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Every champion in MMA history started out somewhere.

For those who make it to the highest stage, the journey begins long before they strap on UFC, Bellator or PFL gloves. Modern-era fighters progress through the regional ranks with hopes of accomplishing the highest accolades. Many will try, few will succeed.

This month, five fighters on the verge of achieving major promotion notoriety – one for the second time – return to the cage for what could be their stepping-stone fight. There are dozens of fighters close to making the jump in the coming weeks, but these five are particularly exemplary.

  • A rising Oklahoman training in Colorado at Factory X is eager to show the UFC he’s ready through his first five-round fight.
  • An Albania-born fighter made many sacrifices to travel across the world and pursue MMA training in New York, so he’s determined to make his UFC dreams happen.
  • A former ACA standout has plenty of high level experience, but a an LFA title could put him over the top and make him a layup UFC signing.
  • An experienced Canadian aims to continue consistent performances until the UFC calls.
  • An experienced Mexican combatant hopes a title defense for Urijah Faber’s promotion is enough to attract UFC eyeballs.

Aryion Young

Armando Gjetja

Azamat Bekoev

Tom O’Connor

Alex Sanchez

Fighters worth watching who didn’t crack the list, yet are on the verge of something big:

  • John Caldone (6-1) – Friday def. Darius Estell (7-5) – via second-round knockout at Ring of Combat 82 in Atlantic City, N.J.
  • Mikey England (7-1) – Friday def. Perry Stargel (9-4) via unanimous decision at FAC 22 in Independence, Mo. (Spectation Sports)
  • Nate Richardson (10-4) – Sunday vs. Aryion Young (7-1) at Fury FC 84 in Houston (UFC Fight Pass)
  • Raffael Cerqueira (8-0) – Thursday vs. Jhonathan Azevedo (4-1) at Victorious MMA in Fortaleza, Brazil
  • Rodrigo Vera (15-1-1) – Dec. 14 vs. Geovane Vargas (11-4) at FFC 70 in Lima, Peru
  • Robert Watley (13-3) – Dec. 15 vs. Armando Gjetja (8-3) at CFFC 128 in Atlantic City, N.J. (UFC Fight Pass)
  • Shane Campbell (21-8) – Dec. 15 vs. Darrell Horcher (14-6) at Unified MMA 54 in Enoch, Alberta, Canada (UFC Fight Pass)
  • Guido Santos (16-3) – Dec. 17 vs. Heilton Dos Santos (22-8-1) at SFT 45 in Sao Paulo
  • Heilton Dos Santos (22-8-1) – Dec. 17 vs. Guido Santos (16-3) at SFT 45 in Sao Paulo
  • Carlos Petruzzella (11-0) – Dec. 22 vs. Nicolas Martinez (8-4) at Samurai Fight House 14 in Buenos Aires (YouTube)

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie

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Mark English

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