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: Jordan Chandler
WEIGHT CLASS: 145 lbs.
COUNTRY: United States
NICKNAME: The Party
It’s not very often that a fighter is surrounded by hype before ever stepping foot in the cage, but that’s exactly what happened to Lance Palmer. A four-time NCAA All-American wrestler at Ohio State University, Palmer garnered immediate attention when he declared his intentions to transition to MMA after his wrestling career.
Palmer signed with the management team at MMA Inc. and began training with Urijah Faber’s Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, CA. Working alongside UFC fighters Joseph Benavidez, T.J. Dillashaw, and Chad Mendes helped the NCAA Champion wrestler hone his all-around skills. Now, the toughest part about Palmer’s budding MMA career is finding opponents willing to fight him. While he faces former champions and top contenders in his home gym, Palmer has found it a struggle to get quality opponents to step into the cage with him.
“It’s been tough getting opponents, especially last summer after my first fight,” says Palmer. “Most fighters don’t know a lot about me, but there are a lot of guys who don’t want to go against a wrestler that has credentials like me or Chad Mendes or any other guys that wrestled in Division I and did well. It’s kind of tough to get opponents, but I’ve been as patient as possible and just taking the fights that I can get.”
Palmer may have to settle with facing his biggest challengers in the practice room before the UFC takes notice. NCAA Wrestling Champion Phil Davis was in a similar position when he began his MMA career in 2008, as he found it difficult to get quality opponents, but after four fights, the UFC snatched him up. For Palmer to really test his skills, he may need the help of the largest promotion in the world.
KEY VICTORY: Bernardo Magalhaes
WEIGHT CLASS: 155 lbs.
COUNTRY: United States
NICKNAME: Dirty Bird
Life is all about second chances, and a second chance is what finally propelled Tim Means into the spotlight. Means began fighting in 2005, compiling a 3-2 record in his first year of competition, before disappearing from the fight scene for four years. A brush with the law and legal entanglements kept Means away from the cage, but when he came back in 2009, he was ready for a career resurgence.
The time away made Means realize exactly what he wanted and how he wanted to achieve it. He wasn’t going to accomplish his goals by making the same mistakes he did as a kid. He joined the FIT NHB Team in Albuquerque, NM, and surrounded himself with top talent like Carlos Condit. The hard work paid dividends, as Means rattled off a 13-1-1 record before the UFC came calling.
“I kind of got detoured a little bit with some legal trouble and just being a young kid, just making mistakes,” says Means. “But I came back in 2009 with the FIT NHB Team, and I’ve been hitting it 100 percent. Getting the call up to the UFC was a dream come true.”
When the UFC needed a last-minute replacement to fill in at UFC on Fuel TV 1 to face Bernardo Magalhaes, Means knew it was his shot to dominate, and that’s exactly what he did, securing a unanimous decision with scores of 30-27, 30-26, and 30-26. It was an impressive Octagon debut, to say the least. Now that he’s got his feet wet in the UFC, look for bigger and better things from the former King of the Cage Lightweight Champion.
“I’m very happy to have a second chance to chase my dream,” says Means. “To be standing where I’m at today compared to five years ago, it’s just really exciting.”
KEY VICTORY: Eric Wilson
WEIGHT CLASS: 135 lbs.
In 2011, Canadian bantamweight prospect Josh Hill had a breakout year—three wins in three fights, including claiming the Aggression MMA Bantamweight Title and winning his first ever hometown match in Hamilton, Ontario. So far, 2012 has been moving in the same direction.
Hill grew up playing hockey and rugby, but it didnt take long before his natural athleticism showed a penchant for fighting and he began training at Iron Tiger Muay Thai and Pura BJJ. Training with UFC featherweight fighter Antonio Carvalho, Hill realized early in his career that he needed to train with martial artists from all disciplines. With that in mind, Hill packed his bags and went to Brazil to train for a few weeks.
“I haven’t been in this game very long—only two years of fighting— so I’m still learning,” Hill says. “Every training camp is a learning experience—when to tone it down or pick it up. And the dieting and cutting weight has been a huge learning curve, so all these things are finally coming together for me. I’m putting all the little things together to improve my overall game.”
The momentum that Hill generated in 2011 has been continuing to grow in 2012. His first fight of the year saw Hill return to Ontario, where he chalked up another victory, winning a unanimous decision over Eric Wilson.
“Wilson is definitely no slouch,” says Hill. “He’s only lost once to John Fraser, who is another top Canadian bantamweight, so this was a good test to see where my skills are.” Hill knew that the winner of the Wilson fight would get a big career boost, putting the victor on the radar of the UFC and Bellator. Now that Hill has passed the test with Wilson, he’s training hard and waiting to see what comes next.
“I feel I can compete with anybody in the world at 135 pounds,” he says. “There’s been a lot of talk about moving up to the big leagues, but I don’t want to get side tracked thinking about it— that’s when you make mistakes. I’m just going to continue to train and the cards will fall in place.”