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The 8 Most Underrated Fighters in MMA Today

Dustin FilloyFeatured ColumnistJune 12, 2014

The 8 Most Underrated Fighters in MMA Today

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The most driven mixed martial artists stay cognizant that notoriety ultimately leads to stability.

    Regardless of the organization, the few elite in each division obviously draw the most attention, and therefore, those who consistently make the most waves deserve the quickest ascents in the rankings. 

    But the road to prominence unfolds differently for every fighter. Some grab the attention of the masses seamlessly, while others overcome extraordinary odds to eventually achieve the same results .

    These unheralded scrappers have paid their dues without getting the proper respect in return. Whether they've been slighted in terms of their rankings, the matchups they've been dealt or the lack of exposure they've received, these fighters simply deserve better.

    The following is a list of the eight most underrated fighters in MMA today. These competitors have tremendous skills but thus far have been unjustly overlooked.

Honorable Mentions

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    Alex Caceres

    A loser of three of his first four UFC bouts, No. 13-ranked UFC bantamweight Alex Caceres has bounced back and looked awfully sharp in his last five outings.

    Although he had to settle for a no-contest in what was originally a win over Kyun Ho Kang after Caceres tested positive for marijuana, "Bruce Leeroy" has reeled off four straight wins at 135.

    He submitted both the blossoming Sergio Pettis and Jackson's MMA standout Damacio Page during that span. In doing so, he scored his big break, a bout with No. 2-ranked Urijah Faber at UFC 175.

     

    Bobby Green

    Once relegated to undercard fights for Strikeforce, Green has catapulted his stock since losing his Strikeforce debut in 2011 to Gesias Cavalcante. 

    Since that loss, "King" has reeled off seven straight wins under Zuffa, three of which came in the UFC in 2013.

8. Tarec Saffiedine

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    The first Belgian-born fighter to ever grace the Octagon, Tarec Saffiedine notched his first UFC win in January, besting late replacement Hyun Gyu Lim in the main event at UFC Fight Night 34.

    Roughly a year before his UFC debut, he brutalized Nate Marquardt to take the Strikeforce welterweight belt in the organization's last event.

    "The Sponge" is ranked No. 10 in the UFC's welterweight division. An injury before his second scheduled bout with Jake Ellenberger at UFC 172 kept the soft-spoken Saffiedine from fully stepping into the limelight. 

    Since it's obvious that UFC matchmakers Joe Silva and Sean Shelby recognize the fighter's potential, it's only a matter of time before the Team Quest stalwart lands the marquee matchups he's earned.

7. Takeya Mizugaki

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    The UFC brass wisely maintained its faith in former WEC bantamweight title challenger Takeya Mizugaki following his 2-2 start with the promotion.

    Since then, the sixth-ranked fighter has won five straight fights via decision in the cutthroat bantamweight division. In his most recent outing at UFC 173, he bested Francisco Rivera, who had been riding a six-fight unbeaten streak.

    Still, Mizugaki sits behind the fourth-ranked Michael McDonald and the fifth-ranked Eddie Wineland, who are both 1-2 in their last three fights.

    The Japanese mixed martial artist has done enough to merit a shot against a Top Five bantamweight, and as of now, he shouldn't be tabbed as much of an underdog against either McDonald or Wineland.

6. Ovince Saint Preux

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    Photo credit: UFC.com

    With the exception of a decision loss to seventh-ranked middleweight Gegard Mousasi in 2011 in Strikeforce, Ovince Saint Preux has never lost under the Zuffa umbrella.

    The UFC's 13th-ranked light heavyweight has won each of his remaining nine fights since signing with Zuffa in 2010, including three since making his UFC debut in April 2013.

    Despite Saint Preux's pristine resume, Mousasi represents the only world-ranked fighter that the former University of Tennessee football player has been pitted with.

    The trend will continue for him when he locks horns with Canadian light heavyweight Ryan Jimmo (who is not ranked) at UFC 174 on Saturday.

    If he tops Jimmo, especially in convincing fashion, Saint Preux deserves a Top 10 205-pounder.

5. Tim Kennedy

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    Few middleweights can match his talent or slow his momentum, and yet Tim Kennedy still has plenty of work to do before he can call out the winner of the upcoming Chris Weidman vs. Lyoto Machida fight.

    In his last 12 fights, only Top Five UFC middleweights Luke Rockhold (No. 4) and Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza (No. 5) can say they've made Kennedy taste defeat, and those wins were anything but convincing.

    Fresh off a dominating win over the No. 8-ranked Michael Bisping, the No. 6-ranked Kennedy still has more grunt work to do before he can challenge for the middleweight strap.

4. Georgi Karakhanyan

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    While he's one of several Russian-born fighters on the rise, few fans recognize the name Georgi Karakhanyan, and even fewer can pronounce it.

    Despite his small fan following, the a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has improved radically in his last 10 fights, particularly in his last two, which took place in the World Series of Fighting cage.

    He disposed of Waylon Lowe with a guillotine choke at WSOF 5 before polishing off Team Alpha Male prospect Lance Thompson with the same technique to grab the featherweight belt at WSOF 7.

    But Karakhanyan, who has won nine of his last 10 fights, still hasn't done enough to break into ESPN's MMA power rankings for featherweights. Three non-UFC fighters sit in the top 10 on this list, but each of them calls Bellator home.

3. Yoel Romero

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    The most decorated amateur freestyle wrestler in the UFC, 37-year-old Cuban Yoel Romero has found his niche in the Octagon five years into his late-blooming MMA career.

    The hulking Romero, who is ranked 11th at middleweight, has gone on a tear since suffering his first career loss at the hands of Rafael Cavalcante in Strikeforce in 2011.

    Romero has since won four straight bouts in the UFC, including three by KO/TKO. In his latest triumph, he notched a unanimous decision over the 14th-ranked Brad Tavares. The loss snapped a five-fight winning streak for the Hawaiian.

    Like another former Olympic freestyle wrestler Daniel Cormier, Romero knows his time at the top is limited.

    He obviously doesn't deserve a title shot yet, but if he can beat a few more world-ranked middleweights, the UFC should throw him a bone.

2. Justin Gaethje

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    Like fellow World Series of Fighting champ Karakhanyan, lightweight kingpin Justin Gaethje keeps a relatively low profile, despite his ultra-aggressive style.

    And like Karakhanyan, Gaethje, a former NCAA Division I All-American wrestler, got little in the form of respect from the May's ESPN MMA power rankings in the lightweight division.

    A ferocious striker with equally impressive grappling chops, he has gone undefeated in 11 fights, finishing 10 of them. He'll look to gain some serious respect from the masses when he throws down with fellow undefeated prospect Nick Newell at WSOF 11.

1. T.J. Dillashaw

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    Prior to UFC 173, many experts believed that T.J. Dillashaw didn't belong in the same Octagon with former bantamweight champ Renan Barao.

    Once Dillashaw’s coming-out-party ended, however, the vast majority of pundits were shocked, and UFC matchmakers Joe Silva and Sean Shelby looked like geniuses. 

    Still, the members of the media who periodically update the UFC rankings need to see more before truly falling for Dillashaw. Just one thrashing of Barao, a man who was previously ranked No. 2 on the UFC's pound-for-pound list, simply isn't enough to catapult Dillashaw past other highly regarded fighters on the list.

    The bantamweight champ (No. 11) is still positioned behind Anderson Silva (No. 7) and Barao (No. 8) in the UFC's pound-for-pound rankings.

    Silva broke his left tibia and fibula in his second straight loss to Chris Weidman at UFC 168 and won't fight in 2014, and Barao obviously got outclassed for the better part of five rounds against Dillashaw.

    Like Weidman did at UFC 168, Dillashaw will get his opportunity to silence the critics and solidify his spot near the top of the pound-for-pound rankings when he defends his belt for the first time later this year.

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