For years MMA matchmakers, pundits, and fans have sought out the next generation of stars. A reality show, such as "The Ultimate Fighter" is the perfect vehicle for bringing young talent to the forefront. However, for other fighters, they have had to make their own way, having to compete for years on small shows or undercards of medium sized events—all in an attempt to impress someone enough to earn a shot on the big stage. MMA Spot's David McKinney and J.A. Yount combed through hundreds of fighters to pinpoint 15 of the best fighters that many people have not heard of, but should know.
1. Eduardo Pamplona (13-2) Welterweight
Aside from being one of the meanest looking fighters on the face of the planet, the Brazilian Muay Thai specialist is also one of the biggest 170-pound fighters in the world. In his 2007 International Fight League bout with Robbie Lawler, Pamplona completed dwarfed the top-ten middleweight and appeared to be stronger and willing to trade with the slugger. Currently riding an eight-fight winning streak dating back to that loss to Lawler in 2007, the 35-year-old is now training at Black House in Los Angeles and is looking to become more active in the near future. He boasts victories over Jorge "Macaco" Patino, Jose "Pele" Landi-Jons, and Daniel Acacio, and has competed in Shooto, Pancrase, and M-1 Challenge along with the one time in the IFL.
2. Givanildo “The Arm Collector” Santana (15-1) Middleweight
“The Arm Collector”—there may be no better nickname in all of the sport. Santana owns 13 of 15 wins by armbar, including 12 in a row at one point in his career. Although he has competed for promotions such as EliteXC and M-1, he has yet to find the right fit in one of the bigger organizations, partly because there are very few established middleweights willing to put their arms on the line against him. Santana’s submission ability is unquestioned and in recent bouts he has shown a vastly improved striking game. Expect to see the Santana in one of the major organizations in the next year.
3. Alexis “The Exorcist” Vila (9-0) Flyweight
One of the baddest 125-pound fighters on the planet, undefeated Cuban native Alexis Vila is currently training with the killers at American Top Team. His life has had ups and downs—including a three-year stint in prison after driving his car directly into the Ft. Lauderdale International Airport—but his MMA career has only been ups so far as he continues to dominate progressively stronger competition. The former two-time world champion wrestler and 1996 Olympic bronze medalist may be long in the tooth at 39 years old, but he feels that he still has many years left to compete and recently called out any 125- or 135-pound fighter in the world. So far there have been no takers.
4. Jimi “The Poster Boy” Manuwa (9-0) Light Heavyweight
Jimi “The Poster Boy” Manuwa has the size, talent, and personality to become one of the biggest stars in the sport. At 28 years old Manuwa is still learning the sport, but has been impressive since his first outing, finishing all nine of his bouts to date. His striking power will always be his strength, but he has shown great improvements in his jiu-jitsu, wrestling and Muay Thai. The only negative against the former power lifter is his durability, having battled injuries on-and-off for a few years. Currently the Ultimate Challenge MMA light heavyweight champion, he has almost outgrown the European circuit and should soon be looking to make an impact internationally.
5. Mike “Lil Hulk” Easton (10-1) Bantamweight
Despite not having competed in nearly a year and a half, the Ultimate Warrior Challenge bantamweight champion and Lloyd Irvin product is still one of the best prospects in the sport. Easton is the quintessential fighter of the new generation: he loves to strike, but his ground game is even more dangerous. On top of being a solid prospect, Easton has boosted his resume with wins over top ten flyweight John Dodson and former WEC bantamweight champion Chase Beebe. No plans are currently in place for Easton to return to the cage in the near future, but when he does, expect him to possibly get a look from the UFC.
6. Renan "Barao" Pegado (25-1) Bantamweight
Twenty-five consecutive wins, 12 submissions, six TKOs, even two wins in the WEC—yet, Renan “Barao” do Nascimento Mota Pegado is still unknown to most MMA fans. The 24-year-old Nova Uniao product has been impressive throughout his winning streak, rarely losing a round. His two WEC appearances have come by submission, hopefully earning him a television spot soon. Expect big things from him as the new UFC bantamweight division begins to settle out amidst the recent upheaval.
7. Stanislav “Staki” Nedkov (11-0) Light Heavyweight
This fierce Bulgarian has had his UFC debut put on hold multiple times due to injuries to whether his own or his opponents. However, once he makes his debut there should not be much doubt as to why he is a star in the making. Nedkov’s power, together with his grappling ability makes him a very dangerous opponent. His two Sengoku bouts against Kevin Randleman and Travis Wiuff are his biggest wins in his career. Nedkov has been compared to current UFC fighters Karlos Vemola.