After a shockingly quiet set of regional fights last week, global MMA made a triumphant return for this week’s Worldwide Prospect Report. It kicked off with AMC Fights Nights hosting a card on July 15th that was full of exciting young Russian talents ready to earn their shot in my rankings as well as three fighters that I have ranked in my top 25 of their weight class for the site-wide consensus rankings.
ACA and Bellator both held events on Friday, the UFC had their usual show on Saturday, and countless other promotions also put on cards. RCC had a prospect studded show, and a plethora of smaller promotions across Russia and Central Asia also got involved. The highlights of the Brazilian fights were the LFA’s first ever international cards, an SFT show, and the second installment of Future FC’s Road to Future. Those cards were stacked with incredible young talents that were eager to finally have a larger stage on which to showcase their skills, especially since many hadn’t fought since 2019. Poland also had a big week, as both KSW and Armia FN put on shows. Finally, Peruvian promotion Fusion FC put on their first event in a couple months and attracted talent from across South America who have had very few opportunities recently to fight at a decent level.
This was a great week for discovering new prospects, as 23 new fighters from a variety of weight classes were added to the rankings for the first time. Nine other prospects were removed as there were just a ton of intriguing fights going on across the world.
Honorable mentions to: Ruslan Magomedov, a former UFC prospect who put on a very solid grappling performance despite losing a split decision, Marat Balaev, the 45-year-old Russian MMA legend who put on another ageless performance in a dominant decision win, Matheus Mattos, who rebounded well from a loss in his Bellator debut with a big second round knockout in his second fight, Tyrell Fortune, who finished out Matt Mitrione following an accidental headbutt, Wagner Prado, a UFC washout who’s also spent time with KSW and won an absolute war in the RCC main event and Szymon Kołecki, the KSW star who knocked out a fellow former bodybuilder.
First time reading the column? You can catch a quick explanation of the ranking system here
Yusup Shuaev: Improves to 8-0-1
Previous ranking: 1.5, #91 prospect
New ranking: 2, #80 prospect
Shuaev is one of the rare heavyweights who hovers up in the 250-260 pound range without really having a belly. He’s not super defined like Francis Ngannou, but he carries muscle all over his 6’4” frame and uses it well for his wrestling and ground and pound. He also has no hesitation in fighting opponents even larger than he is, as he won a decision over PRIDE legend/walking wall of flesh Zuluzhino back in February 2021 then returned this week against a ~290 pound chunky Russian with a 1-1 record who hadn’t fought for five years. Unsurprisingly, Shuaev dominated his weaker opponent from the opening bell, landing a couple decent punches before transitioning to a takedown and getting behind his turtled-up opponent to finish with powerful hooks from both hands. He moves up a little for this demonstration of strength and finishing ability, but he’s still yet to be challenged by another real prospect.
Roggers Souza: Falls to 10-4
Previous ranking: 10, #135 overall
New ranking: 8.5, #6 prospect
Souza is a solid heavyweight from Brazil who started his career 7-0 in his home country before moving to Russia in 2018. He won his first fight overseas and was getting talked about as one of the next great big men in the world, but things have devolved since he’s started taking on other top-level opponents. He was dominated in his ACA debut to open 2019 then got finished in the first by a 2-0 Cyril Gane during a cameo for TKO in Canada, but he picked up a couple wins against 7-2-1 and 9-3 opponents to close out the year. He missed 2020 and got knocked out in the first of a fight in February 2021 by Alikhan Vakhaev to bring his ACA record to 1-2. This week, he went to RCC to take on undefeated star Kirill Kornilov and again got finished in the first. It was mostly competitive for the first couple minutes, as Souza’s wild swings kept Kornilov at bay and managed to land a couple glancing blows, but he tired out quickly and got picked apart by jabs and short hooks before a big knee and a couple powerful swings ended the fight. Souza is still a threat to end any fight he’s in, but his fights in Russia have exposed both his lack of striking finesse and relatively shallow gas tank. Hopefully he’ll get a chance to take on a slightly less brutal opponent soon to re-assert his own prospect status.
Denis Smoldarev: Improves to 16-8
Previous ranking: 10, #132 overall
New ranking: 15, #102 overall
Smoldarev is a 6’5”, 250+ pound hulk of a man who has incredible muscle definition and a shockingly deep gas tank for a man his size. He’s fought a who’s who of Russian and Eastern European heavyweights, with names like Ante Delija, Marcin Tybura, Alexander Volkov, Michał Andryszak, Tanner Boser, Amir Aliakbari, Tony Johnson Jr, Daniel Omielańczuk, Alikhan Vakhaev, and numerous other lesser-known Russian talents all on his resume. His record hasn’t been fantastic in those fights but he’s always dangerous regardless of the matchup and he showed that this week with a big upset of tier 25 Ruslan Magomedov, who was a hot prospect for the UFC back in 2014 and 2015 before injuries tragically sidelined him for five years. It was a split decision, with three judges in his favor and two for his opponent, but I agreed with it going to Smoldarev as he landed a bunch of nice kicks to the leg and body and also mixed in some crisp punches upstairs. His opponent won the clinches and had more control time, but judging off of damage this was definitely Smoldarev’s fight. He’s still only 4-6 with ACA/ACB, but the quality of his opponents and his obvious advantage in size and strength over your typical regional heavyweight should allow him to keep getting top-level fights for a while, especially since he’s only 31.
Said Sowma: Improves to 7-2
Previous ranking: 10, #129 overall
New ranking: 15, #109 overall
Sowma is a short heavyweight but he carries 245 pounds very well at six-feet tall. He was known as more of a grappler before joining Bellator. He showed that he also has bombs in his hands by shutting off Ronny Markes’ lights with a devastating left hook and a couple reluctant ground strikes when the ref was slow to step in. With a well-rounded skillset and plenty of years ahead of him at 28, Sowma is one of the best young heavyweights in the world outside of the UFC.
Kazbek Saidaliev: Improves to 11-3
Previous ranking: 10, #119 overall
New ranking: 10, #119 overall
Saidaliev won one of the more boring fights I’ve seen in a while in his second fight for AMC. His opponent was a shorter, wild-swinging, 3-1 heavyweight and Saidaliev took advantage of his aggression to repeatedly catch him with double underhooks and pin him to the cage. You could see the frustration building on his opponent’s face as Saidaliev occasionally snuck in a knee or punch but seemed focused on grinding out the decision from the start. The ref was forced to separate them several times for lack of action, but Kazbek always drove straight back into the fence clinch in which he seemed supremely comfortable. This would have been a much more impressive performance if he were taking on a highly accredited fighter, but given that his opponent was unranked I’m pretty disappointed in Saidaliev’s disinterest in even slightly looking for a finish.
Kirill Kornilov: Improves to 10-0-1
Previous ranking: 15, #98 overall
New ranking: 25, #74 overall
Kornilov looks like he could be something real special. At 6’5”, he’s powerfully built with bowling balls for shoulders and slabs of muscle all over his torso. He used to fight for GLORY Kickboxing before transitioning to MMA. His kickboxing background is obvious, as he uses a popping left jab and short lead hooks incredibly well to maintain distance, disrupt his opponents’ plans, and accumulate damage. It’s rare to see that level of technique from most strikers in MMA, and even more so at heavyweight, so the sky’s the limit for him as a striker. He took on Tier 10 Brazilian Roggers Souza this week and used those left-hand strikes to incredible effect, constantly stinging his opponent and throwing him off so that he wasn’t able to land his huge hooks. Once he had Souza tired, Kornilov started bringing his power right hooks into the mix and walking Souza down, then once he had him against the cage he unleashed a powerful knee up the middle that also spoke to his kickboxing background and finished with a couple powerful strikes. He’s ready for the UFC right now, especially given how shallow their talent is at his division.
Rodolfo Bellato: Improves to 7-1
Previous ranking: 2, #75 prospect
New ranking: 5, #39 prospect
Bellato earned his initial ranking with a first round TKO over a 4-1 prospect for Future FC in his most recent fight, which was all the way back in December 2019. However, I still had reservations about his skills because he’d been knocked out in 25 seconds earlier that year and had only beaten easy opponents earlier in his career. He emphatically silenced those doubts this week with a dominant first round rear naked choke over tier 8 youngster Carlos Eduardo. He showed powerful hands and also stayed relatively controlled, landing stinging shots and not rushing desperately for a finish. He got a knockdown a couple minutes in and quickly took control on the ground, eventually taking his opponent’s back and hand fighting for a half a minute before he was able to sneak an arm under the chin and lock in the hooks with his legs to stretch Eduardo out for the choke. Bellato credited his training with Team Nogueira for his improvement, and if tonight’s performance is any indication, he could have even greater things ahead of him in the near future. LFA would be crazy to not sign him to a multi-fight deal after the performance he put on tonight despite being the underdog.
Artur Aliskerov: Falls to 9-2
Previous ranking: 2.5, #67 prospect
New ranking: 1.5, #81 prospect
Aliskerov went 8-0 to start his career before getting knocked out by hot prospect Armen Petrosyan in August 2020. He took a rebound fight with AMC in January and knocked out a debuting opponent in 24 seconds but faced tier 3 4-0 prospect Akhmad Gasanov this week and suffered the another second-round knockout loss. He tried trading strikes to open the first round but quickly realized his opponent had the advantage there, so he drove Gasanov against the fence and spent the rest of the round trying to work him over with body shots and knees to the thigh. However, Gasanov came back out strong in the second round and got two separate knockdowns, the second of which he finished with ground and pound that sent Aliskerov fully to sleep. The 31-year-old is an unquestionably skilled wrestler and makes great use of angles and head pressure to maintain control against the fence, but he doesn’t have the raw physical power or striking technique to compete on the feet against the highest caliber of light heavyweights in Russia.
Akhmad Gasanov: Improves to 5-0
Previous ranking: 3, #61 prospect
New ranking: 5.5, #30 prospect
Gasanov is a 6’4” slab of muscle who is intimidating even by Russian big man standards. He started his career slowly, recording four wins by finish from 2017 to 2019 with two by submission and two by knockout. He fought veteran competition that entire time, with their records reading 2-7, 9-5, 6-3, and 5-2, and he proved himself definitely superior in each fight. Artur Aliskerov was by far his toughest test to date, as he was 9-1 and in tier 2.5, but Gasanov continued to impress and picked up a great second round TKO. He had an obvious striking advantage from the start of the fight but got stuck against the fence for four frustrating minutes by the smothering grappling of Aliskerov. Gasanov scored a knockdown with a quick hook to start the second round, then showed the power to reverse his opponent’s wrestling when Aliskerov tried to tie him up again. He got a second knockdown with a well-timed counter and once he had top control Gasanov got the knockout with long-armed hooks directly to the tip of the jaw. The combination of strength, striking, defense, and adaptability he showed in this fight is very exciting, and that’s further enhanced by the submission skills he’s shown in the past. Despite being just five fights into his career, Gasanov is absolutely someone to watch as a light heavyweight with international-caliber potential.
Carlos Eduardo: Falls to 5-2
Previous ranking: 8, #8 prospect
New ranking: 4, #30 prospect
Eduardo is an imposing young light heavyweight from Brazil who had a ton of hype behind him after he ran through some other quality prospects when he was just 21 and 22. He fought in LFA’s first Brazilian show after 21 months off during the pandemic and got comprehensively beaten by tier 2 prospect Rodolfo Bellato, who stunned him with some good punches then eventually worked his way to the back to sink in a rear naked choke. Eduardo threw some bombs early on and showed the physical gifts that explain why there was so much excitement around him, but he’ll have some work to do to get back to his previous high ranking.
Mikhail Ragozin: Falls 17-5
Previous ranking: 10, #108 overall
New ranking: 10, #113 overall
Ragozin is a shredded 205-pound fighter who made his ninth appearance for RCC this week and at 29 is one of their best prospects. Unfortunately, he lost a decision to veteran Brazilian Wagner Prado in which they mostly traded shots back and forth and each scored knockdowns in different rounds. Neither could keep the other on the ground in the cases where it did hit the mat, and they seemed to mutually agree that the fight would be settled on the feet. I thought Ragozin edged the first round due to an early knockdown with a great straight right, but he faded faster than his opponent as was looking very wobbly on his feet towards the end of the second and into the third round. This was his 11th straight fight that’s gone to the judges, which is bizarre for an aggressive fighter who hits as hard as he does but shows that his gas tank is not typically an issue. This was the sort of fight that could honestly boost both of their stocks in the long term, as they showed resilience, good scrambling and transition skills, and all sorts of dangerous striking against dangerous opposition.
Evgeny Egemberdiev: Falls 13-4
Previous ranking: 30, #68 overall
New ranking: 20, #80 overall
Egemberdiev got a shot at the vacant ACA Light Heavyweight Championship against budding superstar Muslim Magomedov. He put forth a decent effort and landed a couple great shots, but most of the fight saw him on his back struggling to stop Magomedov’s inevitable progression through positions and damaging ground and pound. I’m somewhat surprised that he was given the chance in the first place, as he was beaten last July by Nasruddin Nasrudinov and there are other talented light heavyweights worthy of that chance. This brings his overall ACB/ACA record to 4-4, and I have a hard time seeing him back in the title picture in the near future at 36 years old.
Muslim Magomedov: Improves to 10-0
Previous ranking: 50, #37 overall
New ranking: 55, #36 overall
Magomedov may be the single hottest prospect in Russia right now, and he could probably give a good challenge to most fighters in the 15-20th place range of the UFC rankings. He made his pro debut at 22 years old in 2017 and has won exactly two fights per year since then on his way to claiming the ACA title, running through talented fighters from across Russia, Brazil, and the USA despite his young age. He’s a truly exceptional wrestler, chaining together different attempts and using different angles and trips beautifully to dump his opponents to the ground. He’s not a very pretty striker but he has a lot of natural power in his hands despite not looking all that intimidating at six-foot flat with a decent amount of body fat. He absolutely mauled tier 30 Evgeny Egemberdiev this week, who is an excellent fighter in his own right and had both a significant size advantage and a decade of experience on Magomedov. It didn’t seem to matter at all, as the fight went just like his previous ones with great takedowns, dominant top pressure, and punishing ground and pound that drained Egemberdiev for two rounds before finishing him in the third. Dagestan is churning out elite wrestling-based fighters at an astounding rate, and Magomedov is one of the crown jewels of the heavier weight classes.
Sergey Khrisanov: Improves to 5-0
Previous ranking: .5, #108 LHW prospect
New ranking: .5, #178 MW prospect
Khrisanov made his pro debut in October 2020 and wasted absolutely no time stringing together four finishes against mostly debuting opponents. He’s hugely muscular, especially in the chest and shoulders, and he’s alternated between 185 and 205-pounds in his career, with this week being his third middleweight fight. He took on 46-year-old crafty grappler Vladimir Ivashkin (15-13) and for the first time in his career wasn’t able to secure a finish. Khrisanov still took home the decision, inflicting more damage with punches and ground strikes in all three rounds, but he was threatened several times by leg-locks and other submissions. This fight also exposed that his gas tank may be sub-par, as he looked significantly slower in the second and third rounds after an explosive start. This may have been caused by the undoubtedly difficult cut he must make to middleweight, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him back at 205-pounds for his next fight, hopefully against the first fellow prospect of his career.
Lucas Fernando: Improves to 6-1
Previous ranking: .5, #251 WW prospect
New ranking: 1.5, #120 MW prospect
Fernando was one of the rare Brazilian fighters signed to LFA coming off a loss, though in his case it was a tough matchup against a 11-3 opponent for Shooto Brazil. His opponent was also a tier .5 prospect and controlled him well for the first minute or two, but once Fernando got some space he started delivering straight punches straight to the jaw, showing great patience and picking his targets well to get the finish in a sequence of six or seven strikes. This was his first career fight at middleweight, and while he looked a little skinny he has more than enough room on his 6’3” frame to pack on good weight and become even more of a finishing threat.
Erikas Golubovskis: Moves to 6-0-1
Previous ranking: 1, #166 prospect
New ranking: .5, #181 prospect
Golubovskis went 6-0 on the Lithuanian scene and also won two custom rules bouts that didn’t count towards his official record. He made his pro debut at 18 years old and is now 20. He is very muscular for someone so young. He took the toughest fight of his career this week by going to Germany to take on a 2-0 wrestler who fought him to a split draw. He moved down slightly as a result, though perhaps this will look dumb if his opponent Wladimir Holodenko continues to remain undefeated down the line. Either way, Golubovskis is absolutely someone worth tracking between his winning record, age, and physique.
Travis Davis: Falls to 10-5
Previous ranking: 1, #158 prospect
New ranking: 1, #163 prospect
Davis is a very solid middleweight on the US regional scene who’s picked up most of his wins by submission but has also gone 5-0 as a professional boxer. However, he got called up to Bellator this week against young undefeated star Johnny Eblen and got mauled for essentially the entire fight. He was mostly competitive on the feet but still couldn’t match Eblen’s combinations, and he got slammed to the mat repeatedly and pounded on with powerful punches and elbows. He showed impressive durability, but that’s not necessarily something you want to have stand out as your top attribute. I’d be surprised if his next fight isn’t back on the regional circuit.
Patricio Navarrete: Improves to 10-3
Previous ranking: 2, #92 prospect
New ranking: 2, #92 prospect
Navarrete is a veteran gatekeeper from Chile who fought a number of good prospects across South America and came out on top the majority of the time. This week, he dominated a 5-2 prospect from Ecuador who’s never beaten a prospect with a pro win and then picked up the TKO win in the third round. At age 38, it’s going to take a much more impressive win for Navarrete to climb the rankings.
Marcin Krakowiak: Improves to 11-3
Previous ranking: 9, #3 prospect
New ranking: 9, #3 prospect
Krakiowiak is a relatively short, thick middleweight who took his second fight with KSW this week. He was originally scheduled to face tier 3.5 prospect Tomasz Jakubiec, but he suffered an injury and the replacement was an unassuming 3-0 youngster who was out of his depth. Krakowiak got a quick finish, as he secured a clinch early then took his opponent down and got the win when Borkowski injured his arm while trying to brace his fall. This was a clear mismatch so Krakowiak doesn’t move at all in the rankings.
Husein Kushagov: Improves to 15-6
Previous ranking: 15, #124 overall
New ranking: 15, #122 overall
Kushagov deviated from his usual wrestling-heavy style this week, keeping the fight standing and knocking out his tier .5 opponent with a check left hook that took him off balance and set up the crunching right hook that ended the fight. His opponent also competed in professional grappling matches, so this was a clever strategic decision by Kushagov to use his superior strength and striking and not risk any fluke submissions from his outclassed opposition. This was his 17th fight for ACB/ACA, which makes his great record all the more impressive knowing the level of competition he’s been facing this whole time. He’s now won four out his last five, with the only loss a decision against now-champion Magomedrasul Gasanov, so I have to hope that his next matchup will be against another of the best 185-pounders in the promotion.
Johnny Eblen: Improves to 9-0
Previous ranking: 30, #81 overall
New ranking: 30, #79 overall
Bellator’s matchmakers continue to give Eblen easy fights despite his #5 spot in their relatively new rankings. This week it was 34-year-old regional veteran Travis Davis making his Bellator debut, and Eblen dominated the entire fight in the way you would expect from a -600 favorite. The most surprising thing about the fight is probably that it went the entire 15 minutes, as the slams and ground and pound that Eblen delivered threatened to end the fight at several different points. I really hope they finally give him someone else in the Bellator rankings in his next fight, and his callout of #6 Charlie Ward would be a great way to prove that the insane skills he shows against weaker opponents also translate to the higher echelons of MMA.
Ivan Vulchin: Improves to 12-4
Previous ranking: 1, #257 LW prospect
New ranking: 1, #209 WW prospect
After winning three decisions in 2020 for top Ukranian promotion WWFC, Vulchin made his 2021 debut with brand-new promotion Unity FC. He won another decision, and weirdly his opponent was Pavel Pinzul, who was also his most recent opponent back in October 2020. Maybe there was some controversy with the scoring in that one that I’m not aware of, or maybe they thought it could go differently if they fought at welterweight instead of lightweight, but it seems strange to have that rematch so soon. In either case, it was a split decision, so Vulchin didn’t do a whole lot to absolutely prove his superiority and therefore doesn’t move much in the rankings.
Quemuel Ottoni: Improves to 10-3
Previous ranking: 1, #223 prospect
New ranking: 1.5, #184 prospect
Ottoni picked up two easy knocks wins in April and May 2021 over nobodies then leveraged those highlights into a spot as an alternate for LFA’s welterweight tournament. He won a decision over 9-2 can-crusher Junior Marques, who was coming off a loss in Russia and definitely the weakest fighter in the tournament. That win moves him up one tier after he made no progress with his last two wins, but sadly for Ottoni he missed out on a chance to fill in for a title shot because there was concern he might be concussed. Hopefully he heals up soon and continues his dominant 2021.
Tymoteusz Łopaczyk: Improves to 8-2
Previous ranking: 1, #205 prospect
New ranking: 1.5, #190 prospect
Łopaczyk has been fighting decent opponent’s across Poland for the past five years, and he made his first foray out of the country last year where he got beaten by UFC vet Ismail Naurdiev in Germany. He returned to Poland this week to take on a 7-6 journeyman for the Armia Welterweight Championship and unsurprisingly won through a flurry of punches in the first round. He’s now recorded KO/TKOs in his last four wins after starting his career with a bunch of rear naked chokes, so he’s clearly comfortable attacking wherever the fight goes. He’ll need to prove himself against better opponents before he can make much more progress in the rankings.
Brenner Alberth: Falls to 8-1
Previous ranking: 1.5, #205 LW prospect
New ranking: 1.5, #198 WW prospect
The oddsmakers were much higher on Alberth than I was going into LFA’s tournament, as he was the betting favorite to take home the title. However, I rated Gabriel Bonfim much higher and as expected Alberth wasn’t able to keep up with the young boxer on the feet. He’s a black belt and the announcers that included Antonio Noguiera were all praising him as a grappling star, which lines up with the submissions on his record, but he didn’t have an obvious advantage when the fight hit the floor and ended up getting pieced up on the feet for the first two rounds then finished in the second. He still looked plenty talented in this fight but wasn’t on the same level as hot prospect Bonfim.
Aleksandr Vasiliev: Improves to 6-1-1*
Previous ranking: 2, #153 prospect
New ranking: 3, #125 prospect
Vasiliev is a sinewy 21-year-old welterweight who’s now fought three times each for quality promotions AMC and RCC. I put an asterisk by his record because he’s listed as losing by armbar way back in 2012, but unless Russia has started letting 12-13 year olds take professional fights, I suspect that this was a different fighter with a similar name. If that’s the case, Vasiliev is undefeated against a number of other young up-and-comers, and he added the most experienced name to his resume this week with a third round rear naked choke over 13-7 Vladislav Shabalin. The first round was a wild brawl as both men were swinging huge wide hooks, and the start of the second looked like more of the same with Shabalin constantly trying to taunt the younger and less physically imposing Vasiliev into trading power shots. However, with three minutes left he drove for a powerful double-leg and spent the rest of the round delivering ground and pound, at first from the guard and later from either mount or a back mount. He also nearly got the finish by rear naked choke in the second, as he had his forearm deep under the chin but Shabalin barely survived by fighting the hands. In the third, it was clear that Shabalin was gassed and Vasiliev punished him with a knee to the face before pouncing and securing the rear naked choke despite valiant efforts to break his grip. He could be a real threat going forward if he can build a little more muscle mass and learn to mix speeds on his punches instead of swinging for the fences with every shot.
Wendell Giácomo: Improves to 9-2
Previous ranking: 2, #152 prospect
New ranking: 4, #102 prospect
Giácomo took on tier 5 fighter Uyran Carlos (11-4) in one of the backup fights for LFA’s one-night tournament for their welterweight belt. He won a very solid decision and did a good job mixing his striking and wrestling to control his opponent over a trio of three-minute rounds. He picked up a very impressive anaconda choke over an 8-2 opponent back in May 2021 and also had two fights for Future FC in 2019, so he’s been fighting at a high level in Brazil for a while. Unfortunately for him, he was unable to take advantage of the opportunity he was given to step into the final because he was not medically cleared due to cuts he sustained in his first fight. Regardless of that disappointment, this was a great win for Giácomo over the best opponent of his career and a good way to announce himself on the international scene.
Rolando Bedoya: Improves to 13-1
Previous ranking: 2.5, #142 prospect
New ranking: 3, #124 prospect
Bedoya lost his fourth professional fight back in 2015 but has since gone on a 10-fight win streak against a few decent fighters with some chaff mixed in. His victim this week was 39-year-old can-crusher Mauricio Otalora (17-6) who was already on a two-fight win streak and got crushed himself this week on the way to a third-round TKO for Bedoya. This was a good return from a 23-month layoff, and he was originally scheduled to fight two different tier .5 prospects which is a good sign for his level of competition going forward.
Alexey Makhno: Falls to 25-9
Previous ranking: 3, #126 prospect
New ranking: 2, #147 prospect
Makhno had won four straight for AMC and he was the main event in his previous two fights leading up to this week’s clash against the juggernaut that is Yusuf Raisov. He got absolutely destroyed on the feet in the first round, as Raisov landed one-two punch combinations seemingly at will and battered Makhno for the majority of the five minutes. There were several moments that the ref was edging closer to call a standing TKO due to just how much punishment Makhno was taking only for him to throw back a couple punches and buy himself more time to receive abuse. I was mildly surprised that he was able to come out for a second round, and it got stopped pretty early in the second for what I thought was an eye poke, but it must have been ruled a punch where a knuckle made contact as Makhno got the lost when he was unable to continue. While he got crushed in this one, he never really had a chance against someone of Raisov’s quality. He’s still a very solid fighter with a ton of experience, and at 31 he’s still got a few prime years ahead of him, though he may have to take a good chunk of time off to recover from this one.
Adrian Bartosiński: Improves to 11-0
Previous ranking: 4.5, #88 prospec
New ranking: 8.5, #12 prospect
Bartosiński came into 2021 in tier 2, as he was 9-0 but hadn’t fought anyone high-level, but he’s gone rocketing up the rankings ever since with two straight knockout wins. This week was even more impressive than his last performance, as he continuously hunted down tier 9.5 Michał Michalski with all sorts of strikes for almost two full minutes before landing the killing blow. Still undefeated, there is likely a title shot in the near future for the 25-year-old Bartosiński after he made short work of Michalski, who I thought was likely headed towards a title challenge himself.
Carlos Leal: Improves to 14-3
Previous ranking: 4.5, #55 MW prospect
New ranking: 10, #195 overall
Leal has had quite a journey in MMA, as he amazingly started his career as a lightweight and was skilled enough to get signed to Bellator and win his only fight for them in 2017. He then vanished for two years and reappeared as a middleweight with significantly more muscle mass and choked out an 8-3 opponent. He then dropped off the map again for 19 months and has been very open about the fact that he was battling serious depression that kept him away from the sport he loves. He made a triumphant return as a contender for the LFA title this week and ended up winning the tournament on the strength of a beautiful first round knockout over tier 8.5 prospect Diego Dias followed by a well-rounded performance in the final to win a decision over surprise fill-in Uyran Carlos. He still looks like a middleweight in the cage and was pretty obviously bigger and stronger than both opponents he faced, but obviously the weight cut doesn’t sap his stamina too much if he was able to win two fights in a single night. Every prior LFA Welterweight Champion has been signed by either Bellator or the UFC and I see no reason why Leal won’t be the next, especially since he’s still 28 despite his winding path. He overcame his depression through religion and was not shy about broadcasting that by walking out to his fights with a Bible in hand, and this combination of faith and his inspirational story of overcoming something that so many struggle with could definitely improve his marketability to a US audience.
Gabriel Bonfim: Improves to 11-0
Previous ranking: 5, #80 prospect
New ranking: 8, #17 prospect
Bonfim was one of the favorites going into the LFA welterweight tournament and he did not disappoint in his highly technical dismantling of fellow undefeated prospect Brenner Alberth (8-0, tier 1.5). His jab looked incredible and by the third round his opponent was wearing the damage all over his face, and he put together rapid-fire combinations to remind everyone that the Bonfim brothers are also very good professional boxers. The fight hit the mat a couple times but Bonfim usually got the advantage there too and they rarely stayed down for long, so it ended up being exactly the sort of back-and-forth striking exchange that favors someone with beautifully quick hands like Bonfim. He has eight submission wins on his record to confirm his grappling credentials, which is shocking when you consider how good he looked on the feet in this one. None of his previous opponents were anywhere near Alberth’s level, so this was a fantastic opportunity for the 23-year-old to lay down a marker of his talent. Unfortunately, despite initially being cleared for the title fight he later started to show concussion symptoms and was rightly pulled, but he can still go home happy with his performance.
Uyran Carlos: Falls to 11-6
Previous ranking: 5, #80 prospect
New ranking: 2, #162 prospect
Carlos had the rare and unfortunate distinction of losing two fights in one night after LFA’s welterweight tournament nearly fell apart. He lost his opening fight to Wendell Giácomo by a pretty clear decision but he miraculously got a shot at the title after Giácomo wasn’t cleared due to cuts and the other two winners were held out with potential concussions. He showed a lot of toughness and heart by coming back after already suffering a loss, but he unsurprisingly got dominated by Carlos Leal, who secured his first win early in the first round and was much fresher than Carlos. There’s no quit in him, and he managed to land a couple big shots across the three rounds, but the difference in talent and energy was too much to overcome. Both of the opponents that beat him were quite good, so he still maintains a decent spot in the rankings, but he’ll need to resume winning if he wants to stick around. He was the welterweight champion for Future FC before joining LFA, so maybe he’ll return there.
Andrzej Grzebyk: Improves to 18-4
Previous ranking: 8, #16 prospect
New ranking: 10, #190 overall
Grzebyk was on a sox-fight finish streak going into his first fight against Lithuanian legend Marius Žaromskis back in November 2020. Everything was going to plan in the first round of that fight, but he gruesomely broke his leg just before the end and had to take the loss. He got a rematch this week in his third total fight for KSW, amazingly fighting just eight months after such a serious injury. He proved that his knockout power is unharmed by landing a brutal body shot that took all the air out of his opponent’s body then finished with a rapid-fire combination to the jaw that shut the lights out entirely. He’s a threat to knock out anyone who steps into the cage with him and is another excellent prospect in KSW’s stacked welterweight division.
Diego Dias: Falls to 13-4
Previous ranking: 8.5, #5 prospect
New ranking: 4, #92 prospect
Dias was my favorite to win the LFA tournament as my highest rated prospect who took part, but that prediction lasted all of 99 seconds into the first round when Carlos Leal absolutely demolished him with an overhand right. This was the seventh good opponent he’s fought in his career and he’s now 4-3 in those contests, so I needed to significantly reduce his ranking to reflect that inconsistency despite the fact that he was on a three-fight winning streak coming in. He flashed fast hands in the brief opportunity that he had this week, but he now has two first-round knockout losses on his record which makes me question his chin somewhat. He’s in his prime at 29 and is in great physical shape, so I expect he will take an easy regional fight to bounce back then reappear at the highest levels of the Brazilian scene.
Michał Michalski: Falls to 9-5
Previous ranking: 9.5, #1 prospect
New ranking: 5.5, #60 prospect
After losing his first two fights for KSW in 2018, Michalski rebounded with three straight explosive knockouts to make his case as one of the scarier prospects in the organization. Unfortunately for him, he ran into streaking undefeated prospect Adrian Bartosiński and got absolutely steamrolled in less than two minutes on the way to an emphatic knockout loss. I was super impressed with what I saw from him in his last fight, so I don’t want to move him down too far, but he’s definitely got some work to do to get back to the lofty spot I had him in before.
Yusuf Raisov: Improves to 18-2
Previous ranking: 30, #88 LW overall
New ranking: 40, #82 WW overall
At this point, all that’s left to say about Raisov is “wow.” He started his professional career at just 19 but didn’t have the early-career losses that plague so many youngsters, and he quickly became one of the top featherweights in ACB. He had one unsuccessful challenge for the title but quickly rebounded and won the interim and official titles over the next 18 months. He moved up to lightweight in 2018 and went 4-1 for ACA before shockingly leaving the promotion at the end of 2020, as I thought he was due for a title shot in the near future. He made his debut for AMC this week, moved up another weight class to welterweight, and continued his dominance by demolishing and seriously damaging tier 3 prospect Alexey Makhno. He’s just 26 and has now looked outstanding at three different weight classes, and I really don’t know what else he’d have to prove before the UFC signs him. Maybe his contract with ACA was preventing that in the past, as the top Russian promotion is known to pay well and discourage defections, but now that he’s with AMC I would sign him as soon as humanly possible. He’d be an awesome addition to whichever division he feels most comfortable in, and I’d love to see him test his skills against the best in the world.
Alexander Gorbunov: Improves to 4-0
Previous ranking: .5, #394 prospect
New ranking: .5, #307 prospect
Gorbunov won a clear decision over a 6-3 Belarusian to pick up his fourth win for RCC in the past 20 months. He’s a very strong wrestler and used that to control the fight and earn the win on the scorecards. He’s still super early in his MMA journey but there are unquestionable flashes of talent here after he’s won decisions over two straight solid opponents and scored a couple violent knockouts in the easier fights to start his career.
Guido Santos: Improves to 12-3
Previous ranking: .5, #312 BW prospect
New ranking: .5, #309 LW prospect
Santos is a high-level Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner who had compiled a very good record with a number of submissions but had never really fought for a notable promotion until his appearance this week for Future FC’s “Road to Future” series. His opponent was not all that impressive at 5-3 and Santos pretty easily set him up and ended the fight with an armbar in the first round. The most surprising thing about this fight was Santos fighting at lightweight despite weighing in 20 pounds lighter for most of his career. I’ll be very curious to see if he stays at this weight going forward, and I’m sure he’ll be making an appearance in a more typical event for Future FC in the near future.
Kaynan Kruschewsky: Improves to 11-1
Previous ranking: .5, #337 prospect
New ranking: 3, #141 prospect
Kruschewsky got a big opportunity this week with LFA and he sure made the most of it, landing a hard straight left that sent his tier 1 opponent to the ground before landing a diving right hand bomb that probably wasn’t needed to secure the victory. He hadn’t fought since December 2019 and I had him ranked relatively low because he got knocked out in the first round when he went to Finnish promotion Mr Cage for his first non-Brazilian fight. However, the LFA announcers were saying that he’s a credentialed professional boxer in addition to his impressive MMA record, and combining those accolades with the insane power he showed this week makes for a very promising prospect. He seems like the sort of fighter LFA should be looking to add to their long-term roster after a highlight-reel finish like this.
Junior Luiz: Falls to 7-4
Previous ranking: 1, #251 prospect
New ranking: .5, #347 prospect
Luiz came into his LFA debut on a four-fight win streak against solid competition for Jungle Fight and Shooto Brazil, but he ended up on the wrong side of a highlight reel knockout 62 seconds into his fight against Kaynan Kruschewsky (10-1, tier .5). He dropped significantly in the rankings as a result but stays on the list due to his past success, though he’ll probably have to go back to Brazilian shows after this disappointing result in his first internationally broadcast performance.
Sebastian Rajewski: Improves to 11-6
Previous ranking: 1.5, #200 prospect
New ranking: 3.5, #131 prospect
Rajewski had a rough start to his career, going 4-5 in his first nine fights, but a switch flipped going into 2019. He’s since won seven of eight, with the only loss a flash knockout 12 seconds into a fight in November 2020. He usually wins by decision but he’s constantly looking to exchange bunches of strikes and has some nice kicks that he mixes in to the legs and body. He beat longtime KSW stalwart Artur Sowiński in a back and forth battle, which is a great name on his growing resume as he continues to establish himself as a legitimate prospect.
Ivan Sopivskoy: Falls to 6-2
Previous ranking: 2, #175 prospect
New ranking: .5, #310 prospect
Sopinskoy is another young Russian prospect who’s a regular for RCC, as he’s had all but one of his pro fights with the promotion. He moved up to tier 2 with a good decision of 8-2 fellow prospect Andrey Shilimov back in February, but this week he got matched against unranked 8-2 Armenian Viktor Azatyan. Sopinskoy got caught with a check hook 20 seconds into the fight and never really recovered, as he pushed his opponent against the cage with a desperate level change but got thrown to the ground and pounded on with elbows and punches from mount for two-or-so minutes without offering any defense besides a high and tight guard before the ref mercifully stepped in. He returns to the lowest tier and will need to beat another prospect if he hopes to re-climb the ranks.
Kauê Fernandes: Falls to 6-1
Previous ranking: 2.5, #161 prospect
New ranking: 1.5, #128 prospect
Fernandes came out excellently in the first round of his LFA clash with fellow 6-0 Luan Sardinha, keeping dominant position for most of the round and raining down strikes while also sometimes threatening submissions on his way to a 10-8 card on every judge’s card. However, he blew all his gas looking for a finish and got dominated in return for the two remaining rounds, eventually losing 28-26, 28-26, and 28-27 in a unique scorecard, as I’ve never seen one fighter get a 10-8 then his opponent get two-in-a-row in return. Fernandes flashed good skills in this one and was always going to be the underdog against a prospect in tier 6. He needs to work on his stamina or figure out a better game plan to distribute his effort more easily, though maybe the adrenaline dump from the biggest stage of his career affected him some.
Arthur Lima: Falls to 9-2
Previous ranking: 4, #116 prospect
New ranking: 2.5, #165 prospect
After Lima’s brutal submission back in late May, I said that I could see him fighting for a regional title in his next bout. That was before LFA announced their shows, but in either case he ended up with a chance to show his skills at a higher level. He got dropped early in the first by his tier 7 opponent but recovered well by threatening a heel hook and using it to sweep into top position before controlling the end of the round. It would have been a toss-up of a round if it went to the judges, but unfortunately for Lima he got absolutely creamed with a hook to start the second round and was unconscious as he hit the floor. He still managed to flash his grappling skills in defeat, but he needs to work on his striking defense if he wants to survive against top level opponents.
Luan Sardinha: Improves to 7-0
Previous ranking: 6, #58 featherweight prospect
New ranking: 6.5, #52 LW prospect
Sardinha has fluctuated between 145 and 155 pounds in his career and went to the heavier weight class for his LFA debut. He’s had a stop-start career, as he went 4-0 on small shows in 2015-2016, got a win for Jungle Fight in 2018, then got a massive second-round submission over 14-0 Fabio Henrique Nascimento in January 2020 for Future FC. He hadn’t fought since then, so he was coming off 18 months off for this crucial matchup. He got dominated in the first by a slippery and aggressive Kauê Fernandes and looked like he was in danger of getting finished at several different points, but he made fantastic adjustments between rounds and leaned on his wrestling skills to maintain cage control and pour the damage onto his opponent. That experience of being challenged and bouncing back will definitely serve him well going forward, and if he’s able to bring his dominance in the last two rounds into his next fight he’ll continue to rise up the rankings. He doesn’t move much this week because of the first round scare, but he has tons of potential.
Brendo Bispo: Falls to 17-5
Previous ranking: 6, #57 prospect
New ranking: 4.5, #91 prospect
Bispo had won six in a row, and 10 out of his last 11, coming into his title challenge for SFT in his second fight for the promotion. He hadn’t fought for two years coming into this one and unfortunately for him he ran into undefeated stud Manoel Sousa who knocked him out right before the end of the first round and looks like a legit star. He was considered an excellent prospect by several talent evaluators whose opinions I respect, and Bispo is still 27 despite his wealth of experience, so he’ll have plenty of time to rack up more wins and get a title shot in another of Brazil’s numerous promotions.
Rangel de Sá: Falls to 10-2
Previous ranking: 7, #48 prospect
New ranking: 5, #85 prospect
De Sá, nicknamed “Anaconda,” has been tearing up the Brazilian scene for the past five years, including a four-fight win-streak in 2019 to 2020 for Shooto Brazil that culminated in him winning their 165-pound super lightweight title. He dropped to a more conventional 155 pounds to take on the deadly Ismael Bonfim in the LFA 111 main event, and while he showed that he is super athletic, has power in his hands, and has the stamina to keep pushing deep into the fight, his opponent edged him out and was even better in each of these areas. It was a fun fight to watch, as both threw plenty of strikes with the intention of ending the fight then and there but they both had good range control and used clever footwork and head movement to avoid the worst of the damage. De Sá is undoubtedly very talented, and at just 24 he has tons of time to bounce back from this disappointing result in the biggest fight of his career, either with LFA, Shooto or another regional show.
Rodrigo Lídio: Improves to 12-2
Previous ranking: 7, #45 prospect
New ranking: 8, #19 prospect
Lídio is a one-man wrecking crew, having finished all 12 of his wins against mostly high-quality competition in Brazil, often by first-round knockout. He only got one fight in 2020 but made it count, scoring a flying knee knockout over a 16-5 opponent to win the Future FC Lightweight Championship in his third fight for the elite developmental promotion. He demonstrated his frightening power again this week for LFA when he took on tier 4 prospect Arthur Lima and scored a knockdown early on in the first round. He got pulled to the ground by a heel hook attempt when he tried to approach for the ground and pound finish and ended up spending the bulk of the next three-to-four minutes getting controlled by his black-belt opponent. Lidio landed another big hook 20 seconds into the second round, but this one laid his opponent out on his back where no ground and pound was necessary. It was an impressive recovery from Lídio in the biggest spotlight of his career and proved that he maintains power even after expending a bunch of energy on defense. We all know that UFC President Dana White loves big knockouts, and Lídio could easily get the big call if his impressive record and plethora of highlights have made a big impression on the UFC brass.
Artur Sowiński: Falls to 21-13
Previous ranking: 7.5, #42 prospect
New ranking: 2, #177 prospect
I significantly overrated Sowiński in my initial rankings due to the fact that he was once champion for KSW, but the game has passed him by somewhat as he’s aged. Now 34, he lost an exciting split decision to tier 1.5 Sebastian Rajewski in a fight that he was definitely expected to win. This is about as official a signal of a decline as you’re going to get, and to add to that he’s now fought out his KSW contract and is scheduled to join European Fight Masters in September for their second event ever. He’s probably not long for the rankings, but he’s still dangerous enough to give an excellent test to some unproven prospects.
Manoel Sousa: Improves to 7-0
Previous ranking: 7.5, #27 prospect
New ranking: 10, #179 overall
Sousa has officially arrived as a rising Brazilian star by knocking out tier 6 fighter and highly regarded prospect Brendo Bispo (17-4) with a few seconds left in the first round of their fight for the SFT Lightweight Championship. Sousa made his amateur debut with SFT in 2019 and has never fought anywhere else, and he’s picked up a ton of wins in a very short time against opponents with a very impressive combined record of 39-8. All of his pro fights have ended by finish, five by TKO and two by submission, and none of them have gone past the second round. He carries a ton of muscle for a lightweight, which is facilitated by his 5’9” frame, and at just 24 he should be on the watchlists of major promotions across the world.
Adlan Bataev: Improves to 13-4
Previous ranking: 10, #190 featherweight overall
New ranking: 10, #173 LW overall
Bataev has spent his entire career fighting for ACB/ACA, including an unsuccessful challenge for their featherweight title in 2017 against the legendary Marat Balaev. He’d been up and down recently and moved up to lightweight this week in the hopes that not having to deal with a brutal weight cut would give him more stamina and power in later rounds of his fights. He was scheduled to take on a 9-1-1 youngster but got a last-minute replacement opponent who was just 2-1 and made his pro debut in 2020. It was a very uneventful fight, as Bataev spent most of the 15 minutes chasing his opponent around the cage and trying to sneak in a few blows whenever he could slow down his constant circling. Bataev won a decision because his opponent barely mounted any offense the entire fight, but it was far from the dominant performance I would have liked to see from someone with aspirations to reach the top of Russian MMA.
Ismael Bonfim: Improves to 15-3
Previous ranking: 10, #187 overall
New ranking: 10, #161 overall
Bonfim won an impressive decision over tier 7 prospect and fellow young stud Rangel de Sá in the main event of LFA’s first card. The first round was pretty competitive, but Bonfim’s superior accuracy and restraint that he got from years of amateur and pro boxing started to add up in the later rounds, which he clearly controlled. He also had some really nice hand and head feints that he used to set his opponent up and manipulate his movement. This fight showed that both fighters have incredible stamina, as they set a fast pace from the start and never really slowed it down, constantly pressuring each other and exchanging strikes with dangerous intent. There were frequent scrambles when it hit the mat, as neither seemed to be able to contain the explosive scrambling of the other for very long, but Bonfim landed better ground and pound that included some thunderous hammerfists. Overall, he inflicted more damage from his advantageous positions. This was a fantastic way for him to introduce himself to an international audience, and at just 25 his ceiling is sky-high despite extensive combat sports experience. He could easily be the next challenger for the LFA lightweight title, or he could be signed straight to the UFC or Bellator and I would have no objections. Bonfim is the real deal, and if he’s handled right he could be a major contender down the road.
Mukhamed Eminov: Improves to 17-1
Previous ranking: 10, #167 featherweight overall
New ranking: 10, #158 LW overall
Eminov won the AMC featherweight title in March 2020 and defended it twice that year, then came back this year and strangely defended the same belt but at 155 pounds. I’m not sure if he’s now the champ-champ or if this was just a catchweight situation that went up a whole weight class for a short-notice fight. In either case he dominated his opponent, who was 11-7-1 and coming off a loss in his last fight in 2020, en route to his fourth straight decision win. It was a strange piece of match making, and Eminov doesn’t really benefit all that much from winning a fight in which he was heavily favored on paper. He started his career with 12 straight submissions over bad opposition but has become very decision-heavy now that he’s facing tougher tests. He’s never fought heavier than 145 pounds before, so I’d expect him to drop back down in his next fight.
Thiago “Manchina” Silva: Improves to 20-10
Previous ranking: .5, #357 LW prospect
New ranking: 1.5, #184 prospect
Silva plummeted in the rankings last month after his loss to a 10-8 opponent in EFC, but he returned to his more natural featherweight this week after spending most of 2020 fighting at lightweight or catchweight over 160-pounds. He won a decision over fellow veteran and tier 1 prospect Bruno Tavares in his second fight for SFT to prove that there’s still some gas left in the tank. We’ll see if he sticks in Brazil or goes back to Russia to continue providing a test for young prospects.
Valeriy Pak: Improves to 6-2
Previous ranking: .5, #321 prospect
New ranking: .5, #268 prospect
Pak has been recognized as an up-and-comer in Russia for his whole pro career, fighting either solid veterans or other undefeated prospects. He had a rough 2020, losing both of his fights to 2-0 and 4-0-1 opponents, but he came back excellently in 2021 with a 25-second knockout over a 5-2 opponent in March and a great battle against 3-0 Alexander Treskin this week. They exchanged blows on the feet and positions on the ground but Pak usually came out ahead and showed a superior gas tank in the third round, where he really took over and eventually secured a rear naked choke with just 10 seconds left in the fight. He’s definitely one to watch, but I’m cautious in my ranking because he’s already been exposed by several other prospects.
Mansur Azhiev: Improves to 6-0
Previous ranking: .5, #316 prospect
New ranking: 1, #215 prospect
Azhiev is a Russian wrestler who’s spent his pro career in Poland, where he’s been dominant on his way to a 5-0 amateur and now 6-0 pro record. He mauled muscular veteran Adrian Kępa (8-5) this week, tossing him around the cage for several rounds and delivering ground strikes from every position he found himself in. In the third, he once again found himself in a dominant ground position and this time managed to take his opponent’s back and secure the rear naked choke. He was a huge favorite in this one, and as Russian sambo masters continue to dominate in MMA across the world, I’m sure we’ll see more of Azhiev in a major promotion in the near future.
Gleb Khabibulin: Moves to 5-1-2
Previous ranking: 1, #198 prospect
New ranking: 1, #213 prospect
After three TKOs to open his career in 2017 and 2018, Khabibulin’s next five fights have all gone to decision, first with M-1 then with AMC for his two so far in 2021. Of those decisions, he’s won two, lost one, and picked up his second draw this week against an athletic 3-1 Kazakhstani youngster. It was a back-and-forth contest, with both fighters gaining advantages at various points but neither was able to press the advantage enough to come out ahead. Khabibulin moved down slightly for not beating an unranked opponent, but he showed a well-rounded skill set, especially on the ground, so he’s definitely still worth tracking.
Abdul-Rakhman Temirov: Improves to 13-6
Previous ranking: 1.5, #198 LW prospect
New ranking: 4, #101 featherweight prospect
Temirov snapped a three-fight losing streak in ACA with a hard-fought decision win over tier 5.5 prospect Zamir Aripshev. He’s been fighting for ACB/ACA since 2014 after a 4-0 start to his career in regional shows but he’s never been able to build enough momentum to get matchups against the organization’s best. He did fight Zabit Magomedsharipov all the way back in 2015, getting choked out in the first round. He showed a solid mix of grappling and striking this week but didn’t look exceptional in either area, and he seems to have the skills to stick around long-term as a gatekeeper even if he never becomes a title contender at featherweight.
Gabriel Alves Braga: Improves to 6-0
Previous ranking: 2.5, #129 prospect
New ranking: 4.5, #92 prospect
Braga made his debut in 2018 and has run through a gauntlet of fellow promising prospects with combined records of 19-4 to reach his current 6-0 resume. His three last fights were all with the excellent Future FC, and this week he joined LFA for their second show and picked apart an unranked 5-1 opponent. He got the finish through body shots in the second but he was attacking everything and has now finished four of six opponents with strikes. He’s tall for a featherweight at 5’10”, and his Muay Thai training allows him to make great use of that length. He’s also in fantastic shape and is just 23 despite what he’s already proven, and I imagine he’ll be one of many prospects who were featured in LFA’s events to sign another contract with the top feeder organization for the UFC.
James Gonzalez: Improves to 7-4
Previous ranking: 4.5, #67 BW prospect
New ranking: 6, #60 featherweight prospect
Gonzalez spent the first seven fights of his career with Ring of Combat before bouncing to CFFC to win their featherweight championship when Pat Sabatini (now in the UFC) broke his arm. He lost a shot at their bantamweight title against the excellent Levi Mowles (now 14-4, tier 30) in October 2020, then returned to ROC this week to headline their 73rd card against battle-tested veteran Jeff Lentz. He won a decision to get back on the winning track, and considering his four losses came to Mowles and UFC fighters Bill Algeo and Mike Trizano (twice), it seems that Gonzalez is a high-level regional fighter who might not have enough to be successful in a major promotion.
Zamir Aripshev: Falls to 10-3
Previous ranking: 5.5, #65 prospect
New ranking: 2.5, #127 prospect
Aripshev lost a unanimous decision to Abdul-Rakhman Temirov in a back-and-forth fight in which he landed some good punches and occasionally had top control but spent more time than he would have liked either retreating or grounded on his back. This drops him to 1-2 with ACA, and he’s lost both of his fights by decision to fellow Russian prospects while scoring his only victory through a knockout against a Brazilian who he was expected to beat. He’ll probably get one more fight to save his spot in the promotion, but he’s unquestionably towards the bottom of their current featherweight pecking order.
Rudney Carvalho: Falls to 8-2
Previous ranking: 6, #42 BW prospect
New ranking: 2.5, #137 featherweight prospect
Carvalho lost in his pro debut back in 2013 but won eight straight off the back of that, punctuated with a first-round finish of a 22-8-1 opponent back in March that shot him high up my rankings. However, he took his first fight out of Brazil this week when he went to RCC to take on young star Evgeniy Ignatiev. This fight was strangely at featherweight despite both men typically fighting at bantamweight in the past, and Carvalho has fought as low as flyweight due to his diminutive 5’3” frame. He packs a lot of muscle but the height and reach disparity was obvious in the striking exchanges that opened the first round as he simply couldn’t reach his opponent with most of his strikes and was getting tagged to the body. The fight hit the mat for the last two minutes and he got completely dominated, then looked exhausted to open the second round and got wobbled then dropped by a series of powerful hooks. He would be best served by dropping back to 135-pounds for his next fight, as he’s certainly dangerous with his hands, but he’ll struggle in Russia if he’s not able to figure out a defense for pressure grappling.
Johnny Soto: Falls to 4-2
Previous ranking: 8.5, #16 prospect
New ranking: 3, #120 prospect
Soto made a sky-high debut in my rankings after winning a great decision over Brazilian super-prospect Weber Almeida. However, after he in turn lost to talented kickboxer Adil Benjilany due to his inability to inflict any damage while controlling his opponent, I’m starting to think that Almeida was just over-rated. That’s reflected in the massive drop in the rankings for Soto, whose eight takedowns proved that he’s still an excellent wrestler but needs to either work on his ground striking or start attacking submissions, because just control is no longer enough if your opponent can land a few good shots in there.
Carlos Augusto da Silva: Falls to 19-3
Previous ranking: 8.5, #3 BW prospect
New ranking: 6.5, #45 featherweight prospect
Da Silva started his career 2-2 but then went on a ridiculous 17-fight winning streak between 2014-2019. Most of these fights were at featherweight but his final one was at bantamweight to win a main event spot for Shooto Brazil. He was one of the most highly anticipated names fighting for LFA this week but he had the misfortune of running into the absurdly powerful Otto Rodrigues, who mauled him for 15 continuous minutes and delivered so many powerful ground strikes that I was starting to get seriously concerned about Silva’s long-term health. His toughness is unquestionable, and he showed some decent scrambling and jiu-jitsu skills, but it was nowhere near enough to slow down the onslaught he was faced with. His streak is now broken, but he only drops down a few tiers because I think Rodrigues could be something really special.
Mehdi Baidulaev: Improves to 11-2
Previous ranking: 9, #9 prospect
New ranking: 9, #9 prospect
Baidulaev, who has been fighting for ACB/ACA his entire career, was originally scheduled to face talented Brazilian veteran Nilton Gavião (17-6) to open ACA 126, but a late withdrawal left him matched against a 9-4-2 can-crushing striker from Kyrgyzstan. Baidulaev very predictably dominated from the start of the first, landing punches and elbows from top position then securing a d’arce choke to finish the fight after a few minutes of the first round. While it’s always good to pick up another win for a top promotion like ACA, I had already ranked Baidulaev high enough that beating an unranked opponent who mostly takes on debuting fighters doesn’t affect his standing at all.
Cody Law: Improves to 4-0
Previous ranking: 9, #8 prospect
New ranking: 9, #8 prospect
Law absolutely annihilated a 1-0 fighter who got his lone win two years ago, using a series of well aimed punch combinations and mixing in some powerful knees to the head to get the finish in under two minutes. He was a -1200 favorite in this one as the Bellator matchmakers continue their annoying infatuation with feeding their best prospects uncompetitive matchups. I’d much rather see him take on a veteran because even if he loses that magical 0 on his record, He’ll learn and grow a whole lot more than he did from this mismatch.
Evgeniy Ignatiev: Improves to 17-2-2
Previous ranking: 9, #2 BW prospect
New ranking: 15, #159 featherweight overall
Ignatiev has now won four fights in eight months for RCC, all against quality opposition and all finished due to strikes in the second round. He’s still 26 despite having over 20 pro fights on his record, and “Grandmaster” put on another incredibly impressive performance this week. He traded strikes with tier 6 Brazilian Rudney Carvalho and used his six-inch height advantage well to pound shots to his opponent’s body and evade the powerful headshots coming back his direction. He then got a takedown with a couple minutes left, dropped good ground and pound and ended up on the back searching for a finish either through a choke or hooks. He ran out of time in that round but quickly finished the job in the second with five-to-six unanswered hooks that eventually sat Carvalho down for the finish. He completed his transition to featherweight, as he started his career at bantamweight but has fought at intermediate catchweights recently, and at 5’9” with a good amount of muscle 145 pounds could easily be his long-term home. He’s the type of fighter the UFC should have their eyes on as a well-rounded, young, and athletic talent, and if he doesn’t make the step up to a larger organization he should definitely be in line for the RCC title.
Rudy Gavidia: Falls to 14-3
Previous ranking: 10, #187 LW overall
New ranking: 3, #118 featherweight prospect
Gavidria lost the first two fights of his career but then strung together a 14-win streak and held the Fusion FC Featherweight Championship consecutive years. Gavidria was so successful that I ranked him in my list of best lightweights even though he’s never fought outside of Peru. He suffered his first loss in 11 years this week to Martin Mollinedo, who had a great record at 24-9 but was unranked because he’s mostly beaten up on weak opponents and lost to good ones. This was the sort of fight Gavidria absolutely had to win if he wanted to make a case for getting signed to a larger promotion. Given his longtime dominance, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets an immediate rematch and chance to redeem himself from this shocker of an upset.
Lom-Ali Eskijew: Improves to 19-5
Previous ranking: 15, #154 overall
New ranking: 15, #153 overall
Eskijew was born in Russia but spent the majority of his early career in Germany. He returned to his home country to fight for ACB/ACA from 2017 to 2020, compiling a 4-2 record in that time and overall looking very at home in a division full of insanely talented fighters. His contract must not have been renewed despite his two-fight winning streak, and he made his debut this week for KSW as the massive favorite over a 10-2 unranked Colombian. He unsurprisingly dominated from the opening bell, landing thunderous punches, getting the takedown with ease, delivering more punishment while advancing his positions, and finally slipping off to the side to finish with an arm triangle choke with 35 seconds left in the round. Eskijew is the type of talent who should rapidly shoot up the rankings in KSW, and I doubt there will be many more unranked opponents for him anytime soon.
Dzhikhad Yunusov: Improves to 19-5
Previous ranking: 20, #124 overall
New ranking: 25, #118 overall
Yunusov was originally scheduled to face tier 7 prospect Roman Ogulchanskiy but a last-second change saw him matched against 8-1 Bayaman Nurmamat, who was unranked despite having all of his finishes in the first round due to his weak opposition and his loss the only other time he faced a tough opponent. Yunusov scored a highlight-reel spinning back elbow knockout back in February and apparently enjoyed that bit of fame quite a bit, as he threw elbows, both conventional and spinning, at a higher rate than almost any other fighter I’ve seen. He was downright contemptuous of Nurmamat’s theoretical finishing ability and eventually clipped the top of his head with a spin that sent him crumpled to the mat clutching his skull. This is certainly the first time I’ve heard of a fighter scoring two consecutive spinning back elbow knockouts, though he may want to be more sparing with it in the future as he seemed to hurt his arm with the same strike that finished his opponent. He moves up slightly due to the highlight finish but his opponent’s relative weakness prevents me from moving him all that much.
Everton Nascimento: Improves to 11-5
Previous ranking: .5, #318 prospect
New ranking: .5, #274 prospect
Coming into this week, Nascimento’s last fight was a split decision win in February 2019 to win the bantamweight title for now-defunct Rio Bonito Fighting Championship. He returned this week after that two-and-a-half year break to take on an 11-4-1 can crusher and won his second straight split decision. While it’s always good to see a prospect picking up wins against experienced opponents, I’d definitely like to see him get the victories in more convincing fashion or beat another ranked prospect before I’d want to move him up much further.
Wataru Mimura: Improves to 13-3-2
Previous ranking: .5, #284 prospect
New ranking: .5, #278 prospect
Mimura has been fighting for DEEP and Pancrase for most of his career, and after losing his last fight of 2019 and not fighting in 2020, he made his return this week to win a decision over a 10-10-1 veteran. He’s beaten better opponents in the past, so this win had very little impact on his ranking. He’s now up to 10 decision wins, which shows that getting the finish is not his priority even against relatively weak competition.
Tayron Pedro: Falls to 9-4
Previous ranking: .5, #281 prospect
New ranking: .5, #320 prospect
Pedro opened LFA’s first card in Brazil as a heavy underdog against high-level Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu blackbelt and tier 8 prospect Luan Luiz Lacerda. He put forth a decent effort in a competitive first round, though he did get rocked right before the bell. In the second round, he got taken to the ground, mounted, and then within seconds was screaming in pain thanks to a nasty heel hook. He stays in the rankings because was facing a highly-regarded opponent and he’s had some decent wins in the past for shows like Jungle Fight and Shooto Brazil, but he’s scraping the bottom of the barrel at this point.
Rodrigo Vera: Improves to 10-1-1
Previous ranking: 5, #244 featherweight prospect
New ranking: 1, #230 BW prospect
Vera mostly fought weak competition while he built up his record before losing the biggest fight of his career back in 2019, which was on the Combate prelims and would have given him a shot at a more global stage. He’s since returned to Peru, picking up a great win over a 10-3 prospect in December 2020 then winning another decision this week over a middling 7-4 veteran who stepped in as a replacement for his originally scheduled tier 1 opponent. The result itself isn’t particularly impressive but Vera’s sustained success is enough to bump him to a slightly higher tier.
Maksim Usoyan: Falls to 6-3
Previous ranking: 1.5, #168 prospect
New ranking: 1, #193 prospect
Usoyan has been fighting for RCC since his debut back in 2018, and he’s had plenty of success against good opponents with a combined record of 44-15-1. He had picked up a couple decision losses to good opponents and had finished five of his six wins, but this week he took on tier 4 Magomedgadzhi Sirazhudinov, by far his most challenging opponent to date. Usoyan got absolutely overwhelmed by Sirazhudinov’s superior striking, spending most of the first couple minutes of the fight trying to strike off his back foot before getting caught by a hard flying knee that stunned him and left him open to be finished by punches. His previous fights still make me optimistic for his future, but the losses are slowly starting to accumulate and make it less likely that Usoyan ever becomes an elite prospect.
Apollo Gomes: Improves to 6-0
Previous ranking: 1.5, #155 prospect
New ranking: 3, #105 prospect
Gomes went pro in 2018 at age 21 and has torn through alright competition and finished all five of his first fights, including a 4-0 prospect for Shooto Brazil in November 2020. He beat a 3-0 opponent this week in the first decision of his career and showed the same mix of grappling and striking that’s carried him to multiple finishes. He fights out of Diego Lima’s Chute Box, which is one of Brazil’s elite gyms and a fantastic place for Gomes to continue his development.
Carlos Eduardo: Falls to 12-4-1
Previous ranking: 2, #133 prospect
New ranking: 1.5, #170 prospect
At age 35, Eduardo took the first fight of his career outside of Brazil and got handed a brutal matchup in undefeated super-prospect Khuseyn Shaykhaev. Eduardo spent essentially the entire fight on his back, occasionally shifting his hips and legs to threaten a triangle or set up a scramble but inevitably getting neutralized by the young Russian. He moves down slightly in the rankings because losing at his age is never a good sign, but it’s hard to blame him too much for losing to an opponent who is so obviously superior. Hopefully he’ll get a fairer matchup in his next fight, though that’s far from guaranteed if he keeps fighting in Russia.
Zhikang Zhao: Improves to 13-5
Previous ranking: 2.5, #132 featherweight prospect
New ranking: 2.5, #131 BW prospect
Zhao went 9-3 on the Chinese scene before ONE Championship signed him at the end of 2017. He went 3-2 for the Singapore-based promotion over the next couple years, always fighting towards the beginning of their cards against lower-level prospects. His contract must have lapsed during the pandemic, as he resurfaced this week back on the Chinese regional scene with JCK and got a 1st-round KO over a 1-0 opponent. The most notable aspect of this fight is that he moved back down to bantamweight after fighting at a higher weight due to ONE’s strict regulations on cutting weight. I’ll be curious to see if he can turn more success against local opponents into another shot with a major organization, but he’ll definitely need to take on opponents with more experience to make that happen.
Bruno Santos: Improves to 10-2
Previous ranking: 3, #98 prospect
New ranking: 5, #60 prospect
Santos is a 22-year-old fighter from Brazil, and he’s in absolutely insane shape for someone so young. This manifests itself in the insane pace he sets and maintains in all of his fights, including this week’s very close decision win against surging Polish prospect Paweł Polityło (6-2, tier 6). It was a grappling heavy affair where both men showed off good takedown skills and also excellent escape ability. Polityło probably got more control time, especially in clinches against the fence, but Santos landed the better strikes throughout the fight, including a couple big knees and plenty of hard straight right hands. Santos actually got a title shot in his KSW debut back in December, which is an excellent indication of just how good the promotion thinks he is, but lost to longtime KSW star Antun Račić by decision. Račić has since lost the belt to Sebastian Przybysz, and I could see another title shot for Santos in 2022 if he can put together another good win or two.
Sylwester Miller: Improves to 10-4
Previous ranking: 3.5, #91 prospect
New ranking: 4, #82 prospect
Miller was brought in to challenge for the Cage Warriors bantamweight title back in March, and while he was a significant underdog he was very impressive and was likely leading the fight until he was disqualified for repeated headbutts. Those came from his attempt to generate momentum for his ground and pound with his entire body, and unfortunately it led to repeated collisions between his forehead and his opponent’s face. He returned to Poland for his third fight with Armia Fight Night and was matched against an unranked 4-1 Brazilian who hadn’t fought since 2018 but ended up giving him a much tougher test than expected, forcing the fight all the way to a majority decision in Miller’s favor. He moved up slightly for this successful rebound from his last disappointment, but it certainly wasn’t the expression of dominance that I would have liked to see from someone with top prospect aspirations in a matchup in which he was the -700 favorite.
Magomedgadzhi Sirazhudinov: Improves to 10-1
Previous ranking: 4, #88 prospect
New ranking: 5.5, #53 prospect
Sirazhudinov is another elite Dagestani prospect who built his record to 8-1 fighting for the infamous Akhmat Fight Club from 2017 to 2019. Unlike most fighters from that region, his game is built off his striking, but he’s certainly looked competent in clinch and ground situations. He missed 2020 but has returned with a vengeance in 2021 and scored a knockout over Bakhodir Bakiev for AMC (tier 5.5 at the time), and this weekend took out Maksim Usoyan (tier 1.5) in Sirazhudinov’s debut for RCC. He has a high-pressure style and delivers bunches of straight punches that do damage and set up his power shots. This week, he used a beautiful switch knee to get the knockdown and showed off great explosiveness and flexibility, then finished his opponent with a few more punches for good measure. This was his second straight domination of another quality prospect and to my eye it looks like Sirazhudinov is more than talented enough to start taking on Russia’s elite, whether that’s a title shot for a mid-major promotion like RCC, AMC, or EFC, or a move to top promotion ACA.
Marcos Breno: Improves to 14-2
Previous ranking: 4.5, #78 prospect
New ranking: 10, #152 overall
Breno lost once early in his career and a second time to Taylor Lapilus in 2019, but otherwise he’s been consistently dominant over mediocre to good regional competition. He showed off his trademark punching power this week in by far the biggest fight of his life, the co-main event of LFA 111. He’s a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu blackbelt but was facing one of the world’s greatest grapplers in Ary Farias, and for the opening seconds of the fight we were treated to an aggressive fistfight between two elite grapplers. That came to an abrupt halt when Breno caught Farias with an uppercut straight to the chin, turning out the lights and ending the fight before it really got going. If that’s not the type of performance that will attract attention from top-level organizations, then I don’t know what could.
Cleverson Silva: Improves to 15-5
Previous ranking: 5.5, #58 prospect
New ranking: 7.5, #20 prospect
Silva is one of very few Brazilians who have found consistent success with ACA, mostly thanks to his outstanding Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skills and uncanny ability to escape when put on his back. He’d lost his two previous fights but moved to 4-2 in the promotion with a first round Rear naked choke over kill-or-be-killed striker Nashkho Galaev. With this win to bolster his record, he’ll almost certainly be given a killer in his next matchup as ACA loves to use talented Brazilians to build the records of its best prospects.
Paweł Polityło: Falls to 6-3
Previous ranking: 6, #42 prospect
New ranking: 3.5, #90 prospect
Polityło is a highly regarded prospect who’s spent the majority of his career with KSW. He lost a decision to Bruno Santos this week despite edging out positional control throughout the fight because he wasn’t able to inflict enough punishment to make his dominance count. His other two career losses have both come against Antun Račić, which leaves him in the awkward position of not being able to beat the division’s best but most matchups against weaker guys will probably be one-sided. His next fight could prove very important for his career trajectory.
Luan Luiz Lacerda: Improves to 11-1
Previous ranking: 8, #16 prospect
New ranking: 8.5, #7 prospect
Lacerda had an incredibly impressive resume for a fighter on the LFA prelims, as he’s a high-level Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt with nine submissions on his record. He also won the Shooto Brazil Bantamweight Championship in October 2020. He showed off the expected good grappling in addition to some surprisingly powerful hands in the first round, then in the second round he set up the takedown, smoothly flowed to a mount, then dropped off with a deep heel hook that ended the fight within seconds of application. I’d certainly hope he’s someone that LFA will give another fight to on a future card, regardless of whether it’s in Brazil or back in the US. He has some very exciting tools and a fantastic record, and he’s in his prime at age 28.
Nashkho Galaev: Falls to 7-6
Previous ranking: 10, #154 overall
New ranking: 3.5, #95 prospect
Galaev is a power-punching, somewhat wild brawler who’s spent his entire professional career with ACB/ACA. He scored a number of highlight finishes earlier in his career, brutalizing his opposition with a tornado of kicks, punches, and knees, but he’s slipped to 1-3 in his four fights from 2018 to 2021, only fighting once per year in that span. His defeat this week came in a relatively unsurprising fashion, as he landed a couple good shots early on Cleverson Silva before getting taken to the ground and threatening him with a deep guillotine. He managed to escape that submission but ended up with Silva mounted on top of him and gave up his back while trying to escape, which led to a relatively quick rear naked choke loss. He’s got the entertainment aspect of fighting down, as his fights are exciting win or lose thanks to his recklessness, but if he’s serious about ever becoming a top fighter he’ll need to make major adjustments to his strategy and mentality in addition to improving his grappling skills.
Khuseyn Shaykhaev: Improves to 11-0
Previous ranking: 15, #149 overall
New ranking: 15, #127 overall
Shaykhaev continued his dominance for ACA by grinding out a one-sided decision over tier 2 veteran Carlos Eduardo. With 11 straight wins for Russia’s top promotion at just 24 years old, Shaykhaev is one of the top young bantamweights in the world. The only thing separating him from the world’s elite is that he’s yet to face opponents of his same caliber, but that can be blamed entirely on the matchmakers’ desire to build up one of the most hyped prospects in the promotion. His wrestling is incredible to watch, as he shifts his weight incredibly fluidly and contorts his body to constantly stay on top of his opponent and prevent any opportunity to escape or counter-attack. Eduardo is a dangerous Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner, but Shaykhaev showed no fear of his submission threat and quickly stuffed any attempts at triangles or armbars with good posture and intelligent counter-movement. He’s a must-watch anytime he’s booked as he continues his ascent to the top of the MMA food chain.
Ary Farias: Falls to 10-3
Previous ranking: 15, #128 overall
New ranking: 10, #156 overall
The words “world-class jiu-jitsu” get thrown around a lot, but it’s hard to be more qualified than seven-time world jiu-jitsu champion Farias. He had won five straight for quality promotions like ACB, LFA, and Taura before his most recent fight. Farias made his return to LFA this week as one half of the co-main event for their first Brazilian show. It was hyped as the potential fight of the night in a collision of two elite prospects, but for Farias this fight was memorable for all the wrong reasons. He got caught with an uppercut before a minute had passed and collapsed to the canvas face-first, totally out. While he’ll surely be upset with this loss, it wasn’t as if this performance exposed some fundamental flaw in his skillset – he just got sloppy with his guard and got caught with a perfectly placed bomb. I’m sure he will have plenty more high-level opportunities whenever he is recovered from this brutal KO.
Leonardo Feitosa: Falls to 4-1
Previous ranking: .5, #173 prospect
New ranking: .5, #187 prospect
Feitoso is a 20-year-old who proved his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu credentials translate well to MMA by tapping out 2-0, 3-0, and 5-2 opponents in the first round in 2019. He returned this week after 20 months off and got knocked out in the second by fellow undefeated youngster Harlysson Nunes (3-0, unranked). I nearly dropped him from the rankings for this loss, but his previous wins were impressive and his age makes me think this could be a setback that he’s able to bounce back from. His next fight will be very important for his career trajectory.
Filipe Esteves: Falls to 7-1
Previous ranking: 1.5, #89 prospect
New ranking: 1, #128 prospect
Esteves ran up seven straight finishes at flyweight from 2017 to 2019, then went 24 months without a fight before joining LFA. He got matched against Rafael Ramos (9-0, tier 9) in a fight that the oddsmakers said was evenly matched but my rankings did not agree. He put up a good fight in a first round that was super high-paced and full of both striking and grappling. However, he seemed to run out of gas in the second and Ramos took over with top control and ground and pound before getting the finish a couple minutes in. Esteves only fell slightly in the rankings because of the disparity between their tiers going into it. He’s lost his undefeated record but is still a quality prospect.
Moris Boleyan: Improves to 6-0
Previous ranking: 1.5, #81 prospect
New ranking: 4, #52 prospect
Boleyan started his career with three wins for small promotions from 2018 to 2019 before signing with AMC in September 2020. He’s picked up three more submissions with the larger promotion and won their interim flyweight title in January 2021 then claimed the main belt this week, both times using a triangle to choke out a tier .5 opponent, in this case 6-0 Tajikistani Azizkhan Chorshanbiev. He also has rear naked chokes and a guillotine on his record, indicating a creative grappling repertoire. He traded strikes briefly before taking his opponent down and landing some punishing strikes while posturing up from guard. I thought they might be powerful enough to get the finish, but his opponent gave up his back in an attempt to scramble free. Boleyan pounced but got out of control as he tried to jump onto Chorshanbiev’s back and insert his leg hooks at the same time and ended up falling over the top and pulling guard. However, Boleyan was quick to take advantage of his opponent’s continued fogginess from the ground strikes and quickly threw up a triangle and cinched it tight enough that Chorshanbiev quickly fell unconscious. Six straight submissions and a title win for a very reputable promotion is an incredible start to a career, and at just 22 years old we should be seeing interest in Boleyan from major promotions in the near future, especially if he’s able to defend his belt.
John Jairo Quiñones: Falls to 7-3
Previous ranking: 2, #78 prospect
New ranking: .5, #147 prospect
Quiñones got a relatively high initial ranking for someone so inexperienced because he was on a five-fight win streak that included winning and defending the flyweight title for tiny Peruvian promotion 300 Sparta. He made his debut for FFC this week after 17 months off and lost a decision to unranked Inor Valladares (6-3). He dropped significantly due to this loss but remains in the rankings for now due to past success and the fact that Valladares seems to be a decent prospect in his own right.
Carlos Mota: Improves to 6-0
Previous ranking: 7, #21 prospect
New ranking: 7.5, #14 prospect
Mota was one of the few prospects on LFA’s Brazilian cards that had actually fought for the promotion previously, as he got a super-impressive 30-second body kick TKO against a fellow 4-0 fighter in December 2019. He missed 2020 like so many other fighters, but he was scheduled to get a shot at the LFA title in February 2021 until travel issues forced him to withdraw. He was originally scheduled to fight on their first card this week but after his opponent withdrew, the promotion somehow managed to find a 5-0 fighter willing to take him on with one-day’s notice. Granted, he’d only fought once since 2015 and had never faced good opponents, but that’s still a decent fill in with so little time. Mota absolutely dominated in all areas of this one and left his opponent’s face bruised and battered with relentless and powerful ground and pound. This was my first time seeing him live and he absolutely passed the eye test, but I’m holding off on moving him too high up the tiers until I see him face another ranked opponent.
Rafael Ramos: Improves to 10-0
Previous ranking: 9, #1 prospect
New ranking: 15, #72 overall
Ramos went 9-0 to start his career against opponents of mixed quality for Shooto Brazil, which included taking the flyweight title from Luan Matheus in 2018. He went up to bantamweight for his last couple fights but returned to 125-pounds for his LFA debut against 7-0 Filipe Esteves and looked incredibly impressive. The first round was somewhat back and forth, but Ramos was landing the harder strikes both standing and when on the ground and never looked in any particular danger. He took over in the second and bullied his opponent to the ground before maintaining control with fluid grappling and dropping heavy strikes to get the win. He looked UFC ready to me in this one, especially given the top-heavy nature of their flyweight talent pool, and therefore makes a solid leap into my top overall rankings. Maybe they’ll give him a shot on the “Contender Series” to prove himself, but I would have no objection if they just signed him directly.
Prospects joining my rankings
Eduardo Neves, heavyweight. Improves to 4-0
New ranking: .5, #119 prospect
Neves made his debut in December 2019 at the tender age of 20, but he’s a huge man who cuts down to 265 pounds and has been rampaging through anyone across the cage from him. His victim this week was a 6’7 giant who hadn’t fought in three years, and after they exchanged a few feeler shots, Neves landed a couple clean shots to the jaw and sent the tower toppling to the ground. LFA could always use more talented heavyweights, and Neves’ combination of size, power, and youth makes him very intriguing as a prospect to develop.
Azamat Boziev, middleweight. Improves to 9-0
New ranking: .5, #176 prospect
Boziev is old for a new prospect at 35, but his 9-0 record doesn’t lie and he’s taken six of those fights in the last 18 months, so he seems to just be hitting his stride as an MMA fighter after spending time as a professional kickboxer earlier in his career. That background shows up in his lanky but strong build and the creative array of strikes he throws at overwhelmed opponents on the Ukranian regional scene. His win this week was a first-round choke against an 8-6 veteran who was already on a four-fight losing streak, and like all of his submission finishes it was Boziev’s striking that sent his opponent to the ground and disrupted his defenses enough for the submission to get set up. He looks like he has the talent to hang with a higher level of fighters, but the question is whether he’ll be able to find them if he continues fighting in Ukraine or if he’ll have to make the move to Russia or elsewhere overseas.
Sharaputdin Magomedov, middleweight. Improves to 5-0
New ranking: 2, #102 prospect
Magomedov started his career in China, as Russian prospects occasionally do, going 3-0 from 2017 to 2018. He then supposedly did some professional kickboxing and/or Muay Thai over the next couple years, but the details are murky and his record isn’t on any major sites. He clearly showed a Muay Thai background in his debut for AMC against a tier 1 prospect, landing lightning quick and precisely aimed kicks to every part of the body seemingly at will. He started mixing in sharp knees to the body after a minute or so, and they immediately had an effect on his opponent and caused his defenses to curl inward. Magomedov showed excellent patience, continuing to mix up his strikes but smartly going back to the knees whenever his opponent lifted his guard to protect his head. He ended up landing five-to-six in total with a couple directly on the liver and the referee was forced to step in as his opponent was bent double in pain against the cage and getting absolutely pummeled. He’s coming into his prime at 27 and he’s in fantastic shape, so I’m very excited for Magomedov’s future if this striking display is any indicator of the things to come.
Islam Kartlykov, welterweight. Improves to 3-0
New ranking: .5, #306 prospect
Kartlykov picked up his third straight KO/TKO in the nine months since his professional debut, this time against 3-0 Maksim Rakowski who was his toughest test to date. His first two fights came at middleweight and his 6’3” frame towered over his opponent while still looking more muscular, so he must be making a significant cut down to 170 pounds. Kartlykov is the sort of prospect who could immediately drop off my rankings if he loses his next fight, but he impressed me enough to earn a spot by beating an undefeated youngster for a quality promotion like AMC.
Alessandro Gambulino, welterweight. Improves to 11-3
New ranking: .5, #268 prospect
Gambulino built an amazing record on the Brazilian regional scene before losing and having a no contest for Brave CF in two of their events in his home country. He got a couple wins for Jungle Fight but lost a title shot there in 2019 before coming back with a good submission win in 2020 and now a decision win over Dhouglas Ribeiro (10-4, tier 1). He’s far from the best prospect on the list but he’s very well rounded and has a bunch of experience at a high level of competition.
Norbert Daszkiewicz, lightweight. Improves to 4-0
New ranking: .5, #368 prospect
Daszkiewicz has been pro since 2019, beating a couple easy opponents in his first year then winning a decision over a 4-2 opponent in 2020. He took his first fight of 2021 this week and won a decision over a 6-1 wrestler from Georgia. He fights out of WCA Fight Team, which also trains Jan Blachowicz and many of Poland’s other top fighters, and his combination of several solid wins, an undefeated record, and elite training partners bodes very well for his future.
Yanal Ashmoz, lightweight. Improves to 5-0
New ranking: .5, #367 prospect
Ashmoz is an Israeli grappler who picked up the third knockout of his career this week to go along with two submissions. His opponents have had a combined record of 13-3, which is more than solid for someone so early in his career. His debut for ROC this week was his first fight in the US and also his first fight in two years, so hopefully he can jump start his career now that he’s in a country with a more established MMA scene.
Dylan Mantello, lightweight. Improves to 4-0
New ranking: .5, #317 prospect
Mantello went 6-0 as an amateur before making his pro debut at the end of the year, and he’s won three more fights in the past two years all by finish. This week’s win was the most impressive, as he scored a 35-second knockout over a 3-1 Brazilian in the co-main event of ROC 73. He’s a very tall lightweight at 6’1” and he trains as part of the excellent Longo And Weidman MMA team, who should be able to maximize his natural gifts. His combination of pro and amateur success is enough to earn him a ranking, and I get the feeling he’s just starting to scratch the surface of his potential.
Viktor Azatyan, lightweight. Improves to 9-2
New ranking: 1, #272 prospect
Azatyan was unranked despite his impressive record because his two losses came in his previous fights in Russia, one for ACB back in 2016 and one in his RCC debut in last year. He returned to RCC this week and dominated tier 2 Ivan Sopivskoy, catching him with a staggering check left hook early on then using a great shoulder toss to reverse a takedown attempt and power straight into half guard. He quickly climbed to mount and proceeded to drop hard elbows and forearms on top of the guard while sneaking hooks to each side and occasionally dropping straight punches right on the chin. It was an impressive domination and decisively puts the 25-year-old Armenian on the map as someone to watch going forward.
Ilyar Askhanov, lightweight. Improves to 9-3
New ranking: 1, #271 prospect
Askhanov has been fighting professionally since 2014 but has never had more than two fights in a year, so his record is less extensive than most fighters with that level of experience. He did alright on the Central Asian scene against an array of mediocre opposition, but it’s been his last two fights for Octagon that have boosted him into the rankings. The first fight was a third-round knockout of a 4-1 opponent and this week he dominated a 4-0 youngster for almost 25 full minutes before pulling off an armbar with four seconds left to get the finish and claim the Octagon lightweight title. His opponent this week came out fast, but Ashkanov weathered the storm and spent the rest of the fight grinding his opponent against the cage and ground, keeping his weight high, and dropping continuous ground and pound. There were several points where he looked close to a finish, but his opponent would always make just enough space to survive. Altogether, a very impressive performance from Askhanov where he demonstrated patience, great grappling, intelligent striking, and a finisher’s instinct even deep into the fight. Winning a belt for Octagon is a great way to get yourself signed by a Russian promotion, and with Askhanov in his prime at 30 I’d expect he’ll see interest in the near future.
Charlie Campbell, lightweight. Improves to 4-1
New ranking: 1, #270 prospect
Campbell kicked off this week’s Bellator card with a second-round TKO over a 2-1 opponent through an accumulation of well-placed body shots. His opponent controlled him with wrestling against the cage for the first three-to-four minutes of the fight, but once Campbell got free he absolutely rained down punishment, including a series of consecutive snapping body kicks that looked straight out of a Muay Thai match. He ran out of time to get the finish in the first but picked up right where he left off to start the second, getting the finish after 90 straight seconds of accumulating damage and very little defense. The striking is certainly impressive, but the weakness he showed on the ground to start the fight could be a major issue going forward.
Magomed Sulumov, lightweight. Improves to 8-2
New ranking: 1.5, #199 prospect
After winning his debut fight for a small show, Sulumov went 6-2 for ACB between the main promotion and their Young Eagles series from 2015 to 2020, though he didn’t fight at all in 2019. He was probably someone I should have included in my initial rankings based on his record and quality of competition, and he reinforced that this week by winning a clear decision over a solid 7-0 Kyrgyzstani who was a tier .5 prospect but just wasn’t quite on Sulumov’s level in any area. Two of his three career finishes came in his first two fights, so he’s clearly settled into a pattern of grinding out the win with his strong takedowns and top pressure now that he’s fighting better opponents. This was his AMC debut and they have plenty of other quality fighters who would make intriguing matchups for his next fight, so I look forward to seeing where his career goes next.
Daniel Matusic, featherweight. Improves to 5-0
New ranking: .5, #341 prospect
Matusic returned from 19 months away from MMA to win a split decision over fellow undefeated youngster Ahmet Şimşek (3-0). This win earned him both the featherweight title for Austrian FC and a spot in the rankings despite facing some really bad opponents in his first four pro fights, and I have to imagine he’ll move to a bigger promotion in another country sometime soon.
Marcos Rodrigues, featherweight. Improves to 17-5
New ranking: .5, #266 prospect
Rodrigues is 34 and spent quite a while bouncing around the lower levels of Brazilian MMA accumulating wins and the occasional losses before making his debut for SFT in 2019 and picking up a huge decision win over a 13-2 opponent. He then made the time-honored Brazilian pilgrimage to Russia to get choked out by a top fighter, in this case tier 8.5 prospect Magomed Yunusilau. He made his return to both SFT and his home country this week to win a decision over 10-4 Estabili Amato, who’s fought lots of good competition but has mostly been unsuccessful. Rodrigues demonstrated again that he’s better than your typical regional fighter with an inflated record, but he’ll need to fight another ranked fighter for me to get a better idea of where he stands in the global pecking order.
Adil Benjilany, featherweight. Improves to 6-3
New ranking: 2, #155 prospect
Benjilany didn’t make it into the initial prospect rankings despite being signed to Bellator because he’d lost his previous two fights, but he gets a spot this week with a resilient decision win over talented wrestler Johnny Soto. His kickboxing background is obvious and he throws both punches and kicks sharply and without wasted movement or any tells as to what’s coming next. However, his ground game is super questionable, as he got taken down eight times by Soto and was controlled for more than half the fight. He did just enough damage in the last two rounds to eke out the close win, and he showed great responsiveness to the coaching of Belal Muhammad, but he needs serious work on his grappling before he can be looked at as anything but a kickboxer in an MMA cage.
Martin Mollinedo, featherweight. Improves to 25-9
New ranking: 2.5, #127 prospect
Mollinedo has been a fixture of the Peruvian scene since way back in 2008, and I can’t actually find a source on his age anywhere online, which is always concerning. However, he forced himself into the rankings by winning a decision over Rudy Gavidia (14-2), who was a dominant champion that I’d ranked all the way up in tier 10. He also beat UFC fighter Enrique Barzola back in 2014, but most of his opponents have either had winning percentages under 50% or been very early in their careers. He’s lost to most of the good prospects he’s fought but this win is impressive enough that I have to rank him despite his age and inconsistency.
Otto Rodrigues, featherweight. Improves to 13-1
New ranking: 15, #162 overall
It’s very rare that someone goes straight into my overall list after not being ranked at all coming into the week, but Otto Rodrigues is far from your usual prospect. He made his pro debut in 2007 and suffered his only loss the next year before going on a crazy 11-fight winning streak leading into his LFA debut. He’d last fought in April 2017 but he used that time off to start his own MMA gym designed to be a space for young Brazilians with special needs, including his own autistic son. Hard to think of a much better reason for a layoff, and in his return he showed exactly why Antonio Nogueira said that he’d been trying to convince the UFC to sign him. In Big Nog’s own words, “there’s something different about this guy, man, his strength is special,” and after watching him I couldn’t agree more. He put on a performance that would have made any Dagestani proud, taking Carlos Augusto da Silva (19-2, tier 8.5) down with ease, using his strength to pin his opponent’s limbs while progressing into mount and then delivering truly brutal ground and pound. I thought he’d get the finish at least three or four separate times but da Silva was super-humanly tough and somehow survived to lose one of the most lopsided decisions in recent memory, as the judges scored in 30-26, 30-25, and an incredible 30-24. The performance was eye-opening, and doing it against a highly touted prospect on a 17-fight win streak is even crazier. I’d be shocked if his next fight isn’t for a major promotion or the LFA belt after the performance he put on in this one.
Luan Matheus, bantamweight. Improves to 12-6-1
New ranking: .5, #313 prospect
Matheus has fought for Shooto Brazil in addition to a mix of smaller promotions and won their flyweight belt in 2017 before losing it in his first defense. He rebounded with two wins and a draw in 2019-2020 then had four straight fights fall through as Brazil struggled to hold events during the pandemic. He returned this week after 17 months off to fight in the first Refit Pro Fighters event and scored a 30-second knockout over an unranked 13-5 opponent. This demolition job combined with the tough competition that he’s faced for much of his career combine to make Matheus a decent prospect, even if his record makes me doubt he’ll ever hit the highest levels.
Kunihisa Sasa, bantamweight. Improves to 7-1
New ranking: .5, #285 prospect
After starting his pro career 4-0 with Shooto, Sasa suffered his first loss in 2018 then came back 20 months later with DEEP. He’s now won three straight for them, and this week he took advantage of his first main event spot by knocking out 27-15-3 Seiji Akao in the first round. Beating a regional veteran so convincingly is enough to earn him a ranking, though at 31 he’ll have to stay active if he wants to make the most of his physical prime.
Nurbolot Askarbek Uulu, bantamweight. Improves to 8-1
New ranking: .5, #284 prospect
Askarbek Uulu took on 7-2 Altynbek Magaz in the main event of Octagon 21 in a battle of two can-crushing Central Asians with great records. Askarbek started his career with WEF in Kyrgyzstan, getting six finishes in his seven wins and only losing to an injury that forced him to withdraw between rounds, before jumping to the larger Kazakhstani promotion this week. He took top control early in the first round, working his way into progressively more dominant positions while dropping short bursts of hard strikes, then eventually pulled off a submission that I’ve never seen before. The best I can describe it as is an inverted kneebar, as both fighters were on their backs with their heads pointed the same direction when Askarbek reached down for one of Magaz’s legs and locked it straight over both of their bodies. I’m sure the video will be featured on highlight reels across the sport this week, and I’ll wait for someone more versed in jiu-jitsu to explain the intricacies of how that position worked. (I’ve since been informed that this submission is the rarely seen Suloev Stretch.) It was an impressive finish and great all-around performance by Askarbek in his toughest test to date.
Anzor Abzhamov, bantamweight. Improves to 4-0
New ranking: .5, #269 prospect
Abzhamov kicked off AMC 103 with a short-notice 141-pound catchweight bout against a 2-2 opponent. He landed a couple sharp early leg kicks but got lazy on the third, which allowed his opponent to take him down. However, he showed very active hips and flexible legs to quickly secure his guard then lock up a triangle choke. He added an armbar in for good measure and got a tap in just a couple seconds, as both submission threats were in tight. He started his career with two wins in Asia in 2018, then was away for a couple years before going home to Russia and winning two straight now with AMC.
Inor Valladares, flyweight. Improves to 7-3
New ranking: .5, #138 prospect
Vallardes is a 22-year-old Peruvian who’s been fighting professionally since age 18, and while he’s picked up some losses along the way he’s starting to come into better form as he matures. His last fight before this week was a decision win over a 3-1 opponent in March 2020, then he returned from 16 months off to win an upset over the better-known John Jairo Quiñones (7-2, tier 2). His age and recent success make him someone to keep tabs on as he continues to develop.
Marciano Ferreira, flyweight. Improves to 6-1
New ranking: 1 #110 prospect
Ferreira started his career 4-0 but lost his first major test against a 3-0 opponent for Future FC. He’s bounced back very well with two straight submission wins, one against a 5-1 opponent in February 2020 and another over a 9-2 unranked opponent this week. He got three KO/TKOs and a decision in his first four wins, so adding the submission threat to his repertoire sets him up for success going forward. He’s in his prime at 28 and will hopefully be able to fight more frequently as the Brazilian regional scene slowly returns to normal.
Prospects leaving my rankings
Luid Lima, heavyweight. Falls to 6-3
Previous ranking: 4.5, #49 prospect
Lima lost a split decision to a 6-5 veteran grappler, and while I could write off his last loss to top prospect Kevin Szaflarski, this one is pretty inexcusable. It was a close fight, but that’s not what you want to hear when he should have been dominant in a fight that was definitely intended as a rebound to add another knock out to his highlight reel.
Marco Pirata, middleweight. Falls to 16-7
Previous ranking: .5, #220 prospect
Pirata has racked up a lot of wins against inferior opposition in Brazil with power-punching and good jiu-jitsu but he’s struggled against higher-level competition. That continued this week, as he made his debut for ACA and got knocked unconscious in brutal fashion, ending up stiff-limbed and propped against the cage after a 1-2 combo of hooks from Husein Kushagov. At this stage in his career, he seems unlikely to ever make waves outside of small shows in Brazil.
João Vitor Dantas, middleweight. Falls to 4-1
Previous ranking: .5, #206 prospect
Dantas is a muscular sumo wrestler (an unusual background for anyone outside of Japanese heavyweights) who got a shot with LFA after not fighting for almost two years. He got pieced up by a beautiful combination from an underdog opponent and lost his undefeated record and spot in the rankings in the process. As a muscular 25-year-old with powerful wrestling, he certainly has the tools to make a re-appearance, but he’ll have to prove he’s got a decent chin first.
Yakub Kadiev, middleweight. Falls to 4-2
Previous ranking: 1, #166 prospect
Kadiev started his career with four knockout wins, three of them for ACB/ACA Young Eagles, and his lone loss came against Magomedrasul Gasanov, who is currently my #93 middleweight in the world. That was enough to earn him a spot in the rankings, but he got absolutely manhandled this week by 4-0 Sharaputdin Magomedov in his debut for AMC and got finished with repeated knees to the liver halfway through the first round in a finish that looked incredibly painful. He demolishes weaker competition but has now lost to the two best opponent’s he’s faced, so he’s gone from the rankings until he proves capable of beating better competition.
Dhouglas Ribeiro, middleweight. Falls to 10-5
Previous ranking: 1, #143 prospect
Ribeiro had a signature win over a 12-0 opponent in October 2020, but that impressive record was entirely made up of sub-par opponents and the rest of RIbeiro’s wins have been against nobodies. He’s usually lost when faced with good opposition and that held true this week as he lost a decision to 10-3 but unranked Alessandro Gambulino. He looks like a product of weak opponents and is therefore off the rankings, but he’s still 26, has a good record, and has a long career ahead of him.
Azizkhan Chorshanbiev, featherweight/flyweight. Falls to 6-1
Previous ranking: .5, #345 prospect
After taking four of his first six fights at bantamweight and two at featherweight, including his AMC debut in December 2020, Chorshanbiev was shockingly chosen to compete for the AMC Flyweight Championship. I was surprised he was given this opportunity firstly because I didn’t think he could cut weight that low and secondly because he’d fought five debuting opponents and a 1-1 fighter in his last fight for AMC. While he finished all of those fights, there are lots of young undefeated can-crushing prospects running around Russia, so the matchmakers either saw something special in Chorshanbiev that I missed or were simply content to give an easy fight to tier 1.5 prospect and interim champion Moris Boleyan. He leaves the list, and just like many other prospects who suffer their first loss, Chorshanbiev will have to record a couple higher-quality wins if he wants to return.
Syymyk Zhanybek Uulu, featherweight. Falls to 7-1
Previous ranking: .5, #324 prospect
I wrote after Zhanybek Uulu’s previous fight that he needed to face some tougher competition, and he did just that by taking on ACB veteran Magomed Sulumov (7-2) in his debut for AMC. He got outclassed across the board and lost an obvious decision, which negates most of the momentum he built from crushing local cans. He’ll have to come back with some wins against better opponents if he hopes to reclaim a spot.
Bruno Tavares, featherweight. Falls to 13-6-1
Previous ranking: 1, #235 prospect
Tavares has now lost three out of his last four, and while all of his opponents have been high-level fighters that’s just not a good enough success rate to stay in the rankings, especially since he was finished in the two losses before this week. He lost a decision for SFT this week against tier .5 veteran Thiago Silva, but he could definitely make a reappearance if he can start turning some of those high-level contests into wins.
Humberto Rangel Jr., bantamweight. Falls to 9-4
Previous ranking: .5, #252 prospect
After losing a decision in his only fight in 2020, Rangel returned this week and lost another decision, this time to a 9-7 opponent. A loss that bad is enough to remove him from the rankings all by itself, and at 35 I doubt we’ll be seeing him back in the future.