Worldwide MMA Prospect Report (7/1 – 7/7)

Welcome to the first issue of the Worldwide MMA Prospect Report. I’m your host, James Colwell. This is a new series on the site that provides a quick report and ranking of notable prospects within the sport.

Here’s a quick backstory on what exactly this list is and how it works:

For the past six months, I have been curating and refining lists of prospects for each weight class through the website Tapology.

These lists are particularly large (350+ fighters) at featherweight, lightweight, and welterweight, as these are the classes that most fighters with an “average” body type fit into, whereas the heavyweight and light heavyweight lists barely have 100 names on them. These prospects are ranked by tiers ranging from .5 to 10 in increments of .5 (.5, 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5 etc…), with the general idea that prospects in the same tier are approximately equally skilled.

I have watched the majority of these prospects fight, ideally full matches but sometimes highlights, but some in the lower ranks are ranked purely based on their records and/or the competition they’ve faced. If you disagree with a ranking, or think I’m missing someone who deserves a spot, I’m always open to hearing about it. As prospects win or lose, I adjust their rankings accordingly and may remove them from the list if they struggle or promote them to my top rankings in that weight class. My top rankings also operate on a tiered system, ranging from 10 to 100 at intervals of 5, and I update these rankings daily as new information comes in.

The goal for this column is to not spend time focusing on the same few fights that the majority of the MMA world thinks about in a given week. Therefore, it is unlikely that I will feature someone fighting in a major organization (UFC, PFL, Bellator, ONE) unless they are making their debut, are particularly young or inexperienced, or there are some other exceptional circumstances. However, I will highlight fighters who I have ranked in my worldwide best lists if they are fighting for a smaller organization and have not previously had a shot at the spotlight. With all that out of the way, let’s dive into the fun stuff: the prospects!


The UFC may have taken a break this week, but global MMA never sleeps and neither does the Worldwide Prospect Report.

There were lots of fights going on in the US last week, with LFA, Titan FC, and CFFC all holding shows in addition to countless regional, mostly amateur promotions. OFC 6 in Russia was probably the regional highlight of the week, as it showcased a host of talented Russians against foreign opponents.

Honorable mentions to UFC veterans: Denis Stojnić, who lost to Stefan Struve and Cain Velasquez way back in 2009 and won after 5 years off, Thibault Gouti, who returned from three years away to defeat fellow French UFC alum Mehdi Baghdad, Katsunori Kikuno, who continued his string of strange fights in Japan by knocking out a man twice his size, Marcin Bandel, who added yet another heel hook to his record, and Satoshi Ishii, who has fought for Bellator, RIZIN, PFL, and other large promotions and got another creative submission to snap a losing skid. 

Heavyweights

Kasim Aras: Improves to 7-1

Old ranking: 3.5, #57 prospect

New ranking: 6.5, #27 prospect

Aras is a 5’9”, 240 pound boulder of a German wrestler who has been tearing up the country’s regional scene since 2018. He is immensely strong, and once he has top position good luck trying to remove him. He won the EMC heavyweight championship this week against tier 1.5 prospect and British veteran Rab Truesdale in a fight that served as a good showcase for Aras’ skillset, as he took his opponent down and dominated him on the ground before taking the back and sinking in the RNC. His only career loss came in bizarre fashion, as he was disqualified due to biting his opponent’s chest with 10 seconds left in a fight back in March 2020. While that’s certainly not a good look for Aras as a sportsman, he’s more than talented enough for people to look beyond his past indiscretions. I would expect him to be snapped up quickly by someone like KSW, ACA, or Brave, as all 3 love drawing from the European talent pool and everyone could always use another heavyweight.

Fernando Batista: Falls to 10-7

Old ranking: 5, #44 prospect

New ranking: 2, #81 prospect

Batista earned a strong initial ranking despite his mediocre record because his two fights in 2020 were first round KOs over a 4-1 youngster and a highly touted 12-1 prospect. This week, the big 36 year old went to Russia for his first overseas fight and got fed to the wrecking machine that is Oleg Popov. Batista looked slow and lumbering, and once his opponent closed the distance on him he had absolutely no answers to his strength, wrestling, or ground and pound. The fight got stopped in the second and it was merciful, as Batista was just eating punches with no recourse. He’s still keeping a decent tier ranking because Popov is one of the hottest heavyweights outside a major organization, but I’ll be watching his next fight carefully to see if he can hang with non-elites outside of Brazil.

Oleg Popov: Improves to 12-1

Old ranking: 9, #1 prospect

New ranking: 15, #94 overall

Popov continued his absolutely absurd form by dominating tier 5 Brazilian Fernando Batista and earning his 6th win in slightly over 12 months. Fighting every two months is a ridiculous pace for any fighter, and particularly for a heavyweight who regularly takes on other titans who can do so much damage. Both rounds of the fight looked similar, with a few distance finding-punches thrown from both sides before Popov closed the distance, drove Batista against the fence, took him down, and rained down blows. There was more active guard movement and overall defense in the first round, which allowed Batista to narrowly survive, but in the second Popov started loading up on hooks and threatened to crush Batista’s head before the ref stopped it. This was his debut for OFC after mainly fighting for MMA series, AMC, and M-1 earlier in his career, and I’d bet ACA has their eyes on him as a fast-rising 29-year-old beat who is rocketing into his prime in front of our eyes.  

Sergey Belostenniy: Improves to 7-2

Old ranking: 15, #107 overall

New ranking: 15, #102 overall

Belostenniy started his career with a couple win in 2015, then went 4-2 with ACB/ACA from 2016-2019, fighting just once or twice per year. He seems to have been released from ACA during the pandemic despite winning his last fight and overall finding success, so he took his first fight in 27 months this week against a 41-year-old can crusher from Brazil. He landed an impactful early body kick, staggered his opponent with a check right hook/uppercut, then sent him to sleep with a couple bombs on the ground to get the 25 second finish and remind everyone of his talent. He’s only 25, which might as well be a baby for a heavyweight, and he still has plenty of room on his frame to bulk up and add more muscle. He’s well versed as a grappler as well as a striker and is one of the hottest young heavyweights in the world in my eyes.

Light Heavyweights

Wildemar Santos: Falls to 8-3

Old ranking: 2.5, #63 prospect

New ranking: 1, #102 prospect

Santos went 8-1 in Brazil, with almost all of those fights at middleweight, before going to Russia to take a fight at OFC 1 on less than two weeks notice. He unsurprisingly lost that fight, then took another relatively short notice fight in France this week and fought at a 216 pound catchweight, the highest of his career. His opponent was Faycal Hucin, another former middleweight, so size was not to blame for Santos picking up his second straight loss. Hucin was very successful in the past despite not fighting for a while, so this loss is not enough to fully remove Santos from the rankings but it makes his position much more precarious.

Middleweights 

Chauncey Foxworth: Improves to 13-8

Old ranking: .5, #195 prospect

New ranking: 1, #164 prospect

Foxworth has been fighting on the American regional scene for 6 years, picking up some solid wins along the way but also plenty of losses to run of the mill fighters. He’s now on a 4 fight win streak, and while the first 3 opponents were weak, this week he won a decision over Contender Series alum Jhonoven Pati. Foxworth is far from elite in any one area, but he’s well rounded and can threaten with both his fists and a nasty kimura that he’s used to submit several opponents.

Jakhongir Jumaev: Improves to 6-0

Old ranking: .5, #310 LW prospect

New ranking: 1, #159 MW prospect

Jumaev made the super-rare 30 pound jump from lightweight to middleweight this week and pulled off a clean spinning backfist TKO in the 1st round to win the 185 pound title for a small Russian/Eastern European show. At just 5’9”, he’s definitely too short to stick in the division long-term and should consider a move to welterweight if he’s become too muscular to go back down to 155. This was his first fight in more than 18 months and the whole event was put together on very short notice, so maybe his inflated weight was due to a lack of preparation or a decision not to cut weight. His hands looked dangerous and he remains a 1st round KO machine, so I will definitely be tracking his future fights.

Shane O’Shea: Falls to 4-2

Old ranking: 3.5, #69 prospect

New ranking: .5, #205 prospect

Despite having a very limited pro record, there was a lot of buzz around O’Shea following an 8-2 amateur career and a bunch of impressive finishes against low-level pros. The matchmakers for Titan FC were similarly impressed and brought him in to challenge for the middleweight title in his promotional debut. However, he got manhandled by Bruno Assis and while he managed to score one solid takedown, that was really his only highlight as he got threatened by an armbar that quickly transitioned to a triangle to choke him out. He’s still worth keeping an eye on, but with a much more cautious spot in the rankings.

Adriano Rodrigues: Moves to 18-6-1

Old ranking: 4, #93 WW prospect

New ranking: 4, #62 MW prospect

Rodrigues fought at middleweight for almost his entire career in Brazil, including when he won the 185-pound belt for Shooto Brazil in September 2020. He leveraged that into his first opportunity in Russia, where he lost a welterweight mismatch for AMC against superstar Andrey Koreshkov by 1st-round armbar. He moved back up to his natural weight class this week to take on tier 4.5 prospect Vladimir Vasilyev for OFC 6, and the two fighters had a back-and-forth battle. Rodrigues dominated the first and was doing damage on the feet and against the cage, but Vasilyev took over in the second round and inflicted lots of damage, including a spurting cut by the ear that threatened to end the fight. The bleeding was barely stopped between rounds, and the two had a lower-energy 3rd round that could have gone either way, with one judge scoring it for each fighter and one giving it a rare 10-10 score to make the fight an overall split draw. Rodrigues showed he can hang with the young talent in Russia in this one, but since he ended up with the draw against a similarly ranked opponent, there’s no reason to adjust his ranking besides switching the weight class.

Vladimir Vasilyev: Moves to 8-1-1

Old ranking: 4.5, #55 prospect

New ranking: 4, #64 prospect 

Vasilyev has bounced around various mid-major Russian and European promotions in his 3-year career, compiling a very good resume against a whole bunch of talented prospects whose records combined to 58-11. He won his debut for OFC in December 2020, then fought Adriano Rodrigues to a draw this week. I honestly thought Rodrigues looked slightly better overall, but it was close enough that I’m not making a big adjustment either way. I’d be happy to watch a rematch as soon as they’re healthy if the fighters are both interested.

Bruno Assis: Improves to 11-5

Old ranking: 4.5, #54 prospect

New ranking: 7, #27 prospect

Assis has bounced around in his career, with stints in pretty much every major Brazilian promotion along with a couple fights for Brave and a failed chance in the Contender Series in 2018. He struggled after that loss, going 1-2 before signing with Titan FC at the end of 2020. He picked up a first-round armbar in his debut then returned this Friday to choke out 4-1 youngster Shane O-Shea and claim the middleweight belt. Assis got taken down but quickly threatened a deep armbar, and when O’Shea repositioned to relieve the pressure, Assis threw up his long and flexible legs into a very tight triangle to claim his second consecutive quick submission. His opponent was unproven so I’m not ranking Assis as high as I would most fighters who win titles in a large regional promotion like Titan. I could see him earning a shot with Bellator or the UFC if he can successfully defend the belt in his next fight, or maybe he’ll get called up as a short-notice replacement before then.

Welterweights

Konstantinos Ntelis: Improves to 6-1

Old ranking: .5, #308 LW prospect

New ranking: .5, #249 WW prospect

Ntelis took the second welterweight fight of his pro career after 17 months away from the MMA cage, and since he’s just 20 years old this may be a better long-term weight class for him as he continues to mature and build muscle mass. He got a first round RNC over a mediocre 3-3 opponent at a small Greek show and doesn’t move up much because he’d already proved capable of submitting better opponents in the past.

Geysim Derouiche: Improves to 6-2

Old ranking: 1, #260 LW prospect

New ranking: 2, #154 WW prospect

Derouiche beat a 9-2 opponent in 2018, an 11-2 opponent in 2019, then dropped off for two years during the pandemic before returning this week to win a decision over 5-0 Victor Verchere. He moved up to welterweight this week and has fought at catchweights between lightweight and welterweight in the past. One of his only 2 losses came against Morgan Charriere back in 2017, and he somehow made featherweight for that fight, so I’m interested to see which division he settles in long-term as he seems to be one of the better under-the-radar prospects coming out of France right now.

Angelo Trevino: Improves to 9-4

Old ranking: 1.5, #184 prospect

New ranking: 1.5, #184 prospect

Trevino, who unsuccessfully fought on the Contender Series in 2018, picked up a gimme win this week by knocking out human training dummy Jay Ellis (15-96 record!) in the first round. He lost his first fight after his DWCS loss and hasn’t been very active since then, and he’ll really need to find a better opponent for his next fight if he hopes to work his way back into the spotlight.

Marif Piraev: Improves to 29-4-1

Old ranking: 1.5, #173 prospect

New ranking: 2, #154 prospect

Despite his absurd record, Piraev was actually on a 2-fight losing streak coming into this week, He took a main event spot for new Russian promotion Hardcore FC but his opponent was only 5-3 so when Piraev got a rear naked choke it was hardly a shocker. Only 28 despite his extensive record, I’d expect to see him back in a larger show for his next fight.

Solomon Renfro: Improves to 8-1

Old ranking: 7, #29 prospect

New ranking: 8, #12 prospect

Renfro continues to dominate for CFFC, this week knocking out a 7-4 opponent in 99 seconds, though it must be noted that he was 37 and had not had great success recently. He got a knockdown with a short jab straight to the jaw, then hit a big hook on the ground to seal the deal. This was not really the sort of matchup intended to provide a challenge for Renfro, but instead this served to keep filling his record and gave him two wins since his surprise first-round submission loss in December 2020. He’s a physically dominant prospect who is dangerous everywhere in the cage, and I have to imagine CFFC are grooming him for a shot at the title, though they may hold off a little to see if Yohan Lainesse gets signed to the UFC before giving Renfro a chance. If not, that would be an awesome clash of prospects and would provide a huge boost to whoever came out on top.

Evan Cutts: Falls to 12-5

Old ranking: 8.5, #7 prospect

New ranking: 6, #51 overall

Cutts has been fighting on the US regional scene for a decade, typically around Texas or Oklahoma. He went 16 months without a fight during the pandemic and returned in April 2021 to challenge Bassil Hafez for the CFFC title in his promotional debut. Hafez had a ton of hype around him going into the fight, with some saying that he could be UFC-bound with a win, but Cutts pulled off a shocking split-decision win after 25 minutes of violence. I thought he deserved the win and was very impressed with his toughness and crisp boxing, especially since all of his career wins came by submission or decision and clearly indicated a grappling background. He met his match this week against 6-0 super-prospect Yohan Lainesse, who looked faster, stronger, and outstruck him on the way to a second round TKO. Cutts took a nasty hook to the liver and never recovered, even though it took a little while for Lainesse to carefully stalk him around the cage and land the follow-up shots needed to end the fight. He’s definitely still a very solid prospect, and I’ll be curious to see if he sticks around with CFFC and tries to rebuild his standing or jumps back to somewhere near his home, like Fury FC or XKO, to challenge for another belt sooner.

Yohan Lainesse: Improves to 7-0

Old ranking: 9, #2 prospect

New ranking: 15, #168 overall

Lainesse reportedly turned down a chance on the Contender Series in order to challenge tier 8.5 prospect Evan Cutts for the CFFC title, and his performance this Saturday made that look like a good call. He started his career in 2018 with Canadian promotion TKO and racked up 3 wins in 8 months before missing 16 months due to the pandemic. He restarted his career with CFFC in August 2020 and racked up two quick finishes, then came back this year to win a decision over fellow undefeated prospect Troy Green and now claim the belt from Cutts. He looked at least 1 step ahead in essentially every area, especially in his movement and striking speed, and he got the finish through a sequence of body punches in the second round that showcased his power, patience, and precision as he picked apart his opponent and left him defenseless against his onslaught. If I were Dana White I would be calling Lainesse right now, as he’s clearly talented and had a lot of conviction to take a fight against a dangerous veteran like Cutts instead of hoping for someone less well-established on the Contender Series. 

Lightweight

Tommy Aaron: Improves to 8-5

Old ranking: .5, #383 prospect

New ranking: .5, #329 prospect

Aaron earned his ranking with a RNC over a 4-0 prospect for LFA in February, bringing his overall record to 3-0 in the top US regional show. He’s also had 2 fights for Bellator, and while both were losses he wouldn’t have gotten the call multiple times if the matchmakers didn’t have some belief in his talent. He’s gone 1-1 with Combate since joining the rankings, following up a split decision loss in April with a 1st-round TKO this week over an unranked 8-4 opponent. The finish was initiated by a punishing body kick that crumpled his opponent’s defenses and allowed Aaron to swarm for the win. He’s got to show a lot more consistency if he wants to reach the higher tiers, but there’s at least something here.

Evan Elder: Improves to 5-0

Old ranking: .5, #358 prospect

New ranking: 1, #265 prospect

Elder picked up the biggest win of his young career with a decision over regional stalwart CJay Hunter as the main event of Shamrock FC 329. Undefeated as a pro, Elder’s only amateur loss came to Luis Pena, who is now in the UFC. He fights out of the reputable Sanford MMA and has a lot of room to grow, as he is just 24 and driven to improve and try to make it to the top levels of MMA. It is worth noting that he’s won decisions in his last two fights after finishing the easy opponents in his first 3 fights, so maybe he’s starting to get challenged more as he starts to take on slightly tougher competition. However, as long as he can keep figuring out ways to win, he’ll keep climbing the rankings and attracting more interest from the larger promotions all over the USA.

Ryota Oki: Falls to 4-1

Old ranking: .5, #356 prospect

New ranking: .5, #397 prospect

Oki won four straight fights for DEEP in a 15-month period to open his career, then was surprisingly given a shot at the interim lightweight title this week despite never previously facing an opponent with a record better than 8-5. My only guess is that since he’s 32 already, the promotion wanted to test how legit he is early so that they can maximize his talent in the limited time he’ll have for his career. He lost to a tier 7.5 prospect who had more than 10 times his experience and dropped to near the bottom of the lightweight rankings, where he’ll need to pick up a number of wins in a row to rebuild his hype.

Si Won Park: Improves to 6-0

Old ranking: .5, #315 prospect

New ranking: 1.5, #214 prospect

Park lost his first amateur fight but then won 4 straight as an ammy and all 5 of his first professional fights by a mix of submissions and decisions. The main concern around him was his lack of tough competition, but he started to address that this week by knocking out 4-0 Tae Sung Kim in 76 seconds. It was a spectacular knockout, as his opponent fell face-first into the canvas after a glancing right and a hard left straight on the weakest point of the jaw. Demonstrating that kind of power in his hands against the toughest opponent of his career after mostly fighting as a grappler to start his career boosted Park’s stock quite a bit and makes me think that he could be challenging for the Road FC lightweight title in his next couple fights.

Anatoliy Moiseev: Improves to 3-0

Old ranking: .5, #298 prospect

New ranking: 1, #271 prospect

Moiseev is a former professional kickboxer who went 3-3 for Glory and made the switch to MMA in October 2020. He’s since strung together 3 straight brutally quick first-round KOs over mediocre opponents. His victim this week was 4-3 and already on a 3-fight losing streak, so the slight bump in the rankings reflects another convincing finish for Moiseev despite not yet facing a quality opponent. His kickboxing background was obvious, as he frequently dumped his opponent to the ground just to let him back to his feet and chopped up his lead leg with efficient kicks inside and out from both sides. He read his opponent’s takedowns well and showed an athletic sprawl, which will be essential for him as he progresses in his career and takes on better grapplers. He’s already 32 due to his late start in the sport, so he needs to keep staying active if he wants to reach his ceiling.

Balajin: Improves to 20-1

Old ranking: 1.5, #212 prospect

New ranking: 1.5, #212 prospect

Balajin was on a 12 fight win streak coming into this week, almost all by finishes, so who does Chinese promotion JCK find to fight him for their vacant lightweight title? If you answered, “a 3-6 opponent coming off a loss in his last fight”, you’d be right but just as crazy as whatever matchmakers thought that was the best fight they could get him. All I can guess is that they’re trying to build up his record to get the UFC to sign him, but as the struggles of several other Chinese newcomers this year have shown, it’s important to actually be tested before getting thrown straight into the big show. Balajin wasn’t able to get a finish this week despite his opponent’s inferiority and didn’t move up at all for such a meaningless victory.

Dumar Roa: Falls to 15-9

Old ranking: 1.5, #197 prospect

New ranking: .5, #320 prospect

Roa earned his spot in the rankings with an impressive 1st-round KO in the main event of Brave 45 back in November, bringing his record to 2-1 overall in the respectable promotion. He fell back to a lower tier this week after a decision loss for Combate to fellow Latino veteran Ivan Castillo. Roa was scheduled to fight for Brave again back in March but that bout fell through, so hopefully they’ll give him another fight and a chance to rebuild his reputation.

Alexey Lyapunov: Improves to 10-2

Old ranking: 1.5, #177 WW prospect

New ranking: 2.5, #153 LW prospect

After a 3-fight foray into welterweight to end 2020 and start 2021, Lyapunov returned to his more natural lightweight this week to record a decision victory over a can-crushing 13-1 Brazilian. He edged out the first round on the feet through quick jabs and kicks to the legs/body and was on his way towards doing the same in the second until he got taken down and spent more than a minute receiving damage. He played it safe in the third and secured side control from takedowns, where he proceeded  to drop short elbows for the majority of the round to secure the 29-28 win on all scorecards. He’s been fighting for MMA Series, RCC, and now OFC, so he’s at home in the mid-major Russian promotions and could be looking at a shot with ACA if he can pull off a few more convincing wins.

Juri Ohara: Improves to 29-18-3

Old ranking: 7.5, #25 prospect

New ranking: 8, #19 prospect

Ohara has been fighting for DEEP since he was 19 all the way back in 2009, and he’s had his fair share of ups and downs against the wide variety of fighters you encounter on the Japanese regional scene. He’s currently on a 4-fight win streak that includes a decision in his debut for RIZIN and another decision this week over 4-0 prospect Ryota Oki to win the interim DEEP lightweight title. Ohara only moves up a little because his opponent was very inexperienced and only ranked in tier .5, but if he is able to unify the belt in his next fight or continue to succeed for RIZIN, we could be hearing a lot more about Ohara in the future, as he is in his prime at 30 despite already being a 50-fight veteran.

Featherweights

Pascal Hintzen: Improves to 7-0

Old ranking: .5, #318 prospect

New ranking: .5, #275 prospect

Hintzen won a decision over a very marginal 7-5 opponent at EMC 7 in Germany to stay undefeated as a pro and take a baby step up the rankings. He still hasn’t faced anyone all that skilled, so he’s mostly an unknown at this point.

Jose Estrada: Improves to 7-2

Old ranking: .5, #258 prospect

New ranking: 2, #156 prospect

Estrada has spent his entire career with Combate and is clearly viewed as a prospect by the promotion, as he was given easy opponents at the start of his career to build him up for a whole bunch of main or co-main events in a row. So far, he’s picked up losses before building up enough momentum to earn a title shot, but his current 2-fight winning streak is by far his most impressive. It started with a RNC finish over a 4-0 prospect in April 2019, then Estrada finally returned this week after more than two years away to win a decision over 10-4 Leonardo Morales. If he can get another win later this year, I would expect to see him challenge for the Combate featherweight belt early in 2022. 

Giuseppe Ruggeri: Improves to 6-0

Old ranking: .5, #238 prospect

New ranking: .5, #238 prospect

Ruggeri got a quality submission back in February to earn a ranking then returned this week to win a decision over a 1-1 opponent in the co-main event of the inaugural show for new Greek promotion Quest MMA. He’s only 21 and in great physical shape, and combine that with jiu jitsu skills and you’ve got a legit young prospect. However, his opponent this week was too weak for me to move Ruggeri up the rankings.

Alexandros Moumtzis: Improves to 5-0

Old ranking: 1, #209 prospect

New ranking: 1, #193 prospect

Moumtzis is a 21 year old Greek prospect who got the first finish of his pro career after winning his first 4 fights by decision. He got a first round KO over a 2-4 opponent, which isn’t all that impressive but shows that he’s able to end fights when given the opportunity. He also had a 6-2 amateur career that he began at just 15 years old, so it’s safe to say that fighting is in his blood.

Juntaro Ushiku: Improves to 19-8-1

Old ranking: 1, #201 prospect

New ranking: 3, #119 prospect

Ushiku defended his DEEP featherweight title this week against 41-year-old, 30-19-1 veteran Daisuke Nakamura and won by split decision. This redeemed his shock KO loss to Nakamura back in February, and while that fight wasn’t for the belt because Nakamura missed weight, I dropped Ushiku from tier 5.5 to tier 1 after his loss to the veteran. He regains some of that lost standing this week, but the fact that it went to a decision and one judge saw it for his opponent indicates that it was a close fight and that Ushiku isn’t talented enough to dominate solid opponents at this stage of his career. He’s very experienced for 26 years old and is clearly one of the better fighters in DEEP, so I wouldn’t be surprised if RIZIN or ONE start making inquiries in the near future.

Ilya Freymanov: Improves to 8-2

Old ranking: 1.5, #169 prospect

New ranking: 2, #159 prospect

Freymanov took on a 40 year old Uruguayan this week and hit him with a low kick, hurt him with a liver kick, glanced a flying knee off his head, reversed a desperate takedown, landed in deep half guard, then slid into mount, all in the first 25 seconds of the fight. He then rode him for 45 seconds while constantly throwing strikes until a couple vicious left hooks from back mount forced the ref to step in and prevent him from teeing off even more. He moves up slightly for the impressive performance, but his opponent was never expected to be much of a threat so that must be accounted for. 

Viktor Kolesnik: Improves to 19-6-1

Old ranking: 5.5, #66 prospect

New ranking: 6.5, #51 prospect

Kolesnik continued OFC 6’s theme of Russian youngsters beating up on aging South Americans by chasing 38 year-old Wanderson Silva (14-3) around the cage for a couple minutes and landing sporadic shots until a brutal step-in right knee to the body turned Silva’s power off and sent him crumpled to the canvas. Kolesnik needed this win to rebound from a 1st-round TKO loss to Elismar Lima, another Brazilian veteran, in his first appearance for OFC. He had been ranked in tier 8.5 going into that fight, and he regained a little bit of that lost standing this week due to the impressive finish and his opponent’’s excellent record. He’ll need to take on some actual prospects soon for me to feel confident moving him back much higher.

Bantamweights

Azizbek Keldibek Uulu: Falls to 5-3

Old ranking: .5, #290 prospect

New ranking: .5, #313 prospect

Uulu got ranked by beating  7-1 and 3-0 opponents in MMA Series 24 and 28 to kick off 2021, but this week he got the unenviable matchup of Goga Shamatava, who was recently released from ACA. He unsurprisingly got knocked out in the first round, and the gulf in strength and experience between the 19 year old Keldibek and 30 year old Shamatava was clear. He stays ranked because this was a matchup he never really had a chance at winning, and he showed me enough skill in his last two fights to make up for the loss in all aspects of the fight this week.

Garrett Armfield: Improves to 6-2

Old ranking: .5, #260 prospect

New ranking: .5, #242 prospect

Armfield is yet to break through in his career, as he beat easy opponents in his first two fights then lost in his LFA debut, then returned to local shows for two more easy wins before winning his debut for CFFC. He then lost his next fight for them in April 2021 and so went back to the local scene and got a RNC against a 1-0 opponent at Shamrock FC 329. All of his fights have ended by 1st-round finish, and at just 24 Armfield has a lot of potential if he can string together a couple wins and establish himself as a regular with a larger promotion.

Kevin Cordero: Improves to 11-2

Old ranking: 1, #200 prospect

New ranking: 1, #181 prospect

Cordero moved to 11-2 with a first-round KO over a 3-3 opponent in a small Spanish show to pick up his 5th straight win by a finish after 21 months away from fighting. He usually wins by choking his opponent out but got it done with his fists this time around. He’s somehow only 21 years old despite his impressive record, and he’s won several titles in the past for small, now-defunct promotions, so there’s a lot to be excited about in regards to Cordero’s future. This week’s fight was a good way to re-introduce himself to the MMA world, but I would like to see him take on a more challenging opponent before I could justify moving him further up the tiers.

Elvis Silva: Falls to 12-6

Old ranking: 2.5, #132 prospect

New ranking: .5, #252 prospect

After winning 6 out of his last 7 fights in Brazil, almost all by decision, Silva went over to Russia and got outfought by Artem Belakh on his way to a second round standing RNC loss in OFC 6. Belakh was not a previously ranked fighter, so Silva may have to drop to a small Russian promotion or go back to Brazil for his next fight if he’s not brought back to OFC.

Goga Shamatava: Improves to 16-9

Old ranking: 6, #26 flyweight prospect

New ranking: 8.5, #7 bantamweight prospect

Shamatava was the longtime bantamweight champion for Tech-Krep FC, which got incorporated into ACB in 2018 and then later ACA. He did not find the same success in the unified promotions as he did in TKFC, going 2-5 against excellent competition. His wins were against his weakest opponents and it was clear that Shamatava wasn’t quite elite caliber, but he proved that he’s still very good by beating down a tier .5 prospect for almost 5 whole minutes. He dominated at range, in the clinch and against the fence, and when the fight hit the ground, eventually winning with standing leg kicks that lead to an opening for fight-ending ground and pound. He moved back up to bantamweight for this fight after spending his entire ACA tenure at 125 and still looked powerfully built for the division, so maybe he’d be better off staying here rather than sapping himself of energy with the extreme weight cut, though he is only 5’6”.

Flyweights

Ze Wu: Improves to 17-12

Old ranking: .5, #336 BW prospect

New ranking: .5, #163 flyweight prospect

Wu has been fighting professionally since age 19 and his up-and-down path is reflected in his record. However, he’s now on a 6-fight streak of finishes, with 5 in the first round, including a 26 second KO of a 1-1 nobody this week. He doesn’t move much in the rankings for picking up this easy win, but he did move down to flyweight for the second time in his pro career, which probably makes the most sense for him as a long-term weight class.

Christian Natividad: Improves to 4-0

Old ranking: 1.5, #153 BW prospect

New ranking: 4, #48 flyweight prospect

Natividad continued to show off his crazy striking power for the lower weight classes this week, scoring numerous knockdowns during a dominant performance over 2-2 Luis Aguirre and bringing his record to 4-0 as a pro and 9-0 overall. Where Natividad struggled was finishing the fight, as he’d land a beautiful punch while standing then dive into his opponent in a rush and fail to secure a dominant position for ground and pound. He’s also only faced relatively easy opponents, though that’s more on the matchmakers as he’s flashed undeniable potential every time he’s stepped in the cage. I think his move to flyweight is a good one, as he seemed to maintain all his power from bantamweight and had no problem sustaining a high output for 15 full minutes, Hopefully his next fight is against a more evenly matched opponent who will test just how good Natividad is in all areas of the sport. 

Ryuya Fukuda: Falls to 12-6-1

Old ranking: 4, #53 prospect

New ranking: 1.5, #92 prospect

Fukuda has spent almost his entire career with Shooto, and he’s had his share of losses in addition to some alright wins. He went on a 3-fight win streak in 2019-2020 that saw him end up as the Shooto interim flyweight champion, but he lost against rising star Tatsuro Taira this week. Taira choked Fukuda out in the first and made him look like someone destined to spend their career as a mid-level gatekeeper rather than a top prospect.

Charles Johnson: Improves to 9-2

Old ranking: 4.5, #46 prospect

New ranking: 6, #32 prospect

Johnson, who is an energetic and enigmatic character outside of the cage, got a shot at the interim LFA flyweight title this week while the regular champion prepares for a chot on the Contender Series. He got a relatively easy matchup handed to him in Yuma Horiuchi, a Japanese youngster who had lost 2 of his last 3 fights to opponents who were equal to or worse than Johnson. Despite the favorable matchup, Johnson was not nearly as dynamic or hyperactive as we’re used to seeing in the cage, and there were several stretches throughout the fight where the commentators were openly wondering why he wasn’t being more active to take advantage of Horiuchi’s lack of defense. He still managed to win convincingly on two scorecards but lost on the third, forcing a split decision and showing the dangers of allowing your opponent to be active even if they’re not landing threatening strikes. Johnson did show his trademark striking creativity in the 4th and 5th rounds, mixing punches from all directions and throwing every other body part that he could into the mix as well. Overall it was a solid performance, but his opponent wasn’t ranked and I definitely wasn’t convinced that this style would have success against higher-level fighters.

Tatsuro Taira: Improves to 9-0

Old ranking: 5, #60 BW prospect

New ranking: 7, #16 flyweight prospect

Taira made his amateur debut at 16 for Shooto, the turned pro at the age of 18 and has been on an absolute tear for the promotion. He pulled off a triangle to win the Shooto flyweight title over Ryuya Fukuda, and at 9-0 at just 21 years old, the sky’s the limit for him. He’d fought at bantamweight in his previous two fights, but he also fought at strawweight as recently as 2019 so he’s obviously not too huge to make the cut to 125. Maybe he’ll have to go back up to 135 if he continues to bulk up with age, but for now he’s the type of prospect that screams major promotion material as a young undefeated fighter with a reputable regional title and a great mix of decision, submission, and TKO victories.

Santo Curatolo: Improves to 6-1

Old ranking: 6.5, #23 prospect

New ranking: 7.5, #15 prospect

Curatolo started his career extremely hot with 5-straight quality first-round finishes for CFFC, with the final one earning him the flyweight belt. He unexpectedly lost by TKO in the second round of his first title defense back in October 2020, and this week he returned to take a rebound fight against unranked 4-1 youngster Dilshod Zaripov. He returned to his finishing ways, though this time it took until the second round to land the necessary strikes. I’d hope to see him matched against another well-ranked prospect in his next fight, and if he can win that he would definitely be deserving of another chance at the title.

Prospects joining my rankings

Maxim Kolosov, heavyweight. Improves to 11-3-1

New ranking: .5, #130 prospect

Kolosov got a TKO of a 5-1-1 Brazilian this week and has now won 7 of his last 8 fights with 6 of those by KO/TKO. He got a knockdown in the second round with a big right hand, then delivered ground and pound for a couple minutes from guard, side control, and finally the back until his opponent broke down. This was his opponent with the most impressive record, and it was quite inflated, so the competition has been pretty bad, which combined to his decision loss to a 3-1-1 fighter in October 2020 makes me very cautious with my initial ranking of Kolosov. He’s 29, so he’s got plenty of time ahead of him in the heaviest and oldest division and could definitely be one to watch if he can start producing finishes against better opponents.

Faycal Hucin, light heavyweight. Improves to 12-4

New ranking: 3, #60 prospect

The vast majority of Hucin’s fights come from the earlier days of MMA, as he was 6-2 on the European regional scene from 2007-2011 before going 4-1 as a middleweight for Cage Warriors in 2012-2013. He then only had 2 fights in the next 8 years, with a win in 2015 and a loss in 2017, before making his return at 216 pounds for the main event of a small French show. He’s very muscular and strong and used that power to grind out a decision over Wildemar Santos, who I had rated as a tier 2.5 prospect. Hucin is now 33 but that matters less at the higher weight classes, so he could be in for a real late-career resurgence if he’s used all his time off to keep refining his skills.

In Soo Hwang, middleweight. Improves to 6-1

New ranking: .5, #188 prospect

Hwang is a rangy, muscular middleweight from South Korea with a fluid striking style that inflicts damage with each shot but doesn’t expend unnecessary energy with over-swings. He won the Road FC middleweight title this week with a second round TKO of chunky 4-0 youngster Il Hak Oh in a fight that he dominated from the outset. His 5 previous wins were all by first round KO, and his lone loss was a 5-second KO that certainly raises questions about his chin but doesn’t take away at all from his overall striking game. He’s definitely one to watch as a rare larger fighter coming out of Eastern Asia. 

Ivan Castillo, lightweight. Improves to 20-13

New ranking: 1.5, #203 prospect

Castillo has had a long and winding career, including appearances for Bellator, Brave, ACB, and most recently Combate. As his record shows, he’s had his fair share of ups and downs, but his performance so far in 2021 is worthy of a ranking. He got a 4th-round knockout in April over 14-3 prospect Leonardo Blasco while fighting for the UWC welterweight belt in a matchup that essentially no one gave him a chance in, then came back to his natural weight class to pick up a win for Combate over Dumar Roa, a tier 1.5 prospect. Castillo is only 30 despite his storied career, so maybe he’s finally hitting his peak and these back-to-back impressive wins are the start of a late-career resurgence. Even if he’s never going to reach the absolute top of the sport with a record like his, Castillo is clearly skilled enough to keep track of.

Erion Zekthi, bantamweight. Improves to 5-1

New ranking: 1, #231 prospect

Zekthi went 10-0 as an amateur and his only pro loss came by split decision, so he is clearly a difficult challenge for anyone who steps in against him. He won by Von Preaux choke this week and also has a Peruvian Necktie on his pro record (and a less exciting RNC), to go along with a triangle, a guillotine, and an arm triangle as an ammy, so he clearly is well versed in jiu-jitsu and is creative in his attack. He also has plenty of wins by decision and has no problem dominating with his wrestling and strength if he can’t manage to set up a choke. He’s yet to fight another true prospect, but at least all of his professional opponents have had positive records so he’s not just destroying nobodies. The fact that he’s still fighting for Shamrock FC in Missouri is very surprising, and I would expect someone like LFA or Titan FC to sign him in the near future.

Hikaru Yoshino, bantamweight. Improves to 10-2

New ranking: .5, #311 prospect

Yoshino is a young Japanese fighter who is a 5’5” ball of muscle at 135 pounds. The majority of his fights go to decision, and this week his win against a 2-0 opponent for DEEP marked his third straight split decision, with 2 in his favor and one against him. He hasn’t been winning in the most convincing of ways, but Yoshino has compiled an impressive record against mostly challenging competition on the Japanese regional scene. None of them were ranked but lots had positive records, and I’d expect to see Yoshino continue at the mid-high range of the Japanese circuit for his next few fights.

Zebenzui Ruiz, bantamweight. Improves to 9-3

New ranking: .5, #295 prospect

Ruiz started his career 3-2 but has since won 6 out of 7 fights, including a decision over a 5-2 Brazilian this week at SCC in Spain after slightly more than 2 years away from the cage. His opponents during this run have had a combined record of 43-17, so he’s been taking on quality fighters across Europe and has found pretty consistent success. He’s yet to fight anyone really established, so he starts in the lowest tier for now.

Artem Belakh, bantamweight. Improves to 8-2

New ranking: 1, #236 prospect

Belakh started his pro career at age 19 back in 2015 and went 1-1 before taking a couple years off, and he’s won 7 out of 8 since returning as a more developed fighter against opponents with a combined record of 26-5. His only loss in that span came at the end of 2020 against Dmitriy Babkin, who was 4-0 at the time and has won another fight since then to become a very hot prospect on the Russian scene. He got a rare standing RNC this week against Elvis Silva, a Brazilian who had been in tier 2.5. After controlling the first round, Belakh got a knockdown with a check hook early in the second round then took his opponent’s back during the resulting scramble for position and maintained control with a body triangle even as Silva returned to his feet. Belakh stayed there for the next 90 seconds, riding him down to the ground once and constantly working his arm tighter underneath Silva’s chin before getting the finish a couple minutes into the round. He certainly has plenty of skills to work with, but his recent loss to Babkin does make me somewhat wary of ranking him too highly

Roybert Echeverria, flyweight. Improves to 5-0

New ranking: .5, #161 prospect

Echeverria is a highly touted Venezuelan who is one of the top prospects at infamous Miami gym The Goat Shed. His record is almost entirely made of cans, and this week was no exception as he beat Earnest Walls, who was 2-15 and 2-17 going into the bouts and is effectively a living training dummy, for the second time this year. To be fair to Echevarria, he was scheduled to face a fellow 4-0 prospect from a Team Alpha Male who would have been by far the best test of his career, but that fight was scratched at the last minute and Walls filled in on just a few days notice before getting demolished by a spinning heel kick that launched his brain into an alternate dimension. Echeverria earns a ranking thanks to the spectacular finish even though his level of competition remains a serious concern.

Prospects leaving my rankings

Rab Truesdale, heavyweight. Falls to 10-7-1

Old ranking: 1.5, #97 prospect

Truesdale is a big man from Scotland who fought extensively in the UK from 2011-2014 before taking 5 years off and reappearing with two decent decisions in 2019. The pandemic threw a wrench in his comeback, and this week he took his first fight in 20 months only to get choked out in the first round by tier 3.5 fighter Kasim Aras. At this point in his career, Truesdale has become another of the many solid veteran heavyweight strikers who are able to beat up on chunky guys who don’t have a lot of skill but will fall victim to better athletes or high-level grapplers.

Jhonoven Pati, middleweight. Falls to 6-5

Old ranking: 1.5, #122 prospect

Pati got a somewhat surprising shot on the Contender Series in 2020 after winning the Ring of Combat middleweight belt in 2019 but got punched out in the second round by Jamie Pickett, who hasn’t been very successful thus far in the UFC. Pati lost a second straight this week to veteran regional gatekeeper Chauncey Foxworth, and combined with losses to some solid talents earlier in his careers that’s enough for me to think he doesn’t have what it takes to be a major factor in MMA.

Victor Verchere, welterweight. Falls to 5-1

Old ranking: .5, #294 prospect

Verchere is Brazilian/French and a solid jiu-jitsu practitioner who I ranked due to his undefeated record, but this week he ran into tier 1 prospect Geysim Derouiche who beat him in a decision and removed him from the rankings. He’ll need to beat a couple good fighters if he wants a shot at returning.

Amir Alborov, lightweight. Falls to 4-1

Old ranking: .5, #309 prospect

Alborov made the rankings with a very impressive knockout for ACA YE in December 2020 after accumulating a few wins earlier in his career. However, he lost by neck crank to a 10-5 veteran this week, which I take as a sign that he needs significant work on his ground game.

Koyuru Tanoue, flyweight. Falls to 5-1

Old ranking: .5, #169 prospect

Tanoue went 7-0 as an amateur then 5-0 as a pro, all with Shooto, before losing a decision to 5-3-1 Shuto Aki this week. Despite his impressive earlier record, none of them were very tough opponents, and I’m removing him off the back of a loss to a Shooto regional grinder.