Sports fans are always looking for the next big thing, whether it’s a footballer like Neymar, a basketball player like LeBron James, or a boxer who will measure up to Anthony Joshua.
Business Insider has compiled a list of young, under-the-radar athletes who look set to make waves in the ring, on the court, or on the pitch in 2018.
From the “next Conor McGregor” to the new “face of snowboarding,” the athletes could become the biggest thing in their respective sports.
Ranked by age from oldest to youngest, scroll down to see 18 under-the-radar young athletes who we expect to hit the big time in 2018.
Mackenzie Dern, 24 — The American bringing expert jiu-jitsu to UFC.
Sport: Cage fighting
Profile: Once a highly-decorated athlete in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Dern is beginning to take the wider mixed martial arts industry by storm.
She has won five cage fights in a row and is due to contest her first UFC bout on March 3.
Here’s Dern using stand-up to knock Mandy Polk to the ground, before locking in a tight rear naked choke submission at LFA 24 in 2017.
Ōtani Shōhei, 23 — Japan’s Babe Ruth, who has a record-breaking 102.5mph pitch.
Profile: Shōhei began his career playing for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in 2013.
Before he left for MLB team Los Angeles Angels in 2017, he won the 2016 Japan Series title, a number of MVP awards, and recorded the fastest pitch in Japanese baseball history at 102.5 mph.
His transfer to the Angels is set to take his career to the next level and, in the video below, you can see exactly why he is known as the “Japanese Babe Ruth.”
Mattie Rogers, 22 — An American record-setter who can already lift twice her bodyweight.
Profile: Rogers has strength and power that belies her age as she already holds the United States record in the snatch (106kg), clean & jerk (134kg), and total (239kg) lift in her weight class (69kg).
The Floridian has tremendous technique and though she missed out on qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games, she was the best lifter at the National Championships and Olympic Trials.
She won a bronze medal at the 2017 World Championships (video below) and, as she gets older, she will only get stronger.
Ester Ledecká, 22 — The Czech who dominates in TWO winter sports.
Sport: Snowboarder and alpine skiier.
Profile: One sport isn’t enough for Ledecká to excel in, and she competes in two.
She is a two-time gold medalist at the Snowboard World Championships, regularly scores top 30 finishes in downhill, super-G, and alpine skiing, and is certainly one to watch at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Here’s the sort of speed she can reach racing downhill on her snowboard.
Maverick Viñales, 22 — The Spanish MotoGP talent challenging Valentino Rossi and Marc Márquez.
Profile: Move over Valentino Rossi and Marc Márquez, because there’s a new kid on the starting block.
Viñales spent little time racing through the motorcycle divisions. In 2013 he won the Moto3 world title and, just two years later, won the best rookie award in the MotoGP class.
Since racing in MotoGP, the motorcycle equivalent of Formula 1, Viñales continues to increase his seasonal points haul and looks set to challenge for the 2018 title.
Here, you can find out what it is like riding on board with Viñales.
Start off your morning by riding on board with pole man Maverick… ???? pic.twitter.com/tdOdiLdM5Z
— Moto GP ???? on BT Sport (@btsportmotogp) September 24, 2017
Aaron Pico, 21 — The young American being talked up as the next Conor McGregor.
Sport: Cage fighting
Profile: Renowned fight promoter Scott Coker told Business Insider last year that Aaron Pico was the “greatest prospect in the history of mixed martial arts.“
Pico has it all. He has wrestled since he was four years old, he learned jiu-jitsu under submission expert Eddie Bravo, and was taught boxing by Manny Pacquiao’s coach Freddie Roach.
Disaster struck in his mixed martial arts debut as he lost to Zach Freeman at Bellator 180 in June, 2017. However, he bounced back by knocking out Justin Linn with soul-stealing blows at Bellator 183 in September (video below).
2018 will be a huge year for Pico as Coker expects the youngster will blossom into the next Conor McGregor.
Mason Crane, 20 — The spin bowler who will be an English cricket staple for years to come.
Profile: A leg-spin bowler, Crane is a hot property right now as he was called up to England’s Test squad for the Ashes and made his debut in the fifth Test against Australia on January 4.
Crane bowled 17 overs in Australia’s first innings, admitted his “emotions were everywhere” in The Independent, but won praise from Australian fast bowler Pat Cummings: “He’s similar to a lot of young leggies, gives the ball a rip, landing it pretty well.”
Here’s what to expect from Crane’s bowling in the future, as he takes three wickets in this clip.
Three wickets and a near stumping ????
— Cricket on BT Sport (@btsportcricket) November 9, 2017
Daniel Dubois, 20 — The English heavyweight who will be a future Anthony Joshua opponent.
Profile: Boxing rookie Daniel Dubois signed a contract with fight promoter Frank Warren in 2017. That year, he won his first six fights in a row – all by knockout.
Business Insider understands that Warren sees Dubois as his answer to world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua and if Dubois keeps winning in the coming years, it will not be long before their paths cross and they come to blows.
Dubois won a regional title, the Southern Area heavyweight belt, with this thumping performance against AJ Carter in September, 2017.
Jelena Ostapenko, 20 — The Latvian tennis star who could add to her major honours in 2018.
Profile: Ostapenko claimed a number of notable scalps in 2017 including Caroline Wozniacki, Simona Halep, and Garbiñe Muguruza.
She won the 2017 French Open, ended the year with a world rank of seven, and won praise from former British number one Tim Henman.
Last year, Henman told Business Insider that Ostapenko’s win in Paris was “amazing,” and that a few women’s tennis stars were fancying their chances while former world number one Serena Williams took time out to give birth.
Ostapenko ended the year by defeating Williams in an exhibition match. The highlights are below.
Ryan Garcia, 19 — The American who is the most important Golden Boy signing since Canelo Alvarez.
Profile: Ryan Garcia has a TV-friendly fighting style, fast hands, and can pack a punch.
A 15-time national champion as an amateur, Garcia’s hot streak in the unpaid ranks has carried over as a professional as he is unbeaten in 13 fights, has signed with powerful promoter Golden Boy Promotions, and is seen by ESPN as the “most important [Golden Boy] signing since Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez” in 2010.
Garcia competes in a talent-rich division at super featherweight but it will not be long before he breaks into the top 10.
This 30-second knockout win in September highlights his skill set.
— Golden Boy Boxing (@GoldenBoyBoxing) September 16, 2017
Christian Pulisic, 19 — The attacking midfielder close to a Real Madrid or FC Barcelona transfer.
Profile: Attacking midfielder Christian Pulisic is enjoying a remarkable rise in the Borussia Dortmund first team.
Pulisic has returned three goals, one assist, and has been responsible for creating 16 key passes so far this season.
Though he won’t feature in the 2018 FIFA World Cup as USA failed to qualify, the year could still be a big one for Pulisic as Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos believes the teenager is “one move away” from being able to play for Real, FC Barcelona, or “one of the big Premier League clubs,” according to Goal.com.
Pulisic won Bundesliga’s Goal of the Month award for December with this frenetic-paced two-touch finish against Hoffenheim.
Marvin Bagley III, 18 — The Duke University power forward who is the best college basketball player on the planet.
Profile: American basketball phenom Marvin Bagley III is considered the most dominant college-level player on the planet.
At just 18, Bagley has put up dominant numbers like 21.9 points per game on average, 1.6 assists per game, and 11.6 rebounds. He has tremendous reflexes, ball-handling, and will be a star pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
Trick shot, or an eagle-eyed opportunist? Watch this clip from a match in December and decide.
Alright Marvin Bagley, how'd you do this? pic.twitter.com/ExeZX9TQxo
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) December 30, 2017
Luka Dončić, 18 — The young Slovenian following the footsteps of New York Knicks center Kristaps Porziņģis.
Profile: Luka Dončić will rival Marvin Bagley III as the number one pick for the 2018 NBA Draft.
Dončić has a unique versatility to his game, can dribble with both hands, and has sharp on-court intelligence. He can pass, shoot, and score from range.
As an Eastern European player who began his career in Spain and will likely end up at a big NBA side, it is likely Dončić is treading a similar path to success as New York Knicks center Kristaps Porziņģis.
In this clip, Slovenian star Dončić dominates Latvia with a 27-point display.
Justin Kluivert, 18 — The young Dutch winger who is a reported transfer target for Manchester United.
Profile: You might recognise Justin Kluivert’s surname. He is, indeed, the son of former Champions League winning striker Patrick Kluivert, who was the Netherlands’ all-time top scorer from 2003-2013.
Following in the family footsteps, Justin Kluivert is beginning his career at Ajax and already has set tongues wagging. He is even a reported target for Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, according to the Manchester Evening News.
In November 2017, Kluivert scored a hat-trick in Ajax’s 5-1 victory over Roda JC in the Eredivisie – the Dutch equivalent of the Premier League.
But, for the rest of the season, he may score no goal finer than this worldie one month later in December – pick that one out!
Justin Kluivert with yet another awesome Ajax goal!
His sixth in the last month ???????????? pic.twitter.com/RUH1NMb4Nz
— Goal UK (@GoalUK) December 24, 2017
Marcus Smith, 18 — The English fly half already returning Man of the Match performances in rugby union.
Sport: Rugby Union
Profile: Former England rugby captain Chris Robshaw recently told Business Insider that Marcus Smith is an up-and-coming prospect he expects to see progress further at international level in 2018.
The fly-half made his professional debut for Harlequins in September 2017 and, just two weeks later, returned a Man-of-the-Match performance against Wasps in the Aviva Premiership.
Wasps fly-half Danny Cipriani explains what makes Smith so special here.
Rasmus Dahlin, 17 — The generational talent who isn’t even old enough to drink.
Sport: Ice hockey
Profile: Rasmus Dahlin plays as a defenceman for Frölunda HC in the Swedish Hockey League.
What makes Dahlin so remarkable is that he is 6 foot 2, 185 pounds, and establishing himself as a generational talent – and he’s not yet old enough to drink.
Dahlin is regarded to be the top eligible pick for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft and be the first Sweden-born player to go first in the draft since 1989.
His tremendous puck control is there for all to see in this short clip.
— BarDown (@BarDown) January 1, 2018
Vinicius Júnior, 17 — The Brazilian who cost Real Madrid €45 million in 2017.
Profile: Everybody in football looks for the next big thing. The next Ronaldo, the next Messi, and the next Neymar.
At 17, it is too early to tell whether Vinicius Júnior is the next big thing but Real Madrid certainly has faith that he is. The club, after all, spent €45 million on his transfer in 2017.
Currently on loan at Flamengo, Vinicius Júnior scored four times in the Brazilian team’s march to the Copa Sudamericana final.
He is used sparingly, more frequently starting games on the bench than on the pitch, but Real will be keeping close tabs on how the striker develops this year considering the level of investment it has already made.
In this clip from August last year, Vinicius Júnior managed to repeat Romário’s famous goal against Uruguay in a World Cup qualifier in 1993.
Vinicius Júnior repeats Romário's famous goal vs Uruguay in a decisive World Cup qualifier at the Maracanã in 1993. pic.twitter.com/En2nLRTqYL
— Seleção Brasileira (@BrazilStat) August 20, 2017
Chloe Kim, 17 — The American who is already seen as the face of snowboarding.
Profile: Chloe Kim has already chairlifted her way to the summit of professional surfboarding.
The teenager became the first person under 16 to win a hat-trick of gold medals at an X Games and continues to pick up individual awards.
She missed out on the 2014 Winter Olympics as she was too young, but has qualified for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang as she links up with the US Snowboarding Team.
Kim is certainly one to watch. It is not uncommon to hear commentators call her the future, or even the current face, of the sport (watch below).
— X Games (@XGames) January 19, 2017
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