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: Cristiano Marcello
WEIGHT CLASS: 145 lbs.
COUNTRY: United States
With just one loss and one decision victory in 12 fights, Sam Sicilia carried a lot of momentum into his stint on The Ultimate Fighter: Live reality series. Of his 10 victories prior to the show, Sicilia had finished nine of his opponents. Despite all of his success prior to the reality series, TUF still represented a huge step for the fighter from Washington.
He handled the pressure well, quickly knocking out a training partner of UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz to gain entry into the fighter house. Cruz then served as his coach on the show. Just as quickly as he made a splash to gain entry in the fighter house, however, he tasted the sour side, losing a controversial split decision on TUF. Had it not been for that loss, Sicilia would have been considered a favorite to make the finals of the show.
He made amends on the TUF Finale, taking out one of the series’ early favorites, BJJ whiz Cristiano Marcello. He once again showed off his striking prowess, disposing of Marcello with an assault of knees and punches midway through the second round.
Currently riding a seven-fight winning streak, Sicilia is stacking the cards ever more in his favor by dropping from lightweight to featherweight, hoping to enhance his strength and power. If he can continue improving on the skills that have led him to an 11-1 start, Sicilia will soon be in the UFC featherweight title mix.
KEY VICTORIES: Jens Pulver, Mitch Chilson, Bae Young Kwon
WEIGHT CLASS: 145 lbs.
NICKNAME: The Natural
In Asia, Eric Kelly isn’t that much of a “New Blooder,” but he is to the rest of us around the globe. That’s changing quickly, as Kelly’s rise through the ranks is happening at the same time that mixed martial arts in Asia is finding a new gear. He has earned his props fighting for two of the top promotions in the region, holding the URCC Featherweight Title, while also impressing One FC crowds.
Kelly has a strong submission game, but he has also shown that he packs power with his striking skills. Kelly submitted his first six opponents, and he TKO’d former UFC lightweight Champion Jens Pulver in his most recent bout.
Kelly has been caught in the middle of fighting for both URCC and One FC, which is a good place to be, as both promotions are fighting to keep him under their respective banners. The dual promotion career, however, did cost him a title shot. While he holds the URCC Featherweight Title, Kelly was offered a shot at the One FC belt as well. Having an obligation to defend his URCC belt a short time after his scheduled One FC bout forced him to forego the title shot to ensure his health for the URCC fight.
Still, it’s not a bad position to be in for a fighter barely three years into his professional career. A native of the Philippines, Kelly is sure to be in one spotlight or another as the sport continues its ascendancy in the Asian market.
KEY VICTORIES: Luiz Cane, Kevin Randleman, Travis Wiuff
WEIGHT CLASS: 205 lbs.
Stanislav Nedkov has already realized one dream—to fight in the UFC. Now, with his Octagon debut under his belt, Nedkov is on a quest to earn UFC gold.
Nedkov—a black belt in jiu-jitsu and two-time Bulgarian National Freestyle Wrestling Champion—didn’t have an easy road to the UFC. Only the second Bulgarian fighter to enter the UFC’s ranks, he fought the majority of his pre-Octagon days in Bulgaria and Japan. The world didn’t really take notice of Nedkov until his fights in the now-defunct Sengoku promotion in Japan. Nedkov had already amassed eight professional victories, but when he TKO’d veteran Travis Wiuff and former UFC Heavyweight Champion Kevin Randleman, pundits and fans took notice.
Nedkov notched one more victory prior to his UFC signing, but his debut would take more than one year due to opponent injuries. One fight, a planned bout against Steve Cantwell at UFC 120, was scratched just 48 hours before the two were slated to lock horns.
Once he fi nally made it under the brightest spotlight in the sport, Nedkov lived up to his billing. An athlete who had primarily focused on the grappling arts as a young man, Nedkov opted to display his striking skills that have become just as much a part of his repertoire as his grappling. He TKO’d Luiz Cane—a BJJ black belt known for packing power in his punches—in the opening round of their fi ght, immediately serving notice that he would be gunning for a spot in the upper echelon of the light heavyweight division.
Nedkov is expected to return to the Asian scene in November to fight in the UFC’s first event in China. Barring injury, he is slated to face another tough test in Thiago Silva. Should he get past Silva, Nedkov will be on the fast track to fighting a top contender with an opportunity to prove he belongs in UFC title talks.