In the wide world of sports, a special type of athlete always comes along every so often to do some rather remarkable feats. Although that athlete may not necessarily match or surpass their predecessors, they hold strong potential to raise the bar of greatness for the next generation of athletes in their sport. There comes a time in that athlete’s career, however, when that era of dominance and marvelous achievements must come to an end, or at least hit a pausing point.

None really believed it when Georges St-Pierre relinquished his UFC welterweight title last Friday, but although it still does not feel real to many in the MMA world, the now former two-time UFC welterweight champion really will take some much needed and much deserved time off. Come UFC 171, live from the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Johny Hendricks and “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler will fight for the title, but as is normally the case when a longtime champ either vacates or loses his crown, fans and pundits wonder if any UFC welterweight out there right now packs the true potential to top arguably the greatest welterweight title reign in the history of the sport.

Outside of Hendricks and Lawler, how many other potential options exist? Erick Silva would qualify, but he recently suffered a knockout loss to Dong Hyun Kim, and a win in his upcoming bout with Nate Loughran will not make a solid enough case towards a title shot. Meanwhile, Carlos Condit awaits Tyron Woodley at UFC 171 in Dallas as well, and Tarec Saffiedine faces Hyun Gyu Lim in Singapore next month. With all other contenders booked or in need of a rebound win, where this situation leaves Kim, the only other contender to the throne, remains in question. Still, fans knew Kim held potential long ago and merely hope he can live up to it, what with his newfound knockout power and vaunted judo game.

As far as rising welterweights with potential to dominate the sport in a manner akin to that of GSP, though, look no further than a young man named Brandon Thatch.

Only two fights into his UFC career, and fans already know all about Thatch. The only time that Thatch lost came in just his second pro bout, but Thatch proves a different breed of mixed martial artist from the man who dropped a split decision to Brandon Magana in Strikeforce. All 10 of the victories that make up his current winning streak consist of first-round finishes, and all came in under three minutes. In fact, his longest fight since the loss to Magana came in the Resurrection Fighting Alliance against Mike Rhodes, when Thatch submitted Rhodes in 2:22 of the first round.

Scarily enough, UFC wins over Justin Edwards and Paulo Thiago merely scratch the surface of Thatch’s potential, and the fact that he aims to retool his style before taking on his next challenge speaks not only to Thatch’s desire to evolve into a complete mixed martial artist, but also to his intelligence as an athlete. It goes without saying that the nature of MMA constantly changes, given the bevy of new styles and techniques that get introduced to the sport almost every day, but the evolution of sport rarely ever stops mixed martial artists from using whatever brought them to the dance more predominantly than their other skills. Knowing this, what makes Thatch a bit smarter than some of the rest?

In basic terms, he knows he can’t knock everyone out in under three minutes, nor can he submit everyone. As much as it will add to his aura if he can, Thatch knows he’ll eventually need to resort to outpointing people with his striking and outworking opponents with a well-rounded skill set en route to decision wins. Luckily for him, he trains with a solid team at Grudge Training Center in Denver, where he can add new facets to his game without entirely abandoning his karate game, and with the added backing of the former champion, Thatch can only improve in areas where his critics still hold questions.

Given that Thatch does own submission wins, though, few should question if the kid can go once the fight hits the ground. Though it remains a tired and boring cliche to suggest that a mixed martial artist owns a good ground game, despite fans not seeing it inside the Octagon, that suggestion holds up well in Thatch’s case, even though his striking helped him defeat both Edwards and Thiago. The only questions that remain will surround the improvements in his cardio, as well as what happens when someone significantly hurts Thatch. But given that Thiago only landed five strikes on Thatch in their fight, it stands to reason that not even the division’s premier strikers will enjoy having to try to catch Thatch coming in.

The kid they call “Rukus” holds the best potential to match or even surpass St-Pierre’s reign because, at the end of the day, he represents a new breed of competitor whose ever-evolving style will prove difficult to figure out. Those most familiar with this fact all compete in Thatch’s division. The elite of the UFC welterweight division trust “Rukus” when he declares his intentions to retool his style for any and every opponent thrown his way, and they know they need to prepare for everything the 28-year-old throws at them, regardless of the position from where he throws those things. Still, knowing what to do against a special kind of athlete differs from actually putting the plan into motion, and if Thatch gets his way, it will take a special kind of combatant to bring the “Rukus” to a deafening silence.

Photo: Brandon Thatch (Phil Lambert/The MMA Corner)

  • Moon Bug

    This article I’m sorry is so far off the mark. Yes he is on the 10 fight win streak all with 1st round stoppages. But 8 of those were against opponents that are no where near skilled enough to fight in the top mma organisations, and his 2 victories in the octagon were also against people who were never top level fighters and on top of that are way way past their prime. He needs to beat a fighter who actually has ANY sort of momentum before he will be regarded as a fighter to look out for, a fighter that will actually test his defence at the top level, something he so far has not come close to experiencing given the calibre of opponents he has faced (Paulo Thiago was 2-4 in his last 6 bouts when thatch fought him and he TAPPED, yes TAPPED to punches). He needs to fight someone like erick silva or mike pyle to really see where he stands on the world stage