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Baby Bombers - The Next Generation is Here

21-year old UFC 133 participant Rory MacDonald leads the way for the next generation of mixed martial arts stars...
At UFC 133 in Philadelphia on August 6th, Canadian welterweight phenom Rory MacDonald is back in the Octagon to face veteran Mike Pyle. At 21, MacDonald is a young man in a sport that has traditionally seen older fighters excel.

But in recent years, the mixed martial arts explosion that truly began Stateside with the launch of The Ultimate Fighter reality series in 2005 has produced a consistent influx of athletes who were raised in the sport as a whole, and not just in one particular discipline.  

Not surprisingly, we’re starting to see these fighters enter the Octagon, and here are 15 of the young guns beginning to make their move up the ranks in the UFC.

In age order, youngest first…

Michael McDonald
Age: 20
Weight Class: Bantamweight
UFC Record: 2-0

The youngest fighter in the UFC is also one of the most promising, as Michael McDonald has shown off a well-rounded, exciting, yet poised game in the Octagon thus far. Winner of bouts over Edwin Figueroa and Chris Cariaso, McDonald has come close to finishing, but hasn’t pulled it off yet. Normally, that would be a question mark, but considering that he owns finishes of Cole Escovedo, Manny Tapia, and Clint Godfrey, that’s not really a concern here for California’s “Mayday”.

Charles Oliveira
Age: 21
Weight Class: Lightweight
UFC Record: 2-1, 1 NC

Brazil’s Charles Oliveira loves to fight. You can see it the second the bell rings, and if there’s anything he loves more, it’s finishing a fight. Thus far, “Do Bronx” has not seen any of his four UFC bouts go to the judges’ scorecards, and while that was a good thing in submission wins over Darren Elkins and Efrain Escudero, a tap out loss to Jim Miller and a submission victory turned into a no contest due to an illegal knee landed on Nik Lentz make it clear that his over aggression can cost him at times. Next up is a showdown with Donald Cerrone that is already a Fight of the Year candidate a month before it takes place.

Rory MacDonald
Age: 21
Weight Class: Welterweight
UFC Record: 2-1

British Columbia’s Rory MacDonald entered the UFC in 2010 with no shortage of hype, and he didn’t disappoint with a first round submission of Mike Guymon. But it was in his next two fights that he really showed what all the fuss was about, as he went to war with Carlos Condit before getting stopped in the final round at UFC 115, and then rebounded with a one-sided win over Nate Diaz at UFC 129. Scheduled to face Pyle in less than a month, MacDonald is the real deal, and if he gets by “Quicksand,” he will be a legit contender at 170 pounds.

Dustin Poirier
Age: 22
Weight Class: Featherweight
UFC Record: 2-0

A fiery protégé of veteran middleweight Tim Credeur, Louisiana’s Dustin Poirier bounced back from the lone loss of his career to Danny Castillo in a WEC bout in 2010 to stop Zack Mickleweight in 53 seconds, drop to featherweight, move to the UFC, and run off big wins over Josh Grispi and Jason Young. Still raw, “The Diamond” is getting better and more disciplined with each fight, a scary proposition for his fellow 145-pounders.

Josh Grispi

Age: 22
Weight Class: Featherweight
UFC Record: 0-2

When Josh Grispi entered the UFC in January, who would have thought that he would be sitting on a 0-2 record in the Octagon come summer? But after losses to Dustin Poirier and George Roop, that’s where the New Englander has wound up. But considering the talent and finishing ability he showed in four straight first round finishes of Mark Hominick, Micah Miller, Jens Pulver, and LC Davis in WEC bouts, it’s probably safe to say that this run of bad luck is just a bump in the road, not a road block.

Erik Koch
Age: 22
Weight Class: Featherweight
UFC Record: 1-0

A stablemate and roommate of former WEC champ Anthony Pettis, lanky Erik Koch may have ended seven of his wins by submission, but recently he’s been showing off some spectacular power that has resulted in Knockout of the Night awards for his first round finishes of Francisco Rivera (in the WEC) and Raphael Assuncao (in the UFC). That’s Duke Roufus 101 right there.

Paul Sass
Age: 22
Weight Class: Lightweight
UFC Record: 1-0

The British are coming up fast just like the rest of the world is, and while Paul Sass isn’t going to be confused with countrymen Michael Bisping and Dan Hardy in terms of selling fights with a little trash talk, his performances when the bell ring will certainly do the trick, as he is a submission master with a particular talent for pulling off triangle chokes like Chuck Liddell knocked people out with right hands. In his Octagon debut last October, Sass ended Mark Holst’s night with the maneuver (it was his eighth win via triangle), even though Holst and everyone else knew it was coming. Now that’s a finishing move.

Alex Caceres
Age: 23
Weight Class: Featherweight
UFC Record: 0-1

Best remembered for his stint on season 12 of The Ultimate Fighter, where he became better known by his nickname “Bruce Leeroy” than his given name, Alex Caceres did win two fights on the show before losing in the quarterfinals to Michael Johnson, but in his UFC debut in March, he was finished fairly quickly by Mackens Semerzier. He’ll get another shot in the Octagon against Leonard Garcia in August, and the outcome of that fight will likely determine his future fighting destination.

TJ Waldburger
Age: 23
Weight Class: Welterweight
UFC Record: 1-1

A pro since 2005 that didn’t get any gifts on his way up the ranks, TJ Waldburger put on a groundfighting clinic with David Mitchell in his UFC debut last September, eventually emerging with a well-deserved three round decision win. Waldburger wasn’t so fortunate in his second Octagon outing, getting stopped by Johny Hendricks in 95 seconds in March. Waldburger has bounced back from knockout losses before (five of his six defeats have been by KO or TKO), so expect him to get right back on the horse to try again in the near future.

Ramsey Nijem
Age: 23
Weight Class: Welterweight
UFC Record: 0-1

After a knockout loss to Tony Ferguson in the Ultimate Fighter season 13 finals in June, Ramsey Nijem isn’t at the top of anyone’s radar at the moment, but he should be, because he’s a talented wrestler with good submissions and finishing instincts, and he has plenty of upside, especially if he drops to 155 pounds to compete on a more level playing field sizewise.

Stefan Struve
Age: 23
Weight Class: Heavyweight
UFC Record: 5-3

The most experienced member of the group here, with eight UFC fights and 30 pro bouts, Stefan Struve has grown up in the sport, and as he fills out his 6-foot-11 frame in the coming years, he will become more and more dangerous. Skilled with submissions and armed with the heart of a lion, Struve’s only weakness thus far has been a tendency to start slow and get himself in trouble early. And while he was able to bounce back from adversity against Sean McCorkle, Denis Stojnic, and Christian Morecraft, it cost him in KO losses to Junior dos Santos, Roy Nelson, and Travis Browne.

Brad Tavares
Age: 23
Weight Class: Middleweight
UFC Record: 2-1

Low-key Brad Tavares silently made a name for himself on season 11 of The Ultimate Fighter, but even more so in his bouts since leaving the series, as he decisioned Seth Baczynski and knocked out Phil Baroni before losing a three round decision to Aaron Simpson at UFC 132 earlier this month. Even in defeat, Tavares showed off some solid takedown defense against a world-class wrestler, but he will have to work on his close-range fence game if he’s going to move on to the next level.

Cody McKenzie
Age: 23
Weight Class: Lightweight
UFC Record: 1-1

The way Paul Sass finishes fights with triangle chokes, Cody McKenzie does with a guillotine choke he dubs “The McKenzietine.” 10 of his victories have come with the maneuver, including a win over Aaron Wilkinson on the TUF12 finale card. McKenzie’s wild winning ride came to a halt at the hands of veteran Yves Edwards in January, but a Fight of the Night award for the bout and an always entertaining style means that we will be seeing more of McKenzie in the future. Hey, how about McKenzie vs. Sass for submission supremacy?

John Hathaway
Age: 23
Weight Class: Welterweight
UFC Record: 5-1

With UFC wins over Diego Sanchez and Rick Story already in the bank, rising British star John Hathaway has proven to have what it takes to compete with the best in the game on the UFC level. An upset loss to veteran Mike Pyle last October issued Hathaway his first pro loss and slowed his rise, but after a gritty three round split decision win over Kris McCray, the “Hitman” is back on the winning track.

Jon Jones
Age: 23
Weight Class: Light heavyweight
UFC Record: 7-1

Wow, guess who showed up here. The youngest champion in UFC history, Jon Jones is one of those ‘once per era’ talents that can change the game, in and out of competition. In the UFC since 2008, Jones has grown up in public and has had little problem mowing through any and all competition. Even his only pro “loss” was via disqualification in a bout he was dominating against Matt Hamill. In 2011, he fulfilled his promise when he stopped Mauricio Rua in the third round to win the 205-pound title, but now the real work begins, as he attempts to defend his crown against former champ Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in September.

The rest of the 24 and under club…

Heavyweight
Christian Morecraft - 9/8/86 - 1-2

Light Heavyweight
Alex Gustafsson - 1/15/87 – 3-1
Steve Cantwell – 8/12/86 – 1-3

Welterweight
Pascal Krauss – 4/19/87 – 1-0

Lightweight
TJ O’Brien – 2/23/87 – 0-1
Anthony Pettis - 1/27/87 – 0-1

Featherweight
Chan Sung Jung - 3/17/87 – 1-0
Jose Aldo – 9/9/86 1-0

Bantamweight
Nick Pace - 4/17/87 – 1-0
Renan Barao – 2/27/87 – 1-0
Demetrious Johnson - 8/13/86 2-0

Saturday, September 20
3AM/12AM
ETPT
Tokyo, Japan

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