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.
OVINCE ST. PREUX
KEY VICTORIES: Antwain Britt, Benji Radach, Ron “Abongo”Humphrey
WEIGHT CLASS: 205 lbs
After a blistering 2010, it would be difficult to find a hotter prospect than Strikeforce’s Ovince St. Preux. He won six out of six fights last year, and then he fought the first week of 2011, winning his seventh fight inside of 12 months.
A former defensive end and linebacker while playing football at the University of Tennessee, St. Preux didn’t begin his MMA career with a hard-hitting bang. He lost his first two professional bouts en route to a 3-4 record in his first seven. That didn’t exactly turn a lot of heads, but 2010 was right around the corner.
St. Preux’s second fight of 2010 was a TKO victory over Chris Hawk at Strikeforce: Nashville. He went back outside the organization to win two more fights, and then he became the promotion’s go-to guy. After defeating UFC veteran Jason Day on his home turf in Canada in July, St. Preux surprised many by winning a unanimous decision over Antwain Britt at Strikeforce Challengers 12 on Nov. 19. When Strikeforce needed an opponent for Benji Radach—a UFC, WEC, and IFL veteran—just two weeks later, St.Preux stepped in and defeated “Razor” by unanimous decision on Dec. 4.
“I was definitely nervous going into that fight because of the experience level,” says St. Preux. “He definitely had more experience than I had, but I feel like I did exceptionally well, so I can’t complain.”
Instead of taking a much-deserved break, St. Preux jumped right back into the fire and fought Strikeforce’s top up-and-coming 205-pounder, Ron “Abongo” Humphrey, just over a month later. St. Preux walked out of the cage with another unanimous decision victory, never letting Humphrey get into a rhythm. The Humphrey fight put 27-year-old St. Preux at three wins in seven weeks, a stunning accomplishment, especially considering the pedigree of his opponents.
To say Strikeforce was happy would be a major understatement. As quickly as St. Preux has turned the corner in his professional career, he’s just as quick to point to what he believes is his key to success.
“I think the biggest improvement that I’ve made over the past year was working with a really good strength and conditioning coach—Nate Hoffmeister,” says St. Preux. “Working with him has improved my cardio and speed, and the work I’ve put in with my head trainer, Eric Turner, has escalated me to becoming a better fighter.”
But as successful as he was in 2010, St. Preux looks forward to 2011 to be his true breakout year. Winning is wonderful, but until fans know your name, it’s difficult to bring in the money that typifies succeeding at the highest levels of any sport. This year, St. Preux plans to leave his imprint on fans and step into the title picture.
“2010 was the year I wanted to get my record up to par,” says St. Preux. “I did that. I wanted to sign with Strikeforce. I did that.2011 is going to be the year that I want people to know my name and hopefully earn a title shot.”
KEY VICTORY: Fredson Paixao
WEIGHT CLASS: 145 lbs
COUNTRY: United States
NICKNAME: The Scarecrow
Pablo Garza knows what it means to keep his head up in the face of adversity. In a sport where opportunities to shine are few and far between, Garza got a chance to do just that when he was selected as a cast member on The Ultimate Fighter 12. After winning his way into the house, he faced standout Michael Johnson in the debut episode, losing a tough two-round decision.
However, the North Dakota native refused to hang his head. Instead, he got right back in the cage and earned two victories in less than 21 days, bringing his pro record to 9-0. Three weeks later, he found himself on one of the world’s biggest stages to face lightweight Zhang Tie Quan at WEC 51 in September 2010. Tie Quan showed why he is the best fighter to come out of China by securing a guillotine submission in the first round.
Again, Garza felt like he had wasted his opportunity to shine. However, the third time would be the charm. When the UFC absorbed the WEC in October 2010, the UFC came calling, pitting Garza against Fredson Paixao in the promotion’s first featherweight bout at the TUF 12 Finale. Garza came out of the gate like he was shot from a cannon, landing a flying knee that knocked Paixao unconscious for nearly two minutes. The victory earned Garza a $30,000 Knockout of the Night Bonus and another invite back to the UFC to face Yves Jabouin at UFC 129 in Toronto, Ontario, in April.
The knockout victory was only Garza’s second T(KO) win in 11 fights, as the lanky 6’1” fighter—who goes by “The Scarecrow”—prefers to rely on his submission game. Of his six submission victories, he has used a well-rounded attack consisting of stoppages via triangle,rear-naked choke, armbar, kimura, guillotine, and punches. Garza will need every bit of his submission savviness if he hopes to get by the heavy-handed Jabouin, who has 11 (T)KO victories. Garza knows that this fight is his chance to really shine.
KEY VICTORIES: Julia Budd
WEIGHT CLASS:145 lbs
NICKNAME: Lioness of the Ring
Amanda Nunes stepped into the seventh fight of her professional career at Strikeforce Challengers 13 in January—live on Showtime. It was her first fight on American television, in fact, it was her first fight in America. She responded the same way that she always does in a fight, setting a blistering pace that her opponent Julia Budd couldn’t manage.
Nunes stormed Budd at the bell, throwing a few testing leg kicks before flooring Budd with a crushing left hand. Not wasting a moment, Nunes pounded down hammerfists for a stoppage in 14 seconds. Immediately came the cries for a bout with Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Cris “Cyborg” Santos. Nunes, however, is in no hurry.
“Amanda wants to have many more fights in America to get her name out there,” Nunes’ translator said for her after the fight. “Cyborg is her final goal, and the time will come.”
Under the guidance of her coach, Edson Carvalho, a sixth degree black belt in both BJJ and judo, Nunes has run her record to 6-1 in the three years she has been fighting professionally. At 22 years old, Nunes may find herself fighting Cyborg sooner rather than later. The Strikeforce Women’s Middleweight ranks are rather thin. There are really no clear contenders to Cyborg.
Nunes is slightly shorter and less muscular than Cyborg, but they maintain the same 69-inch reach and a similar demeanor in the cage—they show no quarter to their adversaries. Cyborg has a 10-1 professional record, winning eight of those by knockout.All six of Nunes’ wins have come byway of knockout, four of those in the first round. Like Cyborg, Nunes is a relentless headhunting machine. She has shown good takedown defense, but she doesn’t look for the takedown herself. Nunes’ game isn’t to go to the ground. She aims for the head and doesn’t relent until that head is on the mat, something that Julia Budd and five other fighters know all too well.
Don’t be surprised if Nunes is thrust into a title shot in 2011, and if she gets into a slugfest with Cyborg, it’s going to be lights out for one of them.