MMA stock watch: Five fighters deserving of another chance and five we can write off
Sage Northcutt and Paige VanZant had a lot of hype, but have failed to meet expectations
There have been many fighters in recent years who have entered the hallowed eight walls of the UFC's Octagon behind a loud trumpet of hype only to shortly prove they weren't the goods as advertised.
Such is life in the UFC, where one mistake can lead to defeat against just about anyone on any given night. But it's because of that level of unpredictability and how easy it is to suffer defeat that grace needs to be given before attempting to write a much-hyped prospect off as being more sizzle than steak.
At just 24, women's strawweight contender Rose Namajunas (6-3) is a strong example, having bounced back and grown from a pair of tough defeats to find herself once again on the verge of joining the true UFC elite. On the flipside, there's middleweight Uriah Hall, who can record a spectacular KO with the best of them yet has six defeats in four years.
Let's take a look at a group of recent fighters who entered the UFC to great fanfare only to suffer defeat and decide whether it's time to buy or sell on whether they will ever live up to their great potential.
Give them another shot
Doo Ho Choi (14-2), featherweight: The "Korean Superboy" showed more good than bad in losing a Fight of the Year contender against veteran Cub Swanson in December after a 3-0 start with the UFC. While there's always concern about how much a loss that physically damaging can do to a young fighter, Choi showed tremendous heart and recuperative abilities to battle back and go the distance. He vowed afterwards that he would never lose again. Choi, 26, seems to be wired a bit differently than most young fighters and with a mandatory two-year military service in South Korea hanging over his head, the time to swing big in terms of matchmaking is now.
Alexa Grasso (9-1), women's strawweight: The 23-year-old Mexican prospect was certainly humbled in her February loss to Felice Herrig, despite being a 2-1 favorite coming in. While Grasso looked too tentative in her second UFC fight against a tested veteran, Herrig surprised nearly everyone with just how rejuvenated and focused she appeared. Grasso, a talented striker, can still learn from this setback without taking a step back. Considering the UFC's long-time interest in becoming a larger player in Latin American markets, she'll likely get as strong of a push as possible to do so.
Aljamain Sterling (13-2), bantamweight: A two-fight losing skid over the past year proved a bit misleading for "The Funk Master" considering both defeats came via heartbreaking split decision against Bryan Caraway and Raphael Assuncao. Sterling, 27, bounced back nicely in April against Augusto Mendes and said the disputed scorecards which cost him two fights proved to be a blessing in disguise because of how much they motivated him to improve and leave no doubt.
Mirsad Bektic (11-1), featherweight: At 26, the native of Bosnia was talking about a future title shot in March after entering his UFC 209 bout against Darren Elkins fresh off four convincing victories to start his UFC career. Then all heck broke loose and Bektic suffered a defeat of the most devastating kind when Elkins authored possibly thein UFC history to win by third-round TKO. The concerns about what a loss of this manner will do mentally for a fighter are real, but Bektic has overcome battles in the past, including depression that came from missing more than a year due to ACL surgery heading into 2016.
Darrion Caldwell (10-1), bantamweight: The former NCAA Division I wrestling champion at NC State remains one of Bellator MMA's top prospects despite suffering a surprising submission loss to Joe Taimanglo last July headlining Bellator 159. Caldwell, 29, came right back with a strong decision win in their December rematch. Already owning a dominant victory over former two-division champ Joe Warren, he's ready for the title level at Bellator and recently pulled out of an April opportunity against champion Eduardo Dantas due to injury. He's still the goods.
Time to move on
Paige VanZant (7-3), strawweight: On one hand, she's still just 23 and remains less than a year removed from a spectacular jumping switch-kick knockout of Bec Rawlings. But there's legit reason to question whether VanZant will ever reach her full potential largely because she may not end up needing to. The "Dancing With the Stars" veteran has enough Hollywood goals and connections to ask the all-important question: If she doesn't need to fight, why continue to do so if you risk hurting your brand and meal ticket by doing so? After getting dominated both times she has stepped up in class, there's enough reason to believe she may never get there.
Sage Northcutt (8-2), lightweight: Had he not been a martial arts phenom in grade school with chiseled abs and an almost unknowing "aw shucks" persona, Northcutt would have never been pushed this quickly after making his UFC debut at age 19 in 2015. Two years and two humbling defeats later, Northcutt has many doubters regarding his future despite being just 21. In his favor remains that both losses came at 170 pounds and that he intends to campaign exclusively at lightweight moving forward. But it's fair to question whether he has missed out on the opportunity to improve steadily because of how quickly he was touted and pushed as a "next big thing." With so much expected of him, does Northcutt have enough of a mean streak to be successful? Can he improve on a ground game that has appeared remedial? While he remains an attraction, one day becoming an elite fighter seems too far of a leap as things currently stand.
Will Brooks (19-3), lightweight: The former Bellator champion was already an established and respected fighter when made his much-hyped UFC debut last July. A 1-2 record in the Octagon, however, has opened up some unforseen questions. Brooks, 30, faded late and was stopped by Alex Oliveira and was outright dominated by Charles Oliveira in April by first-round submission. Even his lone UFC win against Ross Pearson brought out some criticisms due to Pearson rallying late in a competitive fight. Brooks was nearly flawless in Bellator and his four-fight run on the way out -- defeating Michael Chandler (twice), Marcin Held and Dave Jansen -- remains impressive. But the leap from elite success on the Bellator level to the same within the UFC is sometimes a reach too far for certain fighters.
Marcin Held (22-6), lightweight: Entering the UFC from Bellator with much less fanfare than his former 155-pound rival Brooks, Held's run in the Octagon has followed a similar path. "The Polish Prodigy," 25, dropped back-to-back decision losses to veteran gatekeepers Diego Sanchez and Joe Lauzon. While the second fight was a split decision, with Lauzon outright admitting he didn't believe he had won, Held still failed to impress just the same. Despite controlling the action with takedowns at times, he wasn't able to land anything of note offensively to stand out. In the end, that may end up proving to be a microcosm of his larger troubles overall at the UFC level.
Ovince Saint Preux (19-10), light heavyweight: There was once a window in time where the former University of Tennessee football player, despite often trading hot and cold performances, looked like just might figure it out in the long term. At 34, that window has closed thanks to four losses in his last five fights, including a decision defeat against Jon Jones in their interim title bout last April, which kicked off a three-fight skid.
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