Five Ounces of Pain: 15 Fighters to Watch in the eyes of Blogger Sam Caplan, I say hes right on the money with this..read on my friends....Other news Sam is breaking .. EliteXC signing a former UFC Welterweight Title contender; MMA airing on network television; PRIDE buyout and Gomi rumors; interesting insight about UFC on ESPN; and much more! Mixed martial arts headlines during the early portion of 2007 thus far have been reserved for the sport's biggest names. From Fedor re-signing with PRIDE; to Cro Cop's pending UFC debut; to Randy Couture's decision to come out of retirement, press coverage in MMA has almost been exclusively dedicated to established stars only.But what about the future stars of MMA? Are there not any names worth talking about besides the ones that are already established? That's hardly the case as the sport's future has a chance to be even brighter than it is right now. The depth of future mixed martial arts stars is extraordinary.Unfortunately, due to all the media attention devoted to the industry's big guns casual fans simply aren't getting to hear about all the young guns on the verge of breaking out. Due to the fact that the MMA stars of today are hogging all the attention, "Five Ounces of Pain" thought it would be a great idea to try and educate novice fight fans on the stars of tomorrow.Five Ounces of Pain's Top 15 Fighters (in order) to Watch in 2007:1. Gilbert Melendez/Lightweight/PRIDE - Melendez is already a star in the minds of diehard mixed martial arts fans but he's relatively unknown amongst UFC marks (no offense, of course). That'll change with PRIDE scheduled to hold 3-4 cards in the U.S. during 2007. "El Nino" is riding high with an undefeated 12-0 record and appears to be on a collision course with PRIDE Lightweight Champion Takanori Gomi.2. Jake Shields/Welterweight/Gracie Fighting Championships (GFC) - Shields, a training partner of Melendez, is the best welterweight fighter not in the UFC or PRIDE. He holds wins over Jeremy Jackson (the dude who went "hoggin'" on TUF 4 and got tossed), Yushin Okami, and former UFC Middleweight Champion Dave Menne. Shields is capable of defeating even higher profile fighters but first needs an opportunity to be matched up against them. The only thing preventing him from fighting on major shows is an inability to finish fights with 13 of his 21 career bouts having gone to decision.3. Cung Le/Middleweight/PRIDE - Seemingly no matter what the topic is, Le somehow makes it into this column each week. No, I don't have a secret man crush on the guy. If you don't understand why I talk about him so much then just check out one of his patented scissor takedowns from one of his San Shou fights. Le is 3-0 since converting to MMA and will finally be fighting on a big show at PRIDE 33 in February. He could become quite the commodity if he wins his PRIDE debut as it's believed he's signed for only one fight.4. Eddie Alvarez/Welterweight/BodogFIGHT - This welterweight slugger has excellent technical boxing skills and is ready to fight in the UFC or PRIDE right now. Alvarez sports a perfect 9-0 record and holds notable wins over Derrick Noble and Aaron Riley. Mainstream MMA fans are unfamiliar with Alvarez but the Philly-bred fighter will be a household name a year from now.5. Tyson Griffin/Lightweight/UFC - The sky is the limit for the undefeated (8-0) 23-year old fighter from Santa Rosa, CA. Griffin holds wins over Urijah Faber and Duane "Bang" Ludwig and was victorious in his UFC debut against David Lee at UFC 63. He's a true mixed martial artist as he's not only good on his but also feet strong on the ground. Griffin's next fight is scheduled for UFC 67 against Frank Edgar. Mark my words: Griffin is a future UFC Lightweight Champion.6. Martin Kampmann/Middleweight/UFC - Out of all of the UFC's major talent acquisitions in 2006, I'd rank Kampmann number four right behind Mirko Cro Cop, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, and Ryoto Machida. Born in Denmark, "The Hitman" now lives in Las Vegas, where he continues to perfect his excellent Muay Thai striking skills. Don't be surprised if you see him fighting for the Middleweight Title by early-2008.7. Gabriel Gonzaga/Heavyweight/UFC - Gonzaga has recovered after a lackluster UFC debut against Kevin Jordan in which both fighters were nearly booed out of the building. In fact, the Brazilian-born grappler is now a personal favorite of UFC president Dana White. With a couple more wins he'll be a legitimate top-ten heavyweight.8. Yushin Okami/Middleweight/UFC - Okami is 3-0 since debuting in the UFC and is scheduled for his highest profile fight to date against Mike Swick at UFC 68. It will be a great battle of strikers with Okami standing a good chance of pulling off an upset. Win, lose or draw, look for him to get a shot at the UFC middleweight title before 2007 draws to a close.9. Urijah Faber/Featherweight/WEC - Featured two weeks ago on MSNBC's "Warrior Nation," Faber is the former "King of the Cage" 145 pound Champion. He's also the current WEC Featherweight Champion and will be making his first defense this weekend against Joe Pearson in Vegas. "The California Kid" has lost just once (to Tyson Griffin) in his career and holds impressive wins over Charles Bennett and Ivan Menjivar. Known for his excellent conditioning, Faber wrestled in college at UC Davis and competed in the Abu Dhabi submission grappling World Championships in 2005. Already under Zuffa control, he's a lock to fight for the UFC once he's ready to commit to fighting at 155 lbs.10. Drew McFedries/Middleweight/UFC - He's one of the brightest prospects currently training at Miletich Fighting Systems in Bettendorf, Iowa. McFedries caught the attention of many fans with an impressive win in the first round against Alessio Sakara at UFC 65 (the fight aired on tape). He'll drop down to middleweight in order to fight Martin Kampmann at UFC 67 in a match he'll likely lose. However, McFedries has the ability to be a top-five UFC middleweight and will only get better under the tutelage of Pat Miletich.11. Nam Phan/Lightweight/Strike Force - Phan is of Vietnamese heritage and gets ton of support from the Vietnamese community whenever he fights on Strike Force cards. However, he might not be fighting on Strike Force cards much long as he's on the cusp of being ready for bigger shows. Phan is well rounded and a force already to be reckoned with but the best may yet be to come as he's just 23. 12. Thiago Alves/Welterweight/UFC - Alves' career is on hold right now after failing a drug test administered by the Nevada State Athletic Commission leading up to his fight at UFC 66. It appears that Alves wasn't taking any performance enhancing drugs and instead took something to help him shed a few pounds before weigh-ins. The Brazilian native and current Florida resident will rebound and could very well be in the Welterweight Title picture by November or December.13. Zelg Galesic/Middleweight/PRIDE - Dubbed as "mini-Cro Cop," the Cage Rage British Welterweight Champion hasn't even made his PRIDE debut and already has a sizeable fan base. His legion of fans will only grow as 2007 progresses.14. Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza/Middleweight/GFC - "Jacare" (which means alligator in Portuguese) battled to a draw against Randy Couture at X-Mission Grappling Unlimited this past November. I wasn't surprised that he didn't lose to Couture, I was actually surprised he didn't beat him. Yes, Souza's Jiu-Jitsu is that damn good. He is without question the best grappler in MMA and after going 3-0 in 2006 there's a good chance you'll be seeing him fight on televised fight cards this year.15. Chris Wilson/Welterweight/IFL - Wilson trains out of Team Quest in Portland, Oregon and is one of the brightest prospects currently on the IFL's roster. Like most fighters at Team Quest, Wilson has a strong ground game but his standup is also respectable. Having already defeated the best the IFL has to offer in Rory Markham and Jay Hieron, it might not be long until you see him fighting for PRIDE or the UFC.Is there a name not on this list that belongs? E-mail "Five Ounces of Pain" at SCaplan8@comcast.net and let us know who should have made the cut.News & Notes:• There's reason to believe that Disney-owned ESPN's anti-UFC bias could be softening. UFC spokesman Jim Byrne accompanied Chuck Liddell for Liddell's appearance on the "Scott Ferrall Show" last Wednesday on Sirius Satellite Radio. Most of the calls were for Liddell, but a caller posed a question to Byrne, asking him if there have been any talks to have the fight cards air on satellite radio. Byrne said it was something that's been discussed in the past and is something that's revisited every few months. He went on to say that a lot of media options have opened up lately based on the company's recent success and that some big things could happen within the next six months. Byrne hinted that a deal with ESPN might be possible, saying that "the network with the four letters and the alphabet name" has entered the picture.I don't have an inside source but I am certain ESPN and the UFC have been engaged in at least cursory talks. How can I be so certain that the two parties have talked? It's because the UFC has done a great job of attracting the most coveted demographic in television while ESPN has plenty of hours of programming to fill. Furthermore, an executive as high up on the company food chain as Byrne wouldn't have made those comments if there at least wasn't some truth to them. Now, how do I know he was referring to ESPN? What other four letter network could he have been referring to, CNBC? While I'd love to see Jim Cramer from "Mad Money" as an MMA color commentator, ESPN is the only four letter cable network that could be interested in televising the UFC.• Speaking of TV deals, the International Fight League has inked not one, but two television contracts. The IFL re-signed with Fox Sports Net and will be airing 22 one-hour late night shows beginning in early-spring. The promotion also reached a pact with Fox-owned MyNetworkTV to air a weekly two-hour show starting in the summer. FSN also has the right to produce PPV events as well as a video-on-demand product. These two deals are important to the survival of the IFL. The promotion has had trouble drawing at the gate and does not currently air on PPV. As such, their revenue streams are severly limited. As great as it is that these two deals are in place, there's still no way to see IFL fights live. Until that nut is cracked the company will find growth to be slow.• EliteXC conducted a conference call for select members of the media on Wednesday in preparation for their first card to be televised February 10 on Showtime. President Gary Shaw announced that the promotion has signed Nick Diaz to a contract. Diaz is a great addition to the EliteXC roster and was actually a name we suggested they sign in a column a few weeks back.• I had a chance to ask Shaw if he had spoken with Brandon Vera. Shaw was adamant that he has no intention of tampering with fighters under contract to other promotions but also made it a point that people know how to get a hold of him. He also added that he'd "love" to add a fighter such as Vera to the EliteXC roster.• Showtime's Senior Vice President and General Manager for Sports & Event Programming Ken Hirschman told me last week that EliteXC was on the verge of signing Quinton "Rampage" Jackson to a contract just before the UFC stepped in and bought his contract from the WFA. According to Hirschman, the UFC's decision to acquire assets from the WFA was done as a direct move to counter Showtime and Elite.• PRIDE held a press conference in Los Angeles last week to promote PRIDE 33, which is scheduled to be held Las Vegas on February 24. CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara denied rumors that the company was in the process of being sold to Zuffa. "It's just a rumor," said Sakakibara. "I haven't had any close conversation with (UFC president) Dana White so far. But since the Fertitta brothers bought the UFC we've had a very close relationship and we have had friendly conversation. We're just trying to come up with the idea on how we can make this sport grow. That's our main concern. I think that is where the rumors are coming from. We're constantly having a conversation with the UFC."• Sergei Kharitonov vs. Gilbert Yvel is expected to be added to the PRIDE 33 card. Kharitonov is coming off back-to-back losses to Alistair Overeem and Aleksander Emelianenko (Fedor's little bro) and is in bad need of a win.• There's absolutely nothing to the rumors that PRIDE Lightweight Champion Takanori Gomi will be loaned to the UFC after fighting at PRIDE 33 in Las Vegas. PRIDE is in no position to loan out one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the World. Not to mention the UFC also has no interest in promoting PRIDE in any way, shape, or form. The UFC would certainly be interested in having Gomi fight for them, but only as a member of their company. That's not going to happen because PRIDE isn't going to let him just walk away.• It seems like the dearth of great American heavyweights not only applies to boxing, but to mixed martial arts as well. If Mirko Cro Cop is able to win the UFC Heavyweight Title in the coming months then we could be faced with a situation where none of the champions from the three major boxing organizations (IBF, WBA, and WBC) and two major MMA promotions are American. Instead of trying to force their sons into being left-handed hitting catchers, maybe more dads in the States should buy junior some boxing gloves and focus mitts.• The rumored fight between Alex Koscheck and Karo Parisyan for UFC 68 in March will not be taking place. Koscheck's next fight might not happen until April 5 at UFC Fight Night 10. Already booked for Fight Night 10 is Josh Haynes vs. Luke Cummo in a battle of welterweights and Kenny Florian vs. Dokonjonosuke Mishima in a lightweight clash. Parisyan is still expected to fight at UFC 68 against a yet to be named opponent. • It looks like Caol Uno is back in the UFC. According to Joe Stevenson's official web site, Stevenson will fight Uno in a lightweight bout at UFC 68. • Yves Edwards confirmed through his MySpace page that he's signed with BodogFIGHT. According to Edwards, he's already fought in taped bouts for the promotion.• The Gracie Fighting Championships, scheduled for January 20 at the America Airlines Arena in Miami, FL, has been postponed due to poor ticket sales. The event could take place in some form in late-February. Nick Diaz, Jake Shields, and Jeff Monson were all scheduled to fight.• According to Variety, the UFC has signed a five-year deal with video game maker THQ. The deal is good through 2011 and THQ has already begun working on a new UFC video game. The new game is slated to be released in late-2007 or early-2008. I suck at video games so I hope Chuck Liddell isn't a hidden character. Forget ESPN or HBO, the next step towards legitimizing mixed martial arts is a great video game!The WWE, which also has a deal with THQ, is believed to be pretty stressed by the UFC video game deal. Perhaps they should spend more time worrying about their horrendous storylines and inability to create new stars.• According to MMAWeekly.com, UFC 70 is slated to emmanate from the Manchester Evening News Arena in Manchester, UK in late-April. The UFC has made no official announcement on the location of UFC 70 but we do know that Dana White said last year that the company planned to hold cards in the United Kingdom.• According to Gleison Tibau and Thiago Tavares, both have signed contracts with the UFC. Tibau is 11-4 while Tavares is a perfect 11-0.• SUN Production Group will be presenting the "Art of War" on March 9, 2007. The ten bout fight card will take place at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas and is expected to be broadcast on Mark Cuban's HDNet. The main event is slated to be Pedro "The Rock" Rizzo vs. Justin Eilers in a clash of heavyweights. Former UFC champion and Lion's Den member Guy Mezger serves as the promotion's chief advisor and matchmaker.• I made an egregious mistake last week in my "Legends of MMA" column. I incorrectly stated in the write up for the proposed match between Don Frye and Mark Coleman that they had met once before in 1996 at UFC 10. In fact, the two faced off a second time at PRIDE 26 in 2003. Thanks to Josh Wellington for checking in with the correction.
AND NOW EXCLUSIVE CRO COP'S RAPIDLY REMOVED MOOOVIE