MMA Barometer: Rising Young Stars
MMA Barometer: Rising Young Stars

This article is part of our MMA Barometer series.

UFC 236 is another event featuring a double interim title fight to headline the card, where each winner will be rewarded with a title shot against the standing champion in their respective division.

Starting with the middleweights, either Israel Adesanya or Kelvin Gastelum will earn a shot at current champion Robert Whittaker. Whittaker is sidelined after a recent emergency hernia surgery, which forced him out of a scheduled title matchup against Gastelum just hours before the fight. Gastelum feels he is the rightful champion after Whittaker pulled out of their scheduled fight. However, Adesanya has the most hype in the division due to his creative striking and recent technical masterpiece against all-time great Anderson Silva. Each fighter is deserving of a title shot, and this should be an exciting matchup to determine who gets the opportunity to become the true UFC middleweight champion.

The winner of the main event between Max Holloway and Dustin Poirier will face the fearsome Khabib Nurmagomedov. Nurmagomedov is currently serving a suspension relating to the post-fight riot he caused following his title defense against Conor McGregor. Should Poirier win, he will get the lightweight title shot he has chased for the past four years. If Holloway comes out on top, he will have the chance to become the seventh UFC fighter to simultaneously hold titles in separate weight classes.

As always, below is your MMA barometer with rising, falling, and check status fighters.

Rising

Maycee Barber, UFC, Strawweight

Barber has burst onto the UFC scene with two dominant victories. The former LFA fighter sports a pristine 6-0 professional MMA record. Barber is essentially 7-0, as one of her victories came on Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender series. That fight also ended in a finish, giving "The Future" six stoppages in her seven victories. At just 20 years old Barber is a bright young star in the UFC's flyweight division.

Barber's first UFC victory came via devastating ground-and-pound in the second round against fellow newcomer Hannah Cifers. In her second promotional bout, the Colorado native easily dispatched UFC veteran JJ Aldrich. In that fight Barber showed she is not only an outstanding grappler, but she is also a ferocious and adept striker.

"The Future" has claimed she will be "bigger than Conor McGregor," and plans on breaking Jon Jones' record of becoming the youngest UFC champion. At such a young age the possibilities are endless for the flyweight. Expect her to receive a big step up in competition in her next fight and be matched up with a top-15 fighter.

Next Fight: TBA

Jack Hermansson, UFC, Light Heavyweight

Hermansson has won five of his last six fights including three straight. All five wins have come via finish, so Hermansson has great DFS value. "The Joker's" ground-and-pound is ferocious and opens up submissions on the ground. He began wrestling when he was nine years old and his background allows him to get the majority of his fights to the ground to employ his ground-and-pound strategy.

Hermansson will have a quick turnaround as he steps in on short notice to replace Yoel Romero against Jacare Souza. The Swede is coming off a 49-second submission victory against high-level Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt David Branch on March 30th, 2019. He jumps right back into the fire against another submission wizard in Jacare. Much like his fight against Branch, this matchup poses a problem for Hermansson's ground-and-pound style. Jacare will welcome a grappling exchange and threaten with submissions every second that is spent on the ground. Should Hermansson come out victorious over the No. 3-ranked UFC middleweight, he will find himself squarely in the title picture.

Next Fight: Jacare Souza, UFC Fight Night: Jacare vs. Hermansson (April 27th, 2019)

Johnny Walker, UFC, Light Heavyweight

Walker is an incredible talent. He debuted in the UFC only five months ago, and has compiled a record of 3-0. The Brazilian has finished all three fights within two minutes, including his last two inside of a minute. All wins have been by KO/TKO. Walker is a huge light heavyweight, standing 6-foot-6, and he is extremely quick and athletic on top of his size. His skillset and fight results have earned him a spot as the No. 13-ranked UFC light heavyweight.

Walker's mercurial rise has been impressive, but hopefully this doesn't become a case of too much, too soon. His lofty ranking tabs him to face the likes of Ovince Saint Preux or Glover Teixeira, pending the outcome of their upcoming fights. Each fighter is very experienced. Additionally, the majority of the fighters ranked immediately ahead of Walker are accomplished grapplers, and we have yet to see the dominant Brazilian tested off his back. A fight against a grappler would risk stopping the momentum of the UFC newcomer, but a victory would shoot the Brazilian even further up the light heavyweight rankings.

Next Fight: TBA

Check Status

Max Holloway, UFC, Featherweight/Lightweight

Holloway is the reigning UFC featherweight champion. He has had a dominant run at 145 lbs., and this Saturday will mark his first foray into the lightweight division in the UFC. His opponent is No. 4-ranked UFC lightweight Dustin Poirier. The two fighters have a past, as Holloway lost Poirier via submission seven years ago when the current champion was only 20 years old.

The move to lightweight leaves many question marks for "Blessed." The main test will be whether the Hawaiian's chin holds up against larger fighters. Holloway has been touched at times in his last two fights at featherweight. The next question mark will be whether the featherweight king's power translates to the lightweight division. If Holloway has trouble hurting Poirier, he will be in danger the entire fight. Poirier is a very good striker, and if he doesn't have to respect Holloway's power, it will allow him to stand in the pocket and trade with little consequence for mistakes. One thing we do know is that Holloway will continue to move forward with relentless pressure – the cardio is one attribute that shouldn't diminish with his rise up in weight class.

Should Holloway be able to pass this test, he will be in prime position to earn the lofty status of double champ. It will set him up for a showdown with Khabib Nurmagomedov once the champion's suspension is up. Should he lose, Holloway will be able to return to featherweight to attempt to keep racking up title defenses.

Next Fight: Dustin Poirier, UFC 236: Holloway vs. Poirier (April 13th, 2019)

Falling

Darren Till, UFC, Middleweight

After a quick rise to the top of the UFC rankings, Till has hit a rough patch, albeit against stiff competition. His last two fights have resulted in second-round losses via submission and KO, respectively. Till is a pure striker, but holes have been exposed in his game and he has shown a deficiency in grappling. His losses came in a title bid against former UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley and the always-tough Jorge Masvidal. Both fights saw Till dropped with strikes.

Till's style of fighting leaves his hand down and his chin up, a poor combination for a striker. Couple that with his well-documented weight cut issues, and it is a recipe for a waning chin and propensity for being knocked down. A rumored move up to middleweight could make "The Gorilla" even more susceptible to knockouts, as his opponents will possess more power. Whichever weight class he chooses, Till will need to tighten up his defense to avoid losing three in a row.

Next Fight: TBA

Derrick Lewis, UFC, Heavyweight

After suffering a TKO loss to Junior Dos Santos in March, Lewis has lost two fights in a row and been finished in both. Prior to the two losses, "The Black Beast" was in danger of losing to Alexander Volkov via decision until he landed a Hail Mary punch to finish the fight with just seconds remaining. Lewis has found little success against higher-tier fighters.

The main problem with Lewis is clearly his cardio. He tires quickly but is still dangerous with his power at any point in the fight. However, his cardio issues allow quicker opponents to bank strikes and have a better chance of winning via decision. This was evident in the Volkov fight. The cardio issues also affects his body's durability against strikes. He was hurt early against Travis Browne before finishing him, and Dos Santos hurt him to the body before ultimately finishing the fight. If Lewis doesn't fix his cardio issues, he will continue to be an easy target for high-level strikers.

Next Fight: TBA

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Evan Dahl
Evan Dahl is a law student who has been a die-hard MMA fan for over a decade. Outside of MMA, he roots for the Broncos, Brewers and Bucks.
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