It was another week full of awesome MMA action, as PFL, ACA, Bellator, and the UFC all held entertaining events and tons of smaller promotions also held shows. This is without a doubt the busiest week of prospect action I’ve seen, as promotions worldwide look to make up for lost time, stuffing their cards with talented fighters who are often coming off the longest layoffs of their careers due to the pandemic.
The regional highlights was undoubtedly the newest Cage Warriors Trilogy which took place on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, which featured tons of the top fighters in the organization and exciting new prospects making their promotional debut. Poland was very busy this week, as FEN, Babilon, and a couple smaller promotions all held shows, and in Japan both RIZIN and Pancrase held events. Future FC put on their first Road to Future show, which featured lots of great Brazilian prospects.
There were also lots of Russian and Central Asian promotions in action, which inevitably have bunches of quality fighters that are less known in the mainstream. Honorable mentions for UFC veterans go to: Marco Beltran for a first round submission in the main event of Lux Fight League 14 and Elvis Mutapčić for a first round KO in his return from 4 years off.
First time reading the column? You can catch a quick explanation of the ranking system here
Filip Stawowy: Improves to 8-2
Old ranking: 1.5, #94 prospect
New ranking: 2, #83 prospect
Stawowy is a sloppy six-foot-two heavyweight who has to cut down to the heavyweight limit but is very effective despite his less-than-beautiful physique. He showed his wrestling skills this week by controlling Toni Valtonen, who had built a 30-16 record across many years on the European circuit, for most of 15 minutes. Stawowy lost a decision in his previous fight to Kevin Szaflarski in a battle of top Polish heavyweight prospects, and I’m not moving him back up much for this win because he didn’t show me anything particularly new or show the development to make me think that he’s destined for the top level. He’s just 24, which is practically a baby for a heavyweight, so hopefully he’ll start converting some of his bulk into more muscle and become a more fluid fighter with a deeper gas tank.
Jamelle Jones: Improves to 12-6
Old ranking: 6.5, #31 prospect
New ranking: 45, #47 overall
I was very impressed with Jones’ strength and striking ability when he won the CFFC heavyweight title in two minutes back in March. However, I didn’t move him that high up the rankings because his opponent was an unimpressive 7-4 fighter and Jones had struggled in the past with stepping up against tougher opponents, including a 50-second submission loss in his only Bellator fight, first round KO losses on “The Ultimate Fighter” and the “Contender Series,” and another first round KO loss to current UFC fighter William Knight in 2019. I thought he would get his big test last month, as he was scheduled to defend his title against quality veteran Rakim Cleveland, but Cleveland canceled due to illness less than an hour before the fight. Instead, he got called up to PFL as a replacement fighter after their heavyweight division suffered a rash of injuries this year. He faced former UFC fighter Klidson Abreu, who was moving up a weight class but who I had ranked all the way in tier 60 and in my top 40 Light Heavyweights in the world, and Jones dominated from the first seconds of the fight. They hit the ground pretty quickly, which I thought might play to Abreu’s advantage because he’s an incredibly talented and decorated jiu-jitsu master, but Jones was simply too strong to shift. He never progressed beyond half-guard because it simply wasn’t necessary, as his arms are so long and he has so much upper-body power that he was able to drop punishing hammerfists from essentially any angle. You could see the power behind each strike, as Abreu looked desperate to change positions any time one landed, and once a couple landed flush to the temple and jaw it was instantly over. It speaks to how shallow heavyweight is as a global division that this one big win is enough to put Jones in the top 50, but with how highly I had rated Abreu I needed to give him an appropriately huge boost to account for the upset. He’s now in the PFL playoffs despite only getting one regular season fight, which will show whether this was a fluke or if Jones has finally fulfilled his potential.
Michael Quintero: Improves to 7-2
Old ranking: 8.5, #4 prospect
New ranking: 15, #101 overall
Quintero is the sort of prospect that can only exist at heavyweight. He’s a 45 year old, 230+ pound stack of muscles who had a coming-out party this week by scoring a first round KO over UFC veteran Cody East for RUF MMA, a regional promotion in Arizona. This show was put on as a feeder to ONE Championship, and they desperately need more true heavyweights. His advanced age might make it difficult for him to get a shot at the top level in the US, so going to Asia where fighters in their 40s or even 50s are far more common would make sense for Quintero.
Mo DeReese: Falls to 8-4
Old ranking: 10, #118 overall
New ranking: 10, #133 overall
Dereese suffered his second knockout loss of the PFL season, and his third in a row for the promotion, against streaking Brazilian Bruno Henrique Cappelozza. DeReese doesn’t have the technical skills to ever be a top-level heavyweight, but I’m keeping him relatively high in the rankings because he has the size and power to dominate most regional big men. I can’t see PFL bringing him back after this season’s performances, but I could see him either dropping to somewhere like LFA or going overseas to RIZIN or ONE, who both desperately need heavyweights.
Ante Delija: Improves to 18-4
Old ranking: 20, #84 overall
New ranking: 25, #81 overall
Delija offered up a reminder of his dangerous striking by beating up can crusher Chandler Cole for a first round TKO that sent him into the PFL playoffs at heavyweight. He’s had a very strange career arc over the last 6 years: He shattered his leg trying to kick Marcin Tybura while challenging for the M-1 Heavyweight Championship, then missed almost three years recovering. He returned to fight for RIZIN and recorded a decision win before disappearing again for 13 months. His next fight was for PFL in 2019 against a very beatable short-notice opponent, but then Delija himself had to withdraw from the rest of the season after suffering another injury. He next fought for KSW, continuing his tour of major promotions, and once again beat an inferior short-notice opponent. He was supposed to sign for the UFC in 2020 but there were unclear contractual issues that got in the way and led Delija to return to PFL for 2021. He got ripped apart by Bruno Henrique Cappelozza in his first fight of the season and was scheduled for a solid challenge against Hatef Moeil until the huge German was forced to withdraw, leaving Delija with yet another fill-in opponent to beat. He’ll certainly get a tougher challenge in the playoffs, as all of his potential opponents are very dangerous.
Bruno Henrique Cappelozza: Improves to 12-5
Old ranking: 20, #81 overall
New ranking: 35, #59 overall
Cappelozza lost his only RIZIN fight against stud Jiri Procházka at 205-pounds, then disappeared for almost three years and has reappeared as 235 pounds of distilled violence for PFL. He’s had two straight impressive first-round KOs, first with a huge upset of Ante Delija and this week with an easier matchup against Mo DeReese. He still gets a big boost in the rankings because I was relatively conservative with my initial placement after the Delija fight lasted less than one-minute. This week, he showed off all sorts of striking skills with his hands, feet, and elbows and got the finish with a sharp head kick followed by a brutal flurry against the fence. I think the UFC would be smart to approach Cappelozza as soon as his contract with PFL comes to an end and look to add his exciting fight style to the division. However, he’s now going into the playoffs as the top seed, and if he can win the million dollars it may be hard to pry him away.
Renan Ferreira: Improves to 12-5
Old ranking: 25, #80 overall
New ranking: 30, #69 overall
After establishing himself as a powerful striking threat despite the controversial ending to his fight against Fabricio Werdum, Ferreira was originally scheduled to take on former PFL champ Ali Isaev in his second regular season fight. However, Isaev pulled out, and so did replacement Stuart Austin, which left Ferreira matched against 12-12 PFL and Bellator veteran Carl Seumanutafa. I thought he’d be able to get a quick finish and maybe sneak his way into the playoffs despite the no contest in his first fight, but he ended up winning the first two rounds with short ground and pound before Seumanutafa returned the favor in the third. It was a clear 29-28 win for Ferreira, but the 3 points from a decision were not enough to get him into the playoffs, ending his debut PFL season in a disappointing fashion given how much promise he’s shown. I’m sure we’ll see him fight for a major organization again in the near future.
Marcin Filipczak: Falls to 5-2
Old ranking: 1, #106 prospect
New ranking: .5, #119 prospect
After losing his debut, Filipczak strung together five-straight first-round finishes to climb into my rankings. These included a devastating knee and a nasty guillotine choke in 21 and 111 seconds respectively for Fight Exclusive Night in his two previous fights. However, this week he ran into Adam Kowalski, a 12-6-1 veteran who is 38 years old and has spent his whole career in Poland. Kowalski won a decision in a fight that I wasn’t able to watch but must have been full of action, as it won “Fight of the Night” for the event. Losing a good fight to a solid veteran is not enough to take Filipczak entirely out of the rankings, but he’ll need to win his next fight to stick around.
Christian Edwards: Improves to 5-0
Old ranking: 8, #10 prospect
New ranking: 25, #73 overall
The Edwards hype train is leaving the station and I am all aboard. After manhandling lesser opponents in his first four fights for Bellator, Edwards was scheduled to take on 4-1 Ben Parrish, another low-level prospect, but Parrish had to withdraw from two consecutive bookings. This led to a last-minute rebooking against Cameroonian stud Simon Biyong, who I had in tier 15. Edwards looked absolutely dominant, stunning Biyong in every round with powerful strikes and working hard to maintain distance so he could keep delivering punishment. He mixed in leg kicks, body strikes, and all sorts of punches upstairs to keep his opponent guessing and always delivering damage when he threw. When Biyong did manage to close the distance and try to push him against the fence, Edwards was quick to reverse the position and continue dominating. He’s only 22 and is apparently close friends with the LHW king himself, Jon Jones, and he has a tall rocked-up build that makes the inevitable comparisons even easier. He’s incredibly composed and very thoughtful when interviewed, and overall shows incredible mental development to go with his physical gifts. He could easily become a top 10-15 LHW in the world in the next few years, that’s how high his ceiling is.
Oleg Olenichev: Improves to 16-6
Old ranking: 15, #94 overall
New ranking: 20, #80 overall
Olenichev is a muscular, wrestling-based LHW who has now won his first two fights for ACA, with a decision win this week over the ageless wonder Carlos Eduardo in a back-and-forth affair where both fighters had some good top control and landed some solid shots. He typically wins by smothering decision but is not afraid to deliver some ground and pound or try to get to his opponent’s back to hunt for the rear naked choke. His striking can be dangerous due to his raw power but he’s far from technical on the feet and will probably always have a much better shot at getting the win when the fight is on the floor. MMA as a sport is always desperate for more big athletes, so someone with Olenichev’s pedigree and success at a high level by age 29 is definitely an exciting prospect.
Simon Biyong: Falls to 7-2
Old ranking: 15, #87 overall
New ranking: 10, #79 overall
After establishing himself as a prospect in various small European shows, Cameroonian-born Biyong got a shot at the EFC South Africa LHW title in 2019. He won that with an explosive second round KO, then followed that up with another violent finish in his only fight for Rizin, after which Bellator signed him up. He was scheduled to fight veteran 205 studs Melvin Mahoef or Lee Chadwick, but both ended up withdrawing, which led to Biyong taking a last-second match against super-prospect Christian Edwards. He showed off his physical strength and toughness/determination in surviving Edwards’ onslaught for 15 minutes, but he was clearly not on the same level. I think Edwards is one of the better prospects in the sport, and Biyong could still end up as an excellent fighter even if he can’t quite hang with him.
Dmitriy Krivulets: Falls to 6-4
Old ranking: 1, #102 LHW prospect
New ranking: .5, #222 MW prospect
Krivulets has been through a real roller coaster of a year so far in 2021. After going 4-1 with all his wins by submission in 2019 to 2020, Krivulets got called up to Brave CF in January to fight former IMMAF champion and star prospect Murtaza Talha Ali at 198 pounds and unsurprisingly got knocked out in less than two minutes. He then returned to the regional scene in February at middleweight to pick up a 66-second choke over a 4-1 opponent, then got the call from ACA in March to take on stud LHW prospect Amirkhan Guliev and once again couldn’t hang with the higher rated prospect and got finished in less than two minutes. He got another regional fight in May and coincidentally got a second straight choke in 66 seconds, this time against a 3-1 youngster. This week, about a month after his last win, he got a shot in MMA Series at his more natural middleweight but got paired against 4-0 Vladimir Yurusov, who has been submitting everyone in his path since debuting in October and needed only 44 seconds to finish Krivulets. I’m not dropping Krivulets entirely from the rankings because he’s shown several times that he’s better than other decent wrestlers/grapplers on the regional scene but has been repeatedly fed to some of the top prospects in the larger organizations he’s fought for. I wonder if he’ll get another fight on MMA Series against a less brutal opponent or if he’ll be forced to return to small regional shows once again.
Vladimir Yurusov: Improves to 5-0
Old ranking: 2.5, #85 prospect
New ranking: 6.5, #29 prospect
It’s time to start taking Yurosov seriously as one of the top 185-pound youngsters coming out of Russia. He made his pro debut about 7 months ago and has picked up five-straight absurdly fast submissions for MMA Series, getting tap outs in 164, 190, 16, 31, and now 44 seconds. He’s tall, muscular, and extremely aggressive, pushing forward hard with big strikes then using the shortened distance to power his opponent to the floor and either choke them out or violently hyper-extend their arms. His first three opponents were fairly mediocre, but his last fight in May was against a 3-0 fighter and this week he took on tier 1 prospect Dmitriy Krivulets (6-3) and absolutely embarrassed him. This ranking may be a little high given that he hasn’t faced anyone rated higher than tier 1, but he looks incredibly promising and is definitely someone to observe closely going forward.
Will Currie: Falls to 5-2
Old ranking: 4.5, #53 prospect
New ranking: 4.5, #53 prospect
I’m really confused as to why Currie was given an immediate rematch against Christian Duncan after getting knocked out by him just three months ago. All it served to prove was that both are talented young prospects, but Currie is just not quite as developed at this point in time. If he’d been given a feel test fights against good veterans or a lower level prospect and then matched with Duncan in a year, that would have been a much more intriguing rematch than this relatively straightforward decision loss. He threatened a number of good submissions, especially his leg-locks, and generally showed impressive ground skills, but couldn’t match Duncan’s combination of power and technique. I’m not moving him in the rankings at all because we really learned nothing at all from this fight.
Matthew Bonner: Improves to 10-6-1
Old ranking: 6.5, #29 prospect
New ranking: 7, #26 prospect
After looking like a very average fighter to start his career (4-4 amateur record, 6-5-1 record coming into 2020), Bonner has put together a four-fight win streak for Cage Warriors in the last nine months, capped off by winning the promotion’s middleweight title this weekend. It definitely wasn’t the most confidence-inspiring title win, as he was beaten up on the feet and seriously hurt several times despite being from a boxing background and typically relying on his hands. However, he showed that his trip takedowns and jiu jitsu have significantly improved with this performance, making him a much more complete threat, and he finished the fight with a choke after piling up lots of ground control time throughout the fight. I think he’s turned himself into a very solid fighter, but I just don’t see anything about him that makes me think he would find a lot of success at the next level against a higher caliber of athlete.
Rafael Celestino: Improves to 10-2
Old ranking: 7.5, #16 prospect
New ranking: 8.5, #6 prospect
Celestino is another ageless wonder of a prospect, as he’s 41 but made his pro debut just seven years ago and doesn’t seem to be past his prime. The only losses on his record were his debut, which hardly counts, and a 30-second knockout loss to Punahele Soriano that looks much less bad now that Soriano is tearing up the UFC middleweight ladder. Celestino got a 90-second rear naked choke over a can-crushing 16-5-1 fighter who looked totally outmatched by Celestino’s strength and technique from the start. He moves up some because making a successful debut for Future FC can only boost his stock, but beating an unranked opponent can only do so much no matter how good their record is.
Christian Leroy Duncan: Improves to 4-0
Old ranking: 8, #10 prospect
New ranking: 15, #118 overall
I don’t have enough superlatives to describe just how impressed I am by CLD. Every time I watch him fight, he shows me another impressive skill or physical trait. He’s tall and muscular, has a long reach and fluidity in all limbs, an excellent sense for incoming strikes, incredible explosion in his hips and abs when he’s wrestling or scrambling, a creative selection of chokes that use his vine-like arms, and seemingly endless stamina and patience despite being 25 and 4-0 as a pro. This incredible polish can be credited to his dominant 23-fight amateur career, including tons of success with the international-elite IMMAF organization. Duncan already looks like a more talented fighter than either of the participants in Saturday’s middleweight title fight, and if I were the matchmakers I’d probably be setting him up for that shot right away as he continues his meteoric rise.
Taylor Johnson: Improves to 7-2
Old ranking: 10, #132 overall
New ranking: 15, #120 overall
Johnson bullied Lance Wright in a fight he was always expected to win on the Bellator prelims, as he’s one of the promotions’s top prospects and Wright was not even ranked due to the low quality of competition he’d faced while building his 5-1 record. Johnson spent a couple minutes tossing him around before taking Wright’s back, flattening him out, and yanking back the neck for the choke. He certainly looks like an excellent young fighter, and this should help him rebound from losing his prospect clash against Johnny Eblen in October. Even if they’re not ready to test him against the top in the division, I hope Bellator will start matching him against some solid veterans to try to test his ceiling
Nathias Frederick: Falls to 9-3-1
Old ranking: 10, #131 overall
New ranking: 6, #36 prospect
Frederick was going for his second defense of the Cage Warriors against the resurgent Matthew Bonner and he exposed himself as a one dimensional striker, albeit an incredibly powerful one. He inflicted lots of damage on the feet with both powerful single strikes and well-calculated combinations, scoring several knockdowns and probably having opportunities to finish the fight earlier. He continuously took the controlling position on the ground or against the fence when it was available, which was probably a mistake as Bonner would almost inevitably use his superior grappling to reverse the positions and use his control skills to drain Frederick’s gas. He’s heavily muscled, and also very old at 38, so it’s unsurprising that he was feeling the effects of the fight as it dragged on. Towards the end of the 4th, he once again took top position on the ground then quickly lost it, and he just seemed to take a rest at the wrong time as he got caught weirdly easily in a rear naked choke. He’ll continue to be a threat to turn anyone’s lights out for as long as he chooses to continue fighting, but you have to wonder just how much longer that will be considering his age.
Kamil Kraska: Improves to 7-1
Old ranking: .5, #315 prospect
New ranking: 1.5, #177 prospect
Despite his string of five-straight finishes, I hadn’t ranked Kraska higher than tier .5 before this fight because his opponents had been mediocre at best. This time, he took on 11-2 Argentinian Jose Barrios Vargas, who I had in tier 1 and was coming off a losing title shot at lightweight. While Vargas is hard from a world-beater, he was a clear step up from anyone Kraska had previously fought and gave the 23-year-old Polish fighter a chance to demonstrate his all-around game in a decision win and distinguish himself from the many other fighters in tier .5 of my rankings.
Iván Valenzuela: Improves to 6-1
Old ranking: 1, #152 MW prospect
New ranking: 1, #207 WW prospect
Valenzuela has spent his entire career with Lux FL and picked up his third-straight win on Friday against a 3-1 opponent. This was a return to welterweight for Valenzuela after taking his last fight at a catchweight of 190, and he celebrated his return to his old division by picking up the third guillotine submission of his career. He’s in insane shape and is very aggressive, so I could certainly imagine bigger things coming for him down the line.
Wilker Lemos: Falls to 9-2
Old ranking: 3.5, #118 prospect
New ranking: 2.5, #135 prospect
Lemos won, then defended, the Jungle Fight welterweight title in 2019 before dropping off the map during the pandemic and reappearing this week with ACA, where he got knocked out in the first two minutes by tier 10 fighter and clear mismatch Azamat Amagov. He held Amagov against the fence for the first 90 seconds then got sent straight to sleep with a powerful left hand and a few cringe-inducing hammerfists before the ref could save him. A performance like this makes it unlikely that Lemos gets called back to ACA anytime soon, but I imagine he could still line up a solid fight in a mid-size Russian organization or a title shot in a regional promotion if he were to return to Brazil.
Aaron Khalid: Falls to 10-7-1
Old ranking: 4, #102 prospect
New ranking: 1.5, #197 prospect
Khalid has now had 11 fights for Cage Warriors, but he’s only gone 5-6 in that time. This week was a pretty rough loss to Jesse Urholin, as he just had absolutely no answers to Urholin’s strength and wrestling. He’s had some good wins and also some solid losing efforts against high quality opponents, but he’s looking more like a long-term gatekeeper than someone on an upward trajectory. He’s 27, so there’s time for him to grow still, as he’s undoubtedly talented but fights in a stacked division and can’t ever manage to string together a series of wins.
Magomedsaygid Alibekov: Falls to 13-3
Old ranking: 4, #98 prospect
New ranking: 3, #129 prospect
Alibekov started his career 11-0, including winning and defending the AMC Lightweight Championship, before running into a rough patch against elite competition over the last few years. He lost his AMC belt in 2018 then got a win for RCC before disappearing for 19 months leading up to his unsuccessful ACA debut at 155-pounds. He moved up to welterweight for his next fight and beat a Brazilian with an inflated record before suffering his first loss at 170 this week to a tougher Brazilian in tier 6 prospect Irwing Machado. This was a war on the feet, as sometimes happens when two very talented grapplers meet up, and the first round was a mess as Alibekov got kicked in the groin three times Machado got deducted a point. The last low blow was particularly brutal and easily could have ended the fight, but Alibekov powered through and returned to fight, even though it may not have been in his best interest. He looked very willing to scrap on the feet but didn’t seem to have a lot of planning or strategy to his game, wading in and occasionally winging big shots but not showing much understanding of jabs, distancing, or combinations. All of Alibekov’s losses have come against quality opponents so I still have a good amount of confidence in him, though he is 30 already so he has less time to develop than some similarly-experienced Russian prospects.
Jesse Urholin: Improves to 7-0
Old ranking: 4.5, #81 prospect
New ranking: 7, #30 prospect
After 14-months off, Urholin picked up a dominant wrestling-based victory in his Cage Warriors debut against tier 4 prospect Aaron Khalid. He went 6-0 with five finishes in Finland’s largest promotion, CAGE, against surprisingly good opposition (combined 28-9 record), before making the jump to the top European feeder to the UFC. He took Khalid down seemingly at will and spent a ton of time in mount but never turned the aggression up enough to score a fight-ending flurry. He landed lots of good ground and pound but his strikes were pretty spaced out and he didn’t push the pace the way I would have liked when he seemed to have his opponent hurt. He attempted a few submissions as well, but never seemed to feel much urgency to get a finish. This is somewhat nitpicking though, as he’s still undefeated and showed that his skills translated against an established veteran of the British scene.
Jack Grant: Falls to 17-7
Old ranking: 5.5, #66 prospect
New ranking: 5.5, #70 prospect
Grant seems to have been afflicted with the curse of the perennial title contender, as he has now fought for a Cage Warriors belt three different times and lost each one. His first shot was against now-UFC fighter Jai Herbert for the lightweight title after Grant won his first 3 CW fights, but Herbert knocked him out in the third round before moving on to the UFC. Grant won a couple grappling bouts and choked out a 6-2 prospect for Cage Warriors before getting a second shot at the now vacant 155 gold against Agy Sardari, who beat him in a very conservative decision. Grant then jumped up to welterweight in 2021 and beat hot prospect Madars Fleminas in March to set him up for a shot at the vacant welterweight title against wonderkid Ian Garry, where he got out-boxed, out-maneuvered, and out-worked for 25 minutes. Grant tried all sorts of tricks to bring the fight to the ground and try to work his submissions, including jumping guard while standing, but Garry showed excellent composure and defense and managed to escape them all without being in too much danger. Grant is still 29 despite having almost 25 career fights, so he’s still got plenty of career ahead of him, but I don’t see room for a massive improvement as he’s already a technically skilled fighter but doesn’t seem to have the elite physical traits needed to take the next step.
Irwing Machado: Improves to 17-7-2
Old ranking: 6, #34 MW prospect
New ranking: 7.5, #24 WW prospect
After dominating in Brazil and winning the SFT Welterweight Championship in January 2020, Machado joined ACA in March 2021 and made his debut with his first career fight at middleweight. Despite his immense strength for his stature, Machado simply couldn’t match a natural middleweight wrestler for power or stamina and dropped from tier 8 to tier 6 after the loss. However, this week he returned to his more natural welterweight where he is usually the stronger fighter and able to bully his opponent with his power. He ended up going to war on the feet with tier 4 prospect Magomedsaygid Alibekov, a talented Dagestani grappler. He was more aggressive in every round, and while the second could have gone either way, Machado clearly won the first and almost got a finish at the end of the third, as he was chasing Alibekov around hoping to land a killer hook. This performance is somewhat tainted by the fact that Machado lost a point in the first round due to three hard groin kicks that easily could have caused a no contest, and at least one judge gave the second round to Alibekov to make it a 28-28 draw and force a majority decision. This win should have earned Machado at least 1-2 more fights with ACA, and I will be watching carefully to see how he does against all of the excellent Russians within the organization.
David Bear: Falls to 9-2
Old ranking: 7, #39 prospect
New ranking: 5, #71 prospect
Bear has bounced around a number of promotions, with the most recent two being Brave CF and now Cage Warriors, where he took his second fight this week. After beating an alright veteran in his debut, he faced a much tougher opponent this time in 24-year-old super-prospect Justin Burlinson, who was already in tier 15 despite only having 5 pro fights. Bear got punched out in the second round and clearly wasn’t on Burlinson’s level, but he’s had a number of good wins leading up to this so I still believe in him as a prospect.
Azamat Amagov: Improves to 12-2
Old ranking: 10, #192 overall
New ranking: 15, #166 overall
Amagov spent most of his career at middleweight, including his first few fights for ACB, going 9-0 in the process. However, he suffered his first career loss in 2017 to Oleg Olenichev, who is now a stud 205-pounder, and immediately dropped down to welterweight, which is a brutal weight cut for his wide and muscular build. He packs obscene power for the division and put out his opponent’s lights this week with a left straight that connected cleanly but didn’t even look like it was thrown that hard. He followed up with two devastating hammerfists directly to the jaw of his already-unconscious opponent, but stopped himself in mid-swing of the third when the ref showed up so there was no ill intention there, just a lot of power and a killer instinct. Amagov’s biggest problem is that he’s 36, so he’ll likely spend the rest of his career in Russia delivering punishment to whoever is unlucky enough to get matched against him.
Justin Burlinson: Improves to 6-0
Old ranking: 15, #169 overall
New ranking: 15, #161 overall
After accumulating an insane 17-1 record as an amateur, Burlinson made his pro debut in August 2017 and accumulated three wins in seven months before taking a year off, then signed with Bellator and picked up two fast finishes in 2019. He then didn’t fight for two years due to cancelled fights and strangeness with his contract, finally returning to MMA with Cage Warriors this Friday. He got an impressive second round TKO of tier 7 prospect David Bear and reminded the world that he’s still one of the most promising young fighters around. He doesn’t get much of a boost because he was already rated so highly on the basis of his potential, and at this point I think fellow all-world prospect Ian Garry may be the only welterweight signed to Cage Warriors that I think would be a serious challenge. If they do have a fight booked, it will be one of the top prospect clashes outside of a major organization that I’ve seen in a while.
Ian Garry: Improves to 7-0
Old ranking: 30, #105 overall
New ranking: 35, #92 overall
Ian Garry has nicknamed himself “The Future” and I couldn’t agree with him more. At six-foot-three, he is incredibly tall for a welterweight and uses his jab and kicks well to maintain distance. His last five wins all came by way of finish, but this week against longtime top-level British fighter Jack Grant he was forced to go the full 25 minutes to take home the Cage Warriors Welterweight Championship. His boxing is beautiful to watch, as he throws everything so quickly and doesn’t waste a single movement yet still delivers shots that snap heads back. He’s only 23, and he’s also a very strong wrestler with jiu jitsu credentials as well, making him pretty much the complete package as a prospect. He’s made it very clear that he one day hopes to be considered the greatest welterweight in the world, and that drive will allow him to maximize the natural talent he has. If I were UFC President Dana White, I would sign him without a second thought, but if he somehow doesn’t jump to a bigger organization I would love to see him take on fellow undefeated super-prospect Justin Burlinson for his first title defense.
Ali Bagov: Improves to 31-11
Old ranking: 35, #89 overall
New ranking: 35, #89 overall
Bagov has had more than half of his 40+ career fights in ACB/ACA and has won the vast majority, which speaks volumes about his toughness and overall skillset. He went on an incredibly impressive 7-fight win streak from 2017-2020 with names like Bubba Jenkins (now tier 40), Herdeson Batista (tier 15), Leandro Silva (Tier 10), Abdul-Aziz Abdulvakhabov (tier 40), and Khusein Khaliev (tier 20) all on his hit list during that time. He won the ACA Lightweight Championship in that period and defended it once before moving up to welterweight in 2020, where he won his first fight then lost a shot at the title. He’s been given easy fights so far in 2021, and especially this week as he was matched against unranked 10-4 Kyrgyzstani Tilek Mashrapov and dominated on his way to a third-round kimura. After already proving himself as a top fighter for many years, this win is essentially meaningless for Bagov.
Maksat Esbolatov: Improves to 4-0
Old ranking: .5, #407 prospect
New ranking: 1.5, #218 prospect
After beating inexperienced fighters in his first two fights, Esbolatov has been matched with some real quality Central Asian fighters in his last two fights. One was 7-31 and the most recent was tier .5 prospect Sanjar Azhibaev, who at 19-6 had more than eight-times as many career fights as Esbolatov, who knocked Azhibaev out right before the end of the first round for the first finish of his career. There’s obviously not a lot of information on him, but he’s entering his prime fighting years at age 27 and is still undefeated despite fighting well above his experience level, so I’m intrigued.
Sanjar Azhibaev: Falls to 19-7
Old ranking: .5, #370 prospect
New ranking: .5, #401 prospect
Azhibaev is a true kill or be killed fighter, as all 19 of his wins come by finishes (13 subs, 6 TKOs) and so do all seven of his losses. He had won eight out of nine coming into this week, with four of those wins over respectable fighters, but he got caught and finished by fellow tier .5 prospect Maksat Esbolatov (3-0) at the end of the first round. I imagine he’ll take one or two easy fights to rebuild his momentum then start taking on other prospects again.
Azamat Bakytov: Improves to 7-0
Old ranking: .5, #307 prospect
New ranking: 2, #182 prospect
Bakytov picked up the fourth first round KO/TKO of his short career in the co-main event of Naiza 31 with a brutal right hand that turned his opponent’s head 90+ degrees and sent his semi-conscious body pirouetting to the canvas. He also has two submissions, and his one decision win came against Boris Medvedev, who has managed to climb all the way to tier 7 since that defeat. His win this week came against a young 6-1 prospect from Dagestan, and anytime you can knock out a Dagestani before they can bring you into their world of wrestling has to feel like a great relief. He looked like he was in great shape, with a particularly muscular torso for a lighter weight class, and his record combined with the power he showed this week indicate a bright future ahead of him. Hopefully he can stay busy and fight a little more frequently now that pandemic restrictions are mostly loosened, as he clearly has the potential to move on to a higher-level organization.
Yuki Kawana: Falls to 16-6-5
Old ranking: 1.5, #203 prospect
New ranking: 1, #251 prospect
Kawana came off the Japanese scene at 14-1-5, with most of his fights coming for Shooto, before joining PFL for the 2018 season. He lost 3 straight, then returned to Shooto to pick up two more wins before jumping to RIZIN in September 2020. He lost a split decision in his debut against a top prospect then lost another decision this week against longtime RIZIN competitor Yusuke Yachi. Kawana is clearly talented but isn’t on the level of the major organizations that he’s been fighting for, and I would probably expect him to return to Shooto in the near future. I’ll keep him in the rankings unless he starts losing to weaker regional talents.
Aleksandr Gorshechnik: Improves to 16-5
Old ranking: 3.5, #132 prospect
New ranking: 4.5, #100 prospect
After running up a very respectable 15-5 record in Ukraine, Gorshechnik jumped to Poland to take on established veteran Adrian Zieliński in the main event of Fight Exclusive Night 35. Betting sites had Gorshechnik as the underdog, but I had him in a higher tier than his opponent and was unsurprised that he managed to score another decision win. He’s only ever finished low-tier fighters, as his six-foot frame at 155 pounds doesn’t have enough bulk to make him a very powerful striker, but he uses his length well to win exchanges at range and to threaten submissions or start scrambles while grappling. He’s just 25-years-old still, and with this win I could easily see him challenging for the FEN Lightweight Championship soon or jumping to top Polish promotion KSW, as his style will be a tricky puzzle for anyone across the cage from him.
Fanil Rafikov: Falls to 19-7
Old ranking: 3.5, #131 prospect
New ranking: 2, #177 prospect
Rafikov has managed to have a very interesting career and since he went pro at 20, and he’s still just 27-years-old. He was very successful for the Akhmat Fight Club for several years, but he went 0-3 in ACA when AFC was taken over and was released. He resurfaced with Naiza FC and won their lightweight title in January, but he lost it this week when he got bullied by Ildar Kudaibergenov for the majority of 25 minutes. He looked severely undersized compared to his tall and muscular opponent, and his 5’9 frame is probably better suited for 145 pounds, which is where he’s spent most of his professional career. I would expect his next fight for Naiza to be back at featherweight, as he could easily claim that title in a few fights.
Decky McAleenan: Falls to 7-4-1
Old ranking: 4, #118 prospect
New ranking: 1, #225 prospect
McAleenan got choked out by unheralded Scottish youngster Stevie McIntosh (6-2) this week, bringing his overall record with Cage Warriors to 3-3-1. While he continues to show off crisp striking and makes excellent use of his 6’1 frame to maintain a reach advantage, it’s clear that his ground game is nowhere near the same level as his hands and that will hold him back from returning up the rankings until he can address it.
Joe McColgan: Improves to 8-3-1
Old ranking: 5.5, #80 prospect
New ranking: 9, #8 prospect
After losing his first shot at the Cage Warriors Lightweight Championship to Mason Jones, McColgan got a second shot at the title 15 months later against reigning champion and heavy favorite Agy Sardari. Only 4% of people picked McColgan to win on Tapology, but he looked like the better fighter throughout despite Sardari having control of the fight in the clinch or against the fence for a lot of the first two rounds. When McColgan did have opportunities, he showed powerful hands and inflicted a lot of damage. He caught Sardari with a couple good shots to start the third round, then slapped on a very deep standing guillotine before dragging him to the ground by his neck and finishing the choke from the top. At 34, he’s relatively old for a fighter with only 12 pro fights, so it would serve him well to try to defend his belt quickly if he’s hoping to move to Bellator or the UFC.
George Hardwick: Improves to 7-1
Old ranking: 6, #62 prospect
New ranking: 7.5, #33 prospect
After making his Cage Warriors debut in a losing effort in 2019, Hardwick bounced to Bellator and picked up a couple wins on their prelims before getting released when their Euro Series got shut down. He came back to Cage Warriors this week and picked apart former champion Dean Trueman, who had been away for a couple years after consecutive losses and appeared to leave his gloves in the cage in retirement after the fight. He got the finish through a vicious liver shot in the second round, which totally inactivated Trueman and sent him to the campus in the fetal position. Hardwick knew he had the win and got style points for the walk-away finish against a very experienced and technically skilled veteran. Like his brother Harry, his hands are very quick and can pierce the guard from all sorts of angles, and Hardwick was hurting Trueman all night before he got the finish. The biggest question I have about him is how he’ll respond when he runs into a wrestler who is able to take him down regularly, as I haven’t seen much of his ground game.
Bobby Lee: Falls to 12-6
Old ranking: 7, #31 WW prospect
New ranking: 5.5, #77 LW prospect
After fighting for LFA for years and picking up plenty of solid wins but never managing to get a title shot, Lee jumped to CFFC in September 2020 to win their interim welterweight title. He leveraged that into a shot with Bellator against stud prospect Joey Davis, which predictably saw him out-wrestled for a decision. He dropped to 155 pounds for his second Bellator bout but once again faced a higher rated fighter, in this case former Cage Warriors multi-weight champion Soren Bak. For a second straight fight, Lee’s wrestling experience was trumped by a superior grappler, though in this case it was Bak’s jiu-jitsu skills that neutralized the American. He’s definitely a solid fighter with a well-rounded skill set, but he doesn’t excel at anything and it looks like his ceiling will be as a title-shot gatekeeper on the regional scene or maybe continuing as a prelim fighter for Bellator to feed to their hottest prospects.
Erivan Pereira: Improves to 14-2
Old ranking: 7.5, #27 prospect
New ranking: 7.5, #27 prospect
Pereira came up on the Brazilian regional scene then made the international leap in 2018-2020, going 1-1 for Brave CF and 1-0 with a no contest in his most recent fight for Lux FL in Mexico. He came back to Brazil this week to fight for the 165 pound title for local show LMI, and while he was originally scheduled to take on a 23-13 veteran, a last-second cancellation led to him taking on a 2-2 fighter with only one fight since 2013. Pereira was unsurprisingly much too good for his opponent and landed a fight-ending punch halfway through the first round. He needed a win to restart his momentum, but a win this easy doesn’t affect his ranking.
Raush Manfio: Improves to 13-3
Old ranking: 8.5, #11 prospect
New ranking: 25, #95 overall
Manfio was a relative unknown coming into the 2021 PFL season, as he’s spent most of his career with Titan FC and had lost his last 2 fights for them. Some thought that his inclusion in the season was done as a favor for his close friend and two-time PFL champion Natan Schulte, but after two straight split decisions, including against the rapidly-declining Anthony Pettis this week, Manfio has managed to earn a place in the playoffs and the respect of the MMA world. He’s definitely best at grappling and jiu-jitsu, but his overall skillset is very well rounded and I can see him providing a tough test for anyone he’s matched against.
Agy Sardari: Falls to 14-3
Old ranking: 15, #126 overall
New ranking: 8.5, #13 prospect
Sardari had managed to win and defend the Cage Warriors Lightweight Championship using a conservative, point-focused style that was not particularly high-tempo or exciting to watch. He tried the same strategy against Joe McColgan in his second title defense in a fight in which he was the massive favorite, but McColgan was simply too strong to be controlled the entire time and when he found his opportunities, he punished Sardari. After a stunning combination early in the third, Sardari got caught in a standing guillotine that turned into a mounted guillotine for a quick and brutal submission. He has plenty of finishes on his record, but after watching his last three fights I have to wonder whether that’s just the product of poor regional opponents, or maybe if he’s overly concerned about his cardio over 25 minutes and doesn’t want to push it too hard for fear of burning himself out. Either way, he would do well to take a little time off and rework his gameplan, as he is a very talented wrestler with plenty of other skills but he just needs to figure out a better way to put it all together.
William Gomis: Improves to 7-2
Old ranking: .5, #238 prospect
New ranking: 2.5, #127 prospect
Gomis went 6-2 on the French scene, with his two losses against the hottest prospects out of France, Salahdine Parnasse and Morgan Charriere. His wins were mostly against veterans, with a 14-10, a 10-6, a 17-19-2, and a 17-27 all on his list of victories. Cage Warriors gave him a debut this Saturday after he’d spent 26 months outside the cage, and he looked like he’d put the time off to good use on the way to a decision win over tier 5.5 prospect Tobias Harila. He started his career very early so he’s still just 24, and if he’s managed to use his time away from the sport to join a top team and improve his all-around game, he could go shooting up the rankings very quickly.
Artem Semyonov: Improves to 7-3
Old ranking: .5, #237 prospect
New ranking: 1, #206 prospect
Semyonov made his pro debut in May 2020 and has managed to rack up a truly astounding 10 fights in the intervening 13 months. Nine of those fights have been for M-1, and six of seven wins come by submission, including a current three-fight streak of first-round tap-outs. His losses have all come against well-rated undefeated talents, including two losses to the same fighter, and he’s beaten a number of other prospects too, including a 4-1 Azerbaijani wrestler that he took out in less than two minutes this week. I have to imagine we’ll be seeing him again in this column very soon, and it will be interesting to see whether he can turn his frequent fights into a spot as a top prospect or if he will continue to suffer defeats to more talented youngsters.
Edward Walls: Falls to 10-6
Old ranking: .5, #233 prospect
New ranking: .5, #309 prospect
Walls compiled a 10-5 record against very respectable competition in Finland, then missed 14 months during the pandemic before returning for Cage Warriors against stalwart Steve Aimable in the biggest test of his career. Walls deservedly lost a decision, but he landed enough big shots in there to show off why he was a prospect in the first place. His next fight will need to be a win if he wants to stay in the rankings.
Jean N’Doye: Falls to 9-3
Old ranking: 1, #207 prospect
New ranking: .5, #276 prospect
N’Doye fought for Cage Warriors from 2011-2013 but then stepped away for seven years before making an unsuccessful return on the Bellator prelims in October 2020. He rejoined Cage Warriors in 2021 and picked up a win before getting outstruck at range by Harry Hardwick this week. His strikes show a clear Muay Thai background, and he throws with a lot of power, including rocking Hardwick a couple times this week. His head movement was nowhere near as good as his opponent’s and he got hit with a lot of sharp jabs and short hooks. One judge scored it in his favor, but I think he didn’t inflict nearly as much damage even though he had a couple of big highlights.
Steve Aimable: Improves to 16-8
Old ranking: 1, #204 prospect
New ranking: 1.5, #180 prospect
Aimable had his 10th fight with Cage Warriors this week and brought his organizational record to 6-4, and at 33 he is the definition of a grizzled veteran. He has quick and active striking and loves to apply pressure, getting in his opponent’s face or bringing the fight to the ground and continuing to deliver strikes from there. He is a good test for young prospects making their way up the rankings, but I can’t picture him going much further than the regional scene at this stage.
Harry Hardwick: Improves to 7-3
Old ranking: 2, #171 lightweight prospect
New ranking: 3, #131 featherweight prospect
Hardwick was one of many fighters to make his Cage Warriors debut during their latest trilogy of events, and he took on Jean N’Doye in a back-and-forth battle. Hardwick showed better evasiveness and hand speed, but N’Doye landed a few powerful shots during the fight that clearly shook Hardwick and caused one judge to rule against him. I thought it was a clear decision in Hardwick’s favor due to the precise striking he maintained and the small chunks of control time he had against the fence. It seems like his move to lightweight in his last fight was temporary, as he returned to his more familiar 145-pounds and looked appropriately sized for the division.
James Hendin: Improves to 6-1
Old ranking: 3, #124 prospect
New ranking: 3.5, #112 prospect
Hendin joined Cage Warriors at his second pro fight and got four straight wins before getting matched against Paul Hughes in March 2021 for a top-prospect battle. He looked good all around in that fight, particularly with his movement skills and striking at range, but he wasn’t on the same elite level as Hughes and it showed. He started to re-establish himself this week by choking out Paull McBain, who was 6-1 and had previous Cage Warriors experience but had not fought since 2018. He’s still young and is clearly nowhere near his ceiling, so I look forward to watching his continued development going forward.
Tobias Harila: Falls to 9-2
Old ranking: 5.5, #79 LW prospect
New ranking: 2, #155 featherweight prospect
Harila went 8-1 on the Swedish regional scene before debuting for Cage Warriors earlier this year and scoring a beautiful 75-second knockout over 8-3 prospect Aidan Stephen to boost himself from tier 3 to 5.5. However, this week he struggled to a decision loss against 6-2 French youngster William Gomis in a fight that almost everyone expected him to win. His ranking comes crashing back to earth as a result, and he’ll need to get a win or two to rebuild his standing as a top European prospect.
Alexander Matmuratov: Improves to 12-5
Old ranking: 7.5, #29 prospect
New ranking: 8.5, #18 prospect
Matmuratov fought excellent competition while coming up in Russia, including some big wins for AMC fight night before making his ACA debut in July 2020. He lost that first fight to the always-deadly Bibert Tumenov but has since rattled off three straight wins against decent opponents. This week he took on muscular Brazilian Elismar Lima and showcased his beautifully fast hands and feet. His hands are sharp and he’s happy to rip the body if the head is covered, and his kicks are amazingly quick, not at all telegraphed, and diversified well between the legs, body, and head. His footwork started off very active and intelligent in the first round and he was throwing a ton of volume that was very precise and landed consistently, but he started to taper off towards the end of the second round and by the third he was swaying slightly on his feet. He kept throwing back at all times and had done enough in the first two rounds to secure the 29-28 win, but I’m not moving him up nearly as much as I would have if he could have sustained his performance for the entire 15 minutes.
Elismar Lima: Falls to 24-9
Old ranking: 10, #175 lightweight overall
New ranking: 8, #21 featherweight prospect
Lima won a tough 25-minute struggle for the Future FC Featherweight Championship in October 2020, which is about as high as you can climb while staying in Brazil. Therefore, he made the move to Russia in 2021 and looked set up for success after winning his first fight of the year by 1st-round knockout over a 18-5-1 Russian prospect who was in tier 8.5 at the time. That impressive win got him a contract with ACA, where he first took a short-notice fight at lightweight for the first time in years and got wrestled to a loss by Levan Makashvili. He moved back to his natural featherweight this week and engaged in a slugfest with Alexander Matmuratov. Lima was getting picked apart in the first round and spent most of the last 40 seconds covering up, but he stayed fresher as the fight went on and managed to land a couple bombs in the second round before taking over and threatening to take out the exhausted Matmuratov in the third. The fight ended up going against him but he showcased powerful striking and a ton of toughness, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him get a third fight with ACA as he’s exactly the sort of fighter they like to use to test their developing prospects.
Keoni Diggs: Falls to 9-1
Old ranking: 20, #108 lightweight overall
New ranking: 15, #143 featherweight overall
Diggs took his first career fight at featherweight after previously fighting at 155-pounds, and he also suffered the first loss of his promising career against super-veteran Daniel Weichel. They had a very back-and forth striking battle, with both men landing good shots. I thought Diggs had a slight volume advantage and had done enough to earn the 29-28 win, especially with some of the powerful shots he was landing in the third round, but only one judge agreed with me while the other two ruled in favor of Weichel. Diggs is 34 despite his lack of experience, so he will need to rebound from this quickly if he doesn’t want to lose too much of what remains of his prime fighting years. This performance didn’t expose any major flaws in his game so it shouldn’t be that difficult a recovery, as he was simply edged out by an excellent and defensively crafty veteran.
Movlid Khaybulaev: Improves to 17-0-1
Old ranking: 50, #38 overall
New ranking: 55, #29 overall
Khaybulaev continues to prove that he’s one of the top worldwide fighters outside of the UFC every time he steps into the cage. He won another dominant decision this week, and his victim was the incredibly formidable Lance Palmer, who won the last two PFL seasons and was expected to do well again this year. It’s another extremely impressive win for his resume, and he’s now in the playoffs for the promotion so he should get at least one more opportunity to take down another top fighter before the end of the year. It seems almost inevitable that he ends up in the UFC or Bellator unless he feels a strong loyalty to PFL and decides to keep chasing the yearly million dollar prize there.
Elnar Ibragimov: Improves to 16-5
Old ranking: .5, #288 prospect
New ranking: 1.5, #171 prospect
Ibragimov made his debut in my rankings in tier 2, but dropped a bunch after getting knocked out in an upset for Open FC. He regained most of that progress this week with a dull but very effective neutralization of a shorter, bulkier Armenian wrestler. Ibragimov spent the first round holding his turtled opponent from the back and delivering knees, the second round on top in guard landing short strikes, and the third mostly at range as the wrestlers decided to exchange blows. His opponent came in with a 10-3 record and clearly showed grappling skills, but they just weren’t enough to escape the dominant performance from Ibragimov. Astoundingly, Ibragimov is listed at just 23-years-old despite starting his pro career in 2013, when he would have been 15. If the listed age is accurate, he’s got an incredible amount of experience for a young favor and an obviously strong wrestling background upon which he can build the rest of his skills.
Scott Malone: Improves to 9-4
Old ranking: .5, #280 prospect
New ranking: .5, #251 prospect
Malone has had a very up-and-down career for Cage Warriors, as he went 3-0 for them in 2018 before getting finished by undefeated prospects in his next three fights and getting released in March 2020. He recovered by earning two decision wins on the regional scene and got another chance with Cage Warriors this week, welcoming 4-1 Swedish prospect Serdar Altas to the organization. Malone got the win through ground and pound in the second round, but I wasn’t all that impressed by his opponent so he doesn’t earn much of a boost from that performance.
Josh Reed: Falls to 11-6
Old ranking: 1, #183 prospect
New ranking: .5, #254 prospect
Reed is a longtime bantamweight gatekeeper for Cage Warriors and he typically alternates wins and losses against prospects on the prelims. This week, he got wrestled to a decision loss by an undefeated Italian youngster, which bumps him down a little but isn’t enough to remove him entirely since he won his previous fight. He’ll continue in this role for the foreseeable future, and I’ll keep tracking him unless he goes on a real losing streak.
David Mendoza: Falls to 5-2
Old ranking: 1.5, #166 prospect
New ranking: 1, #195 prospect
Mendoza fell victim to a premature rematch this week, as he was booked against UFC vet Marco Beltran just 11 months after losing against him to a fourth round von preux choke in a title challenge. This time they weren’t fighting for a belt and Mendoza lost even faster to a first round rear naked choke. He picked up a second round submission of an 11-5 journeyman in December to separate the losses, but that just isn’t enough time for a 25-year-old to make the improvements necessary to beat Beltran, especially with COVID-19 causing problems. I still think he’s a very solid fighter, he’s just clearly not UFC caliber like Beltran was and may still be.
Leandro da Silva: Improves to 8-1
Old ranking: 1.5, #162 prospect
New ranking: 1.5, #158 prospect
After taking the first loss of his career in February against fellow prospect Marcos Breno (12-2), Da Silva has returned to fighting weak fighters for small Brazilian shows. This week, he choked out a 2-4 opponent after four minutes. Really not much to say here since we already knew he was mostly a threat as a grappler.
Jaylon Bates: Improves to 3-0
Old ranking: 2.5, #127 prospect
New ranking: 4.5, #70 prospect
Bates is a long, lanky, and bendy bantamweight grappler who went 9-0 as an amateur and has now gone 3-0 against absolute nobodies on the Bellator prelims. The fights have served as great showcases for Bates’ creative and varied submission attacks as well as his quick hands and decent head movement. He’s very composed and calculating for a young fighter, and I’d love to see him fight someone with a record better than 1-1 to see how his skills translate against a higher caliber of fighter.
Liam Gittins: Improves to 7-2
Old ranking: 2.5, #118 prospect
New ranking: 3, #106 prospect
Gittins came out with an uber-aggressive all out blitz in his last fight but got caught with a powerful counter shot and ended up getting finished somewhat embarrassingly in less than a minute. He rebounded this week with a solid all-around performance that ended with a patiently-worked rear naked choke towards the end of the second round. His opponent wasn’t ranked but was a solid fighter, and this win will allow Gittins to get another shot against a tougher opponent in his next fight. He looked much better with the more measured approach, so I look forward to seeing if he’s able to string a couple of wins together going forward.
Yuto Hokamura: Improves to 14-9-2
Old ranking: 3, #113 prospect
New ranking: 3, #107 prospect
Hokamura made a name for himself fighting for DEEP and Pancrase, and like many products of the Japanese scene his record has plenty of blemishes due to quality competition throughout his career. After losing a shot at the Pancrase title in 2019, Hokamura was signed by RIZIN and went 1-1 in 2020 before returning this week for his first fight of the year. He was given an easy matchup against a 10-8-1 fighter who was making his RIZIN debut and had never fought high-level competition, so his ranking is essentially unchanged as this was mostly a way to rebuild momentum from his loss in his last fight.
Takafumi Otsuka: Improves to 29-18-1
Old ranking: 3, #102 prospect
New ranking: 3, #111 prospect
34-year-old Otsuka has had a long and winding path to his appearance for RIZIN this week, as can be seen in his less than perfect record. He made his pro debut for DEEP at age 19 all the way back in 2006 and lost his first two fights as part of an up and down start to his career. At one point in 2012, his record hit 12-11-1, which is about as mediocre as you can get. He’s improved dramatically as he hit his late 20s to early 30s, winning the DEEP Bantamweight Championship in 2014 and defending it three times over the next few years, with a bunch of non-title bouts thrown in as well. RIZIN then signed him and he went 2-1 in five months before returning to DEEP for a few years then jumping to Shooto Japan for an unsuccessful title challenge. RIZIN decided to bring him back this week and gave him an 8-8 opponent for an easy win, so maybe they’re actually invested in developing him as a contender this time around despite the fact that he’s starting to get up there in age. He actually moves down negligibly due to other prospects passing him and his unimpressive win against a sub-par opponent.
Kazuma Kuramoto: Falls to 8-2
Old ranking: 4.5, #67 prospect
New ranking: 1, #189 prospect
Kuramoto had a solid amount of momentum coming into this week, as he went 7-0 in Shooto before picking up his first loss in a title challenge, then won his RIZIN debut by two-minute TKO at their 2021 New Years Eve event. However, he got out-wrestled and generally out-positioned by longtime regional veteran Alan Yamaniha this week, which drops him considerably in the rankings because he’s 34 despite being relatively inexperienced. His wins in Shooto were not against great competition, nor was his RIZIN debut, which combined with his advanced age make me much more doubtful of whether he has much more room to improve.
Brian Bouland: Falls to 10-4
Old ranking: 5.5, #59 prospect
New ranking: 4.5, #72 prospect
Bouland continues to alternate wins and losses for Cage Warriors, as he is now 5-3 for the organization since joining in late 2017. His losses have come against top competition, including first round submissions to Ilia Topuria and now talented English prospect Nathan Fletcher. He scored a 50-second knockout in his last fight when Liam Gittins decided to go crazy and forget all pretense at defense, and he’s shown ground skills in the past but nowhere near the level needed to slow down Fletcher’s inexorable grappling. He’s starting to head towards gatekeeper territory, though when you are fighting at his level of talent all it can take is a few wins in a row to put yourself on the map in a major way.
Nathan Fletcher: Improves to 6-0
Old ranking: 6, #45 prospect
New ranking: 10, #159 overall
Cage Warriors identified Fletcher as a rising talent very early in his career, as he went on to have five of his seven amateur fights under their banner and has spent his entire pro career with them as well. All of his pro fights have ended in finishes, with five chokes and one ground and pound TKO, and he picked up another first round choke this week against the toughest opponent of his career, tier 5.5 prospect and fellow longtime CW fighter Brian Bouland. Fletcher dominated from the start and controlled Bouland everywhere in the cage on his way to taking his back and sinking in the rear naked choke. Fletcher is still just 23 and has an incredibly bright future ahead of him as he continues to make talented fighters look helpless against his swift transitions.
Kenta Takizawa: Improves to 12-7
Old ranking: 10, #165 overall
New ranking: 10, #162 overall
Takizawa was a knockout artist for over five years with Pancrase before joining RIZIN in September 2020 with a decision win. He then lost two straight decisions to close out the year, then took about six months off before returning this week to take on 45-year-old grappling legend Masakazu Imanari. He was able to pull off the decision win, which is impressive for a striking-based fighter going against one of the nastiest leg-lock specialists in the world. He doesn’t move up the rankings very much because Imanari wasn’t ranked and has clearly been on the decline as he ages. However, this was a good performance for Takizawa to reassert himself as a rising talent in Japanese MMA, as a third straight loss would have been rough for the 26-year-old.
Francisco Maciel: Falls to 16-5-1
Old ranking: 20, #106 overall
New ranking: 15, #129 overall
Maciel is one of the few Brazilians in lower weight classes to find any sort of sustained success in Russia, as he is now 3-2 with ACB/ACA despite suffering a first-round TKO this week to tier 35 Russian stud Abdul-Rakhman Dudaev. Maciel is compact and muscular at 5’4” and usually uses his low center of gravity and jiu-jitsu skills to wear his opponents out for decisions, but he ran into an opponent he wasn’t able to bully with strength this week and paid the price with his loss.
Abdul-Rakhman Dudaev: Improves to 26-6
Old ranking: 35, #78 overall
New ranking: 40, #69 overall
Dudaev has been fighting for ACB/ACA or affiliated shows, like Fight CLub Akhmat, for almost his entire career, which makes his record even more impressive given how tough the competition is in that region/ group of promotions. He was the WFCA champion before it got merged into ACA but lost the belt to his first challenger in 2019. He managed to put together two wins to earn himself a title shot in October 2020 but lost that one as well and has been looking to rebound again in 2021. He first picked up a win over quality Polish prospect Pavel Vitruk in February then returned this week with a first round KO of tier 20 talent Francisco Maciel. I would expect his next fight to be a title eliminator against another top bantamweight to determine who gets the next shot at the belt either late in 2021 or early in 2022. He would also immediately step into the UFC as a potential contender, and he’s still 29 despite all his experience so he would make sense as a signing, but anytime a super-talented fighter is closely affiliated with the Chechnyan dictator and the other less savory aspects of fighting in Akhmat I have to assume there’s a reason they haven’t been signed by somebody in the US.
Keito Yamakita: Improves to 5-0
Old ranking: .5, #153 prospect
New ranking: .5, #139 prospect
Yamakita made his pro debut for Pancrase in 2020 and won three straight at strawweight (115 pounds) then took a fight with Shooto at flyweight to start 2021. He returned to Pancrase and strawweight this week and got an armbar over a 9-7 veteran. Yamakita is only 24 so if he can add some muscle to his frame over the next couple years, he could make the move up to 125 permanent in the hopes of getting signed by a larger promotion. He already has good grappling skills, but he definitely needs time to develop.
Eduardo Henrique da Silva: Improves to 7-1
Old ranking: .5, #150 prospect
New ranking: 2, #80 prospect
After fighting once in 2015 and again in 2016 against low-level competition, Da Silva disappeared for 2.5+ years, but since he’s returned he’s been taking on very good competition for a Brazilian prospect and has been very successful. His opponents’ combined record is now 26-6 after he scored a second round TKO over 5’2” ball of muscle Júnior Assis (5-1). This was his first fight for Future FC, albeit in their Road to Future show, but he had been scheduled to fight for the main promotion in October before COVID-19 canceled it and his first two scheduled bouts of 2021 with smaller promotions. He’s finished all his fights and seems equally dangerous with creative chokes as he is with his hands, which makes him one to definitely watch.
Harry Gomez: Improves to 9-0
Old ranking: .5, #148 prospect
New ranking: .5, #130 prospect
Gomez picked up an armbar in just eight seconds as the main event of Ecuadorian show Barbarian’s 13, but he was taking on an 0-1 opponent so it’s not nearly as impressive as it could be. That gives him three submissions and four KOs from nine wins, which is a solid balance, but he’s yet to fight anyone better than 3-0 or from outside of the extremely weak Ecuadorian talent pool. Somewhere like Combate or the newly former Naciones MMA could be a good new home for him when he’s ready to take the next step into fighting people from throughout Latin America.
Emilio Cuellar: Improves to 7-1
Old ranking: .5, #284 BW prospect
New ranking: 1, #126 flyweight prospect
Cuellar picked up his third straight win for Lux Fight League against his toughest opponent yet, fellow tier .5 prospect Jaime Granados. In his first fight at flyweight, Cuellar managed to pull out the split decision win and continue to develop as a prospect. I would expect to see him competing for the LFL flyweight title in his next fight or two if he decides to stay at this weight class.
Elkhan Ibragimkhalilov: Falls to 8-2
Old ranking: .5, #132 prospect
New ranking: .5, #158 prospect
Ibragimkhalilov is a young lanky 125-pounder from Dagestan who’s got seven first or second round chokes in his career, including two for ACB/ACA Young Eagles. His only career loss coming into this week was against Chinese legend Zhifa Shang, which was always going to be a tough one to win. He faced another tricky opponent this week in tier 5 prospect Dias Erengaipov, who exposed the lack of strength and durability in Ibragimkhalilov’s submission-based game. He spent most of the fight on his back eating elbows or on his stomach taking hard hooks until the ref waved it off in the second round. He wasn’t strong enough to create the space he needed to offer any sort of submission threat after the first 90 seconds on his back, so that’s something he clearly needs to work on before his next attempt to step up in competition.
Jorge Calvo Martin: Improves to 13-6
Old ranking: 1, #99 prospect
New ranking: 1, #97 prospect
Martin returned to the cage just 49 days after suffering a brutal knockout loss to Alessandro Costa in the first round of his challenge for the LFL Flyweight Championship and got a third-round rear naked choke over an unheralded 4-3 fighter. Not the sort of win that’s going to boost you up the rankings, but it’s a good way for the Costa Rican to regain some confidence in his submission skills.
Connor Hignett: Falls to 9-7
Old ranking: 3.5, #55 prospect
New ranking: .5, #133 prospect
Hignett continued his up-and-down career and brought his record to Cage Warriors to 2-2 by losing to a promotional newcomer this week. He’s shown flashes of striking brilliance in some of his wins, but he loses too frequently for me to see him as anything more than a bottom-barrel prospect unless he starts to become dramatically more consistent.
Aaron Aby: Falls to 11-4-1
Old ranking: 4, #54 prospect
New ranking: 2.5, #69 prospect
Aby makes his Cage Warriors debut after piling up tons of experience on the British regional scene, including three straight wins for ACB in 2017 when they held a series of fights in England. His fights typically go to decision, win or lose, and he showed why on Thursday, as he showed great escape ability and durability to survive the volume of takedowns and ground strikes that Sam Creasey sent his way but never looked close to finishing the fight. It was a pretty clear decision against him, and if I remember correctly he even lost one round with a 10-8 score due to how dominant his opponent’s control was. I still think Aby is a quality fighter, as he has good movement, great defence, and accurate if not powerful hands, but he’s definitely not a top-tier prospect right now.
Dias Erengaipov: Improves to 10-3
Old ranking: 5, #42 prospect
New ranking: 5.5, #36 prospect
Erengaipov lost his ACA debut towards the start of 2019, then didn’t fight for almost two full years before making his return for Naiza FC in 2021. He’s now mauled two tier .5 prospects with good records in back-to-back fights, this time keeping dominant top control with his impressive core and hip strength and dropping punishment from every position that his opponent tried to escape to. He was impressively fluid in top control and did a great job aiming his shots and mixing up straight strikes, hooks, and elbows to maximize his ground and pound without exhausting himself too quickly. This was a dominant performance, and I’d love to see Erengaipov either get another shot with a Russian promotion or maybe a title shot in Naiza for his next fight.
Sam Creasey: Improves to 14-3
Old ranking: 7.5, #12 prospect
New ranking: 10, #84 overall
Creasey won a grappling-heavy decision over tier 4 prospect Aaron Aby in the semi-finals of the Cage Warriors mini-tournament for their newly vacant flyweight belt. He seemed to be able to take the other veteran down with ease, sending him to the ground with high-amplitude slams whenever Aby started to get his feet underneath him. While they were on the ground, Creasey used viper-like straight punches to deliver quick stinging strikes to every inch of exposed flesh on his opponent’s face. He earned himself a rare third shot at the Cage Warriors 125-pound title and continues to improve his game at the age of 33, looking polished enough this week against another quality fighter that I feel comfortable moving him into my best flyweights in the world. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if he comes up short once again in his shot for the title, as former champion Luke Shanks looked really great until Jake Hadley came through and somehow looked even more dominant. Hadley is off to “Dana White’s Contender Series,” so now it will either be Shanks reclaiming his title or Creasey finally reaching the promised land after so many years of hard work.
Luke Shanks: Improves to 8-2
Old ranking: 8, #7 prospect
New ranking: 8.5, #5 prospect
Shanks lost his Cage Warriors flyweight title in a one-sided beatdown by star prospect Jake Hadley, who has now moved on to the “Contender Series” and left the belt vacant once again. Shanks was one of the four fighters chosen for the two-round tournament, and he definitely got the easiest opponent in 6-3 unranked youngster Nicolas Leblond. Shanks won a convincing decision, but it was nowhere nearly as impressive as the mauling he put on Samir Faiddine to win the title in September 2020. I’ve ranked Creasey higher after their respective performances this week because he took on a much tougher opponent, but I could really see the fight between these two going either way. Shanks is the more explosive fighter, but Creasey has shown the ability to handle threats and keep on fighting his style and pace for the course of the fight. The UFC needs a talent infusion at flyweight and would be smart to sign whoever comes out on top with the belt.
Prospects joining the rankings:
Bekhruz Kurbonov, light heavyweight: Improves to 6-0
New ranking: .5, #119 prospect
Kurbonov moved to 6-0 this week with four submissions and two TKOs all coming early in the first round. He’d previously been doing his damage at welterweight or middleweight but he moved up to 205-pounds this week, which doesn’t seem like a natural fit for his 5’10” frame, though he was still able to get the first round rear naked choke over an 0-1 Cameroonian who was offered up as a sacrifice. Light heavyweight could always use more prospects, but I would bet Kurbonov drops back down at least one division the next time we see him. His pro career has only been going for 18 months, so he’s done a good job staying active despite difficult circumstances, which is made easier by the fact that he’s barely ever taken damage in a fight. He has yet to face an opponent with a professional win though, so I can’t get too ahead of myself with his potential.
Konrad Rusiński, welterweight: Improves to 3-0
New ranking: .5, #284 prospect
Rusiński went 13-0 as an amateur with nine submissions before going pro in September 2020. He’s won three straight in the first round as a pro, with two coming by submission and another by punches. He’s a tall welterweight at 6’2 but he’s still powerfully built and is far from one-dimensional even though he is clearly at his most dangerous using his long limbs on the ground to hunt chokes. The important test will come when he first gets matched against another ranked prospect.
Joe Cummins, lightweight: Improves to 7-2
New ranking: .5, #382 prospect
Cummins is English but has spent the majority of his career fighting for EFC in South Africa, including winning their lightweight title back in 2019. He lost his only fight in 2020 in his return to the British scene then came back this week after 15 months off to score a first-round guillotine over 8-2 Thomas Paul and steal his spot in the prospect rankings. There’s still a lot to find out about Cummins, but he seems worth tracking.
Stevie McIntosh, lightweight: Improves to 7-2
New ranking: .5, #317 prospect
McIntosh earns a spot in the rankings by choking out tier 4 prospect Decky McAleenan, who is notably deficient on the ground. He lost his Cage Warriors debut by first-round knockout, has another first round knockout loss to a 4-5 fighter on his record, and had previously beaten fighters with an atrocious combined record of 5-23, so I am making his initial placement very conservative and would like to see him matched against a more competent grappler before ranking him much higher.
Ildar Kudaibergenov, lightweight: Improves to 4-0
New ranking: 3, #148 prospect
Kudaibergenov has had a strange career, as he made his pro debut against a 25-fight veteran in 2011 before disappearing for nine years. He resurfaced in December 2020 with Naiza FC and ran off two easy submissions against weak opponents. He got a shot at the lightweight title in the main event this week and looked incredibly good for someone in their fourth professional fight while winning a five-round decision over tier 3.5 prospect Fanil Rafikov. His physique jumped off the screen, as he looked like a heavily-muscled welterweight despite weighing in at 155-pounds. His striking was powerful if not always creative and his wrestling was excellent, but what impressed me the most was the calmness and composure he showed throughout the fight, especially when the talented Rafikov put him in losing positions. He never seemed to panic and he still had plenty of energy in the fifth round despite keeping up an intense pace because he never seemed to waste a single movement. Count me as very impressed, with the caveat that Kudaibergenov is already 31 so his room for growth is lower than your typical 4-0 prospect.
Yusuke Yachi, lightweight: Improves to 22-11
New ranking: 3, #145 prospect
Yachi is the type of fighter that really challenges my ranking system. He came up through the Japanese regional scene and fought all sorts of quality opponents, including current UFC featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski, before joining RIZIN in 2016. He ran off five straight wins, including well-established fighters like Daron Cruickshank, Takanori Gomi, and Diego “The Gun” Nunes, but then dropped five in a row with only a postlim win for Bellator breaking up the losing skid. I had assumed he had entered his decline at an early age and wasn’t worth adding to my initial edition of rankings, but this week he won a decision against fellow Japanese veteran and tier 1.5 prospect Yuki Kawana. Yachi is still just 31 despite fighting at a high level for more than six years, so he may still have some good years in front of him. At the very least, he is a good gatekeeper who deserves a ranking to reflect the challenge he will present to any prospect.
Welisson dos Santos, featherweight: Improves to 6-2
New ranking: .5, #240 prospect
Dos Santos made his pro debut at the absurdly young age of 15 and has been fighting surprisingly tough competition his whole career, with one 13-4 and two 4-0 opponents on his resume of wins. He picked up a decision over a 6-1 prospect at a local show this week and earned himself a spot in the rankings as an up-and-coming 18-year-old who is surprisingly well-tested for a Brazilian youngster.
Adilet Nurmatov, featherweight: Improves to 6-1
New ranking: 1, #215 prospect
Nurmatov debuted in 2019 and went 3-0 in Kazakhstan before missing 2020 like many other fighters. ACA brought him in to start 2021, which is always a great endorsement of a fighter’s skill, and he beat a 7-0-1 opponent in their Young Eagles series before losing for the main promotion in April. He reappeared on the Kazakhstani scene this week with two wins in one night for a joint event promoted by both Alash Pride and Turan FC. His opponents were hardly elite at 10-8 and 5-2-1, but these wins show that Nurmatov is worth watching even if he didn’t last long with ACA.
Nurzhan Zholdybay, featherweight: Improves to 7-2
New ranking: 1, #214 prospect
After getting caught in a guillotine by a 3-3 opponent to close out 2020, Sholdybay has come back very well in 2021 with a decision over a 5-0 prospect and an impressive first-round TKO this week at Naiza FC 31 against a tier .5 prospect. His movement and distancing allowed him to slightly edge the long-range strikes for the first few minutes despite being the shorter fighter, then he dropped his opponent hard with a thunderbolt of a right hook that he finished with a few hammerfists for good measure. He’s 24-years-old, so there’s plenty of time for him to keep improving. My main concern would be that his wins are all by strikes or decision and both of his losses come by submission, so he may be a one-dimensional talent.
Vinicius Pires, bantamweight: Improves to 4-1
New ranking: .5, #265 prospect
Pires choked out a 10-1 fighter on his debut, so he’s been tested already despite his inexperience. He won a decision over a decent 8-4 fighter at Road to Future 1 this week and choked out a 12-4 opponent in December 2020, which is enough to give him a spot in the lowest tier of the rankings.
Dylan Hazan, bantamweight: Improves to 6-0
New ranking: 1, #214 prospect
Hazan made his debut for Cage Warriors on Friday after impressing on the Italian regional scene and wrestled veteran Josh Reed for a decision win. He spent a lot of time pressing Reed against the fence but he wasn’t just stalling there, as he would sneak in single strikes from a variety of angles and limbs and continued his methodical ground and pound when the fight hit the mat. The damage inflicted was clear, especially at the end of the fight, but he never landed anything hard enough to end the fight and seemed perfectly content to grind out the decision.
Jean Silva, bantamweight: Improves to 7-2
New ranking: 1, #196 prospect
Silva started his career 3-2 but has been on a four-fight streak of first-round finishes going back to 2018 against three solid fighters and one easy win. Silva carries a lot of muscle mass for a featherweight at 5’7” and it shows in his power, as six of his seven wins come by KO/TKO, including his one-shot win over 5-2 Adriano Souza this week. Silva does need to pick a new nickname, as “Assassin of War” seems like a translation error, though I guess it does distinguish him from the dozens of other Jean Silva’s fighting across Brazil
Alan Yamaniha, bantamweight: Improves to 18-8-4
New ranking: 1.5, #177 prospect
Yamaniha looked like just another Japanese regional grinder for the first eight-or-so years of his career, compiling a 14-8-4 record in DEEP, Pancrase, and other smaller shows. He’s had a bit of a late-career resurgence recently, as he won three-straight for Pancrase in 2019 to 2020 against opponents with a combined record of 55-23-6 before getting signed to RIZIN for a fight this past weekend. He faced off against 8-1 fighter and tier 4.5 prospect Kazuma Kuramoto and pulled out the decision win despite being the underdog going in, and that’s a sufficiently impressive win for me to give Yamaniha a ranking despite my reservations about his age (35) and inconsistent past record.
Dominique Wooding, bantamweight: Improves to 7-4
New ranking: 2.5, #120 prospect
Wooding doesn’t have the record of a top prospect, but he’s been fighting tough competition since making his pro debut at age 18 and going 5-1 on the British regional scene. He lost his only fight for ACB then went 1-2 for Bellator before debuting for Cage Warriors this Friday. He had great Muay Thai and he beat up 6-2 Cameron Hardy for the 69 seconds that it took for him to land a flush head kick and some nasty follow-up hooks to knock Hardy down three times and get a stoppage. His wins are all by strikes and his losses are all by decision or submission, so he seems to be the classic talented striker who struggles with grapplers. He’s only 24 so hopefully he’s found some good grappling coaches, as his striking looked terrifying this fight.
Umid Agamirov, bantamweight: Improves to 4-0
New ranking: .5, #167 prospect
Agamirov went 3-0 with three first round finishes in four months for a small Azebaijani promotion then disappeared for 18 months during the pandemic. He resurfaced this week by beating Russian scrapper/tier .5 prospect Mark Vologdin in a solid decision for the M-1 MMA series. He looks like a solid wrestler who isn’t afraid to throw hands, but that’s about all there is on him at this stage. Very much a fringe prospect that only caught my eye due to still being undefeated.
Erasyl Shukataev, flyweight: Improves to 7-2
New ranking: .5, #174 prospect
All of Shukataev’s wins come by finish in Kazakhstan and are mostly in the first round, with three by triangle choke. This week he got a rear naked choke over a can-crushing 6-0 fighter to extend his win streak to three and earn himself a spot towards the bottom of the rankings, as he’s mostly fought solid competition.
Gerardo Fanny, flyweight: Improves to 10-2
New ranking: 1, #121 prospect
Fanny started his career by going 8-0 against a bunch of nobodies but has dropped to 2-2, including 1-1 in Cage Warriors, since stepping up to a higher level of competition. He picked up his first Cage Warriors win this week by knocking out tier 3.5 prospect Connor Hignett (who I had definitely overrated) with a flying knee. He’s 27, athletic, and has demonstrated finishing ability, so he’s worth keeping an eye on at 125-pounds.
Prospects leaving the rankings:
George Smith, middleweight: Falls to 5-3
Old ranking: 4, #59 prospect
Smith had a lot of hype on him when he signed with Cage Warriors, as he’s one of the rare British fighters who is excellent at Jiu Jitsu in addition to having solid hands. However, he suffered a second-round TKO to 6-6 Cage Warriors gatekeeper Mick Stanton in which his submission attacks were not enough to make up for the gap in strength or striking power, marking his second straight loss against decent competition. Back to the drawing board for Smith, who is still only 26 and has some interesting traits to build on.
Kacper Bróździak, welterweight: Falls to 4-2
Bróździak earned his ranking with three wins against other decent Polish youngsters, with his only loss coming to tier 3 prospect Marcin Jabłoński. However, he faced an unranked opponent who also had a 4-1 record this week and got beaten in all facets of the game, losing the striking battle on the feet and taking more damage on the ground before leaving his neck open for an easy rear naked choke. He’d need to string together 2-3 good wins in a row to regain his spot after this disappointing performance.
Jose Barrios Vargas, welterweight: Falls to 11-3
Old ranking: 1, #234 LW prospect
Vargas dropped to lightweight for the first time in his career to challenge Mateusz Rębecki for the Fight Exclusive Night Championship but got knocked out in 48 seconds by the rising star that is Rębecki. He went back up to his natural welterweight this week and was dispatched relatively easily by tier .5 prospect Kamil Kraska. Given his struggles against this level of competition and the poor records of his previous opponents, Vargas seems more like a product of easy fights in Argentina than a talent to watch.
Thomas Paul, lightweight: Falls to 8-3
Old ranking: .5, #301 prospect
Paul earned his rankings by winning two fights in one night, including one against a 7-2 opponent, in a small German show in October, However, he lost it just as quickly this week as he got choked out by relative unknown Joe Cummins. Paul seems like a solid fighter but nothing special to get me excited about his potential.
Adrian Zieliński, lightweight/featherweight: Falls to 20-11
Old ranking: .5, #255 FW prospect
Zieliński has been fighting at a mid-high level at both 145 and 155-pounds for over a decade now, including a 3-5 run for ACB from 2015-2018 and multiple title wins for middling Polish promotions. He’s now 34 though, and has lost three out of his last four by decision, including this week’s fight in which he was a -260 betting odds favorite, so it’s looking like his run may be nearing its end. He may still have a couple good wins in him but I can’t consider him a prospect any more.
Arsen Balyants, featherweight: Falls to 12-5
Old ranking: .5, #309 prospect
Balyants ran up five straight wins on the Chinese regional scene in 2019, then didn’t fight in 2020 before moving to Kazakhstan to fight for Naiza FC in 2021. The change of scenery hasn’t worked out for him, as he’s dropped two consecutive now that he’s back against tougher competition, which gets him dropped from the rankings despite his still-solid record.
Kouki Nakagawa, featherweight: Falls to 7-1
Old ranking: 1, #234 LW prospect
After going 7-0 in small shows against mostly weak opposition, Nakagawa returned to featherweight to make his Pancrase debut after one fight at 155-pounds. He lost a decision to a 12-6-3 veteran who wasn’t ranked, and that makes me think that his previously perfect record is just due to poor opposition. He’s just 24, so plenty of time to prove me wrong.
Manny Akpan, featherweight: Falls to 3-1
Old ranking: 2.5, #138 prospect
After hearing a lot of good things about Akpan leading into his fight in March, I jumped on board the hype train when he got the first-round TKO over 3-0 prospect Ben Ellis. However, after watching him for a second time this week I came away much less impressed and am taking him off the list after just three months. He got taken to the ground pretty early in the fight and was unable to shift his opponent off him before eventually going to sleep because of a very tight arm triangle choke. He’s still only 23, has great athleticism, and is very driven to keep improving, so I would not be at all surprised if he makes a return as a prospect later in his career once he’s developed a little more.
Metan Dykanov, bantamweight: Falls to 6-1
Old ranking: .5, #347 prospect
Dykanov had the lowest spot in the bantamweight rankings as a 6-0 fighter who had only beaten fighters making their debuts, and he got choked out three-and-a-haf minutes into his return to fighting after 19 months off. Not much to see here.
Mark Vologdin, bantamweight: Falls to 5-3-1
Old ranking: .5, #318 prospect
After racking up five straight wins for the M-1 MMA series in just eight months, Vologdin has now suffered consecutive decision losses in the last two months after stepping up to slightly tougher opponents. He dropped to flyweight for this week’s fight, which is probably the more natural class for his small frame. He’s taken eight fights in 15 months despite pandemic disruptions, so if he is able to get back to his winning ways we could see him make a return to the rankings very quickly.
Terry Lemaire, bantamweight: Falls to 5-3
Old ranking: 1, #237 prospect
Lemaire got a slick submission over an 8-2 fighter in February to earn his spot in the rankings but got knocked out cold with a vicious hook by 17-14 veteran Jeremy Pender while challenging for the inaugural B2 Bantamweight Championship. He’s a quality grappler but at 5-3, 32 years old, and a now-questionable chin I can’t see him becoming upper-tier all-around anytime soon.
Jaime Granados, flyweight: Falls to 8-4
Old ranking: .5, #172 prospect
Granados lost another split decision for Lux FL this week, and while he’s mixed in plenty of decision wins too his performances against quality opponents have been consistently disappointing.
Michael Reyes, flyweight: Falls to 6-5
Old ranking: 1, #130 prospect
Reyes was ranked because he was on a three-fight win streak for Combate against quality opposition, but returning from over two years off and getting guillotined by a 7-8 fighter that was obviously meant to be a tune-up fight is more than enough for me to remove him.
Aziretaly Jumabek Uulu, flyweight: Falls to 7-2
Old ranking: 2.5, #70 prospect
Jumabek Uulu legitimized his quality record with an impressive armbar over a 6-3 fighter in his fight to end 2020, but he lost a decision to a 4-3-1 nobody this week. Maybe this was just a fluke, but unless he can put together a few quality wins in a row he’ll be off the rankings