It’s common fan practice in any sport to try and find the next big superstar. The UFC currently boasts the deepest talent pool in the company’s history. The road to a UFC championship belt is a long one, and the next fighters in line have already started their journies to the top by way of the undercard. These are just two of the UFC’s most promising prospects ranked just outside of the top 10 but are ready to explode on the scene in 2018.
Gregor “The Gift” Gillespie came into the UFC with an undisputed wrestling pedigree. The Native Long Islander was a 2007 NCAA National Champion at Edinboro University and a four-time All American. Since evolving into the all-around game of MMA, Gillespie compiled a 7-0 record regionally and backed it up by going 4-0 with 3 finishes in the UFC.
With each fight his all-around game grows, he’s a disciplined fighter intent on being a true mixed martial artist. His superior wrestling allows him to dominate opponents with shoddy takedown defense and grappling skills. When the fight inevitably gets to the ground, Gregor pressures his opponent like none other and uses his vicious ground and pound to either end the fight with strikes or find an opening for the submission.
Gillespie has made huge strides with his stand up game since entering the UFC. He’s found success behind his strong jab and finds openings for power punches with the stiff jab. “The Gift” possesses knock out power in his hands as evidenced by the knockout of Andrew Holbrook.
To truly cement his status in the Lightweight division, Gillespie needs to improve his boxing defense. His head movement and footwork are both stiff and leave him vulnerable to getting tagged on counter strikes. Facing weaker competition, he’s been able to escape trouble by securing takedowns. Against the upper echelon of lightweights though, he can’t rely on the ground game to get out of trouble.
“The Gift” is slated to take on Vinc Pichel on June 1st. If he finds a way to subdue the striking prowess of Pichel and add a 12th win to his unbeaten record, I’d love to see him in a title contender matchup with top 10 talent James Vick and his long 6’3 frame later in 2018.
Tatiana Suarez is a true fighter in every sense of the word. She’s a two-time bronze medalist at the Wrestling World Championships as well as a top-ranked American freestyle wrestler. In addition to her wrestling acumen, she has another notch on her belt of a different kind, a first-round KO of thyroid cancer.
Training for the 2012 London Olympics, she went down with a neck injury. Doctors examined the MRI and CAT scan and saw both a bulging disk and a cancerous tumor on her thyroid. After surgery and radiation, she beat cancer decisively but also saw her Olympic dream vanish. She searched for a new test and found Jiu-Jitsu, a perfect complement to her wrestling pedigree.
Suarez’s first three fights were with a California regional promotion and all ended with her hand raised. The UFC recognized the talent and signed her to the 23rd season of The Ultimate Fighter competition. She dominated her three fights in the tournament winning all by submission via choke. The final fight that formally counted towards her current 5-0 pro record was against Amanda Cooper for the Ultimate Fighter Title, Suarez won and became the first female in UFC history to pull off the rare D’arce choke.
Tatiana then cruised to a unanimous decision win in her first official UFC fight outside of The Ultimate Fighter. She thoroughly outclassed previously 13-0 Viviane Pereira both standing and on the ground. Suarez rag dolled Pereira around for three whole rounds with relentless pressure, she didn’t find the opportunity for the finish but put on an overall clinic. She was dominant on the ground, landing textbook single leg takedowns and maintaining control throughout the fight.
Suarez will aim to improve to 6-0 on May 18th against Alexa Grasso at UFC Fight Night 129 and move into the top 10 in the Women’s Strawweight Division. Still somewhat unproven, she may be wise to show off the stand-up game and look to get a knockout. With a few more impressive all-around performances, Tatiana Suarez will unquestionably have the talent and a humbling backstory to become a star in the UFC.
Tap in will release the “Road to Gold” segment periodically. “Road to Gold” looks at up and coming fighters who deserve to get some shine.