Which current non-contender in any division in either UFC or Bellator do you think is going to rise to a Top Five Contender status in 2017 and be the Rising Star of the Year?
MIKE GROCKE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
As the MMATorch writer for the Bellator Preview & Predictions column and the live report writer, I’ve been fortunate to have watched some excellent, young, up and coming fighters display their craft in the Bellator cage. The first name that comes to mind is A.J. McKee. The 21 year old featherweight is undefeated under the Bellator banner, going 6-0 with five finishes. Up until his decision victory over Ray Wood at Bellator 166, each of his previous five wins ended in the first round. McKee is well-rounded fighter who looks for the finish when the opportunity presents itself. Bellator’s Featherweight Division is one of the best, if not the best, division in the organization so 2017 might be a bit ambitious for the son of MMA veteran Antonio McKee to break through in.
On the UFC side, Alexa Grasso has future star written all over her.
MIKE HISCOE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Two fighters to watch for in 2017 are Eduardo Dantas and Doo Ho Choi. Dantas is already Bellator Bantamweight Champion, but he’s very much flown under the radar to the general fanbase thus far. He beat Joe Warren fairly convincingly on Dec. 3 and could have a breakout 2017 if Bellator is able to line up the right opponents for him. That may be former UFC fighters coming over that he can beat and up his profile or by feeding him contenders that will allow him to look good. Right now, Dantas is just outside the MMATorch Top Ten, but I expect him to move up the rankings as 2017 moves on.
Choi is another potential breakout star. He made more of a name for himself against Cub Swanson which a huge audience last weekend on Fox in the UFC 206 replay, giving his career momentum for 2017. Choi’s boyish appearance paired with his violent fighting style can make for a very marketable star at featherweight if he can keep winning.
MATT ECHOCHARD, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
If non-contender means anyone on the verge of the top 10 in a division or lower, I have three fighters in mind. First is Doo Ho Choi as he is such a character (look up a video of his callout to fight Cub Swanson) and could potentially be a world beater. Choi has some incredible power in his hands for the Featherweight Division and he could be the real deal.
My second choice would be Derrick Lewis, who has already shown good progress in his overall skillset. The victory over Roy Nelson hasn’t shot him into contention just yet and he could really shine with his power and personality.
Finally from Bellator, A.J. McKee has quickly started to shine into stardom with impressive striking and wrestling that will allow him to cause trouble for any opponent he faces in Bellator.
CHECK OUT OUR PREVIOUS ROUNDTABLE: ROUNDTABLE (pt. 2 of 2): How would you grade UFC’s handling of the Featherweight Title situation? How would you have handled it differently?
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