The last six months have been somewhat rough for fans of the UFC. While the action never stops with the unending schedule of fight cards, true stars of the sport have not stepped into the spotlight to make a name for themselves with perennial stars like Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey and Jon Jones on the sidelines. Hell, even Nate Diaz hasn't fought in over 18 months.
But if there is a small glimmer of hope for those pushing UFC aside and making it an old man's game, it's that the young bucks are coming on strong.
On Saturday night at UFC 222 in Las Vegas, seven of the 12 winners were under the age of 30. Those seven fighters are now 72-2 combined in MMA. There are names casual fans might not know yet, but need to get accustomed to hearing. Ketlen Vieira (9-0, 25), Alexander Hernandez (9-1, 25), Cody Stamann (16-1, 28), Jordan Johnson (8-0, 29), Mackenzie Dern (6-0, 24), Sean O'Malley (10-0, 23) and Brian Ortega (14-0, 27) all scored impressive wins and showed that the kids are coming.
None of which were more impressive than O'Malley or Ortega.
O'Malley looked fresh and fun through the first two rounds of his fight with Andre Soukamthath, but an injury in the third round left him fighting on one leg. Despite the injury, Soukamthath kept the action on the ground. The only time O'Malley rose to his feet, he hobbled on one leg.
Ortega, who received his matchup with Frankie Edgar on short notice after an injury to Max Holloway, made the most of his moment by becoming the first person to ever finish Edgar in the Octagon via a vicious left elbow. Known more for his brilliant submission style and laid-back attitude, Ortega was as calm as could be in the eye of the storm, waiting patiently for his opportunity to strike. Now, he'll get a chance against another member of the youth movement in a title fight later this year.
While O'Malley is the kind of personality fight fans are dying for, Ortega might be the most technically sound fighter at 145 pounds right now. He won't come off as the biggest smack talker in the world, but his performance in the Octagon speaks for itself.
Just three years ago, Ortega was a middling featherweight prospect trying to break into the organization's elite company. Since then, he's cleaned out the old guard at 145 by finishing Edgar, Thiago Tavares, Diego Brandao, Clay Guida, Renato Moicano and Cub Swanson.
As you look across the 11 weight divisions in UFC, most top contenders (sans Yoel Romero) are young, hungry fighters looking to make a name for themselves. Hopefully 2018 serves as a changing of the guard and the young fighters take over.