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: Dan Hornbuckle and Ryan Thomas
WEIGHT CLASS: Welterweight (170 pounds)
Kicking off his mixed martial arts career with an impressive unbeaten streak in six straight fights is nothing spectacular for Ben Askren. A two-time NCAA D-I National Wrestling Champion, Askren went 42-0 his senior year and 153-8 over his entire collegiate career at the University of Missouri, pocketing numerous awards and honors.
“I’m not going to go in the cage unprepared,” he told MMAWeekly.com when he embarked on his MMA career. “I’m a worker, and I’m going to work. I’m going to get good at what I do. I want to get good at jiu jitsu, get good at striking, and I’m going to go in there prepared.”
That was the attitude that put him on top in collegiate wrestling and helped earn him a spot on the 2008 Olympic Freestyle team, and it’s the attitude that has seen him—in a year and a half—rise to the top of the heap in MMA.
Training with American Top Team in Florida—a school renowned for churning out well-rounded fighters—Askren submitted three of his first four MMA opponents and TKO’d the other.
Less than a year into his career, Askren signed on for the Bellator Fighting Championships second welterweight tournament, which he won.
He twice defeated a far more experienced Ryan Thomas before earning top honors with a win over highly vaunted Dan Hornbuckle in the final. The victory earned Askren a shot at the championship, currently held by Lyman Good, in Season 3, which kicks off in August.
It didn’t take long for Askren to rocket to the upper ranks, and that’s the way he wanted it when he began his climb.
“I want to face tough opponents. I don’t want to face ‘cans,’ as they call them,” he says.
“This is exactly the kind of performance we had hoped Ben would put on when we signed him six months ago,” says Bjorn Rebney, Bellator founder and CEO, after Askren defeated Hornbuckle. “It was a tremendously impressive night for Ben all the way around. As an MMA fan, I cannot wait to see his world title fight against Lyman Good this fall.”
Even the prospect of challenging Good doesn’t daunt him. Following his latest victory, Askren addressed the champ directly, “Lyman, keep my belt warm. Shine it up once a week and enjoy it while you can because it’s mine, baby.”
KEY VICTORIES: Tara LaRosa, Marloes Coenen, JenniferHowe
WEIGHT CLASS: 135 pounds
With an overall professional record of 15-5, Roxanne Modafferiis no stranger to mixed martial arts. But at age 27, like most women in the sport, the spotlight has largely shone past her and onto her male counterparts.
With victories over the likes of other female pioneers in the sport—including Marloes Coenen, Jennifer Howe, Megumi Yabushita, and Tara LaRosa—that spotlight should be glaring white hot on Modafferi.
The win over LaRosa finally garnered her some notoriety. Although the bout took place under the little known Moosin promotional banner, just defeating LaRosa, a touted name in women’s MMA, was enough to make people start to take notice.
In fact, it was enough for Strike force to call her back to action and challenge women’s welterweight champion Sarah Kaufman.
Modafferi fought for Strike force before, but was called in for a 145-pound fight. She lost that fight late last year to Coenen, a fighter she had defeated once before, but that may have been a blessing in disguise, as it has forced Modafferi to reassess her career. She decided to compete at 135 pounds, much closer to her natural weight.
Make no mistake about it though, Modafferi has had to go through the pains of winding her way through a variety of traditional disciplines, fighting out of her weight class, and competing multiple times in one night. She won the K-Grace Open Weight Tournament by defeating three women, including Coenen, in a single night of action. She has also held titles for the IFC and Fatal Femmes Fighting.
Born in Wilmington, Delaware, Modafferi’s journey has taken her through several traditional disciplines. She’s shifted from tae kwon do to kempo to judo to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to Muay Thai and seemingly everything in between. Her journey has also landed her in a new home base. Modafferi trains and fights primarily out of Tokyo, Japan. She now hopes to return to the U.S. and take Kaufman’s belt home with her to the Land of the Rising Sun.
“I am so thrilled to be invited back to face Sarah Kaufman, especially since it’s in the weight division that I belong in,” Modafferi told MMAWeekly.com.
And while Kaufman has come under fire recently for not finishing her opponents—her last three bouts have gone to a decision after an initial eight-fight string of knockouts—Modafferi has been hard at work on her striking game, planning to alleviate Kaufman of any concerns.
“I’d like to reassure Sarah that she doesn’t have to feel any pressure this time. I’ll finish the fight for her.”
KEY VICTORY: Rosi Sexton
WEIGHT CLASS: 125 pounds
AGE: 26COUNTRY: U.S.A.
NICKNAME: Warrior Princess
Zoila Frausto has quickly risen through the ranks of women’s mixed martial arts to become a force to be reckoned with. She slipped up in her first opportunity to hit the big time when she lost to highly regarded Meisha Tate at a Strike force Challengers event earlier this year. However, Frausto made up for it by scoring a win over Michelle Ould in May and then pulling off the upset against Rosi Sexton in June.
Sexton was an invitee into Bellator Fighting Championships’ Season 3 women’s 115-pound tournament. The fight with Frausto was to be her introduction to Bellator fans, but Frausto had other ideas. Instead of being a walkover, Frausto was a knockout, literally.
She drove a knee into Sexton’s chin that put the Brit down on the mat. Frausto followed up with a triple-shot of right hands to the face that sealed the deal, handing Sexton just her second loss in 12 bouts.
“I saw the opening, and I just threw the knee up,” Frausto said after the fight. “I’ve been shooting for No. 1 since I got into the sport. This is exactly why I got into MMA.”
The win put Frausto at 7-1 as a professional fighter and earned her Sexton’s spot in the Bellator tournament.
“The purpose of our women’s tournament is simply to determine the best pound-for-pound female fighter in the world, and with such a dominant performance against the world’s No. 1-ranked 125-pound fighter (Sexton), there was no way not to include Zoila in this lineup. She earned her place by beating the best,” says Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney.
Despite her meteoric rise as a professional, Frausto’s has been building to this moment her entire life.
Starting off in tae kwon do as a child—alongside her father, who is a black belt in the Korean discipline—Frausto was a four-year varsity letterman in high school in three different sports: cross country, soccer, and track & field.
She played soccer at the city college level, but when her aggressiveness outgrew what was acceptable on the soccer field, she moved into a local gym and started boxing. That gave her the bug for combat sports, which catapulted her into mixed martial arts. The rest is history, as she’s blazed through the ranks.
“I had so many people telling me I was crazy and that I’ll never make anything out of this, and look at me now—making money for what I love to do.”