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:Francisco Rivera, Bendy Casimir, Jameel Massouh
WEIGHT CLASS: Featherweight
COUNTRY: United States
NICKNAME: New Breed
Erik Koch began training martial arts as a little kid, earning a black belt in taekwondo by the age of 10. He grew up alongside older brother, Keoni, whom he still trains with today in Iowa.
Koch has a simple, no-nonsense approach as to why he remains in Iowa—when he could be stepping out to a bigger, star studded team—although he also cross trains with Duke Rufus’ team of fighters, including Anthony Pettis and Alan Belcher.
“There’s a reason that I like to stay here and train with my brother,” Koch told WEC.TV. “No one pushes you harder than your brother. My brother is a great fighter, very talented, and when I’m training with him, I’m going through hell. He wants me to succeed.”
And succeed Koch has.
He reeled off nine consecutive victories before ever tasting defeat,a string that included his World Extreme Cagefighting debut against Jameel Massouh. He stumbled against Chad Mendes, a fellow rising star in the promotion, before returning to the right side of the tracks with a win over Bendy Casmir.
Koch was then set for the biggest fight of his career against Josh Grispi. Unfortunately for Koch, Grispi was pulled from their bout to challenge WEC Featherweight Champion José Aldo, as the WEC made the transition into the folds of the UFC. However, an injury forced Aldo out of that fight.
That left Koch with WEC newcomer Francisco Rivera as an opponent at WEC 52. As the newbie, Rivera had nothing to lose and everything to gain, while Koch, left without a high profile opponent, still had his career on the line if he wanted to ensure entry into the UFC.
Calling on his blue-collar background, Koch walked into the cage at WEC 52 and did his job. He took Rivera’s head off with the high kick. The win garnered him “Knockout of the Night” honors, which was accompanied by a $10,000 bonus check, but more importantly, it kept Koch’s name on the featherweight roster that will now list him as a UFC contender.
CARLOS EDUARDO ROCHA
KEY VICTORY: Kris McCray
WEIGHT CLASS: Welterweight
NICKNAME: Ta Danado
In the current day and age of MMA, where many fighters are emerging from a true mixed background, Carlos Eduardo Rocha has built upon one style to emerge from the humblest of beginnings and land on the biggest stage in the sport. His background is almost too humble to believe, seemingly pulled from the pages of a Charles Dickens novel.
Rocha’s journey to MMA began as an orphan on the Brazilian streets of Joao Pessoa. He never succumbed to the temptations of his tough life, and he was eventually plucked from the streets under the tutelage and guidance of traditional BJJ instructor Dárcio Lira.
Rocha worked hard to learn BJJ and thanked Lira by cleaning the gym.
He quickly found success when he started competing in BJJ competitions, which ignited Rocha’s dream to become an MMA fighter. That dream led him to accept an offer to teach BJJ in Germany, and that’s where his career in fighting began, if only by chance.
Rocha’s first MMA bout occurred when he was set to work the corner of a German fighter, but the fighter had to pull out at the last minute. Rocha stepped in for him, winning the fight, and his career began to steamroll from there.
Living and fighting in Germany, Rocha racked up eight straight victories. Utilizing his BJJ, he won via submission in seven of those fights. Eight straight wins and living in Hamburg, Germany, led to the biggest opportunity of his career—a shot in the Octagon at UFC 122 in Germany. Rocha took full advantage of the opportunity granted him, submitting TUF 11 finalist Kris McCray with a stellar kneebar at 2:21 of the first round.
A little boy who was left to the streets in Brazil isn’t supposed to be a world-class athlete, but Rocha is. And if he can travel from the streets to the Octagon, he surely has a good shot at climbing the welterweight ranks.
KEY VICTORIES: Seth Petruzelli, Stav Economou
WEIGHT CLASS: Light Heavyweight
COUNTRY: Czech Republic
NICKNAME: The Terminator
Sometimes a loss is as much a key to a fighter’s career as any victory. Tito Ortiz’s loss to Frank Shamrock at UFC 22 is a prime example. Out-conditioned by Shamrock, Ortiz went back to the drawing board in terms of his training and became a cardio machine. That led him to a UFC title win over Wanderlei Silva and five subsequent defenses of the belt, making Ortiz a UFC superstar.
Karlos Vemola is still a long ways away from achieving the popularity status that Tito Ortiz attained, but a loss to Jon Madsenin Vemola’s Octagon debut may have opened his eyes to an entirely new future for him as a fighter.
Vemola was extremely successful as a heavyweight fighter, working his way up the circuit in England. Fighting primarily for Cage Fighters Championships, he racked up seven straight victories, choking out or knocking out every single opponent.
Weighing in at the lighter end of the heavyweight division—he was 222 pounds in his fight with Madsen—Vemola’s trainers had been telling him for some time that he should make the drop down to the 205-pound light heavyweight division, but he resisted.
Then came his UFC 116 debut against Madsen. Weighing in at 254 pounds, Madsen bullied Vemola around the cage, not really hurting him, but controlling where the fight took place, and Vemola lost a unanimous decision. Wanting to remain in the biggest MMA promotion in the world, Vemola opened his eyes and finally agreed to make the drop.
The move worked to perfection. Able to once again bring his experience as a six time Czech Republic National Wrestling Champion to play, Vemola used his skills to control his fight with Seth Petruzelli at UFC121 and pound him out for a TKO victory, just like he used to do on the British circuit.
At 25 years old, with only two and a half years in the sport, Vemola looks like he’s back on track to do big things in the Octagon. He’s definitely a light heavyweight to keep an eye on.