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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 New Englander migrated to Florida and American Top Team to help make his dreams come true – and he thinks he’s close. Erin Blanchfield’s main training partner continues down a similar path with major UFC aspirations on her mind. A Vietnam-born flyweight is only 23, but making huge waves thus far on the regional scene and plans to continue them until Mick Maynard comes calling. Formerly of Oklahoma State University, a standout wrestler’s transition into MMA is seemingly destiny, bolstered by a recent move to Fortis MMA. Don’t call it a comeback, but a Welsh lightweight is obsessed with earning a second UFC opportunity – and is on his way to doing so. Nate Ghareeb

Image via CES MMA

Record: 9-2
Age: 30
Weight class: Featherweight
Height: 5’8″
Birthplace: Hot Springs, Ark.
Next Fight: Friday vs. Don Shainis (13-6) at Combat FC 6 in Wilmington, Mass. (UFC Fight Pass)*

Background: High school wrestling paved the path for Nate Ghareeb. So the obvious was next – a WWE wrestler. Ghareeb’s dream of professional wrestling was short-lived, however. He considered going to pro wrestling school, but his high school coach advised him against it and go with MMA instead. Ghareeb wasn’t really familiar, but the more he looked, the more he liked. After injuries in consecutive years during his collegiate wrestling stint at Springfield College (Mass.), he decided to pivot to a jiu-jitsu gym. The gym had a kickboxing class – and he fell in love with striking. After he transferred to West Virginia University, he dedicated himself to the art of muay Thai. Combat sports became his life. At the crossroads of pursuing a potential career as a police officer or becoming a full-time fighter in 2016, Ghareeb chose the latter. After a 6-3 amateur career, Ghareeb turned pro in July 2019. Over the span of 11 fights, his only losses were to top Bellator prospect Cody Law, and a close and controversial decision against Dan Dubuque. He bounced back nicely with three straight wins, including a rare Suloev stretch submission.

The skinny: It hasn’t been a straight shot to the top for Ghareeb, but his path has been effective in the long term. As he’s progressed through his career, Ghareeb has slowly but surely figured out a stable and successful recipe to improve as a fighter. He’s got a good personality, finishing abilities, great cardio, and a dog in him – an attribute you really can’t teach. For a while, he was a bit of a training nomad. He picks up knowledge from a number of different gyms and training partners in New England – although much of his training took place at his actual house. Eventually, Ghareeb pivoted. In order to make his dream come true, he couldn’t do it all by himself. So he packed up his bags and moved to South Florida where he trains every day with the likes of Arman Tsarukyan, Movsar Evloev, and others

Author: Staff

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