MMA is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. With so much attention going to the UFC, fans are continually looking for the next big thing. Recently, fighters have begun to be recognized earlier in their careers and heralded as future stars. Fighters like Reug Reug and Mohammad Mokaev have built cult followings and done a good job as marketing themselves as the future of the sport. MMA has a future in prospects which will become a more integral part in the sport going forward.
Across most sports in the world, specifically those with money involved, a prospect system is involved discovering future stars of the sport. For mixed martial arts, that’s somewhat different. While the money behind finding tomorrow’s stars isn’t on the level of the NBA or MLB, it is getting there. But finding the next Conor McGregor or Israel Adesanya will become more and more scientific as the sport of MMA continues to grow.
We knew that LeBron James was going to be great coming out of high school. Same goes for athletes in other sports like Alex Rodriguez, Peyton Manning and Kobe Bryant. Before they got to the big show, they were identified as future stars. With combines and tryouts, these sports have it down to a science. In the NFL specifically, they have it down so fine that they can identify which players actually have the mental fortitude and capacity to compete and their likelihood of success in the league.
MMA isn’t there yet. But in all fairness to the sport, there’s only been 28 years of development in the sport with major commercial interest. We don’t know what makes a great fighter just yet. But scouts are getting better at finding them. With Reug Reug and Mohammad Mokaev, fans are beginning to take interest in fighters earlier in their careers.
We saw this with a massive push from the media with Bellator’s Aaron Pico. He was touted as the next big thing. The LeBron James of MMA, as Schaub daftly put it. While that didn’t pan out, to me it signaled that the sport not only has a bright future, but that prospects will become more of a mainstream part of MMA as well.
Wrestling and boxing have it already. The Olympic Games and collegiate programs do a good job of signifying the next Muhammad Ali and Dan Gable before they make Olympic teams now. That is because there is money behind Olympic athletes.
Take Russia, for example. Their wrestling program is second to none worldwide. And the margin isn’t particularly close. There is big money in Russia that goes to wrestling and you can see Abdualrashid Sadulaev coming from a mile away.
Reug Reug and Mohammad Mokaev: Finding Prospects to Watch For
Identifying prospects isn’t an exact science. Just ask the Oakland Raiders and Jamarcus Russell, the biggest draft bust in NFL history. But the science is getting more refined each draft.
You can expect for MMA to begin massive leaps in prospect identification. As we learn what factors make an MMA prospect more likely to become a future contender, the science will become more precise.
We’ve identified stars like Mohammad Mokaev, Aaron Pico and Reug Reug early, singling them out as having potential. There are already people like Shawn Bitter and mma-prospects.com filling that void and giving more information in the future of the sport specifically.
The Olympic Push
Perhaps the best farm system for mixed martial arts will be the Olympic Games. We are already seeing the push of Olympians with Kayla Harrison, Henry Cejudo, Ronda Rousey and Daniel Cormier among others. The UFC and other promotions love Olympians, medal or not.
Mohammad Mokaev has even said that if the Olympics accepted MMA, he would have waited to turn pro. In The Path To The Olympics he said, “Definitely, but not 2020, 2028 for sure. I would stay amateur for the Olympics, the Olympics is the name.”
As Mohammad Mokaev said, the Olympic Games is the most sought after event in all of sports. With mixed martial arts in the Games, it could push stars to new levels earlier.
The future of the sport will rely on building structure underneath the monolith of the professional giant that is the UFC. MMA has future stars in its regional ranks. Building that structure is going to be paramount in finding new talent for the big leagues.
Your friendly neighborhood fight fan. I watch way too many fights and my wife lets me know it. Also, Cowboy Cerrone is the GOAT.