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.
RECORD: 2-0 (MMA)/30-1-3 (Boxing)
KEY VICTORY: Jan Finney
WEIGHT CLASS: 135 lbs.
COUNTRY: United States
Having won multiple titles across various weight classes in boxing and amassing a 30-1-3 record, big things were expected from Holly Holm when she entered MMA in 2011, but not all of the expectations were coming from other people.
“I have expectations on myself,” says Holm. “Why would I be doing MMA if I didn’t want to be as successful at it as I have been in boxing? People expect a great performance from me, so there is a little bit of pressure, but I like it. It makes me want to meet those expectations.”
So far, Holm has not disappointed, having won her first two bouts in impressive fashion, including stopping veteran Jan Finney with a body kick in the third round of their fight in September. Holm is as adept at throwing kicks as she is punches, having trained kickboxing in the past.
“The only thing that’s new to me is the ground game,” says Holms. “I’ve been around, and it makes sense to me. I’m not great at it, but I think I’m able to get the concept of it and keep learning and getting better.”
While some fighters may dabble professionally in multiple disciplines, it’s rare for someone to maintain a consistent output in two combat sports, but Holm intends to maintain her boxing and MMA careers at the same time.
“I want to take the road that no one else has taken,” she says. “I don’t want to do it just to kind of try it out. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have started MMA in the first place. I want to be able to do both and be the best at both. It’s totally possible—it’s hard, but it’s totally possible. I want to be the first person to do that. I’m not going to fight forever, so I want to make sure that I make the most of it. I don’t want to retire and look back and think that I didn’t take the
challenges that I should have. I want to look back and think that I’m glad I did it. If I have the opportunities to take the big fights and get the push, I’m going to do it.”
RECORD: 0-0 (MMA)/67-6-1 (Kickboxing)
KEY VICTORY: Ray Sefo (Kickboxing)
WEIGHT CLASS: Heavyweight
NICKNAME: King of the Ring
It was five years ago when former K-1 kickboxer Tyrone Spong first got his taste of the big time. The Dutch fighter flew to America and began working with famed boxing trainer Floyd Mayweather Sr., and after several sessions together, Spong was offered the chance to go into the world of professional boxing. At only 20 years old, Spong was shocked at the offer and admits he was a little scared at the prospect of becoming a pro boxer.
“I’d been to the States before and had trained with Floyd Mayweather Sr., but when I was offered a boxing contract, I was hesitant,” says Spong. “I was young and just had my first kid. I was at the top of my game, but I was a little bit scared to make the choice at that moment.”
Spong chose not to accept the offer and decided to focus on kickboxing instead. Over the next few years, he became a nine-time world champion, and—outside of claiming the K-1 World Grand Prix Title—he put just about every other trophy in his case. Now, Spong is back at a pivotal crossroad. With K-1 floundering because of financial troubles, including past money owed to him, the Dutch fighter is turning to MMA. He’s been training in Florida alongside UFC light heavyweight contender Rashad Evans, Danillo and Yuri Villefort, and Gesias “JZ” Cavalcante, with their team nicknamed the “Blackzilians.” Spong has been helping his teammates with their striking and relying on them to help him improve his grappling.
“I’m just taking it one step at a time,” he says. “If an organization gives me a good offer, why not? I might as well try it. I’m a fighter—fighting is my job. If the offer is good, I’ll take it.” Spong points out that his biggest goal right now is getting the best challenge out there and kickboxing can no longer provide that with financial stability.
“MMA is new to me, but that doesn’t mean it’s just about the money,” says Spong. “I think of it as a challenge to show what kind of athlete I am.” Kickboxers transitioning to MMA in the past have had mixed results. For every Alistair Overeem, there’s also a Stefan Leko, but Spong is confident that he won’t fail.
“One thing that’s going to make a big, big difference is my God-given talent,” he says. “I’m really thankful and grateful for that.”
KEY VICTORIES: Clay Harvison, Tim McKenzie
WEIGHT CLASS: 170 lbs.
COUNTRY: United States
NICKNAME: Polish Pistola
Admittedly, if Seth Baczynski had not made changes following his loss to Brad Tavares on The Ultimate Fighter 11 Finale last June, he might not have gotten an opportunity to return to the UFC. In fact, he might have continued to struggle down a path of mediocrity instead of finding himself in the midst of a career upswing.
“I think losing to Brad Tavares was a huge eye-opener for me in my career,” says Baczynski. “It was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. It made me come back and take a look at my career as a whole—like the whole body of work—and really start being a little more diligent about my training. Every fighter has some formula for success. Some people find it and some people don’t. I truly I believe I found the formula that works for me. I’m more consistent and accountable on a regular basis—in the gym and in my personal life.”
Baczynski proved those comments to be true in his latest victory— an impressive win over Clay Harvison at UFC Fight Night 25 in New Orleans—by submitting Harvison with a rear naked choke in the second round. Perhaps most importantly for Baczynski, by amending his outlook, he believes his return to the UFC will result in a much longer stay than his previous one.
“I think the biggest thing that I learned from my first trip to the UFC is that you have so many people pulling on your coattails when you get there,” he says. “I think I lost sight of just going out there and having fun.”
Having strung three consecutive victories together and winning seven of his last nine, Baczynski appears to be on the right track, finally making his run to be counted among the best. “No matter where it is, every fight’s important at this stage in my career,” he says. “I’m almost 30 years old and the clock is ticking, so I’ve got to get while the gettin’s good. Now that I’m finally back in the UFC, I want to stay here.”