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: Jesse Newell
Weight Class: 145 lbs.
Country: United States
Nickname: Urban Legend
2013 has been the most successful year in the career of featherweight Chris “Urban Legend” Culley. He is on a five-fight win streak, including winning the BAMMA USA Featherweight Championship by defeating top prospect Jesse Newell in August. It was one of the strongest performances of his career, as he finished Newell with a TKO in the fourth round.
“I had a very game opponent in Newell,” says Culley. “I knew he was going to be tough going into the fight, so I just covered all of my bases in my fight camp and stayed creative. I got to show some techniques that people haven’t seen before from me. Overall, I was happy with the performance.”
Having alternated winning and losing streaks in the past, Culley feels like now he can maintain consistency thanks to changes he’s made in his fight preparation.
“It’s a testament to smart training,” he says. “In previous fights, I wasn’t pushing myself as hard as I could during training. I’ve started taking all the aspects of MMA more seriously and concentrating on becoming well-rounded. I started listening to my coaches, rather than just doing it on my own. It’s been paying off.”
As for what’s next for Culley, maintaining his current winning streak against the toughest possible opposition is the most important thing for him going forward.
“To be honest, right now we’re taking a lot of calls, but we’re waiting on BAMMA and seeing who they match me up with next, and just playing it by ear,” he says. “I went on a pretty crazy streak this year and have some buzz locally, so I just want to take smart fights and make sure that the fight is relevant. I want to fight tough guys and make some more noise in the division.”
Key Victories: Levi Peaslee, Gary Winslow
Weight Class: 155 lbs.
Country: United States
Following a successful 2012 campaign that saw him go 3-0-1 (one no contest), lightweight up-and-comer Justin Harrington picked up his fourth win in a row in March against Garry Winslow at ROTR 27.
“It was kind of quick,” says Harrington of his 57-second submission victory over Winslow. “I wanted to demonstrate more of what I’m about and show a little bit more of my standing game because in my past couple of fights I’ve gotten away from what’s earned me a lot of my wins, but he made the mistake, and I had to capitalize on it.”
Although he’s know for his stand-up, Harrington followed up the victory over Winslow with another submission victory, this time in a rematch against Levi Peaslee. Having never truly been tested in any of his fights—he’s finished all five opponents (four of them in the first round)—Harrington knows he needs to be pushed by tougher competition to see where he is at this point in his career.
“By the end of the 2013, I’d like to fight someone in the top 10 in Washington,” he says. “I feel like I’ve kind of had some fights that weren’t the best matchups, so I just want to fight someone who is going to bring something new out of me. I know it’s weird, because no one wants to get cut or battle through something, but I feel that’s the only way I’m going to judge the kind of fighter I’m turning into. I need that fight that’s going to push me to train a little bit different, a little harder. I need that blood and guts fight.”
Key Victories: Jeff Hatton, Zach Skinner
Weight Class: 135 lbs.
Country: United States
Nickname: The Finisher
Following just the second loss of his career in April, Washington-based 135-pound prospect Josh “The Finisher” Rettinghouse returned to the win column with a decisive victory over Zach Skinner at CageSport 25 in July.
“I was really disappointed with my prior performance, so I went out there against Skinner with the mindset that I was just going to finish this guy and give it my all no matter what,” says Rettinghouse. “It ended up paying off with a knockout.”
Rettinghouse followed up his KO-victory over Skinner with a unanimous-decision victory over Jeff Hatton in the CageSport 26 co-main event in August. As good as it was to string a couple of wins together, it was his loss in April to Corey Vombaur that has shaped the way Rettinghouse now approaches his fight game.
“Now, I’m working with a bunch of wrestlers like Lee Morrison, Lyle Beerbohm, and a couple of other guys we’ve got training at Spokane BJJ,” says Rettinghouse. “We’re really emphasizing my wrestling after that Vombaur fight.”
Rettinghouse is hoping his win over Hatton has put him on the UFC’s radar in their ever-expanding 135-pound weight class. Having finished eight of his nine career wins, Rettinghouse is living up to his nickname, and he knows that finishing opponents is something that will help him get the call to the next level.
“I know better than to look past opponents, but I’m always looking and working toward the future,” says Rettinghouse. “Ever since my first amateur fight, I’ve wanted to be in the UFC. I look at all my opponents as stepping stones—guys standing in my way of getting there. I wouldn’t mind being the CageSport Featherweight Champion if that’s what it takes to get a little more recognition and get my name out there. I think a win over a tough guy like Hatton puts me in the mix for any of the guys in the UFC right now at 135 pounds.”