After a slight reduction in the volume of prospects last week, the regional scene came roaring back this week, particularly in Russia where many high-potential fighters did battle. PFL, ACA, RIZIN, and Bellator all had cards, and there are too many highly-credentialed non-prospect fighters in each of these promotions for me to list all of them individually, but there were plenty of other ranking adjustments that happened this week that I did not write up.
First time reading the column? You can catch a quick explanation of the ranking system here
Sergey Dyakonov: Improves to 11-2
Old ranking: .5, #128 prospect
New ranking: 1, #111 prospect
Dyakonov is a muscular heavyweight who probably fights around the 240-pound range. His opposition has been mostly weak over the course of his career, but that’s almost always the case with heavyweights since there are so few talented opponents to challenge them. He’s 37, but that’s still decently young in heavyweight years. Dyakonov fought two of his most challenging opponents in his last two fights and got a first-round TKO this week. He’s got a great record for the division, so he’s one to watch even if he’s on the old side.
Shoma Shibisai: Improves to 7-2
Old ranking: 1, #113 prospect
New ranking: 3, #72 prospect
Shibisai returned from 18 months off to choke out young ex-Sumo prospect Tsuyoshi Sudario and earn his second submission victory for RIZIN. He previously mixed in a 49 second leg lock in a prelim fight for Bellator, so two of the top organizations in the world have already put their stamp of approval on him at age 30, which is young in heavyweight years. Athletic big men with a grappling background will always find a niche in the striking-heavy world of heavyweights, so Shibisai is definitely a name to remember if he can sustain his success against tougher opponents.
Tsuyoshi Sudario: Falls to 3-1
Old ranking: 2, #86 prospect
New ranking: .5, #133 prospect
After he racked up three first-round finishes in his first three fights, I thought RIZIN might have uncovered a real heavyweight gem in Sudario, a 24 year old convert from Sumo. However, he failed his first true test this week by getting choked out in the third round by a tier 1 prospect. He has the aggression and basics of striking needed to make good use of his natural power, but his grappling and gas tank were both questions that needed to be answered and a third round loss like this is not the answer he wanted. His next fight will be crucial for determining just how legit Sudario is at this early stage of his career.
Anton Volkov: Improves to 6-1
Old ranking: 5.5, #30 prospect
New ranking: 6, #25 prospect
Volkov has been on a tear over the last eight months, first by making a successful return from two years off with a decision over a 5-0 prospect at MMA Series and now with two straight wins for OFC in 2021 against ranked opponents. This week, he absolutely dominated a chunky young 6-0 fighter who just wasn’t on Volkov’s level athletically and did all he could just to survive the punishment he received throughout the fight. None of his wins so far have come against true top prospects, so that is the next hurdle he’ll need to pass before he can move up much further in the rankings.
Amirkhan Guliev: Improves to 11-1
Old ranking: 20, #79 overall
New ranking: 20, #79 overall
Guliev won a split decision over a veteran striker who had no answers to his grappling pressure and top control. Guliev’s unathletic physique seemed to cost him in this fight, as he looked like he ran out of gas partway through the second round and just tried to slow things down and stay in control from then on. His opponent wasn’t ranked on any of my lists, and I’m starting to get the feeling that ACA is giving Guliev inferior opponents because they don’t feel like he’s back to where he was before his knee injury in 2018.
Nikita Sharshavin: Improves to 5-0
Old ranking: .5, #188 prospect
New ranking: 1, #143 prospect
Sharshavin continued his habit of giving undefeated fighters their first losses by choking out a 6-0 opponent who was returning from a three-year hiatus and had never faced an opponent with a win. He’s tall, seems well versed in positional wrestling, and snakes his arms in to attack submissions or grab wrists. Still a lot more to prove, but Sharshavin has the right toolbox to be a successful middleweight, or potentially a welterweight since he’s not the bulkiest 185-pounder.
Jimmy Yardley: Improves to 10-0
Old ranking: 1, #240 LW prospect
New ranking: 1, #157 MW prospect
After bouncing between 145 and 155-pounds for the first nine fights of his career, Yardley didn’t fight for almost two years then made his return as a middleweight. He also continued to fight nobodies to pad his record, as this opponent was taking his first MMA fight, either pro or amateur. Predictably, he got a knockout in the first round. I have to wonder if his long term future is at the middle ground of welterweight.
Samuil Shelest: Improves to 8-1
Old ranking: 1, #169 prospect
New ranking: 3.5, #75 prospect
Shelest is a 22-year-old who bounced back from his first career loss by running off three straight submission wins for RCC. His most recent victim was undefeated prospect Ilya Kireev, who he finished off in the first round. He’s always looking to take the fight to the floor and dominate his opponent, and he’s been successful so far. He’s very talented for his age, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of him soon.
Ilya Kireev: Falls to 6-1
Old ranking: 5, #38 LHW prospect
New ranking: 2, #107 MW prospect
After winning his debut for Open FC at 205 pounds, Kireev moved back to his more customary middleweight to debut for RCC. He picked up his first career loss when Samuil Shelest, a tier 1 prospect who’s getting a big bump this week, choked him out in the first round. He’s very physically developed for being just 23 years old, and he might end up back at 205 if he continues to bulk up and build more strength.
Sharaf Davlatmurodov: Improves to 18-3-1
Old ranking: 15, #108 overall
New ranking: 15, #108 overall
Davlatmurodov is one of my top middleweights outside of a major promotion, as he’s been dominating the Russian regional scene since parting ways with ACA. It’s notable that his last three fights have all been against aging Brazilians, which may just be a product of other top Russian prospects being unwilling to take on someone who’s equally threatening as a wrestler and a striker. This win was far from his most inspiring, as his opponent was a solid jiu-jitsu specialist but wasn’t ranked at all and Davlatmurodov managed to hold on for a grindy decision. I have to imagine that he’s angling to sign with a mid-major promotion, as he was already rumored to be fighting for LFA at one point earlier this year. Maybe somewhere like Brave CF, KSW, or Bellator would be a good fit for him.
Pete Rodriguez: Improves to 4-0
Old ranking: .5, #292 prospect
New ranking: .5, #246 prospect
Rodriguez got his 5-1 opponent out of the cage with a TKO 2:21 into the first round at iKon 7. Amazingly, this was by far his longest fight, as he knocked out his other opponents in 10, 41, and 85 seconds. He’s only 24 and looks very explosive, but from every fight of his I’ve seen his opponents have not looked particularly skilled.
Ben Wilhelm: Falls to 4-1
Old ranking: 1, #219 prospect
New ranking: .5, #292 prospect
Wilhelm’s debut for ONE Championship showed that he is still very much a grappler trying to fight, not a true mixed martial artist. He’d gone undefeated previously by using his athleticism and judo throws to get his opponent to the ground then submit them with jiu-jitsu, but he had no plan B when his opponent was able to stay away from the clinch and keep his balance during takedown attempts. His striking is nowhere near the level it needs to be, and at age 31 that’s a problem he doesn’t have much time to fix. However, I’m going to keep him ranked for now because I could easily imagine him pulling off a sweet submission in his next fight and immediately needing to be re-ranked.
Kyle Crutchmer: Improves to 7-1
Old ranking: 2.5, #137 prospect
New ranking: 6.5, #39 prospect
Crutchmer was 2-1 with Bellator coming into this week’s fight, but his two wins were due to the organization’s love of matching promising fighters with utterly underwhelming journeymen. In addition, his only loss had come in his last fight against his first real test, so I ranked him quite low for someone signed to a top-level promotion. However, this week he showed off his well-timed and powerful takedowns, and once he got top position he was persistent in hunting for ways to disrupt his opponent’s attempts to scramble. His striking is still pretty basic but he looks well coached, so it may just take some time for it to develop to match his wrestling.
Vasily Kurochkin: Falls to 15-6-1
Old ranking: 4.5, #58 MW prospect
New ranking: 2.5, #124 WW prospect
Kurochkin dropped to 170 pounds for the first fight in his career, and while I think this is the best weight class for his body type long-term, he wasn’t ready for the caliber of opponent that Altynbek Mamashev is. He swung with power but looked wild on the feet and didn’t have the footwork or guard to avoid the more technical strikes coming back. Still only 26 despite his extensive record, Kurochkin has plenty of time on his hands and an impressive resume before this fight, so I still expect to hear more from him.
Levan Chokheli: Falls to 9-1
Old ranking: 5.5, #63 prospect
New ranking: 4.5, #88 prospect
Chokheli had a lot of hype coming into his Bellator debut, but I didn’t rank him all that highly because almost all of his fights are against nobodies. He certainly looked like a solid, well rounded fighter but that wasn’t enough to prevent his opponent’s wrestling pressure. He will likely need to win his next fight if he wants to stay on the Bellator roster going forward.
Boris Medvedev: Improves to 11-2
Old ranking: 6, #50 prospect
New ranking: 7, #40 prospect
Medvedev picked up his third good win of 2021, this time a decision against a veteran who I had ranked in tier .5. High-quality competition is a major theme of his career, as his opponents have had a combined record of 125-38-1, and he’s mostly finished them early in the fight. He’s been fighting for Open FC and RCC in Russia, which is definitely the highest level of competition of his career, and he’s not only proved he’s belonged but looked like he’s probably ready for even bigger fights. If he beats a high quality opponent in his next booking, he could rocket up the rankings.
Mark Lemminger: Improves to 12-3
Old ranking: 6, #49 prospect
New ranking: 8.5, #8 prospect
Lemminger rebounded from two straight losses for Bellator by finishing Demarques Jackson with ground and pound in the second round. He’s still 28 despite having a good amount of experience, and he’s another solid fighter to watch in the Bellator ranks. I still consider him a prospect because he’s not known to any but the most hardcore MMA fans, despite fighting on network TV.
Daniil Prikaza: Improves to 7-2
Old ranking: 6.5, #34 MW prospect
New ranking: 9, #6 WW prospect
Prikaza continued his undefeated streak against very good competition on the Russian regional scene, this time winning the inaugural Open FC Welterweight Championship against highly-rated fighter Maksim Grabovich. He’d fought at 170 pounds earlier in his career but has been at 185 pounds for his last three fights. He loves to come forward and strike and has plenty of first and second round TKOs on his record to prove it. He’s now one of my top welterweight prospects in Russia outside of ACA, so I have to wonder if he’s going to be signed somewhere soon.
Jonny Parsons: Improves to 7-2
Old ranking: 8.5, #7 LHW prospect
New ranking: 8.5, #11 WW prospect
Parsons dropped from a 195-pound catchweight in his last fight to 175 pounds for his fight this week. He certainly seemed to retain his power, as he’s always been too short for the heavier weight classes and looked like he mostly cut extra fat for this one. He still looks pretty fluffy, so he should have no problem making normal welterweight in the future, or even lightweight if he were to commit to reshaping his physique. He’s now run up three straight KO/TKO wins for iKON Fighting Federation, but the quality of his opposition has frustratingly gone down with each fight. Maybe they’ve realized that they have a real talent on their hands but they’re not going to develop him further by giving him mediocre opponents. He has devastating power in every limb and needs to be matched against someone similarly dangerous as a real test.
Maksim Grabovich: Falls to 11-6
Old ranking: 10, #200 overall
New ranking: 7.5, #26 prospect
After looking great for M-1, Grabovich won his OFC debut against a very good prospect and moved into my top overall list. This week, he ran into another willing brawler in Daniil Prikaza who managed to knock him out in the first round and end his winning streak. He’s still a very skilled fighter with dangerous fists and competent wrestling, but as this fight exposed he needs to work on his defenses if he doesn’t want to repeat this performance against other skilled fighters.
Altynbek Mamashev: Improves to 16-2-1
Old ranking: 10, #199 overall
New ranking: 10, #192 overall
Mamashev is one of my favorite fighters coming out of Central Asia right now. After losing his pro debut, he rattled off 14 consecutive wins, including his ACA debut against Goity Dazaev, a quality prospect. He then picked up his first loss in a long time against my current #131 welterweight. This week, he beat Vasily Kurochkin on short notice in a slugfest where he mostly landed the better shots but also got clipped a few times in return. He ended up winning in the second round through a TKO that started with one of the many strong short left hooks he landed. While he continues to win, this fight didn’t teach me anything about Mamashev that I didn’t know, except for maybe that he’s able to bounce back from a high-level defeat.
Chang Min Yoon: Improves to 5-1
Old ranking: 1, #253 prospect
New ranking: 2, #179 prospect
Min Yoon is a dangerous jiu-jitsu practitioner out of South Korea who has been fighting for ONE ever since he went pro in 2019. All of his wins are finishes, with four first-round wins that include a high-skill ninja choke. This Friday, he bounced back from his first pro loss by dodging a few strikes from his 6-3 opponent before quickly bullying him to the ground, jumping straight onto the back, and securing the rear naked choke. He’s only 26 and has the athletic base to go far, so I’m curious to see if ONE Championship sees him as someone they want to build up for the future.
Manuel Torres: Improves to 11-2
Old ranking: 2, #184 prospect
New ranking: 2, #172 prospect
For whatever reason, UWC decided to make Torres’ fight against a 10-11 opponent the main event of their most recent card. The fight was predictably anticlimactic, as Torres sunk in a standing guillotine off the first takedown attempt and cranked it hard on his way to the ground for a sub-30 second victory. It looked great live, but knowing how weak his opponent was makes it impossible for me to jump him up the rankings for that performance. His record is great and he’s in an organization that clearly values him, so hopefully his next fight will be a tougher test to see where he really stands.
Denis Silva: Falls to 16-6
Old ranking: 3, #138 prospect
New ranking: 3, #138 prospect
Silva was one of the hottest prospects coming out of Brazil at the end of 2020, but that momentum has hit a brick wall in 2021 with two straight decision losses after signing for ACA. He had a very competitive fight this week with Pavel Gordeev, who came into the fight as my #160 overall lightweight and the heavy favorite. They both landed good shots, and while Gordeev was the clear winner, I’m not dropping Silva at all because his performance was admirable against a clearly superior opponent.
Abubakar Mestoev: Improves to 9-2
Old ranking: 4, #115 prospect
New ranking: 5, #88 prospect
Mestoev now has two wins by TKO out of seven wins in total, and two losses by decision. That tells you everything you need to know about his methodical, grinding style. He used that strategy to frustrate struggling veteran striker Egor Golubtsov, though he did so little with his positional advantage that it went to a split decision. I thought he won a clear 29-28 but he needs to hone his finishing skills more, because once he reaches the higher levels of the ACA 155-pound division he will no longer be able to smother people so easily.
Joilton Lutterbach: Falls to 34-10
Old ranking: 7, #41 prospect
New ranking: 5.5, #75 prospect
Lutterbach came into this season of PFL with some decent hype behind him but has completely flamed out with two straight decision losses. Struggling to step up to the next level of competition is now an unfortunate pattern for him, as he was eliminated in his second fight on “The Ultimate Fighter Brazil,” lost his only fight for ACB, lost his only fight for M-1, and lost his sole fight for KSW. In fairness, most of those fights were against elite opponents and he’s scattered in quality wins among the filler between those losses, but at least to me it doesn’t appear like he’ll ever have the extra edge necessary to put him into real contention.
Herdeson Batista: Improves to 16-5
Old ranking: 10, #175 overall
New ranking: 15, #127 overall
Batista had a wild fight against Russian MMA legend Vener Galiev in the main event of ACA 124. The 28-year-old Brazilian was clearly much stronger and in better condition from the start of the fights, and he kept the pressure cranked up throughout the first round, which he clearly won by both damage and control. It was more of the same in the second round, as he landed some shots going forward before bullying Galiev to the ground. After struggling in guard for a moment, Batista got hit with a blatantly illegal kick to the face while kneeling and spent more than three minutes face-down on the canvas. I thought the fight was a clear disqualification win, but he’s tough enough that he chose to keep fighting despite clearly having swelling around an eye and still being in pain. It was so bad that he almost pulled out between rounds two and three, but after getting a translator to tell him that he would get the loss if he did so, he went back out and continued to supply the pain while getting hit with an array of counters. Batista eventually caught his opponent halfway through the third round and emphatically ended the fight with a few ground strikes to take home a well-earned win. I’m sure ACA will want to keep hold of his contract as long as they can, but if I were UFC President Dana White I would be calling Batista right now to offer him a shot in the UFC after all the skill and determination he showed in this one.
Pavel Gordeev: Improves to 18-2
Old ranking: 10, #160 overall
New ranking: 15, #141 overall
After dominating the M-1 challenge from 2016-2018, Gordeev jumped to RCC, which he proceeded to dominate until earlier this year. He made his debut in ACA this week against an overmatched Denis Silva, and while the fight was exciting Gordeev’s win was never in question. His last 13 fights, win or loss, have gone to decision, so he’s not exactly a finisher but he’s very technical in all areas of the game and is nowhere near as dull as some Russian grinders. He’s 27 and doesn’t seem likely to slow down anytime soon, so he’s got a good chance at being one of the next big fighters out of Russia.
Terrance McKinney: Improves to 11-3
Old ranking: 15, #135 overall
New ranking: 45, #52 overall
Another week and another spectacular knockout for Mr. “T Wrecks” himself. If you haven’t seen his brutal flurry that put Matt Frevola’s lights out, do yourself a favor and look it up right now. The fight ended in only seven seconds, so I promise it won’t be a long watch. McKinney is one of the hottest fighters in the world right now after putting together four incredible knockout wins in three months and less than two minutes total cage time. I imagine his next fight will be either on the main card or a featured prelim, as the UFC could look to make him this year’s version of Khamzat Chimaev. This fight combined with Kamuela Kirk’s win over Makhwan Amirkhani last card show that the gap between fighters at the top of the regional scene in LFA have a much smaller gap in quality than many would imagine compared to decent UFC fighters, as both Frevola and Amirkhani were in the top 50 worldwide in their respective divisions.
Loik Radzhabov: Improves to 14-3-1
Old ranking: 20, #115 overall
New ranking: 25, #93 overall
After suffering an unexpected decision loss to Alexander Martinez in his first PFL 2021 bout, Radzhabov rebounded in a huge way by knocking out his friend Akhmed Aliev in the first 30 seconds of their fight. His first hook that floored Aliev should have stopped the fight, but the referee forced Radzhabov to land hammerfists, all the while almost begging for the fight to end so he could stop inflicting damage. With how scoring works in the PFL, he earned himself a spot in the playoffs, where it will be interesting to see which version of Loik shows up.
Roberto Satoshi Souza: Improves to 12-1`
Old ranking: 20, #109 overall
New ranking: 30, #88 overall
Satoshi Souza is an incredibly slick and composed jiu-jitsu blackbelt who claimed the RIZIN Lightweight Championship by sinking in another one of his signature triangle chokes. To say he’s comfortable off his back is a massive understatement, as that’s probably the position in which he’s the most dangerous overall. His limb flexibility and ability to coordinate multiple parts of his body in separate grappling attacks are special to watch, and he’s a frequent competitor in top-level jiu-jitsu tournaments. After beating Tofiq Musayev this week, who I had in tier 40, Souza’s ceiling is sky high, and since he’s a Brazilian fighting overseas I expect he’d be happy to jump to a major US promotion if offered enough money.
Alexander Martinez: Falls to 8-1`
Old ranking: 20, #107 overall
New ranking: 20, #111 overall
After showing he belonged with a great win in his first fight for PFL, Martinez got matched against former champion Natan Schulte in an attempt to give Schulte a quick finish that would sneak him into the playoffs. Instead, they had a very competitive fight on the way to a split decision that was correctly given to Schulte. While Martinez lost, he showed that he can hang with the best in the division and that he has high level wrestling and grappling to complement the Taekwondo striking that is the backbone of his game. Young, talented, and still early in his career despite being with a major organization, Martinez is absolutely someone I could see climbing high in my overall world rankings.
Akhmed Aliev: Falls to 20-7
Old ranking: 35, #78 overall
New ranking: 25, #102 overall
After looking great for PFL in 2019 and impressing in his first fight of 2021, many in the MMA community had very high expectations for Aliev. His chin got exposed this week though, as Loik Radzhabov decked him with a hook just 30 seconds into the first round for the maximum number of points in PFL’s scoring system. Since Aliev’s first win came by decision, there is a decent chance he won’t even make the playoffs this year which would be a major disappointment for a highly touted fighter.
Tofiq Musayev: Falls to 18-4
Old ranking: 40, #70 overall
New ranking: 25, #96 overall
Musayev finally got his shot at the RIZIN lightweight belt after beating Patricky Pitbull and Johnny Case in a one-night tournament to start 2020, but he got choked out in 70 seconds by Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu specialist Roberto de Souza. Musayev is a great striker and wrestler but simply didn’t have the opportunity to show those skills this week and loses some of the momentum he had coming off those two big wins.
Khabibullo Azizov: Improves to 8-0
Old ranking: 1, #226 prospect
New ranking: 1, #192 prospect
Azizov, who was born in Tajikistan, added to his perfect record by submitting a 1-0 Dagestani at a small Russian show. He is still only 21 so each win will continue to raise him up the rankings, but he needs to get signed to a larger organization so he can start facing better opponents. He fought twice for MMA Series towards the end of 2020, and I see no reason why they shouldn’t give him another fight.
Jesse Stirn: Falls to 11-5
Old ranking: 1, #213 prospect
New ranking: 1.5, #159 prospect
I had no clue why PFL chose to include Jesse Stirn in their featherweight division this year, and after watching him nearly get his shoulder ripped off by Sheymon Moraes he still doesn’t seem up to the talent level of the rest of the competition. He still gets a small bump in my rankings because he looked decent for almost two entire rounds against an opponent in tier 30, even though he never looked likely to win the fight.
Ravil Korobov: Improves to 8-0
Old ranking: 1, #209 prospect
New ranking: 2.5, #131 prospect
Korobov got his third win for Russian promotion RCC with a decision win over a 6-2 regional grinder. He’s only 21 years old, which is insane for someone with such a good record against established fighters. Half of his wins come by decision, three came via choke, and one came by first round TKO over a 40-fight veteran, which shows a versatile approach for such a young fighter. RCC is a good-sized promotion, but I could see ACA signing him soon because his ceiling is sky-high.
Bakhytbek Duyshobay Uulu: Improves to 9-2
Old ranking: 2, #156 prospect
New ranking: 3, #120 prospect
Duyshobay Uulu has forced himself into the spotlight this year by running off three straight good wins in four months after taking nearly two years away from the sport to recover from consecutive losses and pandemic issues. He continued his climb of the rankings this week with a decision win over a tier 2.5 Sergey Maslov, which was a solid performance even if it wasn’t the most highlight-packed contest. He successfully made the transition to the much tougher Russian local circuit after starting in Kyrgyzstan, which is a test that many Central Asian fighters fail.
Alexander Durymanov: Improves to 13-5-1
Old ranking: 2.5, #143 prospect
New ranking: 3.5, #114 prospect
Durymanov picked up a decision against a decent 10-5 journeyman from Kyrgyzstan, which extends his win streak to four consecutive since joining M-1 MMA Series in September 2020. None of his opponents have been elite, but they’ve all been competent fighters so his wins add up to a solid resume. It was a pretty tough fight, so he’ll probably be out for a few months, but MMAS has proved itself to be a great launching pad for fighters looking to show off their skills and get signed by larger promotions. Hopefully his next opponent is another ranked prospect because he could use a tougher opponent to double-check his skill level.
Sergey Maslov: Falls to 9-3
Old ranking: 2.5, #130 prospect
New ranking: 1.5, #163 prospect
Maslov continues to bounce around the lower tiers of my featherweights prospects, as he continued his very active pandemic with a decision loss to a closely-ranked tier 2 prospect at OFC 5. This was already his third fight of 2021, and he went 3-2 in 2020 against high-caliber competition, so Maslov is clearly not afraid of a challenge and has a great ability to recover between fights. He’s only 24, so it may take some more time for him to develop into a refined prospect, but there are clear flashes of talent that just need to be harnessed for greater consistency.
Aaron Cañarte: Improves to 7-0
Old ranking: 3.5, #135 LW prospect
New ranking: 5, #84 featherweight prospect
Cañarte is one of the hottest prospects coming out of Ecuador right now. After racking up a crazy six wins in 2020 on the local scene, he made the jump to Mexican promotion UWC which is on UFC Fight Pass and represented a clear step up in competition. He convincingly beat Alexander Barahona, who is a talented fighter in his own right but has been serving as a punching bag for Mexico’s best over the last eight months. Just getting to see Cañarte in the cage with a similar caliber of athlete was a welcome change from the highlights I could find of previous fights where he was humiliating relative novices. His striking looks well practiced and crisp, and he didn’t seem to struggle when Barahona decided to close distance and involve wrestling in an attempt to salvage the fight. The next step is fighting someone actually in the prospect rankings, but everything about Cañarte is very promising so far. I also like that he dropped to 145 pounds for this fight, as that is most likely his long-term home unless he becomes much bulkier as he ages.
Igeu Kabesa: Falls to 12-2
Old ranking: 10, #193 overall
New ranking: 6.5, #49 prospect
Kabesa has spent his entire pro career with EFC in South Africa, and in that time he’s managed to win their featherweight title, defend it, lose it, then repeat that process again entirely. His second loss of the title came this weekend against Reinaldo Ekson, who caught him in an arm triangle just 90 seconds into the fight. Kabesa is only 27 and has a ton of great fights on his resume, but he’s going to have to work hard if he ever wants to move beyond gatekeeper status within his home country.
Kleber Koike: Improves to 28-5-1
Old ranking: 10, #178 overall
New ranking: 30, #100 overall
Koike keeps making huge leaps in the rankings every time I see him fight because he’s just an incredibly polished and well rounded prospect. This week, he won the main event of RIZIN by putting his opponent to sleep in a triangle and almost certainly assured himself the next shot at the 145-pound title, assuming the UFC doesn’t persuade him to join before then. He’s been fighting at the top level for years, first for KSW, then briefly for ONE before moving to RIZIN at the end of 2020 and racking up three straight beautiful, technical submissions. He’s incredibly dangerous with triangles, rear naked chokes, and d’arce chokes, and he complements them well with smooth transitions to striking or positional grappling to keep his opponents pinned and on the defensive. He beat another tier 10 fighter this week, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he can hold his own with fighters ranked even higher than his most recent jump, but I need to see him tested against a true top-level opponent before I start hyping him too extravagantly.
Tyler Diamond: Falls to 12-2
Old ranking: 10, #169 overall
New ranking: 10, #178 overall
After winning his first regular season fight against Jo Sungbin, Diamond got matched against Brendan Loughnane for his second fight and was clearly not on the same level. The fight went to a decision because Diamond spent as much time wrestling and just overall slowing the fight down as he could, even though Loughnane was clearly inflicting more damage. I can’t penalize him much for losing to a fighter in tier 40 who was ranked over 100 spots ahead of him, but this fight showed me that Diamond has a lot of weaker spots to improve before his game would be ready for the top level.
Arman Ospanov: Falls to 11-4
Old ranking: 10, #167 overall
New ranking: 10, #182 overall
After going 3-3 in ACB/ACA between 2017 and 2020, Ospanov made the jump to the US in his PFL debut this Thursday. He got matched against Chris Wade, who I had within a few spots in my rankings, but it was pretty clear that he’s not on the level of the longtime PFL and UFC fighter. He got caught with a head kick while trying to enter for a takedown and the finish came quickly and brutally afterwards. Lots of Russian/Central Asian fighters have found success in the US using sambo-based grappling tactics, so Ospanov’s next fight for PFL will be a very important indicator of what level he’s at.
Vugar Karamov: Falls to 15-4
Old ranking: 15, #164 overall
New ranking: 10, #176 overall
Karamov is a product of Azerbaijan who most recently was fighting in Ukraine and Turkey before getting fights with Bellator and now two in RIZIN. He was originally a wrestler but he’s got a well-rounded skill set now, though it was not enough to overcome the huge leap in competition he faced against Yutaka Saito. He managed to keep it close and forced a split decision, but this may be an indicator that he’s destined for good but not elite status long term.
Justin Gonzales: Improves to 12-0
Old ranking: 25, #121 overall
New ranking: 25, #109 overall
Gonzales missed out on his shot at the UFC despite winning his “Dana White’s Contender Series” bout in 2019 because he couldn’t get a finish. It was a questionable choice by UFC President Dana White at the time, and after his successful Bellator debut this Friday it looks even worse. He definitely looked like a superior fighter to Ty-Wan Claxton, which was a well calculated tester match by Scott Coker and co. He has now graduated from this prospect list, and I imagine we’ll see him in the Bellator top 10 in a relatively short time.
Yutaka Saito: Improves to 20-4-2
Old ranking: 25, #118 overall
New ranking: 25, #111 overall
Saito picked up a split decision win over tier 15 fighter Vugar Karamov, one of the few featherweights signed to RIZIN who might have had a chance to dethrone the champion. He’s 33-years-old and fighting excellently, and I have to wonder if the UFC is looking into bringing him over, as it’s been a while since they brought in a Japanese talent.
Bekzhan Utemisov: Falls to 7-2
Old ranking: .5, #177 flyweight prospect
New ranking: .5, #328 BW prospect
Utemisov got added to the rankings by winning three fights in one night, including one over a 9-1 opponent, in a Kazakhstani flyweight tournament in April. He moved back to bantamweight this week and lost a scrappy fight to an 8-1 prospect also in tier .5 who battled him closely until the third round, where Utemisov got tired and gave up top mount and then a kimura. I’ve been impressed with the overall effort and toughness I’ve seen from him, even if he doesn’t currently have world-beating skills to go with them. He could still rebound from this loss, but he’s definitely on the margins of relevance now.
Bekzat Almakhan: Improves to 9-1
Old ranking: .5, #274 prospect
New ranking: 1, #213 prospect
Almakhan outlasted Bekzhan Utemisov through two grappling-heavy rounds before securing a deep mounted kimura in the third over his gassed opponent. This was my first time watching him live, and while he certainly showed good stamina and solid jiu-jitsu/wrestling experience, nothing about him jumped off the page as a next-level trait. He’s still young though, and has lots of growing to do, so I’ll continue to track him as he works his way up the ladder of global MMA.
Alimardan Abdykaarov: Improves to 14-6-1
Old ranking: .5, #213 prospect
New ranking: 2, #147 prospect
Abdykaarov recorded his second straight TKO for OFC, and he’s beaten fellow prospects both times. It’s time for me to put some respect on his name and give him a solid boost in the ranking to reflect his recovery from a loss in his last 2020 fight. He’s very experienced for a 25-year-old, and he’s faced very good competition compared to most of his Central Asian peers with similar records. He’s someone to definitely watch as a potential rising member of the Russian scene.
Mateus Santos: Falls to 15-7
Old ranking: 2, #140 prospect
New ranking: 1, #196 prospect
After pulling off a fantastic 45-second submission in his OFC debut, Santos came back to earth a little by getting knocked out by Alimardan Abdykaarov. He’s still young and athletic, and he looks to have good skills on the ground, but he doesn’t have great reach or control of his opponent’s range on the feet.
Nikita Chistyakov: Falls to 11-7-1
Old ranking: 1, #192 prospect
New ranking: .5, #317 prospect
Chistyakov has now lost three straight for ACA, but I’m going to keep him on the fringe of the rankings because his first two opponents were top-level bantamweights and he showed dangerous jiu-jitsu in his third loss, which was my first time watching him live. Unfortunately he made several bad mistakes where he over-committed to submission attempts that he wasn’t going to get and gave up top position to his opponent when he should have stayed in control. I’d like to see him fight once more at a lower level promotion to see if he is as dangerous as he threatened this week.
Mukhitdin Kholov: Falls to 8-2
Old ranking: 2.5, #128 prospect
New ranking: 1, #209 prospect
Kholov lost a pretty dull decision to Akhmed Musakaev, a tier 5.5 prospect. He may have edged out one round but was clearly on the back foot for the majority of this fight. This was his first fight for the main ACA promotion after a win for their Young Eagles competition, but he didn’t look quite ready for the big stage.
Shooto Watanabe: Falls to 22-6-6
Old ranking: 3, #119 featherweight prospect
New ranking: 2, #138 BW prospect
Wantabe was ranked relatively low despite being 1-1 in RIZIN going into this week because the large majority of his wins come from choking out sub-.500 opponents on small regional cards. He got sacrificed to Kai Asakura in the bantamweight grand prix this week, where he unsurprisingly got finished with time to spare in the first round. He doesn’t drop a ton because of the quality of his opponent, but it would be in his interest to fight some other mid level prospects soon if he wants to prove he’s more than a can crusher.
Takeshi Kasugai: Falls to 26-8-1
Old ranking: 5, #65 prospect
New ranking: 4, #83 prospect
Kasugai has been a fixture of the Japanese regional scene since 2009, fighting primarily for Pancrase and HEAT and finding mostly success but also some inexplicable losses against opponents of a whole range of skill levels. He made his debut for RIZIN as part of their bantamweight grand prix, but unluckily for him his opponent was Hiromasa Ougikubo, who was a runner-up in “The Ultimate Fighter” season 24 and is one of the best 135-pounders fighting in Japan currently. He’s 32, so his window of opportunity to establish himself in RIZIN is closing rapidly and he’ll have to hope for an easier matchup in his next fight.
Akhmed Musakaev: Improves to 9-2
Old ranking: 5.5, #60 prospect
New ranking: 5.5, #56 prospect
Musakaev chalked up an uninspiring decision win over an inferior prospect to move his record to 3-1 in ACA. He’s still only fought other prospects on the prelims, so now it’s time for him to face a veteran Russian or maybe a Brazilian brought in to test him. His wrestling and top control seem solid but he wasn’t doing anything that dozens of other fighters from Russia don’t do every single day.
Gadzhimurad Gasanguseynov: Improves to 14-0
Old ranking: 5.5, #57 prospect
New ranking: 6.5, #36 prospect
I have no clue how someone as talented as Gasanguseynov is fighting for a small regional show like Ultimate Fighters League in Russia, even as the main event. He beat a muscular 5-2 Brazilian for a decision win, which is now one of three fighters with decent records that he’s taken down in his last four fights. You also can’t accuse him of being a boring decision-hunter, as he’s finished 12 of 14 fights. The only thing I can guess is maybe there are issues outside of the cage that are preventing him from getting signed to a bigger show, but I’m really grasping at straws here.
Yuki Motoya: Improves to 28-9
Old ranking: 7.5, #16 prospect
New ranking: 10, #154 overall
Montoya has the experience of a veteran on the tail end of his career, with almost 40 pro fights and 10 in RIZIN, but he’s only 31 and seems to be in his prime. He defeated Shooto’s former bantamweight champion this week in a fight that mostly stayed on the ground, where Motoya usually hunts submissions but is content to control for the decision if an opportunity to get the finish doesn’t present itself. He has struggled in his past fights against the next level of opponents, so this may be a case of a quality fighter who doesn’t quite have what it takes to become one of the elite. I’m sure he will be given a chance to prove me wrong as he makes his way through RIZIN’s bantamweight Grand Prix this year.
Mikuru Asakura: Falls to 14-3
Old ranking: 10, #177 overall
New ranking: 10, #186 overall
Asakura started off his time with RIZIN by winning seven straight, but he’s lost two of three ever since he started fighting the promotion’s best. This week, Kleber Koike caught him in a triangle choke in the second round and Asakura ended up going to sleep while still searching for a way to escape. This was always going to be a tricky matchup for Asakura since he likes to take the fight to the ground but that is where Koike is truly stellar. I look at this result less as an indicator that Asakura isn’t a good fighter, because I think he really is, but more as a demonstration that Koike is really great and should be duking it out with the world’s best in the UFC.
Murad Kalamov: Improves to 12-3
Old ranking: 15, #149 overall
New ranking: 15, #127 overall
Kalamov hung onto a victory against 37-year-old Brazilian Walter Pereria, who was a closely ranked opponent at the top of tier 10. Kalamov clearly won the first round, and he won most of the second too before Pereira started coming on towards the end. The third round was obviously in Pereria’s favor, but not enough to get him the 10-8 that would have made the fight a draw. Kalamov will need to improve his stamina as he continues to fight elite opposition in the lower weight classes. At only 24 years old and already well-established as an ACA contender, Kalamov could be a very bright prospect if he can sustain his activity over the course of a fight.
Ryo Okada: Falls to 18-5-3
Old ranking: 15, #140 overall
New ranking: 10, #158 overall
Okada won the Shooto Bantamweight Championship in 2020 then successfully defended it this March. He got signed by RIZIN off the back of those wins but dropped a decision to one of their veterans in his debut fight for their bantamweight grand prix. His opponent was also very talented, so I will place both in tier 10 for now and see how their careers progress from here.
Hiromasa Ougikubo: Improves to 22-5-2
Old ranking: 45, #59 overall
New ranking: 45, #56 overall
Ougikubo is without a doubt one of the best bantamweights fighting outside of the US. He was a finalist in season 24 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” and I’m surprised he never got a shot in the UFC after he beat Alexandre Pantoja during the show. He’s spent the last two years fighting for RIZIN after spending the earlier parts of his career in smaller regional organizations, and he continued to improve his record this week with a comfortable decision win against a much less established opponent in the first round of the 135-pound grand prix. He got knocked out in the first round by the phenomenal Kai Asakura when he got an opportunity to fight for the bantamweight title in August 2020, so I have to wonder if he’ll look to jump to another organization if he’s unable to avenge that loss with success in the GP. He’s 34, so the clock is definitely ticking if he ever wants to make that jump to the UFC or Bellator.
Kai Asakura: Improves to 17-3
Old ranking: 70, #22 overall
New ranking: 70, #21 overall
If I were Dana White, Asakura would have already been in the UFC for several years, and given the talent he continues to show he could easily have been a top 15 fighter in the promotion if some matches went in his favor. Instead, he keeps fighting in RIZIN, where he is always in and around title contention. His only recent losses come to Manel Kape and Kyoji Horiguchi, who are both excellent fighters that Asakura had beaten in the past. A trilogy bout against Kape in the UFC would be a ton of fun, but more likely is Asakura and Horiguchi getting a trilogy fight at the conclusion of the grand prix. There’s several pieces on the internet breaking down just how skilled Asakura is, so I won’t attempt to replicate that here but I’d encourage reading them if you want to get excited about seeing him fight over the next 5-10 years.
Osimkhon Rakhmonov: Improves to 6-3
Old ranking: .5, #176 prospect
New ranking: 1, #128 prospect
While Rakhmonov doesn’t have the most impressive record for a young fighter, he’s fought good competition first for WLF Wars in China and now for ACA. He took a nasty leg kick this week towards the start of the first round and showed a lot of intelligence by immediately taking the fight to the ground, then demonstrated toughness by continuing to scrap it out on the feet later in the round. He was definitely the more effective striker and the cumulative damage took over in the second round, where he sent his opponent to the ground pretty easily, took his back, and got him to remove his defense with a few set-up strikes before sinking in the forearm for a rear naked choke. This was his first win for the ACA main promotion, and at only 24 years old there could be many to follow in the future.
Lenar Suleymanov: Falls to 8-5
Old ranking: 1.5, #93 prospect
New ranking: .5, #139 prospect
Suleymanov is a popular fighter from Kazan, the city which hosted ACA 124, and he got a chance to make his debut for Russia’s biggest show before a hometown crowd. Sadly, he got matched up with Alan Gomes, who is one of my top 80 flyweights in the world, and predictably got beaten by the bigger and stronger Brazilian. He showed a number of striking twists, especially karate-style kicks, but his spinning backfists and kicks started to become predictable and get countered or checked by Gomes. Despite his mediocre overall record, Suleymanov was on a seven-fight win streak going into this match and doesn’t deserve to be dropped entirely for losing a fight in which he was clearly the underdog.
Luthando Biko: Improves to 8-2
Old ranking: 2, #72 prospect
New ranking: 3, #62 prospect
Biko is nicknamed Shorty because he’s only 4’11, but what he lacks in height he makes up for in aggression. He usually isn’t able to get the finish because he just doesn’t have much power, but he’s usually on the front foot and that was the case this week when he edged out Gian Souza. He’s looking to rebuild his record to get another shot at the EFC Flyweight Championship, which he lost to JP Buys in 2019.
Gian Souza: Falls to 7-1
Old ranking: 3.5, #57 prospect
New ranking: .5, #158 prospect
Souza is a cautionary tale of why I usually care so much about strength of schedule. I rated him very highly initially because he was a young undefeated prospect who is supposedly one of the better fighters in the Pitbull brothers’ camp. He left Brazil for the first time and went to South Africa, where he lost a split decision and stopped the hype train in its tracks. He’s now one loss away from leaving the list.
Alan Gomes: Improves to 13-3-1
Old ranking: 10, #79 overall
New ranking: 15, #70 overall
Gomes rebounded from two consecutive losses to top young Russians by beating prospect Lenar Suleymanov in a clear-cut decision. Gomes looked like a bantamweight fighting and used his size and reach advantage to control where the fight took place and pile on as much damage as possible. Now that he’s flexed his skills and saved himself from the proverbial chopping block, I bet he gets another tough opponent in his next fight.
Prospects joining the rankings
Vitor Caiado, heavyweight. Improves to 3-0
New ranking: .5, #138 prospect
Caiado is a 6’8 wall of muscle who emerged on the Brazil regional scene in December 2020, then made the jump to Russia this week and scored a 30-second knockout over a much smaller and overweight Uzbekistani. Athletic heavyweights are incredibly difficult to find, so that impressive performance is enough to earn a spot around the bottom of the rankings.
Luka Bregvadze, welterweight. Improves to 3-0
New ranking: .5, #302 prospect
Bregvadze is a 19-year-old wonderkid from Georgia who made his professional debut in February and has wasted no time making an impression. In his three fights, he’s faced 2-1, 3-0, and 9-2 opponents and has absolutely mauled each of them on the way to first round TKOs. He has an incredibly defined build for someone so young and he showed off great grappling in his most recent win, which earned him the welterweight belt for Georgia FC. Way too early to make any big statements, but with Bregvadze making waves at such a young age he’s absolutely someone to watch closely going forward.
Tsogookhuu Amarsanaa, welterweight. Improves to 6-2
New ranking: 1, #228 prospect
Coming out of Mongolia, Amarsanaa is tough as nails and you can tell that his karate background prepared him well for pain and adversity. He won an obvious decision over Ben Wilhelm, an undefeated judo blackbelt who trains jiu-jitsu at a Gracie academy, by using excellent distance management and quick hands to keep his opponent at bay and rack up the points. When Wilhelm tried to clinch, Amarsanaa continued to land sharp strikes at close range, and he showed great balance to defend any takedown that was attempted. He had previously only recorded one win for ONE Championship before getting fed to the legendary Eduard Folayang and then hadn’t fought for the last 18 months, so this was an important win for the 30-year old as he looks to maximize the prime years of his fighting career.
Alain Ilunga, lightweight. Improves to 13-5
New ranking: .5, #333 prospect
Ilunga returned for his first fight in 27 months and beat Anicet Kanyeba for the interim EFC Lightweight Championship. Ironically, Ilunga also beat Kanyeba in his second most-recent fight back in 2017. I have to question why he’s only fought twice in the last four years, but he’s now on an eight-fight win streak in EFC against bad competition. He probably needs several back to back title defenses in a shorter time period to get a call up to a bigger competition.
Reinaldo Ekson, featherweight. Improves to 16-5
New ranking: 7.5, #29 prospect
Ekson had his first fight in two years, and his second in South African promotion EFC. He challenged for the 145-pound title against longtime holder and tier 10 fighter Igeu Kabesa and won a fight that no one expected to go his way. If he can defend this title against a quality challenger, he could see interest from Brave or UAE Warriors, who have both shown an eye for Brazilians and Africa-based fighters.
Braian Gonzalez, bantamweight. Improves to 7-1
New ranking: .5, #262 prospect
I got to watch Gonzalez, who is originally from Argentina, for the first time at UWC 27. His opponent was a 7-6 Mexican veteran who provided a good opportunity for Braian to show off his skills, especially his quick and controlled footwork that pairs excellently with aggressive and accurate striking. He is only 24, seems very dedicated to becoming excellent, is in outstanding shape, and seemed to have a lot of local crowd support despite being from another country. In other words, he has the makings of a star but needs to face much tougher opponents to ensure that the talent is actually there.
Damir Tolenov, flyweight. Improves to 6-0
New ranking: .5, #162 prospect
Tolenov got a couple wins in 2020 after a debut way back in 2018, but he’s really burst onto the scene as a prospect in 2021 by beating three opponents with a combined 11-4-1 record. He dominated an inferior grappler this week to win the Octagon Kazakhstan Flyweight Championship, keeping his opponent pinned for most of the first round while peppering him with ground and pound before locking in a kimura in the second to end the fight. Winning a regional title in Central Asia is usually enough to get a contract from a larger promotion in Russia or Eastern Europe, so I would expect to see Tolenov appear for a new organization in the near future.
Prospects leaving the rankings
Karim Ruzbakiev, light heavyweight. Falls to 6-1
Old ranking: .5, #120 prospect.
While I was impressed with Ruzbakiev’s power in his previous fight I saw, he’s not a natural light heavyweight and was hurt by his lack of size this week against his best opponent yet. He could easily drop to middleweight, or maybe even welterweight, if he got into better shape because he’s not very tall at all. He is only 20, so maybe his plan is to work hard to transform his current fat into muscle and stay at 205. Either way, he needs some more refining before I’m ready to call him a prospect again.
Sergey Yaskovets, welterweight. Falls to 13-8
Old ranking: .5, #293 prospect.
Yaskovets lost his second straight decision for RCC and simply doesn’t win consistently enough against good competition to be considered a real prospect.
Anicet Kanyeba, lightweight. Falls to 13-10
Old ranking: .5, #312 prospect.
Kanyeba got ranked after winning five-in-a-row for EFC in South Africa, albeit against very mediocre competition. This week, he lost the second decision of his career to Alain Ilunga, which is probably enough to prove that he’s not going to be good enough to make waves outside the regional circuit anytime soon.