The Future: Volume 2 – MMA-Prospects’ monthly spotlight of sub-5 fight, 27-year-old prospects

Dalton Rosta shows why he's nicknamed "Hercules." Credit: Bellator.

In this feature, I and two other writers will detail one top MMA prospect each. What we are detailing is prospects with five fights or less who are also 27-years-old or younger.

We are looking for the future of MMA, and we are giving you three prime candidates to be just that, here.

Shawn Bitter

Hugo Cunha (5-0), Light-heavyweight

Hugo “Silverback” Cunha (5-0) is a 27-year-old fighting out of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This 6’4″, 260 lbs behemoth of a man trains out of Tata Fight Team, a gym that has produced UFC veterans Polyana Viana, Andre Muniz, Luis Henrique, and others. Cunha has also been traveling to the US to put in some time with American Top Team in Orlando, Florida.

Cunha doesn’t have a lot of experience in MMA but is a former Brazilian National Team wrestler. He has also competed in jiu jitsu and is a BJJ black belt. After one amateur MMA fight, he made his pro debut in 2017.

One will notice that Cunha’s level of competition has been less than stellar thus far, as he’s fought three guys with a 0-0 record. Cunha has still looked dominant in his career to date, sporting a 100% finish rate replete with three TKOs and two submissions.

Cunha is a bit raw on the feet, but once he gets the takedown, he’s in his world. Cunha has stopping ability on the canvas with big ground-and-pound, and he uses his size and grappling background to stay heavy on top. He’s also very good at cinching up the neck. His style is similar to that of former UFC fighter Juan Adams, if only more technical once the fight hits the mat.

As Cunha is only five fights into his career at heavyweight, he’s a win or two away from getting called up to a big promotion. He hasn’t fought in over a year due to difficulties finding a fight on the Brazilian regional scene amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The young “Silverback” has the potential to be quite a threat at heavyweight in the coming future.

Kristen King

Tabatha Ricci (3-0), LFA strawweight

Tabatha Ricci (3-0) is 25 years old, but she already has a life’s worth of accomplishments in mixed martial arts. Beginning training in judo as a child, Ricci went on to add other disciplines such as Muay Thai and jiu jitsu to her repertoire and began molding herself into more than just an established judoka. By the time she was 18 years old, Ricci was competing as an amateur fighter on the Brazilian regional scene before turning professional shortly after.

Wins over the likes of Danielle Cunha and Graziele Ricotta had the career of Ricci off to a hot start at 2-0, but it would soon come to an impasse. She spent some time away from MMA, instead focused purely on her jiu jitsu. When she returned to the cage, Ricci wanted to once again immerse herself in MMA, and she sought out a camp that would help her do just that.

Ricci connected with Black House MMA in California and has been there ever since. It took a few months for her to get noticed by some important names in the sport, which ultimately led to her signing with top developmental league Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA) and booking of her promotional debut at LFA 90 against Kelsey Arnesen. For those who have yet to see Ricci fight, the Arnessen fight is a perfect example with which to start.

Ricci has no problems standing and trading when she needs to, but she excels when she gets her opponent up against the cage or down on the ground. On the mat, Ricci stays as busy as possible, looking for submissions from all angles. If one is not available, she has no problem remaining on top and controlling her opponent until the sound of the horn.

While she describes herself as a grappler at heart, Ricci is proud of the improvements in her overall game, which is sure to make her quite the threat within the strawweight division.

For more on Ricci, visit King’s interview with her, here.

Billy Nayden

Dalton Rosta (4-0), Bellator middleweight

Nicknamed “Hercules,” 25-year-old Bellator middleweight Dalton Rosta (4-0) clearly fits the bill. The origin of the man’s nickname is immediately apparent when his chiseled, 185-pound frame makes its way to the Bellator cage. However, it does not take much watching to know that all that muscle and definition is not just for show when it comes to Rosta. He’s an undeniably slick grappler, a smooth striker, and an all-around martial artist that appears to get better each time he steps into the cage.

Take, for instance, his last fight, a Bellator main card victory over fellow top middleweight prospect Ty Gwerder. While Rosta eventually secured a dominant decision win, his first time going the distance in his brief pro career, anyone casually viewing results would think of this as the toughest fight of his career. Rosta views it differently. In interviews following the fight, Rosta admitted he heard speculation about his cardio among MMA media, and wanted to prove a point against his toughest opponent yet.

Thus, he sought to show doubters that he could not only dominate Gwerder, but he could also do it for 15 minutes. If a finish presented itself he would take it, but if not, he was more than happy to showcase his gas tank.

For a man that has already shown off his grappling and striking prowess, cardio was the last remaining question for fans regarding Dalton Rosta. Now, it appears he is a prospect with few known weaknesses and a clear path to the top of the Bellator middleweight division.