arts has by all measures been a baptism by fire.
The Team Quest fi ghter faced a tough veteran with more than 60 fi ghts under his belt in Travis Wiuff. Lawal stepped in as a last-second replacement for Roger Gracie, who was forced to pull out of his fi ght due to an injury. The 27-year-old fighter took advantage of a golden opportunity, stopping the much larger Wiuff via strikes in the fi rst round at Sengoku 5 in Japan.
Touted as one of the most naturally gifted wrestlers today, Lawal has many accomplishments in his pedigree including the 2002 NCAA Division II National Championship and First Place fi nishes at the 2006 US Open and 2007 Pan-American Games. After failing to qualify for the Beijing Olympics this past summer, “King Mo” turned his focus solely on MMA.
Riding off the success of his MMA debut, Lawal returned to the United States to continue his training at Team Quest. The Oklahoma State University graduate was eager to prove that his fi rst win was no fl uke. In his subsequent fi ght, Lawal was paired against Brazilian Fabio Silva. His opponent presented a formidable challenge and was known for his striking, a trait indicative of Chute Boxe fi ghters.
Lawal once again rose to the occasion and dominated Silva from start to fi nish. Silva was unable to stop the powerful takedowns and utilize his striking. After three rounds that saw Lawal punishing his opponent with a tactic of takedowns and ground-n-pound, the referee had seen enough and halted the bout 41 seconds into the fi nal round. The win solidifi ed the California resident as a legitimate threat in the 185-pound division.
In a short time, Muhammad Lawal has turned himself into one of the best middleweight prospects today. This freestyle wrestler has a bright future ahead of him. “A new chapter in my life has begun. The last 10 years of my life have been fi lled with many ups, many downs, and plenty of sacrifi ce. People came and people went. Many loved and more hated. The path that I chose molded me into the man I now am. Thanks to all of the people who supported me!”