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: Roger Bowling, Cory Devela, Erik Apple
WEIGHT CLASS: 170 lbs.
COUNTRY: United States
You might look at a guy like Bobby Voelker with his record of more than 30 fights and be surprised to see him in New Blood. Despite his plethora of fights and being 32 years old, Voelker has been somewhat of a late bloomer.
Voelker actually started fighting professionally five years ago. Making up for lost time, he dove in headfirst, fighting 28 times in his first four years. Now, fighting for Strikeforce, Voelker has finally started to dial it in and show some upward movement in a major promotion.
Most recently, Voelker finished off a trilogy of fights with his arch nemesis, Roger Bowling, in the main event of Strikeforce Challengers 17. That’s the fight that has put him on the road to finally breaking through, and Voelker didn’t even see it as the performance he expected from himself.
“I really wanted to be more explosive in that first round and start quicker, but unfortunately, I’m still a slow starter and don’t get going until I get knocked around a little bit,” Voelker says.
The victory was Voelker’s fourth out of five fights, and the lone loss was a technical decision to Bowling in their first meeting when the fight hit the scorecards due to an inadvertent eye poke that ended the contest.
With Nick Diaz vacating the Strikeforce Welterweight Title to take a shot at Georges St-Pierre in the UFC, Voelker suddenly finds himself on the short list of contenders.
“Since that belt’s open, I definitely want a shot,” he says. “If not, if they want me to fight someone else, there are a lot of guys out there.”
Voelker likely won’t get a title shot just yet, not with guys like Tarec Saffiedine and Tyron Woodley coming off of wins over Scott Smith and Paul Daley respectively. However, he is poised to move onto the Strikeforce main stage, challenging those types of fighters so that he can get the shot.
KEY VICTORIES: Darrell Montague, Dustin Ortiz, Jussier da Silva
WEIGHT CLASS: 125 lbs.
COUNTRY: United States
NICKNAME: Uncle Creepy
Ian McCall is already one of the top fighters in the world—if not the top fighter in the world—in the 125-pound flyweight division. The only trouble for him and his counterparts is finding a high-profile avenue to apply their trade. All of that will be changing, however, as the UFC will soon be featuring the weight class. UFC president Dana White says his company plans on making the move, “Hopefully, early next year.”
McCall and his compatriots will have to wait a little longer for the biggest of stages, but that doesn’t mean you should wait to become a fan.
Fighting professionally since 2002, McCall has consistently had to fight above and beyond his natural weight class throughout the years. That hasn’t stopped him from amassing an impressive 11-2 record, which recently culminated in the Tachi Palace Fights Flyweight Title. That’s no small feat, considering that TPF is home to many of the world’s best fighters in the class.
In his last three fights, McCall bested three other fighters who could easily be counted among the best 125 pounders. He scored unanimous decisions over Jussier da Silva—widely regarded as the best in the world at the time—and Dustin Ortiz before challenging for the Tachi title. His most recent victory was the sweetest, finishing now-former champion Darrel Montague with a rear naked choke in the third round to take home the gold.
McCall is well-versed in every facet of the game, and he has a scrappy desire to win every time he sets foot in the cage. In addition, his marquee nickname “Uncle Creepy” should make him a highly marketable asset once the UFC comes calling—and they will come calling.
“I’m ready to prove myself against the best in the world,” says McCall. “A lot of people are saying that I should just go there [UFC] and fight Benavidez right away for the belt, but I know I might have to work my way up a little bit. But I’m ready to prove I’m the best against anybody the UFC would offer me. You know, Jeremy Luchau of TPF just wants the best for all of us. He wants us to go to the UFC and succeed and that’s awesome. He understands that it only looks good for the promotion when a bunch of his guys go off and make it to the UFC.”
Don’t be surprised to see Ian McCall’s name on the roster when the UFC takes the wrapper off their flyweight class in early 2012.
KEY VICTORIES: Julie Kedzie, Tonya Evinger
WEIGHT CLASS: 135 lbs.
After four years of working her way up the ranks, women’s 135-pound fighter Alexis Davis finally got her shot in a major MMA promotion when she took on Julie Kedzie at Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson.
Of course, “the ranks,” included fights against MMA standouts Tara LaRosa, Shayna Baszler, Tonya Evinger, and Elaina Maxwell. No slouches in that bunch, and even though she didn’t win against all of them, each fight helped prepare Davis for her recent step into the spotlight.
For a fighter who has always had to work for everything she’s gotten, her win over Kedzie wasn’t easy.
“I’m the type of fighter who always moves forward and tries to push the pace, and Kedzie was able to control that by keeping the space and distance,” says Davis. “When we did clinch, she has a strong enough wrestling background that it was difficult to take her down.”
However, Davis managed to prevail and secure a win that represented the biggest step forward in her career.
“This is fantastic for me to have a win in my first fight for Strikeforce,” Davis says. “I feel like they’re really trying to push the 135-pound division, and I’m really glad to be part of that. Hopefully, I can work my way up through the food chain within the next year and get a title shot.”
A brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a black belt in Japanese Jujitsu, the string of competition she faced prior Strikeforce, and title fights in smaller promotions have prepared Davis for the path she’s currently on.
Strikeforce Bantamweight Champion Miesha Tate already has a fight lined up with another top challenger in Sarah Kaufman, but that doesn’t dissuade Davis. She’s ready for whatever challenge they put before her.
“I would be happy to fight either one of them,” she says. “Even if it wasn’t for a title shot, I’d fight Miesha anyway—she’s a great competitor. I think I match up pretty well with both of them. I’ve fought some of the top women in the sport, and I’ve been able to hold my ground.”
Regardless of her next opponent, Davis hopes she’s impressed Zuffa enough to take on a top-level fighter in her next Strikeforce bout. “That’s the reason so many women want to sign with them, because you’ll get those quality bouts and get the opportunity to fight the highest-ranked people,” Davis says. “I’m looking to go out there and prove myself, just like everyone else.”