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.
Lone’er Kavanagh (2-0) – English flyweight
Lone’er Kavanagh is from London, England, with a Chinese-Irish heritage. He trains out of Great Britain Top Team with many good fighters like Nathaniel Wood, Mike Ekundayo, Chris Miah, and more.
He trains under his head coach, former UFC fighter and U.K. MMA legend Brad Pickett, who is also his manager. He also trains out of Elevate Martian Arts and Team Tieu. Kavanagh even traveled to Canada to train with Tristar for four weeks at one point.
Kavanagh had a rickety amateur career. He had two wins, two losses, two draws, and one no-contest, bringing him to a 2-2-2, 1 NC record. However, now fighting as a pro, Kavanagh is sitting at a perfect 2-0. And with each fight, he’s looked better and better.
At just 21-years-old, he’s still flourishing as a fighter and has stood out among other blooming prospects.
Prior to making his professional debut in March of 2019, Kavanagh won the Rise of Champions flyweight amateur championship. That was a good way to end his amateur career, and considering his final two fights as an amateur, he’s on a three-fight win streak.
From the age of eight, Kavanagh started with Korean-style martial arts and then had an extensive kickboxing career. He competed in K-1 and is a five-time world champion. He’s brought every single bit of that into his MMA career.
When stepping into the cage, his opponents know of his background, so takedown defense has been a vital focal point of his game. Kavanagh has been taken down several times in his career but throughout the time he’s been improving.
Kavanagh is a very skilled and intriguing young man. Where he’s best at is unequivocally on the feet. He’s light on his feet, doing a lot of bouncing around. Kavanagh is excessively fast specifically with his movement, hands, and his legs.
At times Kavanagh takes a while to find his range but when he does he’s very sharp. The Englishman throws a nice lead upper, is a well-executed counter striker, and has a good one-two. Kavanagh fights behind his kicks, setting the tone of his fights that way.
He’s such a flashy guy and he doesn’t telegraph his strikes at all. Kavanagh is a true 125-er that brings speed, athleticism, explosiveness, and a recurrent rapid pace.
I don’t expect Kavanagh to be in a big promotion or even widely known anytime soon, but he is undoubtedly the future and the world will know over time.
Badmatsyren Dorzhiev (4-0) – BFC flyweight
Whenever you go looking for prospects in odd places, you rarely find anyone with real quality. While I’m always a fan of the Belarus Fighting Championship (BFC), I wasn’t expecting to see anyone I’d soon be writing an article about.
That’s when I stumbled across Badmatsyren Dorzhiev. Dorzhiev was fighting Oleg Lichkovakha (15-5) for the BFC flyweight title at BFC 60 back in September 2020. For a little bit of context, Lichkovakha’s last fight was against former UFC title challenger Ali Bagautinov (19-7) at BRAVE CF 46, where he competed until the final bell.
I didn’t expect much of Dorzhiev based on the records of his opponents, and from the looks of his record, he kicked off his amateur career going 0-2 in 2019 before opting to turn pro.
Straight away in the fight, I noticed that Dorzhiev looked very big for flyweight. I usually don’t find I notice this as much as the commentators put across in MMA, but there was a clear differential for the Russian Dorzhiev, who utilized his reach to keep the fight at distance. When Lichkovakha decided to switch to a grappling game, he quickly found himself reversed and in the bottom position.
By the championship rounds, Dorzhiev was likely winning every round with a measured and controlled overall MMA performance. With the composure of a veteran, Dorzhiev could have remained on cruise control to move forward to his first championship win. Uncontent with simply getting his arm raised, Dorzhiev began turning up the heat in the championship rounds. He began throwing out ducking head kicks which skimmed Lichkovakha’s head.
Lichkovakha was forced to grapple once again, this time being completely overwhelmed, and ultimately TKOed, unable to stand up after the close of the fourth round.
While Dorzhiev might not have the luster of a Dagestani GFC title contender, he brings a background in pankration and wrestling that has leveled him beyond his professional experience.
Although you won’t see cartwheel kicks and superman punches off of the cage, what you will see with Dorzhiev is a fighter capable of producing true quality against opponents with many more fights than he has, be it across three rounds or five.
That’s what I look for in the future of mixed martial arts.
Paul Capaldo (5-0) – CFFC bantamweight
Between his record in his time on the amateur and professional MMA circuit thus far, his wrestling background, and his training team, Paul Capaldo should certainly be one fighter to watch. In fact, as 2021 in MMA gets underway, Capaldo will be one fighter that just might be able to take things to the next level.
Capaldo, who hails from New Jersey, got into wrestling early in his middle-school days before competing in the sport while attending Middletown North High School, where he’d rack up 100 wins. After graduation, Capaldo spent some time learning the art of boxing, competing in the Golden Gloves and Diamond Gloves amateur tournaments, while pursuing a career in the MMA cage.
Capaldo competed as an amateur for just under two years, going 5-0 with two finishes before turning pro in late 2018. He’s spent his entire pro career thus far with the Northeastern-based Cage Fury Fighting Championships (CFFC), where currently, he finds himself again with a 5-0 record and two victories via a finish.
Capaldo, who has had bouts at both bantamweight and featherweight, made a statement in his promotional debut at CFFC 71, blasting Bobby Malcolm (0-2) with a head kick for a second-round KO victory.
He then got busy in 2019, scoring unanimous decision wins over Tyler Mathison (2-2) and Lashawn Alcocks (7-10-1) at CFFC 72 and CFFC 77, respectively, before a third-round victory via doctor’s stoppage against Mark Trader (4-3) in a highly-entertaining outing at CFFC 79. Capaldo competed just once in the COVID-19-affected 2020, defeating Jamal Johnson (3-5) by unanimous decision at CFFC 83.
Despite his experience as an amateur boxer, Capaldo seems to rely more on heavier, single strikes than combinations inside the cage. He’s good at changing levels, and you can notice an improvement in the fluidity in his striking over time with more experience, but he still throws more for impact and looking for a single knockout blow.
And that’s not to say he can’t do it — just look at what he did against Malcolm, and look at the “Showtime Kick” he pulled off at CFFC 79 and how he busted up Trader. And to his credit, he can use those heavier strikes to bring the fight to the ground, where he seems to wrestle rings around the competition with dominant top control and constantly looking for submissions. But it would help to complete him as a more whole MMA fighter if he can learn to work combinations better; if he can do that, his future may be even brighter than it already is.
It’s also quite worth noting that Capaldo is a product of Catone MMA, training under UFC veteran Nick Catone, as well as a plethora of MMA talents such as former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, Bellator light heavyweight Grand Prix hopeful Corey Anderson, superprospect Aaron Pico, and multi-time PFL featherweight champion Lance Palmer.
Capaldo has shown a lot of potential in his short time on the professional scene thus far, and he just turned 24 not that long ago. It might be time for him to step up and face a bit of tougher competition in the CFFC, and if he can continue his current success — and possibly win a CFFC title in the process — it may not be long before the big leagues call his name.