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.
SHANE DEL ROSARIO
KEY VICTORIES: Lloyd Marshbanks, Brandon Cash, Lolohea Mahe
WEIGHT CLASS: Heavyweight (205+ pounds)
Shane Del Rosario may not be on your MMA radar, but he’s a fighter that you’re likely to take notice of when he makes his next outing in the cage, rumored to be against former UFC Heavyweight Champion Andrei Arlovski on a major Strikeforce fight card.
Del Rosario is undefeated as a mixed martial artist. He’s fought 10 times as a professional, winning nine of those bouts inside the first round. The other win he had to drag out to a little over a minute into the second round. Eight of his wins have come by way of knockout.
He’s also a professional Muay Thai fighter, winning six of his seven fights by knockout. That should be of little surprise, however, considering that he trains with vaunted Muay Thai and MMA coach Colin Oyama.
The UC Irvine graduate is coming off another strong performance, headlining a Strikeforce Challengers event in Everett, Washington, in July. He crushed tough Hawaiian Lolohea Mahe with thunderous kicks and driving knees that sent his opponent crumpling to the mat toward the end of the opening round.
With that win, Del Rosario is ready to take the next step in his career and put his skills to the test.
“We took our time, chose smart opponents, and just worked on my game through training to become more well-rounded,” Del Rosario told MMAWeekly.com. After defeating Mahe, he proclaimed, “I’m ready to move on, step up the competition.”
It appears that step up will soon be before him. He has long angled for a fight against former WWE Superstar turned mixed martial artist Bobby Lashley, but that fight, for one reason or another, has never come to fruition.
Instead, it appears the previously mentioned Arlovski is apt to be his next opponent. With more than twice the fights and twice the years in the sport as Del Rosario, Arlovski easily presents the toughest test to date for the 27-year-old. A victory would show that the youngster is a contender in Strikeforce’s heavyweight division.
“He’s a great fighter. I’ve always been a fan of him,” Del Rosario said about Arlovski. “That would be the ultimate test for me. I’m down for it.”
KEY VICTORIES: John Orr, Patrick Bennett
WEIGHT CLASS: Heavyweight (265 pounds)
Cole Konrad is a big man. He stands six-feet-five-inches tall, weighs 265 pounds, and was a two-time undefeated NCAA national wrestling champion at 285 pounds. He was 155-13 as a collegiate wrestler, with 10 of those losses coming during his freshman year at the University of Minnesota.
Sounds very much like the pedigree of current UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar. And you wouldn’t be far off the mark if that’s who you guessed we were talking about. Konrad is a training partner of Lesnar’s at the Minnesota Martial Arts Academy. Like Lesnar, he’s becoming a force in the heavyweight division.
A professional record of 4-0 may not sound like much, but when you couple it with the athleticism of a two-time national champion wrester who has a burning desire to compete, you’ve got a premium heavyweight prospect.
His first two victories and his wrestling resume were enough for Bellator Fighting Championships to add him to their ever expanding roster.
“Cole Konrad’s pedigree as a wrestler is obviously second to-none, and he is quickly developing other aspects of his MMA arsenal as well,” says Bellator founder and CEO Bjorn Rebney.
Bellator quickly provided Konrad with the opportunity to prove himself. He won two fights in two months for the promotion, scoring unanimous decisions over both Patrick Bennett and John Orr. The promotion now has assigned him to its Season 3 heavyweight tournament, which also includes UFC veterans Neil Grove and Eddie Sanchez, as well as five other big bruisers.
“This tournament is going to provide me with the greatest test that I’ve faced so far in my fighting career,” Konrad said. “But this is exactly the kind of test I’m looking for. I want to get as many fights under my belt as I can, and I want to keep fighting tougher guys. This tournament is going to allow me to do that. I’m taking it one fight at a time, but I’m planning on winning this tournament. If I wasn’t planning on winning, I wouldn’t bother showing up.”
It’s that attitude, which he honed in college, that just might give him the edge he needs to win the tournament. Regardless, win or lose, Konrad is a big man that you’re likely to see a lot more of in the immediate future.
KEY VICTORY: Travis Lutter, Danillo Villefort
WEIGHT CLASS: 185 (Middleweight)
In just five short years, Rafael Natal has parlayed his Capoeira and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expertise into a four-fight contract with the juggernaut of the MMA industry—the UFC.
Though you’re not likely to see him do a cartwheel kick off of a hand plant, Natal’s roots in Capoeira are a key element in his fighting style.
Capoeira is a form of martial arts that incorporates fighting maneuvers, music, and dance. In and of itself, it may not be the most effective art form in the cage, but Natal credits Capoeira for developing his agility, balance, and quickness, all of which are key elements in any combat sport.
What more people in MMA will grasp is his black belt in BJJ.He trains under Vinicius Magalhães and Renzo Gracie, two of the art’s top practitioners in the world. He received his black belt from Magalhães in 2009.
Natal made an immediate impact when he started fighting professionally in MMA, reeling off seven straight victories before ever stumbling.
Relying mostly upon his grappling abilities and submissions early in his career, Natal has developed fast hands and good boxing ability, knocking out three of the 12 opponents he has defeated.
He is a former middleweight champion in the venerable Ring of Combat promotion on the East Coast, but his latest victory, over UFC veteran Travis Lutter at the Moos in promotion in May, was by far his biggest. That win brought his game together and earned him a four-fight contract with the UFC.
Natal picked Lutter apart with a variety of kicks and a strong jab, while stuffing the grappling ace’s takedown attempts at every turn. He dropped Lutter late in the opening round, pouncing on him and pounding out the stoppage.
Natal has amassed a 12-2 professional record, and he’s ready to put it all on the line when he makes his Octagon debut at UFC 119 in Indianapolis.