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 VICTORY: Harris Sarmiento
WEIGHT CLASS: 145 lbs.
COUNTRY: United States
NICKNAME: Lil’ Evil
Hawaiian fighters have a reputation as scrappers. Max Holloway is no exception.
With a lanky frame and a reach advantage over most opponents at 145 pounds, Holloway is a strong striker who doesn’t like to sit back and play for points. He’s an aggressive pugilist who uses a varied striking arsenal, constantly moving forward and attacking. It doesn’t hurt that he has a gas tank that goes for days.
His aggression, gas tank, and penchant for striking, were all on display against grizzled veteran Harris Sarmiento in March 2011. Despite being eight years Sarmiento’s junior and having only a fraction of his 53-fight professional experience, it was Holloway who came out on top in a fight that put him on the map.
However, even with a decision-victory over Sarmiento, it wasn’t enough to get the call from the UFC’s matchmaking dynamic duo of Joe Silva and Sean Shelby. So, Holloway upped his perfect record to 4-0 with a win over Eddie Rincon at UIC 4 in July 2011. That fight kept him on the UFC’s radar long enough for the stars to align.
Dustin Poirier was slated to face Erik Koch at UFC 143 on Super Bowl weekend in Las Vegas, but Koch was scratched from the card due to injury. Ricardo Lamas stepped in to fill the void, but the injury bug bit him as well. With that happenstance, the UFC decided it was time to give Holloway a call and put him in the lineup against Poirier. It’s no small task for Holloway, as Poirier is currently ranked among the top 10 featherweights in the world by both FIGHT! and MMAWeekly.com. However, when it comes time to throw down, Holloway is more than ready and willing to scrap from bell to bell.
KEY VICTORIES: Dustin Arden, John Reedy
WEIGHT CLASS: 155 lbs.
COUNTRY: United States
C.J. Keith has been plugging away at his professional mixed martial arts career for more than four years, running his record to a spotless 8-0. After all the hard work, it was a very emotional day for Keith when he found out that he had finally gotten the invitation to the big leagues. The young fighter was sitting at home after his morning workout when he got a call from his manager, Jason House at Iridium Sports Agency, with the news that he had been waiting for—he was offered a four-fight deal with the UFC.
Coming up as a high school wrestler, Keith always felt he was destined to do something competitive in his life, he just wasn’t sure what that was until years later. Some advice he got from his wrestling coach back then stuck with him, and it actually continues to serve him as he embarks on his UFC career.
“My wrestling coach told me—I think it was my junior or senior year—that I was the only dude that could step in a pile of crap on a wrestling match and come out smelling like a rose,” Keith says with a laugh. “He told me no one could hold me down.”
After a three-year tour in the Army, which ended after he was medically discharged due to a serious knee injury, the taste of competition got back into Keith’s blood, and a friend of his who had started training MMA suggested that Keith should do the same.
“I basically did it just to prove everybody wrong, because where I come from, we like to joke around a lot and doubt each other and make bets and stuff,” says Keith. “A lot of people didn’t believe I was going to do it, but I did.”
Amassing an 8-0 record with a variety of finishes, including a nasty flying knee against Fernando Arreola at TWC 7, Keith got the call that the UFC was giving him a shot. It was the best news he’d ever received. It was the call later that evening that gave him something of entirely different significance to fight for.
“I got the call at 9:30 a.m. that I was being offered a UFC contract,” he says. “It hadn’t even settled in when I got a call at 9:30 p.m. that my dad’s house had burned down.”
He and his dad lost a lot of material things and a lot of memories, but his dad came out of the incident unscathed, and that was the truly important thing. When Keith makes his UFC debut later this year, he will still be fighting to prove the doubters wrong, but after experiencing personal tragedy so close to home, he will be fighting for his family’s future as well. the fight would even be an even bigger deal.”