Undefeated Mexican lightweight Daniel Zellhuber turned to martial arts at the age of 12 so he could defend himself against schoolyard bullies. He started training Muay Thai, but soon decided MMA was a better fit. It turned out to be a wise decision, as the 21-year-old has compiled a stellar 10-0 record in as many fights.
In an interview with MMA-Prospects’ Joe McDonagh, Zellhuber stated he is excited for what the future holds, but he also remembers how far he has come.
He exhibits an awareness and maturity that few fighters possess at his age.
Standing at 6’1” with a 77-inch reach, Daniel Zellhuber is extremely long for the lightweight division. Making his professional debut at the young age of 17, Zellhuber cut his teeth on the Mexican regional scene.
After starting his career 5-0, he took a step up in competition when he signed with Combate Americas, an American promotion branded as the leader in Hispanic MMA that has rostered a wide array of Latin American MMA prospects.
Zellhuber started 3-0 in Combate before the pandemic hit in early 2020. With the organization unable to stage events due to COVID-19 concerns, Zellhuber began looking to ply his trade in other promotions.
After Zellhuber had been out of the cage for over a year, he had a September debut in Lux Fight League, a promotion aired on UFC Fight Pass, the MMA leader’s proprietary streaming service. He finished his opponent, Mexico’s Miguel Arizmendi (8-5), with a first round calf-slicer.
He fought for the newly founded iKON Fighting Federation — also a Fight Pass promotion — in December, finishing his opponent, countryman Alexander Barahona (11-4) by TKO in round 1.
The Zellhuber Skillset
Daniel Zellhuber’s incredible length lets him do things of which other lightweights can only dream.
Fighting out of an orthodox stance, Zellhuber loves to launch kicks with his lead leg. The predominant skill Zellhuber used in his regional fights was a thudding calf kick. While well out of his opponents’ range, he would attack their lead leg with inside and outside leg kicks. He will throw a snapping high kick once his opponents are worried about him kicking low, setting up the secondary strikes nicely.
He can land his kicks from seemingly absurd distances. In recent fights, he has also experimented with a front kick that allows him to keep his opponents at the end of his range while keeping his own chin well out of theirs.
While originally not as slick with his hands, Zellhuber’s boxing has improved as his career has progressed. To succeed at the highest levels of the sport, Zellhuber should look to use his range at every opportunity. This includes implementing an improved jab into his arsenal, as well as adding techniques, such as the push kick he has shown in recent fights.
And while his rangy striking is quickly progressing, that’s just the tip of the iceberg of Zellhuber’s growing repertoire
Zellhuber’s opponents quickly find he can hurt them at will on the feet, so they often try to rough him up and turn the contest into a gritty brawl. Zellhuber’s opponents love to engage him in the clinch in hopes of overcoming his usual size and length advantages.
However, Zellhuber’s Muay Thai background helps him control his opponents in close, where he prefers to throw knees to the head and body.
Zellhuber is good at defending single and double legs, but often falls prey to body locks and trips. He can usually bounce to his feet after being taken down, but is comfortable off his back. From guard, Zellhuber has secured a triangle choke to earn a pro submission win before, but he also uses his long legs to sweep his opponents back to either top position or a return to the feet.
Despite Zellhuber’s proficiency while striking at distance, he is his most dangerous in top positions while grappling.
As Zellhuber told MMA-Prospects, “People think I’m just a stand-up fighter, but I’m a brown belt in jiu jitsu.”
The wingspan that makes him a threat on his feet is used to drop relentless ground and pound; guard, half guard, mount, side control… it doesn’t matter to Daniel Zellhuber.
If he is on top, he relentlessly attacks with strikes, which is how he has ended most of his fights. He holds six knockouts to his name, in addition to the two submissions listed above.
When analyzing prospects, it is important to look at their strength of schedule. To get a holistic view of how good a fighter can be, it is important to look at the record of their opponents as well as the promotion where their fights are held.
The record of Zellhuber’s opponents is 40-16, with his best win coming by way of a then-11-3 fighter in his last fight. While his first five fights were in smaller Mexican promotions, Zellhuber is 3-0 in Combate Americas, 1-0 in Lux Fight League, and 1-0 in iKON FF.
He has been tested by brawlers, wrestlers, and submission artists, all of which had different builds. Even when Zellhuber has lost a round, which he rarely does, he starts the next round throwing his best stuff.
Daniel Zellhuber is young, but very experienced for his age. Very few fighters have ten pro fights at 21. Zellhuber told MMA-Prospects’ Joe McDonagh that although he trains at a small gym in Mexico City, he’s planning a transition to the United States so he can train at larger gyms with more resources.
Look for Daniel Zellhuber to fight for the Contender Series or top developmental promotion Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA) sometime next year.
With fighters like former WSOF titleholder Jessica Aguilar and former UFC champion Cain Velasquez representing Mexico’s MMA past and Yair Rodriguez and UFC title challenger Brandon Moreno representing Mexican MMA’s present, Daniel Zellhuber could very well be the nation’s MMA future.
As the UFC looks to expand its profile in Latin America, Daniel Zellhuber will be a name to watch in 2021 and beyond.