In the world of mixed martial arts, athletes typically reach their prime when they enter their 30s.
As a result of the sport’s exponential growth in the last decade, the culture of mixed martial arts has changed dramatically. In the past, athletes would usually have a specific martial arts background, and then go on to develop their skills to become complete mixed martial artists.
Today, youth have began to train as complete, well-rounded competitors, and thus the world of mixed martial arts has become loaded with youthful athletes that are not only impressing the masses today, but are also continuing to improve upon their skills while working to become stars in the fastest growing sport in the world.
The following is a list of the 25 best mixed martial artists aged 25 or under.
25. Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou
Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou, 25, is one of the best judo practitioners to ever enter the sport of mixed martial arts. In conjunction with Sokoudjou's grappling skills, he has also shown effective boxing skills inside the ring.
Despite great athletic ability, Sokoudjou's mixed martial arts' career has been hindered by violent altercations and inconsistant performances.
Although Sokoudjou finds himself as a "freelance" mixed martial artist of sorts, bouncing from organization to organization, he still remains one of the most dangerous fighters in the sport.
24. Kiril “Baby Fedor” Sidelnikov
As the protégé of Fedor Emelienenko, Kiril Sidelnikov, 21, will likely one day become one of the best fighters that Russia has to offer to the world of mixed martial arts.
As a member of the Russia Red Devil Sport Club, Sidelnikov competes in both mixed martial arts and sambo grappling competitions in Russia and abroad, with the likes of country mates Fedor and Aleksander Emelienenko.
All of Sidelnikov’s six victories have been by way of referee stoppage.
23. Dan “The Upgrade” Lauzon
At the tender age of 18, Dan Lauzon became the youngest competitor to ever enter the octagon.
Lauzon, now 21, is back in the UFC and is ready to showcase his strong grappling skills against his fellow lightweight contenders.
With a career record of 12 wins and only three loses, Lauzon has never allowed a fight to go to a decision.
22. Chris “The Polish Hammer” Horodecki
Chris Horodecki, 22, of London, Ontario, Canada is one of mixed martial arts’ most promising young lightweight contenders.
Before losing his WEC debut, Horodecki had amassed a record of 11 wins with only one loss, including eight wins under the IFL banner.
21. Josh “The Fluke” Grispi
Quietly becoming one of the top featherweight contenders in the WEC, Josh Grispi, 21, is working to establish himself in the thick of one of the organization’s most talented divisions.
As a well-rounded competitor, Grispi has notched six victories via knockout and six victories via submission inside the first round of action.
Undefeated in the WEC, Grispi’s highest profile win came in the form of a first round submission victory over mixed martial arts legend Jens Pulver.
20. Todd Duffee
It took only seven seconds for Todd Duffee, 24, to make waves in the UFC, as that is all it took the heavy-handed heavyweight to dispose of Tim Hague at UFC 102.
Early in his career, the youthful Duffee has Shane Carwin-esque statistics: in six fights, the lumbering Duffee has notched six knockout victories, including three bouts that didn’t last 20 seconds.
Fellow UFC heavyweights have taken note; if and when Duffee connects with his huge hands, it's lights out.
19. Joe Soto
When the undefeated Joe Soto, 23, became the first Bellator Fighting Championships’ featherweight champion, there was little fan-fair. However, when Soto attempts to defend his title again in the future, he will have a much larger audience, as the infant organization signed several television deals to garner more attention for their promotion.
An accomplished collegiate wrestler, Soto was teammates with Jon Jones and Cain Valasquez at Iowa Central Community College.
Showing quality take-down defense and effective submission skills, Soto may challenge Roger Huerta as Bellator’s biggest draw by the end of 2010.
18. Gunnar Nelson
Truly one of mixed martial arts’ best kept secrets, Iceland’s Gunnar Nelson, 21, is for all intents and purposes a grappling prodigy.
A Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black-belt under the legendary Renzo Gracie, Nelson has been dominating an inordinate amount of international grappling tournaments for nearly five years.
Grappling credentials aside, Nelson has proven to be a very promising mixed martial arts prospect, as he is undefeated through the first seven fights of his career.
17. Rory “The Waterboy” MacDonald
Rory MacDonald, 20, is one of the UFC's youngest athletes. With an undefeated record of 10 wins and zero losses, MacDonald just happens to be one of their most promising athletes as well.
A former King of the Cage champion, MacDonald burst on to the international scene by way of a first round submission victory over Mike Guymon at Ultimate Fight Night 20 in Fairfax, Virginia.
A string of wins for MacDonald would mean a lot in terms of eventually becoming the third welterweight champion in UFC history.
16. Stefan “The Skyscraper” Struve
Stefan Struve is one of the tallest athletes in the sport, and at 22, still has ample time to develop a dominant fighting style that fully utilizes the distinct size advantage the nearly seven foot tall mixed martial artist holds over nearly every heavyweight contender.
In his recent bouts, Struve has shown that his striking is versatile and effective. Struve proved to be a capable kick-boxer at UFC 107, when he picked seasoned striker Paul Buentello apart for the better part of 15 minutes.
As comfortable as he is trading on his feet, Struve’s grappling ability on the ground is arguably as efficient as any other heavyweight in the UFC. As of the towering Dutchman’s 19 victories, 14 have come by way of submission.
15. Terry Etim
Terry Etim, 24, has proven to be one of Britain’s best mixed martial artists.
With five victories in seven octagon appearances, Etim has shown fans that he is more than capable on the ground and when the bout is standing; twice being awarded with the ‘Submission of the Night’ distinction and also showing knockout power against Brain Cobb at UFC 95.
14. Ross “The Real Deal” Pearson
Great Britain’s second ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ winner, Ross Pearson, 25, is unbeaten in the UFC and shows very little signs of slowing down.
A terrific kick-boxer, Pearson is a hard-headed scrapper who shows great potential to become the next prominent European star in the sport of mixed martial arts.
A fan-favorite, Pearson has shown great poise throughout his career in the octagon, going undefeated through the first three bouts of his UFC career.
13. Jamie “C-4” Varner
As the former WEC lightweight champion, Jamie Varner, 25, has proven that he is one of the organization’s brightest stars.
As well-rounded as most elite competitors today, Varner has used his potent combination of effective boxing and strong grappling to become one of the top lightweight contenders in the world today.
A three-time WEC lightweight champion, Varner has notable career victories over Kyle Bradley, Rob McCullough, and Donald Cerrone.
12. Joe “J-Lau” Lauzon
From his tenure on The Ultimate Fighter 5 to the present day, Joe Lauzon, 25, has established himself as one of the UFC’s most well-rounded athletes. With impressive grappling skills and an ever-improving stand-up game, Lauzon presents problems for any fighter in the UFC’s lightweight division.
The always entertaining Lauzon has only allowed one fight to go the distance in 23 professional mixed martial arts bouts.
Lauzon has notched impressive victories over Mike Brown, Jens Pulver, and Jeremy Stephens.
11. Dustin “McLovin” Hazelett
Dustin Hazelett, 23, has already proven to be one of the best Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners in the UFC.
In the crowded welterweight division, Hazelett has cemented his status as one of the most effective grapplers, and if he continues to work to develop a stand-up game that can compliment his tremendous submission skills, he will likely be a force for years to come.
In five victories inside the octagon, Hazelett has scored four wins via submission, including two instances in which Hazelett earned the 'Submission of the Night' award.
10. Sam “Hands of Stone” Stout
Sam “Hands of Stone” Stout, 25, has a habit of putting on great fights. This habit has proven profitable for Stout, as he has been awarded 'Fight of the Night' honors an overwhelming four times.
Stout, a former K-1 kick boxer, is one of the best strikers in the UFC’s lightweight division, continually showcasing his crisp, quick, stand-up ability every time he enters the octagon.
Stout’s most recent bout, coming in the form of a unanimous decision win over Joe Lauzon, puts the always entertaining Canadian on the right path towards an eventual title shot.
9. Carlos “Natural Born Killer” Condit
Widely regarded as one of the most talented fighters in WEC history, Carlos Condit, 25, is now attempting to make a similar run of dominance in the UFC’s welterweight division.
Coached by legendary trainer Greg Jackson, Condit possesses some of the crispest kick-boxing in the UFC, along with very effective grappling skills.
The four-time WEC welterweight champion has a career record consisting of 24 wins and five losses.
8. Tyson Griffin
As one of the best wrestlers in the UFC, Tyson Griffin, 25, has become one of the most dominant contenders in a very crowded lightweight division.
In his nine outings in the UFC, Griffin has scored seven victories and has been involved in five bouts that were awarded 'Fight of the Night' honors.
With his tremendous grappling prowess, Griffin has wrestled his way to victory over Urijah Faber, Duane Ludwig, Clay Guida, and most recently, Hermes Franca.
7. Joseph Benevidez
A gym-mate of Urijah Faber, Joseph Benevidez, 25, has already proven himself to be one of the elite bantamweight competitors in the world.
A former university wrestler, Benevidez is arguably one of the best submission artists in the WEC today.
With a record of 12 wins with only one loss, Benevidez is racking up wins against some of the best in the world en route towards becoming the next WEC bantamweight champion.
6. Nate Diaz
Looking very sharp in both the UFC’s lightweight and welterweight divisions, Nate Diaz, 24, has consistently built upon his strong base for years to quietly become one of the sport’s most dangerous athletes.
Always pushing the pace on his feet and relentlessly searching for submissions on the ground, Diaz has proven to be one of mixed martial arts’ fiercest competitors.
The winner of The Ultimate Fighter season 5, Diaz holds notable stoppage victories over Gray Maynard, Melvin Guillard, and Rory Markham.
5. Dominick "The Dominator" Cruz
Dominick Cruz, 24, is one of the best 135 pounders in the world.
A unique striker with top-notch footwork, Cruz became the WEC’s fifth bantamweight champion with a technical knockout victory over the previously undefeated Brian Bowles at WEC 47.
In 16 professional bouts, Cruz has only lost once. In 2007, the San Diego, California product was submitted by then-WEC featherweight king Urijah Faber.
4. Junior dos Santos
At 25 years old, Junior dos Santos is currently one of the most dominant mixed martial artists in the UFC, and all signs point to the heavy-handed Brazilian continuing his tear through the heavyweight division en route to an eventual title shot.
A former kick-boxer, dos Santos has shown awe-inspiring knockout power on his feet while proving to be a capable grappler on the ground.
In the UFC, dos Santos is yet to taste defeat and has registered stoppage victories over Fabricio Werdum, Stefan Struve, Mirko Fillipovic, Gilbert Yvel, and Gabriel Gonzaga.
3. Jose Aldo
It hasn’t taken Jose Aldo, 23, long to cement his status as one of the most feared strikers in the world of mixed martial arts.
In the WEC, Aldo has displayed incredible ability in the stand-up department, notching six heart-stopping finishes in as many appearances, including three victories that resulted in Aldo being awarded with the 'Knockout of the Night' bonus.
Undefeated in his last nine outings, Aldo is also the current WEC featherweight champion.
2. Jon “Bones” Jones
Certainly the UFC’s most “hyped” fighter since Brandon Vera, Jon Jones, 22, has so far exceeded the immense expectations placed on the incredibly well-rounded mixed martial artist.
Displaying a stand-up style that is as unorthodox as Anderson Silva’s, Jones has also proven to spectators that his grappling is among the best in the UFC’s light heavyweight division, showcasing picturesque throws against Stephan Bonnar, outclassing experienced wrestler Matt Hammil on the ground, and taking Brandon Vera to the canvas with ease.
In the UFC, Jones has looked unstoppable, almost effortlessly tearing through any light heavyweight contenders unlucky enough to be pitted against the Rochester, New York native.
In Jones’ first five bouts in the UFC, he has amassed wins over Andre Gusmao, Stephan Bonnar, Jake O’Brian, and most recently, a first-round stoppage victory against Brandon Vera.
1. Gegard "The Dreamcatcher" Mousasi
Strikeforce’s Gegard Mousasi, 24, is the one of the most well-rounded mixed martial artists in the game today. A tremendously talented striker, Mousasi has also proven to have arguably one of the best ground games in the world as well.
With a career record of 28 wins with only two losses, Mousasi has fought in several different weight classes in several different organizations over the last three years, while working to establish himself as one of the best pound-for-pound competitors in the world.
Widely regarded as one of the top mixed martial artists not competing in the confines of the UFC, Mousasi has not lost since 2006 and has effectively cemented his status as one of the sport’s most talented and promising athletes.
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