After an absolutely huge week of prospects despite the UFC’s absence, the big show returned this Saturday with a huge first round finish from Bigi Boi (Jairzinho Rosenstruik). This week’s list of prospects may not be as extensive as last week’s due to fewer regional promotions putting on shows, especially in Russia, but there are still plenty of talented fighters for us to track as they continue their quests to reach to top of the sport.
There were also several talented fighters fighting for small promotions who have been on a bigger stage in the past: Spike Carlyle continues to rebuild his record after going 1-2 in the UFC and veteran Bellator grappler James “Mooka” Barnes chalked up another solid submission win, both at a small show put on by Oscar De la Hoya’s Golden Boy promotion, Mariusz Pudzianowski got another knockout win to continue his reign as the godfather of Polish MMA, Darko Stošić got a first-round knockout over Polish veteran Michal Kita and continues to look great at heavyweight, and Roman Bogatov continues to obliterate prospects in Brave CF after getting cut from the UFC for delivering 3 blatantly illegal blows in his losing debut.
First time reading the column? You can catch a quick explanation of the ranking system here
Ivan Erslan: Improves to 10-1
Old rating: 10, #99 overall
New rating: 15, #88 overall
After losing his shot at the KSW Light Heavyweight Championship in November, Erslan rebounded well this week by scoring a first round knockout of musclebound veteran Przemysław Mysiala, who at one point competed at heavyweight for “The Ultimate Fighter.” With only one loss on his record at age 29 and an excellent build for the division, Erslan seems like someone who could easily be UFC caliber if he can put together a few more wins in a row and work to close the gap between his excellent striking and more shaky grappling skills.
Dhouglas Ribeiro: Improves to 10-4
Old rating: 1, #210 WW prospect
New rating: 1, #147 MW prospect
After launching himself into the rankings with a win over 12-0 Chute Box prospect Lucas Marques, Ribeiro took a record-boosting fight this week and knocked out a debuting fighter in less than a minute. The most notable thing about the fight was his move to middleweight, though I’m not sure if he’s tall enough to fight in that division long-term. Hopefully he takes a more challenging fight next.
Rinat Sagyntay: Falls to 9-1
Old rating: .5, #302 prospect
New rating: .5, #318 prospect
I didn’t rank Sagyntay very highly despite his undefeated record because the nine opponents he beat had a combined record of 6-4, showing that they’re both very inexperienced and not that great in general. However, he managed to leverage his resume into a main event spot for his Brave CF debut against fellow undefeated prospect Denis Maher. After a brief feeling-out process, he got dropped by a devastating uppercut that ended the fight and showed that his chin is not a great strength. Since he’s still only 25, this first loss to a talented opponent is not enough to remove Sagyntay from the rankings but he is now essentially at the bottom of the list and has a long way to climb back.
Han Seul Kim: Improves to 11-4
Old rating: .5, #273 prospect
New rating: .5, #292 prospect
Kim had a six-fight win streak, including a first round TKO of Frank Camacho, until he lost a split decision in November 2020. I guess his management decided he needed a rebound fight as he was booked against a 1-3 opponent who he beat in a boring decision that was so uninspiring I’ve actually moved him down a few spots within the .5 tier.
Quemuel Ottoni: Improves to 9-3
Old rating: 1, #226 prospect
New rating: 1, #222 prospect
Ottoni is someone I was watching after some solid victories in higher-level Brazilian promotions and a rare overseas win in ACB Young Eagles in 2018. While he was victorious again this week, his opponent was 4-4 against bad competition. Ottoni did what he was supposed to do by scoring a second-minute body kick TKO, but that’s not the sort of win that will help you much in the rankings.
Denis Maher: Improves to 8-0
Old rating: 1, #155 MW prospect
New rating: 2.5, #138 WW prospect
After going 7-0 as a middleweight on the Belarus regional scene, Maher dropped to 175 pounds for a catchweight debut at Brave CF. He took out 9-0 Rinat Sagyntay with a left uppercut that landed directly to the jaw halfway through the first round, then followed up with a couple hammerfists that probably weren’t needed as Sagyntay was already crumpled in a heap. He looked strong and aggressive but not out of control, and he’s already a cult hero in his home country, so he’s definitely a name to keep an eye on.
Denis Veselov: Improves to 5-0
Old rating: 1.5, #193 prospect
New rating: 1.5, #188 prospect
Veselov made a big impression on me with a vicious knock by knee at Zaruba Fight Night 2 in Ukraine, which combined with his undefeated record was enough to earn him a ranking. This week, he scored a second round TKO at ZFN 3 against a debuting opponent who seemed young and not fully prepared for this level of competition. It certainly doesn’t hurt Veselov any to rack up another finish when he’s so early in his career, but facing an opponent of this caliber does little to improve his ranking.
Eduardo Ramon: Improves to 17-6
Old rating: 3, #80 MW prospect
New rating: 4, #102 WW prospect
Ramon was a very solid prospect at middleweight, though he’d dropped two of three against good opponents coming into this fight. Moving down a weight class should help him stay in range better, since he was definitely a short middleweight at 5’11. In his nine wins where the method of victory is shown, he has six different types of submissions, which is a great indicator of a very creative and experienced grappler. His opponent was a young 4-2 fighter, so definitely not his toughest challenge but a decent bounce-back from his loss at the end of 2020.
Adrian Zeitner: Improves to 10-2
Old rating: 5.5, #70 prospect
New rating: 5.5, #70 prospect
Zeitner picked up another submission win this week, using a slick triangle to finish his 3-4 opponent in the first round. That adds to his impressive submission resume, as he now has five rear naked chokes, four triangle chokes, and one win via ground and pound against generally good competition. This week’s opponent was the weakest he’s faced in years, so he doesn’t get a boost for demonstrating skills he’s already shown.
Preston Parsons: Improves to 9-2
Old rating: 6, #49 prospect
New rating: 7.5, #21 prospect
Parsons continues to rack up the wins for small Florida promotion Combat Night Pro, with all nine of his career victories coming by some form of submission. He loves the armbar and it made an appearance this week to tap out longtime regional gatekeeper Jeff Peterson (10-7). The competition he’s faced has been inconsistent, with a few cans among some generally strong opponents, but I’m very high on Parsons, especially since he’s only 25. He’s fought for Titan FC in the past, and if they don’t want to re-sign him he should be on speed-dial for LFA or maybe a shot on the Bellator prelims. Even if his striking isn’t very polished yet, anyone with his submission skills on the ground will always be a threat to pull a win out of nowhere.
Tomasz Romanowski: Falls to 13-8
Old rating: 6.5, #42 prospect
New rating: 4.5, #88 prospect
After struggling to a 5-7 record to start his career, Romanowski turned it around in 2017 and won seven straight before getting signed to KSW and winning his debut. His second fight for the organization was against Patrik Kincl, and he was clearly a step behind in striking both offensively and defensively. Six of the eight wins in his streak came through decisions, and when he wasn’t able to dominate and control Kincl it became clear that he didn’t have the skills he would need to get the finish. At 32 with a record that looks mediocre on paper, Romanowski can’t afford many more performances like this if he wants to make it big.
Vadim Kutsy: Improves to 16-1
Old rating: 8.5, #10 prospect
New rating: 8.5, #8 prospect
Kutsy has struggled to find a promotional home, as he has bounced between 12 organizations in his 17 pro fights. With his Brave debut, he has certainly reached a higher level of competition than ever before, but unfortunately that was not the case in this fight as he fought a prospect in tier .5 who was dropping down from middleweight. Kutsy won a decision but also didn’t show me anything special against someone who he is clearly better than. I would have liked to see a finish, though no one can accuse him of being a grinder as he has a number of both TKOs and subs over his career.
Patrik Kincl: Improves to 24-9
Old rating: 10, unknown MW overall
New rating: 10, #186 WW overall
It’s amazing that it has taken so long for Kincl to get to a major promotion. After having some success with ACB between 2015 and 2017, he went back to the European scene and resurfaced with KSW in December 2020. He’s now won two straight, by first and second round TKO, and at 31 he is in the middle of his prime. He’s obviously very experienced, and it shows in his calm demeanor in the ring and the precision with which he throws his strikes and transitions his attacks. He’s probably not an explosive enough athlete to ever make waves in the top 50 welterweights, but I could see him edging towards the top 100 if he can stay hot.
Everton Costa: Goes to 6-0-1
Old rating: .5, #343 prospect
New rating: .5, #343 prospect
Costa is one of the more mysterious prospects on the list, and I mean that literally as I cannot even find a decent picture of him or figure out his age online. He was ranked after going 6-0, but most of his opponents have no information about them at all so his competition is very sketchy. I already had him second to last on my list because of this, and getting a draw against a 9-12 nobody on the Brazilian scene is honestly a pretty terrible result. If he wants to have any chance of making a name for himself in MMA, that should be an easy win. I won’t remove him because he’s technically still undefeated, but he’s on incredibly thin ice.
Dario Sinagoga: Improves to 5-0
Old rating: 1, #257 prospect
New rating: 2.5, #165 prospect
Sinagoga had an absolute thriller of a fight against fellow 4-0 prospect Zackery Powell at BFL 67 in Canada. Both fighters were explosive, especially on the ground where they didn’t seem capable of staying in one position. They both looked like quality young fighters in this one, with a few rough edges to smooth out in both cases but more so for Powell, who didn’t have his defense at the same level as Sinagoga. I agree with the decision going Sinagoga’s way, and while I often disagree with at least one judge in a split decision I really can’t fault the one who gave it to Powell too much, it was just that competitive a fight. I’m looking forward to seeing what they both do next, which in Sinagoga’s case could either be a title shot or a move to somewhere like LFA in the US.
Zackery Powell: Falls to 4-1
Old rating: 1, #224 prospect
New rating: 1, #243 prospect
As I wrote above, Powell had a very exciting clash against Dario Sinagoga, and while he ended up losing I am barely dropping him in the rankings because they both impressed me.
Paulo “Laia” Henrique: Falls to 9-4
Old rating: 1.5, #195 prospect
New rating: 1, #228 prospect
Henrique was on a three-fight win streak and was competing for the Arena Global 165-pound title with an obscure 5-0 youngster when he decided to drop an illegal elbow within the first minute of the first round, earning himself a disqualification and handing the title to his opponent. I have to dock him somewhat for such a stupid choice, but this loss clearly had nothing to do with a lack of physical ability.
Nathan Williams: Falls to 12-7
Old rating: 3, #147 prospect
New rating: .5, #316 prospect
After a three fight winning streak, I thought this might finally be Williams’ chance to break through to the next level that he’s been close to but never reached so far. I was particularly impressed with his win over Tyson Duckworth at the start of the year, but after Duckworth lost again this week and left the rankings I’m realizing I likely overrated both of them. Williams suffered a second-round knockout to a 4-2 Bosnian while fighting for a regional title, and there’s always the chance that his opponent is going to turn out to be a stud, so I’ll keep him ranked for the moment and see how his form goes.
Sam Patterson: Improves to 7-1-1
Old rating: 5, #89 prospect
New rating: 8.5, #12 prospect
Patterson has been with Brave CF almost since the organization’s beginning and has really started to develop into a hot prospect in the last couple years. At 25 years old, he’s finally finished filling out with muscle and can match the strength of his more veteran opponents, which he demonstrated in his decision win over Ylies Djiroun at Brave CF 51. He seems equally comfortable striking or grappling and likes to threaten a guillotine when his opponent changes levels, and after losing his second pro fight he is now on a seven-fight undefeated streak worthy of his nickname “The Future.” I’m not sure just how high Patterson’s ceiling is, but I’m excited to find out.
Donovan Desmae: Falls to 14-7
Old rating: 5, #88 prospect
New rating: 3.5, #125 prospect
After losing a surprisingly close challenge for the Cage Warriors belt in March against rising star Agy Sardari, Desmae decided to jump ship with KSW. Unfortunately for him, he got matched against one of the top prospects in the organization and lost a second straight decision. This one wasn’t quite as close as the split decision against Sardari, but he still won a round on my card and looked just marginally worse than Szymański, which isn’t a terrible place to be. He takes a small tumble just because he’s lost two straight, but he could easily rebound quickly if he can turn a close loss into a win his next time out.
Terrance McKinney: Improves to 10-3
Old rating: 7.5, #63 prospect
New rating: 15, #134 overall
McKinney got his third straight KO/TKO in the main event of LFA 109 and continues to live up to the nickname “T Wrecks”. This win against a 12-3 fighter with an inflated record took him 72 seconds, which seems fast until you realize his previous two fights were won in 17 and 16 seconds each. All three fights have happened in the last three months, as he continues to win without sustaining injuries after taking 17 months off during the pandemic. I expect his next fight to either be for the LFA lightweight title or potentially as a short notice fighter in the UFC. Dana White loves finishers and McKinney has proved he is exactly that. It doesn’t hurt that Sean Woodson, who defeated him in the “Contender Series” in 2019, won again this Saturday and is looking like a solid addition to the featherweight ranks.
Ylies Djiroun: Falls to 18-7
Old rating: 8, #16 prospect
New rating: 6.5, #53 prospect
Djiroun’s name might be familiar, as he went 0-2 for PFL in 2019. He couldn’t get a fight booked in 2020 but has resurfaced with Brave in 2021, picking up a quality submission in March before dropping a decision to the much less experienced Sam Patterson this week. I’m not dropping Djiroun too far because he’s proved himself a quality fighter across his career and I think Patterson could be a rising star, so this most recent loss is not too shameful.
Roman Szymański: Improves to 16-4
Old rating: 9, #5 prospect
New rating: 15, #139 overall
After losing a shot at the vacant KSW Lightweight Championship in November, Szymański faced Donovan Desmae at KSW 61. He won a clear 29-28 decision, with the rounds that he won involving a lot of top control on the ground and against the fence. He landed some good shots but never really threatened the finish. However, even if this style isn’t the most exciting, he made it look very effective with how clean his technique is and his ability to anticipate his opponent’s next move. He’s only 28 despite already having 20 pro fights, and he still seems like he’s improving which should be scary for his opponents. If Marian Ziółkowski gets signed to the UFC and vacates the belt, or if someone else can take it from him, I imagine Szymański could earn another title shot with one more good win.
Dôglas Cunha: Improves to 7-2
Old rating: .5, #159 flyweight prospect
New rating: .5, #288 featherweight prospect
After 18 months off following his debut loss for Shooto Brazil, it makes sense that Cunha needed a tune-up fight before getting back into it. He faced a debuting opponent and got a guillotine with seconds left in the first round, which was an expected outcome. What was much less expected was him taking a fight at 145-pounds after fighting at 125-pounds and even 115-pounds and 119-pounds during the earlier parts of his career. Since I couldn’t find footage of the fight, I don’t know whether Cunha has added a bunch of muscle or is just holding on to some pandemic weight that he couldn’t cut for this short-notice contest. He already has another flight booked for August at 135-pounds, so maybe the answer is a combination of physical development and lack of preparation time.
Tarcizio Gomes: Improves to 10-4
Old rating: .5, #299 prospect
New rating: 1, #215 prospect
Gomes is a 23-year-old prospect out of Brazil who loves to finish fights. He’s beaten several fighters with good records on the regional scene, and he also made a trip to Russia in 2019 to beat Sabit Zhusupov, who is currently my #97 bantamweight prospect. His losses also come to decent fighters, and in general his record is more legit than your average Brazilian. He’s in great shape and got a rear naked choke finish this week to show that he has submissions to go with the strikes that finished his last five wins. If he can put a few wins in a row he could rise quickly.
Shem Rock: Improves to 6-0
Old rating: .5, #290 prospect
New rating: .5, #249 prospect
One of my favorite names in the rankings, Shem Rock continued his undefeated streak by winning the Clan Wars featherweight title in Ireland. Five of his pro wins are by submission, including a Python Trap, which is a one arm smothering submission so rare I had to look up a tutorial on it, and he has a ground and pound TKO as well. He’s also 4-0 as an amateur, so everything he’s put on paper so far is very impressive. Unfortunately the competition in Great Britain just isn’t that good and Rock has hardly faced the best. His opponent for the title this weekend came in with a 3-3 record, which is just not quite the same level.
Abdulmutalip Gairbekov: Falls to 15-3-1
Old rating: 6.5, #43 prospect
New rating: 6, #53 prospect
Gairbekov picked up his first loss since 2012, ending a 13-fight unbeaten streak against UFC reject Roman Bogatov, who was kicked out for repeated illegal strikes without any real remorse in his debut. Unfortunately that couldn’t save Gairbekov, who predictably got out-wrestled to an unmemorable decision. I’m not dropping him much because he didn’t really show any major weaknesses in this fight but just confirmed that he’s not at the elite level yet. This was his Brave CF debut and they obviously have high hopes if they’re starting him off with such a tough opponent, so the approach their matchmakers take from here will be intriguing.
Filip Pejić: Falls to 12-4
Old rating: 7, #38 LW prospect
New rating: 6, #59 featherweight prospect
Pejić has now lost three of four but I’m still relatively high on him because those losses came against super-prospect Salahdine Parnasse, Daniel Torres, who beat Parnasse for the 145-pound title, and Roman Szymański, who I wrote about earlier. The one time KSW fed him a weaker opponent (9-5 record), Pejić got a knockout in 12 seconds, so he is clearly still a cut above your average fighter. I would like to see him get a break from fighting KSW’s elite at 145/155 and act as a gatekeeper for one of their many rising prospects.
Kamuela Kirk: Improves to 12-4
Old rating: 8, #20 prospect
New rating: 45, #49 overall
What a month it’s been for Kirk, who entered the year in just tier 1.5 of my rankings. While this was probably a little low, it was reflective of a fighter who was coming off a rough patch that included a loss in the “Contender Series.” I thought he would easily get submitted by Daniel Swain when they fought in the LFA main event, and even after he made Swain retire before the third round I thought he had zero chance in his short notice fight against Makwan Amirkhani. Getting a fighter I had ranked in the top-30 worldwide is a brutal UFC debut, but somehow Kirk looked right at home. This was not a fluke win, as Kirk controlled the fight on the way to a decision and showed no fear challenging Amirkhani’s strong ground game. With what looks like a promising UFC career ahead of him, I wish Kirk luck and consider him too successful to be written up as a prospect anymore.
Salahdine Parnasse: Improves to 15-1-1
Old rating: 20, #124 overall
New rating: 25, #113 overall
Parnasse had an avalanche of hype behind him going into 2021, but that got sidetracked when Daniel Torres knocked him out with a freaky forearm strike and took his featherweight belt. He got back to his old ways with a win against prospect Filip Pejić in a fight that he mostly dominated, especially in the second round where he spent a while on Pejić’s back searching for the rear naked choke before finally sinking it in with less than a minute left. He’s no longer perfect, but he still looks incredibly talented. I’d be surprised if he made it to 2022 without getting a call from the UFC.
Bakhtovar Yunusov: Improves to 5-0
Old rating: .5, #316 prospect
New rating: 1.5, #168 prospect
After going 4-0 in just eight months (June 2020 to March 2021) for decent Russian promotion MMA Series, Brave CF snapped up Yunusov and immediately tested him against fellow 4-0 youngster Artem Lukyanov. They had an awesome fight both standing and grappling, with lots of rapid position changes and threats from both sides. Yunusov landed a shot in the second round that staggered his opponent and was the beginning of the end, though it took him a little bit of time to chase Lukyanov around the ring and get the stoppage. He’s only 22 and has an incredible ceiling, and I’ll definitely be watching his next fight for Brave closely.
Vladislav Novitskiy: Falls to 9-4
Old rating: .5, #263 prospect
New rating: .5, #287 prospect
Novitskiy lost a split decision that I thought he won, as in my eyes he clearly outstruck his opponent two of the three rounds despite losing out in the clinch game and eating a few short punches from there. He was coming off a good win against a hot prospect to win the Belarus FC 145-pound belt, and this fight could have been a great debut for Brave CF if the judges went his way. He clearly needs to spend more time training his wrestling and cage work to complement a diverse and accurate striking arsenal that hints at a Muay Thai background.
Justin Wetzell: Improves to 7-1
Old rating: 3.5, #98 prospect
New rating: 10, #146 overall
Wetzell made a meteoric rise this week by getting a TKO over Askar Askar in the second round of the LFA 109 main event. I thought he was going to be majorly outclassed in this fight, as you can see from the huge gap between them in my pre-fight rankings, but I came away impressed with every aspect of Wetzell’s game. He has good striking and knows how to mix in power shots with quick straight punches, and he showed absolutely no fear in taking the fight to the ground against a very talented grappler. He spent a lot of the fight delivering ground and pound that seemed to exhaust Askar and break his spirit until the ref mercifully stepped in midway through the third. This was a huge step up in competition for only his third fight in the LFA, and I foresee a main event in the near future.
Aydemir Kazbekov: Falls to 7-1
Old rating: 6.5, #38 prospect
New rating: 3.5, #94 prospect
Coming into his Brave CF debut, Kazbekov had all the markings of the next successful Dagestani fighter; Undefeated record? Check. Gameplan of positional grappling with opportunistic subs/ground and pound? Check. Name ends in -ov? Check. Cropped hair and large beard? Check. He was incredibly busy even during the pandemic, putting up a crazy five wins in 2020 and another earlier this year against good competition in Russia and Belarus. However, he suffered a huge upset against Abdul Karim Badakhshi, a totally unknown 4-0 prospect out of Afghanistan. He got caught in a lightning-quick triangle and tried to roll out of it, but his opponent stuck with it through the whole 360 degrees and Kazbekov eventually went to sleep rather than tap out. One careless loss is far from enough to halt his rise, but it definitely showed me that his jiu-jitsu isn’t as impeccable as it’s looked in the past.
Steve Erceg: Improves to 7-1
Old rating: 10, #86 overall flyweight
New rating: 10, #156 overall bantamweight
Erceg continues to flip-flop between weight classes, as he now has three fights at bantamweight and five at flyweight in his pro career. If the UFC were to come calling, I think 125-pounds is his long-term home but for now I will rank him in the class in which he most recently fought. His last fight was 15 months ago when he won Eternal MMA’s flyweight title and it seems like it’s been difficult for him to find challenging opponents, as his opponent this week was thought to have a lot of potential but was still only 2-0 in his career and obviously not ready for that big a step up yet. I hope he either gets signed by ONE Championship, since they always need more quality depth and have shown to be open to Australians, or Brave CF, since they do an excellent job of scouting foreign talent. There’s a lot to like about Erceg’s game, especially his grappling and speed on the ground, but until he gets tougher fights it will be difficult to climb the rankings.
Askar Askar: Falls to 11-2
Old rating: 25, #101 overall
New rating: 10, #157 overall
Askar was someone I was very high on, especially after he nearly fought for the UFC earlier this year. He doesn’t have dynamite power but his hands are very quick and his striking is intelligent, and he has great agility and twitch in his movement on the feet. He’s definitely most dangerous when he gets to the mat, either through submissions or ground and pound. He comes crashing down the rankings after running into Justin Wetzell, who smothered him with wrestling and relentless ground strikes that Askar seemingly had no answer to. I still think Askar is very talented, he just had the bad luck of running into someone who is rising quickly right now. I do question his strength, as he’s very tall but incredibly skinny as a result and I worry that other wrestlers may have now found a blueprint to beating him.
Badmatsyren Dorzhiev: Improves to 6-0
Old rating: 4.5, #46 prospect
New rating: 5.5, #35 prospect
After starting his career 4-0 in Belarus, Dorzhiev has picked up wins for AMC Fight Night and Brave CF in 2021 and has looked very good in both fights. This most recent one for Brave CF was diminished slightly because he was a -450 favorite against a sub-par Kyrgyzstani with an inflated record, but he continued to show creative takedowns, especially his trips, and very flexible and fast-paced grappling once he hit the ground. He’s still young and a little rough around the edges, but the talent jumps off the screen when Dorzhiev is in the cage so he’s definitely one for the future at 125-pounds.
Prospects joining the rankings
Caio Machado, heavyweight. Improves to 5-1-1
New rating: 1.5, #104 prospect
You have to be pretty confident to nickname yourself “Bigfoot” as a Brazilian heavyweight, but Machado justified that confidence with a comfortable first round victory over Chris Larsen in a clash of two of the top heavyweights in Canada. He’s a smaller heavyweight but is in good shape and seems comfortable on the ground for a big man, and his striking has technique in addition to raw power. His only loss comes to Dustin Joynson, who was signed by ONE Championship at the end of 2020. At only 26, Machado could have another decade until he hits his peak in the division, which is definitely an exciting thought given what he’s shown so far.
Vadim Rolich, light heavyweight. Improves to 3-1
New rating: .5, #118 prospect
Rolich is a former top-level Wushu Sanda competitor in Russia and his native Belarus, and you can see the influence of that experience in the wide variety of kicks he throws; hook kicks, axe kicks, push kicks, question mark kicks, and other kicks that I’m not even sure what to call. He doesn’t just throw flashy stuff and mixes in good work to the body and legs with kicks and to the head with punches. His opponent in this fight was a chunky Tajikistani who essentially acted as a training dummy, so it was the perfect situation to show everything he has in his Brave CF debut. The light heavyweight division is desperate for talent right now, so Rolich joins the rankings even though he’s very early in his career.
Joelson Pantoja, lightweight. Improves to 6-0
New rating: .5, #408 prospect
Pantoja ingloriously joins the rankings by taking a brutal (but illegal) elbow to the face and moving to 6-0 by forfeit. His prior fight was a split decision against a 9-10 journeyman, so I can’t say I have huge expectations for him. He is only 23 and is in incredible shape, but that’s all I’ve seen so far.
Joshua Weems, featherweight. Improves to 8-1
New rating: 1, #217 prospect
I had avoided ranking Weems despite his strong record and variety of submission wins because the opponents he’d faced had for the most part been very poor, but that changed this weekend when he took out Tyson Duckworth with a third round kimura. Duckworth was someone I had ranked and is himself known as a submission specialist, so that’s a very convincing way for Weems to introduce himself.
Yanis Ghemmouri, bantamweight. Improves to 10-1
New rating: 1, #227 prospect
Ghemmouri is a tough prospect for me to rank. He’s got a great record and is coming off the two biggest wins of his career by far. However, they were both split decisions and I personally thought he lost both of them. They were obviously close fights, but I thought that Vladislav Novitskiy clearly out-struck him in the first and third round, even though Ghemmouri had a minute or two of control time in each round. He just doesn’t do a lot with the positions he gets, and while he’s good at maintaining them he’s nowhere near as strong at advancing positions or threatening submissions. I think if judges were properly accounting for how heavily damage should be weighted, he could easily be 8-3 right now, so I’ll stick with a relatively low ranking.
Abdul Karim Badakhshi, bantamweight. Improves to 5-0
New rating: 4.5, #78 prospect
Major hat tip to the ever-creative scouts at Brave CF for somehow unearthing Badakhshi. After getting three wins in 2018, he didn’t fight again until a TKO against a debuting opponent at a regional Afgani promotion in April 2021. Brave CF may have planned on him losing his debut for them, as they matched him against rising Dagestani Aydemir Kazbekov and he faced +400 odds. However, he pulled off the triangle from guard and showed great flexibility and subtle adjustments to maintain and even tighten the choke as his opponent fought hard to free himself. I’m definitely intrigued, and his next fight should show us whether this was a fluke or if Badakhshi is a real hot prospect.
Fighters leaving the rankings
Chris Larsen, heavyweight. Falls to 5-2
Old rating: 2, #90 prospect
Larsen leaves the rankings after a TKO defeat two minutes into his shot at the Battlefield Fight League Heavyweight Championship. He is a true heavyweight who cuts to 265-pounds and was ranked based off a couple consecutive victories over veterans, but he didn’t look all that impressive in this fight. There are so few good heavyweight prospects that I’m tempted to keep him in tier .5, but I’d rather wait and see if he’s able to rebuild with more wins before I rank him again.
Daniyar Abdibaev, middleweight. Falls to 8-3
Old rating: .5, #193 prospect
After starting his career 7-0, Abdibaev is now 1-3 in his last four fights, with the losses against the best opponents of his career and the win against an 0-0 fighter in an attempt to bolster his sagging record. This was the first opportunity I’ve had to watch him and I wasn’t particularly impressed by anything he showed.
Darrius Flowers, middleweight. Falls to 8-5-1
Old rating: 2.5, #90 prospect
I have no idea why I was so high on Flowers. He had a few wins in LFA/KOTC against fighters with decent records, but none of them turned out to be top competitors and he’s mixed in losses against some pretty bad fighters as well. After he got choked out in the main event of DCS 71 this Friday, I’m going to say goodbye to Flowers for the foreseeable future unless he has a dramatic improvement down the line.
Kyran Cameron, welterweight. Falls to 5-1
Old rating: 1.5, #190 prospect
After starting his career 5-0 with creative submissions like a heel hook and a brabo choke in his last two fights, there was a decent bit of steam building behind young Kyran Cameron. Unfortunately he flunked his biggest test so far by getting punched out in the first round of his shot at the BFL welterweight title by a 36-year-old veteran with a 12-7-2 record. He’s young enough and has enough grappling and athletic talent that he could still easily become a great fighter, but this week showed he’s not quite there yet.
Nick Gehrts, lightweight. Falls to 10-4
Old rating: 1, #200 WW prospect
I had rated Gehrts despite most of his wins coming against weak opponents because the only loss he’d had since 2015 came against Devonte Smith, who is doing quite well in the UFC. However, a split decision loss to solid veteran Peter Petties makes me think that Gehrts is a ways off making the big time.
Tyson Duckworth, lightweight. Falls to 12-8-1
Old rating: 2, #176 prospect
Duckworth was some I had rated quite highly at the end of 2020 as he was on a five-fight submission-studded win streak that saw him end up the champion of Alaska FC. He’s now lost two straight in 2021 against good-but-not-great competition, which makes it look like his success was likely a product of the weak talent pool in Alaska. As an older fighter with a not-great record, his long-term potential is capped.
Gi Bum Moon, featherweight. Falls to 10-5
Old rating: 1, #180 prospect
I had Moon ranked because he was the longtime featherweight champion for Angel Fighting Championship in Korea and he didn’t look bad in his four-minute cameo for Brave CF before a knee to the groin cut the match short. However, I got to watch him live for the first time when he lost a decision while fighting 10-6 Jun Young Hong for the vacant Double G FC belt and nothing I saw from him indicated that he’s going to make noise internationally. He’s a high-quality fighter for Korea, and could probably do alright in a Japanese promotion like Shooto or Pancrase, but he’s already 31 and doesn’t seem likely to improve dramatically.