5 YRS AGO – PENICK: MMA’s Youth Movement on Display at UFC 145 with Rory MacDonald, Jon Jones, Michael McDonald

By Jamie Penick, MMATorch editor-in-chief

UFC 145

With no big MMA events this weekend, we’ll revisit some of the build-up, our live report on the fights, and our follow-up coverage of UFC 145 which took place five years ago this mlonth. So continue to relive UFC 145 with MMATorch’s coverage by checking out then-editor-in-chief Jamie Penick’s editorial on the youth movement on display at UFC 145.

Mixed martial arts is a sport in a continuous state of evolution. It’s really only truly been a sport for a little over a decade, and we’ve yet to see the best of what it has to offer as more and more prospective fighters grow up with options and opportunities in the sport.

However, the next step in the sport’s progression is being seen today in some of the younger stars coming up in the UFC. The old guard of more one-dimensional fighters is being phased out year by year, with exciting, well-rounded prospects getting a chance to shine. Saturday night’s UFC 145 event was a chance for the UFC to display this youth movement full on, with three of the youngest fighters on their roster putting forth the most impressive performances on the card.

Bantamweight Michael McDonald, 21, welterweight Rory MacDonald, 22, and UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones, 24, are all immensely talented fighters at a very young age, and at UFC 145 they each showcased their wide variety of skills.

Jones, the UFC’s youngest ever Champion, has already proved himself to be an absolute prodigy when it comes to the fight game. He entered the UFC not even a month after his 21st birthday, and his first win over Andre Gusmao was impressive enough to get him a stiff test in Stephan Bonnar his next fight out. From there he spent the next year and a half progressing up the ranks, getting more and more impressive each time out as he stopped opponent after opponent.

But it was this last year that shot him through the roof and showed just how advanced and unique he is as a fighter. This wasn’t just a changing of the guard or the passing of the torch, no. Jones destroyed the old guard and took the torch of his own volition, capturing the title last March and defeating former Champs Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Lyoto Machida in decisive fashion.

Though he failed to stop his former training partner Rashad Evans on Saturday night, it wasn’t any less decisive. In fact, in having a performance that wasn’t near the best we’ve seen out of him, he showed just how far ahead of the game he is over everyone else.

Jones was primarily a wrestler when he entered the sport, but he’s become one of the most unique, unpredictable, and diverse strikers, in addition to a vicious submission game. He’s innovating ways to attack an opponent every time he steps in the cage; against Evans on Saturday night, that meant using his elbows as his fists, or lunging shoulder strikes into the jaw in the clinch. He made Evans fight a bad fight, and he made himself look on a completely different level in the fight game despite not being at his best. It was masterful.

Canada’s Rory MacDonald has done some immensely impressive things already in his UFC career, and at 22 still has plenty of time to improve to become an even better fighter. Though his level of opponent has seemed to regress from fight to fight, he’s continued to showcase an absolutely vicious all around game.

That issue of lesser competition is a hard one to combat, especially considering he fought current Interim Champ Carlos Condit in his second UFC fight. And nearly defeated him before a late surge from Condit led to his only career loss. From there MacDonald has shown a very skilled striking game, excellent grappling and submission skills, and a real mean streak in his ground and pound game.

That ground acumen was on full display in his win Saturday over Che Mills. Mills hit him pretty hard early in the first round, but that was about the end of the Brit’s offense, as MacDonald scored a takedown and effortlessly proceeded to dominate the action on the ground. His ability to pass and improve his position is a sneaky part of what he’s able to do on the ground, but while he is capable of pulling off submissions, he’s more than content just beating his opponent up.

He picked his openings really well, and just when Mills thought he had a tiny opening to free himself of the beating, he was smashed in the face again. Ultimately it was all MIlls could do to cover up and hope the ref would step in, and MacDonald had his hand raised for the fourth time in the Octagon.

The UFC’s second youngest fighter, bantamweight Michael McDonald had impressed the UFC so much through three performances that they booked him against the still relevant former Bantamweight Champion Miguel Torres. Though the fight didn’t hit the ground at all, McDonald showed off an advanced striking game compared to most in the 135 lb. class.

He was quick with his combinations and counter strikes, and he was landing accurately for a few minutes before the finishing sequence. As Torres rushed in, MacDonald countered with a couple of punches and landed a vicious uppercut that sent Torres out cold, only the second time Torres had ever been knocked out.

These really young talents are just the beginning of this next phase in the sport’s evolution. They’ve had more resources to them as they’ve reached fighting age, and are more creative in how they implement different aspect of the game. Both McDonald and MacDonald are potential threats to Jones’ record as the UFC’s youngest-ever Champion, but again, they’re only the first wave.

As more and more young fighters get opportunities to get into the sport at an earlier age, they’ll develop a wider variety of skills, and become much more well-rounded competitors overall. As we’ve seen from these three, that can make for scary opposition for any fighter on the roster, and it makes for immensely fun viewing for fans at home.


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