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: Julia Budd, Sarah D’Alelio
WEIGHT CLASS: 145 lbs.
COUNTRY: United States
Ronda Rousey has been a champion at the highest levels of Judo, winning a bronze medal in the 2008 Olympics, a silver medal in the 2007 World Championships, and a gold medal in the 2007 Pan-American Games. Now, she wants to take what she’s done in the world of Judo and utilize it in the world of MMA. So far, it’s working. Rousey has four submission victories in four fights, including two under the Strikeforce banner.
“To actually get on Showtime and fight on what I consider the biggest stage for women’s MMA, I feel like that was a great achievement for me,” Rousey says. “I put a lot of work in, and after a year of competing, I was able to reach my first initial goal. It was very satisfying for me. I feel like I’m improving every single day, especially in the striking department. A lot of people haven’t seen me strike, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been working on it. I feel that I’m in better shape for every fight. I’m taking my MMA career much more seriously than I did with Judo.”
“While many pundits think that her recent win over Julia Budd could put her in the mix to face Cris “Cyborg” Santos for the Strikeforce Featherweight Title, Rousey sees it differently.
“I’m planning to drop down and win the 135-pound belt before I go after the 145-pound title,” she says. “I definitely want to win both belts and be the undisputed best female fighter in the world. A fight with Cyborg would be the most important of my career, and I want to treat it like the Olympics and be entirely peaked when that time comes. The 145-pound division doesn’t really have that many women signed in Strikeforce, so I’d be better off going for the 135-pound title first. Once Cyborg and I finally fight, it would be two titleholders against each other, and the fight would even be an even bigger deal.”
KEY VICTORIES: Rich Clementi, Jonathan Goulet, Travis Briere
WEIGHT CLASS: 170 lbs.
NICKNAME: The Menace
Canadian welterweight Chris Clements was on the verge of a run toward the UFC several years ago, until he ran into back-to-back losses to UFC veterans Rory Markham and Jesse Bongfeldt. The loss to Bongfeldt was compounded by an injury that sidelined Clements for nearly two years.
“A week before I fought Jesse, I tore my ACL,” he says. “In the second round, I had him in an armbar, and he rolled over and popped my knee. He got me in the choke when I tried to stand up and shake my knee back into place. After that, I took about six months off before I got surgery, and it was another year or so in rehab, so that’s what set me back a bit.”
Clements has fully recovered and has won five of his last six fights since returning to action in 2009, showcasing a calmer, more deliberate style, which has contributed to his recent success.
“Before my injury, I was always pretty nervous and held back a lot in my fights,” Clements says. “I didn’t showcase a lot of the skills I have. Now that I’m more comfortable, I’m able to do more stuff like I did in my last fight with the spinning back kick [which lead to a KO of Travis Briere]. I’m more seasoned, so I move around a lot more and have more gamesmanship as opposed to just going in there, holding my breath, and going for the kill. I’m a little more methodical now.”
Admittedly not a spring chicken, Clements feels that it’s now or never if he’s going to get his opportunity to do something at the highest level of MMA.
“I’m only interested in the UFC,” he says. “I don’t really care too much about going to another show. I’m 35 years old, and at this point in my career, I don’t want to spend three or four years building myself up in another organization with hopes of getting into the UFC.”
Clements is definitely giving it his best effort to get to the UFC before he calls it a career. He’s strung four consecutive knockout victories together, including a third-round TKO finish over UFC veteran Rich Clementi in his most recent outing.
“Not only do I hope they take notice that I’m beating UFC vets, but also notice the fashion I’m doing it in,” he says. “I’m not squeaking out decisions or ducking opponents. I’d like to fight in the UFC before I turn 36 years old and make a run for myself and have a full career there.”
KEY VICTORIES: Travis Reddinger, Eric Wilson, Thierry Quenneville
WEIGHT CLASS: 135 lbs.
NICKNAME: Haggis Basher
A Canadian like Clements, John Fraser shares something else with his countryman—he’s also reaching the later stages of his career and wants to make a run into the UFC. At 10-3 and riding a seven-fight winning streak, he’s giving it a good go.
Fraser battled to a 3-3 record to start off his professional career, losing three straight bouts before deciding that it was time to take a break. That was in 2006. He came back with a vengeance in 2009, scoring the first of what are now seven consecutive submission victories. One of Fraser’s key changes was to drop weight classes. Following the three-years hiatus, Fraser moved down to featherweight and then bantamweight before his career resurgence began.
“My last cut to 145 pounds was easy,” Fraser says. “I didn’t even have to cut the day of the weigh-ins. I just got on the scale and made weight, no problem. So, I thought maybe it was a good time to take the chance and move down to 135 pounds. I definitely noticed that I have the strength advantage. At 145 pounds, I felt I was bigger, but now at 135 pounds, I feel I have a huge size advantage.”
Along with the drop in weight, Fraser has returned to his roots to avoid the pitfalls that he suffered in his losses prior to his break.
“I’ve always been a jiu-jitsu guy, and back when I first started fighting, I was always standing and banging with everybody, and I kind of got caught and beat that way by other submission guys,” he says. “Now, I’m going back to fighting the way I train and have been using my BJJ more.”
That has obviously been working for Fraser, who has seven consecutive submission victories. He’s finished everyone who’s been thrown his way for the past two-and-a-half years. He’s given the UFC no doubt as to why they should give him a call and bring him into the Octagon. Fraser is ready, willing, and able.