With a ton of great fights on tap and numerous stories to track before and after every card, there are bound to be a bunch of athletes that sneak up on people between now and the start of August and I’ll do my best in this column to keep spotlighting the ones you really need to keep an eye on going forward.
Here’s a look at the talented trio to watch when The Ultimate Fighter 25 Finale arrives at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas to kick off next month’s onslaught of excitement.
This is On the Rise.
If you’re compiling a list of the most consistently entertaining fighters in the sport, you have to include Gaethje, the unbeaten 28-year-old UFC newcomer who looks to make an instant impression in the lightweight division when he takes on Michael Johnson on July 7.
Gaethje blossomed into a must-watch talent under the World Series of Fighting banner over the last four years, rattling off 10 consecutive victories with nine finishes while claiming the company’s lightweight belt and notching wins over the likes of Gesias Cavalcante, Melvin Guillard and Brian Foster along the way.
A solid wrestler, the Trevor Wittman protégé often eschews his grappling in favor of slinging hands, smashing home punishing kicks and playing “who’s got the better chin?” with anyone willing to oblige.
Johnson should be a willing dance partner, which means this one could be a sneaky Fight of the Year contender in addition to giving everyone a chance to get an instant read on where Gaethje fits in the talent-rich 155-pound weight class.
A couple years ago while speaking to John Crouch from The MMA Lab for a story, the respected coach sang the praises of the talented non-UFC competitors who made up the Murderer’s Row of training partners and potential future stars that pushed the biggest names in the Glendale, Arizona gym on a regular basis.
Klose was one of those guys.
The former collegiate wrestler went unbeaten on the regional circuit and kept his unblemished record intact with a one-sided decision win over Devin Powell in his promotional debut back in January. Now the South Haven, Michigan native gets a chance to make a splash with a showcase showdown against fellow prospect Marc Diakiese.
Klose isn’t going to wow you with the video game-inspired offense Diakiese brings to the cage, but he’s a technically sound powerhouse with great conditioning – an MMA Lab must – and the kind of smothering, aggressive approach that suffocates anyone who isn’t ready to go 15 minutes at a high pace.
Now that he’s getting a high profile pairing on the big stage, don’t be surprised if Klose shows why Crouch has been so high on him for the last couple years.
One of the most promising young talents to ascend through the Invicta FC ranks, Ladd is set to make her UFC debut opposite Jessica Eye in a matchup that has the potential to establish her as the top up and comer in the bantamweight division and inject her into the rankings right out of the gate.
The 22-year-old has gone five for five to start her career, with each of those victories coming under the Invicta FC banner and four of those wins coming by way of stoppage. She tapped out TUF finalist Amanda Cooper in her second professional fight and showed she’s truly one to keep tabs on by moving up to bantamweight and continuing to dominate the competition with her relentless takedowns and punishing top game.
Eye is mired in a four-fight skid, but has shared the cage with some of the best in the division and boasts a significant edge in terms of experience over the MMA Gold representative, but that’s what makes this a tremendous opportunity for Ladd.
Few newcomers get the chance to step into the Octagon with a seasoned veteran in their promotional debut, but that’s what she’ll do on July 7 and if she’s able to keep her winning streak intact, get ready to hear a lot of talk about Aspen Ladd being the future of the women’s bantamweight division.