In addition to making for great television, these stars gave young and amateur fighters people to idolize. It’s important in any sport for people who might be up-and-coming, or who might simply have aspirations, to see athletes they want to model themselves after. This is why some argued that the real tragedy of the U.S. not making the 2018 World Cup was that young soccer players in America wouldn’t see teenage prodigy Christian Pulisic competing on the world’s biggest stage. And all of a sudden, this is looking like something of a potential problem for the UFC. The search for the next stars in the sport is on, and the answers aren’t as evident as they might have been one, two, or even five years ago.
With that said however, these are some of the fighters amateurs and young fans might still do well to keep tabs on.
Yes, Ronda Rousey is more or less out of UFC for good, or so it seems. Once the sport’s most dominant and charismatic athlete, she had a rather stunning fall from the top and now appears to have moved on. However, she’s still a very compelling figure. Young fighters would still do well to study her prime, and in the event she comes back – which she’s certainly still young and fit enough to do – she’d immediately be the biggest story in the sport once more. UFC is not a scripted sport, but we certainly wouldn’t put it past Dana White and Co. to pressure Rousey back into the ring for the sake of the story.
Like Rousey, McGregor now exists on the fringe of UFC. He’s also a less admirable figure than Rousey outside of the ring. However, by boxing against Floyd Mayweather and largely holding his own, McGregor successfully boosted his own profile to become perhaps the most famous male UFC fighter in the sport’s short history. As of now there are persistent rumors of an octagon rematch between McGregor and Mayweather, and if this ends up happening – and McGregor can win – he’ll likely raise the whole sport to new heights.
Sean O’Malley, who’s from Montana despite his Irish name, is a little bit different for UFC, and that might just help him stand out in a crowd. If most male UFC fighters more closely resemble smaller versions of, say, The Rock or Vin Diesel, O’Malley looks more like an Orlando Bloom type, and gets by more on skill and tact than brute force. It remains to be seen how effective the young fighter will be in bigger bouts, but he has a chance to be a fan favorite.
Mackenzie Dern is one of the known prospects to watch in the UFC, and perhaps inevitably she gets compared to Ronda Rousey quite a bit. That’s not appropriate based on her early record in the sport (she’s not a submission machine like Rousey was). But Dern’s jiu-jitsu skills are good enough to take her far, and make her a very compelling fighter to watch.
Paolo Costa is what a lot of fans want to see in the UFC. He’s a big, charismatic, muscled figure who hits with enormous power and has tho potential to plow to a middleweight title with sheer force. That’s not to say he definitely will, but if Costa winds up competing in and winning title fights he’s going to be very popular doing it.
Despite his recent scratch at UFC 226 (due to Max Holloway’s injury), Brian Ortega is perhaps the clearest pick as an up-and-coming star in UFC. He’s already amassed an impressive string of wins and would likely have seized a title against Holloway. He’s a fun fighter to watch, and one with a versatile array of attacks that make him just the littlest bit unpredictable. Ortega is an excellent young fighter for amateurs to watch.