In this feature, I and two other MMA-Prospects.com writers will detail one top MMA prospect each. Specifically, we will aim to highlight 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.
Lupita Godinez (5-0) — LFA strawweight champion
Lupita “Loopy” Godinez (5-0) is a strawweight that is originally from Aguascalientes, Mexico but lives in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada.
Godinez trains out of Titan MMA under owners Ken Tran and Nabil Salameh, a gym filled with younger professional fighters and up-and-coming amateur athletes. After a 4-4 amateur record, Godinez stepped off the brakes, stomped on the gas, and now has a nice undefeated record as a professional. It should also be noted her losses as an amateur came against good fighters, and she also holds a win against recent UFC signee Sam Hughes.
Outside of MMA, Godinez has had two amateur boxing fights and one kickboxing fight. She also competed in some judo and jiu-jitsu tournaments, showing her willingness to hone all areas of her game and competitive drive.
In her last amateur MMA fight, Godinez won the Combat Games strawweight championship. It’s obvious to see the progression “Loopy” has had, and it all showed in her last fight when she beat Vanessa Demopoulos for the LFA strawweight title in her LFA debut. Outside of LFA, she’s also fought for big promotions like Canada’s BTC and Hispanic MMA leader Combate Americas.
What makes Godinez different is her ability to take a shot to give one. That’s not saying she is a human punching bag, because her output and accuracy have been so much better than her opponents; of all the shots Godinez has taken on the jaw, she hasn’t been fazed nor shaken, as her toughness has prevailed. If you wanna see a full display of her ability and toughness go watch her last fight for LFA 94 against Demopoulos, which aired exclusively on UFC Fight Pass.
Godinez is solely a striker who really hasn’t used wrestling. She does have it in her back pocket (as shown in her fight with Lindsay Garbatt), but she’d rather just catch kicks and dump her foes on their rears. That said, she could be a very underrated wrestler, we just haven’t needed to see it yet. She has the ability; not as much an intricate jiu-jitsu game, but she does have heavy top control.
The left hook is money from “Loopy.” Her best weapon. Godinez is someone that’s gonna stay in your face throwing her hands, staying active, and throwing to the body perfectly.
Godinez, although she doesn’t have a stoppage by KO/TKO, she does indeed have some pop behind her hands. She is more modeled as a pressure striker who will batter women en-route to a decision. She’s the type a fighter that will send her opponents home looking like a different person and making them feel the damage they received for days.
Alexa Culp (1-1), Invicta FC strawweight
Alexa Culp (1-1) is a 20-year-old strawweight who’s starting her pro career in top female developmental league Invicta FC. Fighting out of Glory MMA in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, Culp’s corner regularly includes to-be UFC title challenger Megan Anderson and UFC mainstay James Krause. Culp displays an exciting eagerness to develop her MMA game; despite bringing kickboxing experience into the cage with her, she often opts to grapple at the first opportunity, as if she wants to demonstrate her increasing well-roundedness.
Culp’s kickboxing style is exhausting even to the viewer. She’s relentless, showering her opponent with constant strikes, feints, and stance changes. More importantly, she does so without over-committing to her strikes — she always appears ready to move out of range of her opponent’s potential counter. She also shows a knack for catching kicks.
In her MMA fights, her high-volume kickboxing style usually only shows itself at the beginning of each round. Before too long, Culp either catches a kick, or uses her flurries to close distance, and is quick to convert either into a takedown. On the ground, Culp demonstrates a position-first style, mixing in small strikes with her grappling, but saving the powerful ones for once she’s in a dominant position. With multiple amateur wins by rear-naked choke, Culp found another in her pro debut against Natalya Speece (0-1) at Invicta 41.
Culp recently suffered her first MMA loss to Meaghan Penning (1-0) at Invicta 43. After winning the first round, Culp seemed to struggle with Penning’s guard and looked unable to get her offense going on the feet once Penning started initiating — or, maybe she was just exhausted from trying to pass what appeared to be a very strong guard. This feels like a pivotal moment for the 20-year-old’s development — having never lost before, this could highlight necessary improvements or changes that need to be made to her game. That will be the sign that she’s really a top prospect.
Sharapudin Magomedov (4-0), Russian Bantamweight
As the editor of this site, I’ve read many writers’ entries for this series, Shawn Bitter’s “The Future” — a recurring article in which the sport’s most knowledgeable minds highlight a single prospect aged 27 or younger and with five or fewer professional fights who they believe is destined for greatness.
Sharapuin Magomedov checks those criteria, and then some.
The 26-year-old Russian bantamweight may very well be the future of MMA. Fighting out of the combat sports hotbed of the Republic of Dagestan, Magomedov had an illustrious amateur career before turning pro in 2019. Magomedov, who stands 5’7”, is a talented grappler with high-level finishing instincts. Though he favors positional dominance over long-shot submission attempts, Magomedov is able to parlay his grappling advantage into ground and pound stoppages and chokes with ease. He effortlessly passes guard, blends his styles well, and has extensive experience despite his young pro career.
Compiling a stellar record of 16-1 as an amateur, Magomedov earned tournament victories in the 2016 Cup of Tatarstan, 2016 Russian Cup, Fightspirit Championships, 2016 Russian Commonwealth Cup, 2017 WMMAA European Championships, the 2018 Cup of Tatarstan, and, most notably, the 2018 IMMAF-WMMAA World Championships.
While dominating the Russian amateur scene is an impressive feat in and of itself, Magomedov became a household name among hardcore MMA fans and writers thanks to his undefeated run under the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) system. The Fight Club Irbis product won four fights in five days to become the 2018 IMMAF World champion. In an Instagram post, Magomedov said of the accomplishment, “Standing on a pedestal with a won medal, the feeling of the sweetness of victory is indescribable and untransferable.”
It would not be the last time Magomedov had reason to celebrate.
Magomedov picked up a rear-naked choke in his pro debut, submitting Dmitriy Ivanov (0-2) in the first round of the pair’s Battle of Volga 9 matchup. He would then score a second-round TKO over Madiyar Zhorobekov (4-4), capping off a 2-0 2019 for the amateur world champion. Magomedov was named the 2019 Sportsman of the Year in the Republic of Tatarstan, and according to a June 2019 interview, was awarded the nationally-recognized Golden Belt Award — “considered the highest award of the Russian Union of Martial Arts and are awarded once in a lifetime” — by the Russian Union of Martial Arts (RUMA).
2020 saw Magomedov add two more wins to his resume, decisioning Valeriy Pak (4-2) and submitting Vyacheslav Svischev (4-1) under the Gorilla Fighting Championship (GFC) banner, a Russian promotion that has since been bought by UFC legend Khabib Nurmagomedov and renamed to Eagle Fighting Championship (EFC).
Now 3-0 in EFC, Magomedov is nipping at the heels of fellow top prospect and EFC bantamweight champion Renat Khavalov (3-0), a 2019 Russian MMA Championship runner-up who knocked out Khasan Esmurziev (3-1) in July to earn the title. A championship match between the two would likely determine Russia’s top bantamweight prospect.
Though he isn’t on most MMA fans’ radar just yet, the increasingly well-rounded Sharapudin Magomedov has the potential to be one of the sport’s top bantamweights. The undefeated prospect holds multiple amateur titles, fights in one of Russia’s top developmental organizations with the added attention of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s ownership, and has the skills to one day fight for a title in a major organization.