Worldwide MMA Prospect Report (7/29-8/4)

Another week has gone by, which means I’m back to keep you updated on all the best prospects who were in action. There’s a definite emphasis on the worldwide in this prospect report, as at least 10 different countries hosted noteworthy events. Nacao Cyborg (Bellator Champion Cris Cyborg’s promotion) brought in a few notable veterans to headline their card this week, and Future MMA also put on a great card. Belarus FC had a card strangely packed with Russian prospects, while Naiza FC continued to highlight some of the best fighters out of Central Asia. 

XMMA held their second event since their reformation and took a page out of the old Bellator playbook by bringing in as many ex-UFC guys as they could possibly find and filling out the rest of the card with regional veterans. They’re also trying to develop a few prospects of their own earlier on their cards but the pickings are slim given how many other regional promotions the US has, though I could easily see them attracting some top talent if they continue to put on high-level shows like this one. 

ONE Championship had a card Friday morning that featured a great knockout by fan-favorite Aung La N Sang and a couple good fights at the lower weight classes. Friday also saw LFA and FAC have cards on UFC Fight Pass, while Saturday was highlighted by the huge showdown between A.J. McKee and Patricio Pitbull as for once Bellator managed to overshadow the UFC. Sunday featured two events in unusual locations, as Brave CF went to Italy for the first time and Cage Warriors had a show in California, while Combate put on a one-night tournament of European lightweights in another departure from typical home turf. Eagle FC also had an international card, as they went to Kyrgyzstan on Tuesday to uncover some local talent.

This week’s prospect report also includes write-ups of fighters who participated in Oktagon, Serbian Battle Championship, or German promotions NFC and GMC last week but didn’t have their fights reported until this week. 

XMMA brought in so many veterans this week that they deserve their own section for honorable mentions: Ben Saunders won a decision over fellow UFC vet Ramsey Nijem, Chris Curtis won an easy decision against UFC alum Kenny Robertson, Kyle Bochniak won his second fight for the promotion by beating UFC vet Marcus Brimage (who was up a weight class and coming off a five-year layover), Cody Gibson picked up a 44-second KO but went 1-3 in the UFC from 2014 to 2015, and finally, Will Brooks beat Steven Siler, a very washed-up PFL and UFC stalwart. 

Other honorable mentions: UFC and Glory kickboxing alum Guto Inocente got an easy first round knockout at Nacao Cyborg 9, “The Ultimate Fighter Brazil” season 2 winner William Macário got a second round knockout over a 3-0 prospect to win the NC Welterweight Championship, Stefan Sekulić returned to SBC with a win in the main event after an unsuccessful 0-2 stint with the UFC, Kyle Stewart won the main event in his Cage Warriors debut and is now 3-1 since his UFC release, Joseph Morales won the Cage Warriors co-main in his first fight since being cut as part of the 2018 flyweight purge, Zak Ottow beat another veteran in the main event of North Iowa Fights, which is quite a step down from his 4-4 UFC run.

First time reading the column? You can catch a quick explanation of the ranking system here

Heavyweight

Dylan Potter: Improves to 10-5
Old ranking: 1, #104 LHW prospect
New ranking: 1, #107 HW prospect

Potter has been building a quality record in various regional promotions in Washington and Oregon for quite a while, and in November he got his biggest opportunity yet with LFA in a 205-pound fight against Myron Dennis. He lost a split decision in that one and returned to his comfort zone in multiple ways with a win this week, as he moved back up to heavyweight and returned to Washington with a rear naked choke early in the second round against a 1-2 opponent. This fight serves to make his up-and-down record a little more palatable, as at 26 he’s still young for the heaviest weight classes and still has top-level aspirations. All of his wins come by finishes, but at this stage he’s not going to move up until he beats some good opponents.

Thomas Petersen: Improves to 5-0
Old ranking: 1.5, #93 prospect
New ranking: 10, #132 overall

Petersen is nicknamed “The Train” and it absolutely fits his fighting style and how he’s run through opponents so far in his career. He made his amateur debut in June 2018, got four knockouts and one decision in 13 months, then won his first pro fights in December 2019 and February 2020 by two-minute knockouts. The pandemic derailed the rest of his 2020, and he actually entered this year unranked, but that changed when he got a 20-second knockout in January, my first time seeing him fight. That put him in tier .5, and he moved up a couple more tiers with a 3.5 minute knockout in April, but his opponents to that point had records of 17-23, 3-1, 2-2, and 1-1, so they were hardly world-beaters. He staked his claim as an elite prospect this week by destroying giant veteran Vernon Lewis (8-4, tier 9) in just 62 seconds. They spent a few seconds circling and trading shots, then Petersen landed a crisp right jab that he followed with a thunderbolt of a straight left that sent Lewis crashing to the ground. I thought the fight was over then, but the ref didn’t step in and Petersen was forced to land 4-5 winging right hooks until Lewis collapsed for a second time. Petersen has an excellent pedigree as a college wrestler and has now shown that his power is next-level both on his feet and in some of his previous ground and pound finishes. He’s a lighter heavyweight, in the 230 to 240-pound range, but he’s incredibly agile and has explosive takedowns and combinations that speak to his innate athleticism. It’s not often you see someone go from tier 1.5 all the way up to tier 10, but Petersen looks like he could pose a problem for a whole lot of the slower striking-based heavyweights in top promotions. As an LFA champion he should be in high demand, and I can’t wait to see where he goes next.

Will Dicke: Improves to 16-7
Old ranking: 3, #65 prospect
New ranking: 3, #65 prospect

Dicke has had an interesting career, as he went 13-6  in small shows from 2009 to 2012 as a very active light heavyweight, then picked up one loss in 2014 but otherwise didn’t fight again until 2019. He knocked out a 14-6 opponent at 205-pounds in his return but has moved to heavyweight in his last two fights despite only coming in around 215 pounds. Unfortunately, he was given a 2-4 opponent in his heavyweight debut and took out a 5-12 can with a second round knockout this week, so it’s hard to say how good he actually is at his new weight class. He’s 35, but that matters less if he sticks around in oldest division.

Khusein Adamov: Improves to 10-1
Old ranking: 6, #34 prospect
New ranking: 6, #34 prospect

Adamov picked up his first win of 2021 in his Naiza FC debut with a 90-second knockout of a 1-3 guy from Kazakhstan. They traded strikes briefly and Adamov looked sharper and more controlled there before he dumped his opponent on the floor and tried to cave his skull in with hammerfists from side control. This was an easy win so Adamov doesn’t improve his ranking at all, and there’s very few quality heavyweights in Central Asia so he may struggle for decent competition if he doesn’t return to Russia.

Vernon Lewis: Falls to 8-5
Old ranking: 9, #2 prospect
New ranking: 6.5, #26 prospect

Lewis is the sort of heavyweight prospect who had his high ranking simply because there aren’t that many men on the planet with his combination of size and strength who are willing to throw on the gloves and get in the ring. He’s 6’3” but has to cut down to the 265-pound limit due to the mountains of muscle he carries, and if I had to guess I’d say he probably fights somewhere in the 280-pound range. He actually retired for four years back in 2014 after losing a shot at the Legacy FC title against future UFC fighter Cody East, but he came back rejuvenated in 2018. He won four-straight for LFA, including a decision over current UFC signee Jared Vanderaa, but he also mixed in a loss in a postlim fight for Bellator that killed some of his momentum. He returned this week after 16 months away due to the pandemic and got absolutely demolished in a minute by rising star Thomas Petersen (4-0, tier 1.5) to lose his second chance at a title. Lewis still only drops to tier 6.5 because Peterson had looked very strong previously and confirmed his status as a next-level fighter with this win, while Lewis should still likely overpower the vast majority of heavyweights he’ll run into on the regional scene. However, at 37 and already having retired once in the past, I have to wonder how much longer he’ll stick around after this latest setback. He’s an admired firefighter as his day job, and I absolutely couldn’t blame him if he decided to prioritize that and his family instead of continuing to chase an increasingly unlikely dream.

Light Heavyweight

Zac Pauga : Improves to 4-0
Old ranking: 2, #73 prospect
New ranking: 4.5, #41 prospect

Pauga made his amateur debut in January 2019 and went 5-0, then took his first pro fight about a year ago for LFA. He won three straight for them and established himself as one of the more promising young light heavyweights in the USA. He jumped to Cage Warriors this week and won his third decision as a pro, and I’m honestly surprised he doesn’t have more finishes given how many power shots he throws. He was matched against strong wrestler Terrance Jean-Jacques (5-2, tier 1.5), so his usually strong wrestling was used more in defense this week than you’d normally expect as he tried his best to keep the fight as a striking battle. He got clipped with a couple big shots but never looked seriously hurt, and he showed much better technique with his striking than his opponent. He has a good gas tank for a big guy and set a fast pace which affected his opponent more than him, and overall was pretty impressive in a fight that was definitely the toughest of his career. If he can get a couple more wins, he fits the bill perfectly for “Dana White’s Contender Series” as an undefeated, fast-rising American prospect.

Mohamed Said Maalem: Improves to 12-3
Old ranking: 9, #4 prospect
New ranking: 15, #97 overall

Maalem beat Mohammad Fakhreddine this week for the vacant Brave CF Light Heavyweight Championship, in the process extending his winning streak to three with the promotion and seven fights overall. He’s a super-muscular Swiss/Algerian who used his superior strength to bully the more experienced and technical Fakhreddine, eventually landing a knockdown towards the end of the first round and finishing with vicious ground and pound, though a few of the best strikes were directly to the back of the head. Editors note from 8/25: This fight has since been overturned to a no contest, Said Maalem has been dropped to tier 10, #102 overall. He was already high up my ranking after I saw his impressive first-round TKO back in November 2020, but with this title win he’s more than proven himself worthy of being among the top light heavyweights in the world. Given the global lack of talented big men, I could see him getting signed to somewhere like ONE Championship right now, or he could pick up another win or two and either go directly to the UFC or get a shot on the “Contender Series.” I haven’t seen him work much off his back, or in many defensive positions at all, so there are still some questions there, but when you have his sort of power and can wrestle, you rarely end up in those bad spots in the first place.

Mohammad Fakhreddine: Falls to 14-5
Old ranking: 10, #135 MW overall
New ranking: 10, #116 LHW overall

Fakhreddine is one of the most popular fighters active in the Middle East, as his aggressive style and willingness to take on anyone throughout his storied career always make him exciting to watch. Unfortunately that willingness can also get him into trouble when he takes on opponents who are significantly bigger than he is, as happened this week against Mohamed Said Maalem for the Brave light heavyweight title. Fakhreddine was already the middleweight champion, but like Israel Adesanya in the UFC he wanted to become the champ-champ and got held up by his relative lack of size. He got dropped towards the end of the first and finished with some brutal ground and pound, though there was some controversy as some of the most impactful ground shots looked to hit him directly on the back of his head. Editors note: This fight was overturned to a no contest, Fakhreddine has been moved to 107 overall. This was only exacerbated by the genuine anger and disdain the fighters showed towards each other in the buildup to the fight, all of which stemmed back to an angry interview by Maalem after a previously scheduled matchup got cancelled the night of the event. In either case, I have to move Fakhreddine to his new weight class, but I would hope he returns to middleweight if he decides to continue his career after this loss, as he is now 37.

Middleweight

Artem Zemlyakov: Improves to 4-0
Old ranking: .5, #232 prospect
New ranking: .5, #217 prospect

Zemlyakov debuted just last August, but he beat 3-1 fighters in his second and third fights, with a highlight-reel knockout in the last one. This week, he picked up his third win for Belarus FC with dominant grappling that led to a rear naked choke, but his opponent was merely 0-1. He’s young and athletic, which combined with his finishing ability is a good sign for continued success.

Rustam Chsiev: Improves to 5-2
Old ranking: .5, #179 prospect
New ranking: 3.5, #69 prospect

Chsiev fought at the absolute peak of the grappling scene for years, including several appearances at ADCC, then transitioned to MMA in 2016 at age 30. His most recent loss was in 2018 when he lost his Brave CF debut to current Titan FC champion Bruno Assis, and since then he’s won a decision over Tarek Suleiman (11-7, tier 1) and recorded two straight doctor’s stoppages after just one round each. These aren’t getting stopped because of cuts but because Chisiev lives up to his nickname, “The Russian Bear,” and absolutely savages people with near-unstoppable double-leg takedowns and aggressive ground and pound. He’s 100% in your face at all times and barely seems to notice efforts to stop him, and also doesn’t seem at all concerned about gassing out. Even after pushing the pace for five minutes, he barely looked tired in his corner, and all of this was against a tier 1 opponent who was known for his strength. His age means he’s unlikely to get a shot at the UFC, but he would be a scary matchup for most regional middleweights. I hope he keeps fighting more regularly to maximize the fighting years he has left.

Ilja Stojanov: Improves to 7-0
Old ranking: .5, #178 prospect
New ranking: .5, #175 prospect

Stojanov won a decision at NFC over a 11-6 can-crushing Georgian who was the toughest opponent of his career by record but had lost four of his previous six fights. He continued to grow his undefeated record with this win, but at 33 years old the window for him to start testing himself against other prospects is not very long. Hopefully his record gets him noticed by a larger promotion sometime soon so he can start having some tougher tests.

Enrico Cortese: Falls to 7-3
Old ranking: 1, #97 LHW prospect
New ranking: .5, #228 MW prospect

Cortese is an athletic 23-year-old Italian who beat up on weak competition to start his career. His two losses coming into this week were back when he was just starting out at age 18, so Brave CF signed him and clearly saw him as someone to develop since they gave him 1-0 and 0-0 opponents at a tailor-made 195-pound catchweight for his first two fights. This week he finally dropped all the way to 185-pounds and got demolished by Rustam Chsiev (4-2, tier .5). Cortese got damaged so badly in just the first round that the doctor called it off before the second, but he stays in the rankings because of how talented Chsiev looked in this one. 

John Poppie: Falls to 10-6
Old ranking: 1, #139 prospect
New ranking: .5, #207 prospect

Poppie is a straight ahead brawler who looks to finish the fight quickly but all too often gets finished himself, especially when the fight goes to the ground. He came into this week on a two-fight win streak across 2019 and 2020 after not fighting for two years before that, but he got matched against powerful UFC veteran Zak Ottow at Cage Warriors and got knocked out by a huge right uppercut with a minute left in the first round. He stays in the rankings despite his inconsistent record because most of the guys he loses to are tier-10 caliber or better, but after the number of chances where he’s failed to prove himself as a top-level fighter, his ceiling seems limited.

Imamshafi Aliev: Improves to 6-0
Old ranking: 4, #54 prospect
New ranking: 4.5, #53 prospect

At just 22, Aliev is one of the most anticipated young prospects coming out of the Nurmagomedov school, and that’s saying something considering the level of talent in that area. He debuted for both EFC and UAE Warriors in 2020, then was on the card earlier in 2021 when the two promotions co-hosted an event. He fought for EFC again this week and won a decision over an unranked 6-2-2 Kyrgyzstani. His opponent was throwing haymakers, so he used good footwork and quick counter-striking to stay out of danger and pepper his opponent with shots. He’s always been most comfortable when grappling, and that played out again in this one, as he managed to get the fight to the mat and amass substantial control time in all three rounds. He delivered a few good shots while he was down there, but it wasn’t as impressive as I’ve seen him be in the past as he mostly had to focus on just keeping his strong opponent down. His ranking was already high to represent his potential, so he doesn’t move up much for beating someone outside the rankings, though it’s always good to add someone with a solid record to your resume.

Marcin Naruszczka: Falls to 22-10-2
Old ranking: 6, #38 prospect
New ranking: 3, #77 prospect

I probably moved Naruszczka up too high after his win over Eric Spicely, so after his loss this week to Samuel Krištofič he fell back down the rankings a good distance. The unfortunate reality for 38-year-old fighters is that every loss at this point in their careers represents a serious obstacle to them reaching the top level if they haven’t already done so. While it was a good sign that Oktagon gave him a shot at the interim title in just his second fight with the promotion, he will probably have to find a new home after this loss if he wants another chance at a belt anytime soon.

Samuel Krištofič: Improves to 15-3
Old ranking: 6.5, #30 prospect
New ranking: 7.5, #15 prospect

Krištofič returned about a month after he won a decision over “Contender Series” vet Al Matavao to win another decision, this time over 25 minutes against Polish veteran Marcin Naruszczka (22-9-2, tier 6). He claimed the interim middleweight championship with this win, but he’ll have to take on Karlos Vemola if he wants to unify the belts, and the UFC veteran has been seemingly unbeatable recently. Either way, this was a great win for Krištofič over a very experienced and talented fighter, though I still don’t see enough special characteristics in his fighting style to take him into the highest tiers of prospects. He’ll certainly prove me wrong if he can beat Vemola, and I’ll be eagerly looking forward to that matchup whenever its booked.

Collin Huckbody: Improves to 10-3
Old ranking: 15, #128 overall
New ranking: 15, #126 overall

Huckbody is the first person to ever turn down a contract on “Dana White’s Contender Series” after he got a 90-second submission last August. He said he felt like he needed more time to work on his overall game, which begs the question of why he agreed to the fight in the first place. He won the CFFC middleweight title that December but lost it in his first defense in March to Aaron Jeffrey (10-2, tier 25), who is now going to get his own shot on the UFC TV series. He went back to the local scene this week, winning the first ever middleweight title for Indiana-based promotion Art of Scrap’s. His opponent was 11-5 and had a couple good wins on his record, but had only fought once since 2016. Huckbody won a unanimous decision after dominating the first two rounds with strong wrestling, smothering top pressure, and opportunistic ground and pound, but both fighters look tired in the third and it developed into a striking battle that also saw Kraus have some dominance in the clinch against the fence. Ultimately it wasn’t enough to stop a 29-28 win for Huckbody. While this was a solid, gritty performance, it’s not going to move the needle much on Huckbody as a prospect. He still needs to tighten up his striking and improve his cardio before he could be considered elite, but he’s definitely got the talent to be given a shot at the UFC.

Welterweight

Austin “Osmosis” Jones: Improves to 9-6
Old ranking: .5, #300 prospect
New ranking: .5, #288 prospect

After getting choked out less than two minutes into his XMMA debut, Jones came back this week and dominated an exhausting grappling match against fellow American veteran Tanner Saraceno (8-5, unranked). He ended up getting an arm triangle choke with 10 seconds left in the fight, but it was mostly due to Saraceno being absolutely exhausted. Jones could maybe work his way towards a regional title with his mix of strong wrestling and solid boxing, but at 31 with a number of bad losses on his record, he’s not an elite prospect.

Valmir da Silva: Improves to 8-1
Old ranking: 1, #230 prospect
New ranking: 2, #174 prospect

Da Silva is an athletic 25-year-old from Brazil who’s picked up all his wins by KO/TKO, and he added to that streak this week with a dominant win over Bruno Dantas (5-1, tier 1) to end a 23-month layoff. He controlled the pace of the fight and clearly had more power in his hands, and when he got the fight to the ground he delivered a variety of hard strikes. That was enough to end the fight a minute into the second round, as his opponent was just totally worn down by Silva’s onslaught. His only loss came back in 2017 against a 6-2 opponent, and he’s clearly continued to develop his skills in the time since then. He looked good enough in this performance for Road to Future that I’d expect to see him in a full Future FC card sometime soon.

Matúš Juráček: Improves to 8-2
Old ranking: 1.5, #207 prospect
New ranking: 2.5, #143 prospect

Juráček has beaten a string of veterans since joining Oktagon, as he knocked out a 9-10 journeyman in September 2020 and has now won decisions over Gábor Boráros (18-8-1) and Tato Primera (17-10) in 2021. This week was a split decision, but Primera was definitely his toughest test for the promotion, so it was still a good win for him. One of his losses came all the way back in 2012 when he was fighting at 18 years old, and the other came to future UFC member Carlo Pedersoli, so neither is that bad a mark on his record. I’d like to see some evidence of finishing ability against quality opponents, but if he continues to grind out wins consistently that will also draw attention from larger European promotions like KSW or Cage Warriors.

Predrag Bogdanović: Improves to 7-0
Old ranking: 1.5, #178 prospect
New ranking: 2, #166 prospect

Bogdanović picked up a decision over a 3-0 opponent to earn his seventh straight win for Serbian Battle Championship since he debuted in 2019. His opponents have a combined record of 33-12-1, so he’s taken on quality opposition early in his career, and of the four fights he’s finished, three have come by shoulder choke while one was a north-south choke, so clearly he has some creativity in his grappling. I have to imagine he’s getting close to a title shot for SBC, though maybe they don’t want to risk exposing a top prospect too early.

Shakhban Alkhasov: Improves to 5-0
Old ranking: 1.5, #175 prospect
New ranking: 3, #122 prospect

Alkhasov has been fighting for GFC/EFC since his December 2019 debut, and he now has four first-round finishes and one second-round finish on his resume. He’s yet another Dagestani sambo master, and all three of his TKOs are due to nasty ground and pound. His win this week was a beautiful display of strength and submission instincts. He was matched with a 5-1 Ukranian and immediately bullied him up against the fence, then took him down, got into a half guard that was very close to mount, and drove his shoulder into his opponent’s neck until he was unconscious. There was only an angle from one side, so I couldn’t see whether it was an arm triangle or some modified version of a shoulder choke, but either way he showed great attacking instincts, flawless wrestling, and a powerful squeeze. He could make some real noise in the future if he continues to be this successful for EFC.

Felix Klinkhammer: Improves to 6-0
Old ranking: 2, #160 prospect
New ranking: 2.5, #146 prospect

Klinkhammer went 4-0 as an amateur then 5-0 as a pro in England leading into this week, getting seven of those wins by submission and the other two by TKO. He made his debut for Oktagon in this one and mauled a 6-3 grappler from Ukraine on his way to a unanimous decision. He got a huge slam in the first round and effective takedowns in the second and third, and once the fight was on the ground he maintained back control for essentially the entire round. He delivered sharp strikes that threatened to end it in both the first and third and also tried to set up a rear naked choke a number of times, but his opponent was too well versed in choke defense and never allowed an arm to slip under his chin. This was a great way for Klinkhammer to show off his skills in his toughest fight yet, and I’m sure he’ll continue to get tougher matchups if he stays with Oktagon.

Stefan Negucić: Improves to 10-0
Old ranking: 2, #156 prospect
New ranking: 2, #150 prospect

Negucić picked up his third straight win for SBC this week, and he would definitely be an exciting matchup against fellow undefeated prospect Predrag Bogdanović. He choked out a can-crushing 9-3 Georgian in the second round and increased his record to an impressive 10-0, but he barely moved in the rankings because his opponent really wasn’t that good, despite his record. Negucić is insanely muscular for 170 pounds, and this was the first submission on his record, which is always a good wrinkle to see in a prospect. At this point, he needs a matchup with someone else in the rankings to really kick-start his career.

Ahmad Labban: Improves to 11-4
Old ranking: 2.5, #134 prospect
New ranking: 3.5, #111 prospect

Labban is a Lebanese striking specialist with training in Muay Thai, Wushu Sanda, kickboxing, and basically any other way you can use a part of your body to hit someone else. He won his second straight fight for Brave CF this week after previously fighting for UAE Warriors and other Middle Eastern promotions. His opponent was 9-2 but had no good wins, and Labban punished him on the feet for the first round before finishing him off a minute into the second. He fits the 165-pound super-lightweight division that Brave CF has very well and he’s shown some high-level striking, but I still have concerns about the past problems he’s had against wrestlers.

Kennedy Rayomba: Falls to 4-1
Old ranking: 2.5, #84 MW prospect
New ranking: .5, #273 WW prospect

I’d been hearing a lot of positive buzz around Rayomba after he secured first round finishes in his first four fights, including an impressive 50-second knockout of a 4-1 opponent in 2020. He took his first fight at welterweight this week, which was somewhat surprising given that he debuted at 205 pounds just back in 2018, and he also suffered his first loss via a first round knockout by a previously unknown 3-0 opponent. He dropped all the way to the lowest tier as a result, and only remains a prospect due to the hype he was previously receiving. He’ll have to get at least a couple good wins before he’ll have a chance of reclaiming that earlier excitement

Tato Primera: Falls to 17-11
Old ranking: 2.5, #139 prospect
New ranking: .5, #277 prospect

Primera spent most of his early career bouncing around various Spanish promotions, getting a couple good wins but also some losses to truly bad opponents. I thought he had found a new home with Oktagon when he got two wins for them against 18-7-1 and 7-1 opponents to end 2020, but in 2021 he’s lost two straight. The only reason he remains in the rankings is that both were also ranked prospects, as Alex Lohore beat him back in March and Matúš Juráček (7-2, tier 1.5) edged a split decision this week. He’s theoretically in his prime at 29 years old, but Primera will need to turn things around quickly if he doesn’t want to be stuck as a European gatekeeper for the rest of his career.

Imam-Shapi Mukhtarov: Improves to 10-0
Old ranking: 3.5, #71 MW prospect
New ranking: 6, #47 WW prospect

Mukhtarov started his career with eight finishes from 2017 to 2020, but he’d never faced an opponent with a positive win-loss record until he joined Eagle FC earlier this year. He won his promotional debut in March with a two-minute TKO over a 6-2 opponent that proved he was a legit threat, then took his opposition up another level this week against Maxim Konovalov (11-5-1, tier 1). His striking is very raw and he almost exclusively throws hooks, but he’s got fast hands and good accuracy as long as he doesn’t wind up too much on his shots. He had a couple minutes of grappling control in the first round but couldn’t create anything major from it, but he showed off his submission skills in the third when his opponent tried to push him against the fence and take him down. He did well to work his way off the fence and lock up his opponent’s neck for a standing guillotine that put him to sleep surprisingly quickly. This was his first fight at welterweight and he is absolutely massive for the division at 6’3” with a muscular upper body. He’s yet another elite, undefeated prospect coming off the Russian assembly line.

Benoit Saint-Denis: Improves to 8-0
Old ranking: 10, #188 prospect
New ranking: 15, #170 prospect

Every time I see Saint-Denis fight, the talent just leaps off the screen. He’s in incredible shape, is very driven, and is technically skilled in every element of MMA. His grappling is particularly jaw-dropping, and he showed it off again this week by tossing a 6-2 Spaniard around like a training dummy and eventually working into three-quarters guard, where he postured up and used his power to apply a crushing arm triangle choke. He’s now picked up four straight wins for Brave CF, all by finish, and looks like he could probably be UFC caliber right now. He’s in line for a shot at their super-lightweight title, and I could see him getting a call to the big show if he manages to win it. 

Lightweight

Arda Adas: Improves to 10-5
Old ranking: .5, #377 prospect
New ranking: .5, #341 prospect

Adas nearly fell out of the rankings with his loss back in June, but he survived due to the strength of his competition. He did just enough this week to win a split decision over a pretty good 12-7 journeyman, and while it’s good for him to get back to winning, this was far from an inspiring performance.

Olzhas Eskaraev: Falls to 9-5
Old ranking: .5, #339 prospect
New ranking: .5, #395 prospect

After earning a spot in the rankings back in April with an impressive decision win over an 11-2 Russian, Eskaraev took his second fight with Naiza FC and got somewhat robbed in a split decision against a 10-7 opponent. I thought it was a pretty clear 29-28 in his favor as he was landing harder strikes and he was landing more often, but the judges apparently saw something else and ruled against him. He’s now 3-3 in his last six fights with two of those wins against mediocre opponents, and while that would usually be enough to remove him from the rankings I’ll spare him this week because of the bad judging. Regardless, if he wants to be a legit prospect he can’t be having close fights like this against journeymen, so he’ll have to step it up in his next fight.

Tommy Aaron: Improves to 9-5
Old ranking: .5, #328 prospect
New ranking: 1, #282 prospect

Aaron moved to 2-1 in Combate Global this week, with his two wins coming just a month apart for his first winning streak since 2017. He won a unanimous decision over muscular wrestler Jean Marc Howell (13-5, unranked) and is finally starting to put together wins more consistently. There’s still a lot to prove, but with Combate putting on an event every weekend I’m sure we’ll see him again soon.

Valeriu Mircea: Improves to 26-7-1
Old ranking: .5, #264 featherweight prospect
New ranking: 1.5, #188 LW prospect

Mircea is Moldovan and built up a pretty inflated record on his local scene, but he also went 1-1 with Bellator from 2016 to 2017, so he’s had top level experience but is still just 27. He won the 145-pound title for Eagles FC in 2019 but lost in his bid to become champ-champ with the lightweight title in 2020. This year, he lost his Brave debut but won his second fight this week with a highlight-reel knockout of Ayub Gaziev (12-2-1, tier 1). He hit him with a thunderbolt of a right hand 43 seconds into the first round and knew that no follow up shots were necessary as Gaziev collapsed. It’s good to see him back in the win column after two straight decision losses to good prospects, but those same losses make me question his overall ceiling.

Magomed Kabardiev: Improves to 6-0
Old ranking: .5, #249 WW prospect
New ranking: 1, #278 LW prospect

Kabardiev picked up his second win for Naiza FC with a dominant decision over talented 3-0 youngster Bahromjon Mashrapov. This gives him an even split of decisions and TKOs on his record, which fits his favored style of grinding top control coupled with opportunistic ground and pound. He returned to his natural weight class this week after taking his first welterweight fight in his Naiza debut, and 155 definitely seems like his best home going forward as he carries very little bulk at 6’1”.

Evaldo Santos: Improves to 12-3
Old ranking: 1, #229 WW prospect
New ranking: 2, #180 LW prospect

Santos got a first-round heel hook over 40-year-old grappler Claudiere Freitas (19-18) for his second win in third months with small Brazilian promotion Sul Fluminense Fight Night (SFFN). He looked strong, had dangerous leg attacks, and did well getting the fight to the mat. This was my first time seeing him live, and the adjustment in his tier is more due to how talented he looked and less about the quality of his opponent.

Paulo Henrique: Improves to 10-4
Old ranking: 1, #220 prospect
New ranking: 2, #170 prospect

After a dumb DQ loss for a 12-to-6 elbow in his last fight, Henrique still managed to get put in the co-main event for Road to Future against a 20-5-1 veteran who hadn’t fought since 2017. Henrique looked like a superior athlete in this one and controlled the first round, though it was much closer in the second. In the third, he got the fight to the ground quickly and dominated his tired opponent to work his way to the back and sink in a rear naked choke. He’s very tall for a lightweight at six-feet even, but he still carries a good amount of lean muscle and has impressive strength for someone so slim while also using his length very well to maintain distance on the feet and wrap his opponent up on the ground. 

Edil Esengulov: Improves to 10-3-1
Old ranking: 1, #252 prospect
New ranking: 1, #230 prospect

Esengulov made his debut for Eagle FC this week as part of the only fight on the 18-match card to match two Kyrgyzstanis against each other. His opponent was a 7-3 can crusher who forced a competitive first round through decent movement and striking combined with a couple scrambles, but he tired out quickly and Esengulov was able to dominate the second and third rounds with side control and ground strikes. He likes to use trips from the clinch to bring his opponent to the ground and managed that a few times in this one, but he’s not the most impressive athlete I’ve seen nor does he flash any exceptional traits. He seems like a solid wrestler and competent striker, but he’s not going to move much further up the rankings unless he beats a real prospect.

Arbi Mezhidov: Falls to 13-5
Old ranking: 2.5, #147 featherweight prospect
New ranking: 1, #270 LW prospect

Mezhidov built a great record in Austria, mostly against weak competition, and also added a couple wins for ACB. He got a shot with Bellator in October 2020 but got choked out in the first round by Saul Rogers. He didn’t get another chance with them, so he went to NFC in Germany this week to take on Alexander Vertko (10-1, tier 3) and lost a decision. He’s now got a matchup booked against Sahil Siraj (5-0, tier 2.5) in January, and if he’s able to pull out a win there, it could help erase the sting from the two consecutive losses. If not, that could spell the end of his tenure as a prospect, despite having some undeniable skills.

Alexander Vertko: Improves to 11-1
Old ranking: 3, #147 prospect
New ranking: 5, #82 prospect

Vertko is 25 years old and started his career in Russia back in 2014, so he was just 18 at the time. He won his first two fights then lost in his ACB debut, which prompted him to take almost two years away from the cage. When he returned, he was fighting in Germany and has now won 8 in a row, with his most impressive win by far coming this week. He had already beaten a bunch of opponents already with records like 6-1, 6-2 (twice), 7-2-1, and 4-0, but none of them were nearly on the same level as Arbi Mezhidov (13-4, tier 2.5). Vertko managed to come away with a unanimous decision over the talented Austrian, whose previous fight was with Bellator, and continues to be one of Europe’s best kept secrets.

Gadzhi Rabadanov: Improves to 16-4-2
Old ranking: 6, #58 prospect
New ranking: 8.5, #13 prospect

Rabadanov made his debut for Bellator this week, and is yet another talented Russian that the promotion has signed in the past year. He’s been fighting at a high level in Russia for a while, going 4-1-1 for AMC from 2016 to 2018, 3-1 for GFC/EFC from 2019-February 2021, and also adding in a win for PFL in 2019 in his only previous appearance in the USA. Unlike many of his countrymen, he’s also entirely a kickboxer, and he showed off his striking in a dominant win over grappler Daniel Carey (7-4, unranked), who’s been a staple of the Bellator prelims for a while. He was landing the sharper strikes throughout the first round, and once he got a knockdown with a counter right hook, all it took was a couple hard ground strikes to get the finish. His next fight could easily be on the main card for Bellator after the skills he showed here.

Max Rohskopf: Improves to 6-1
Old ranking: 15, #121 overall
New ranking: 15, #126 overall

I normally don’t write a full description for ex-UFC fighters, but the circumstances of his tenure were weird enough to merit it. He was called up on short notice in June 2020 to take on Austin Hubbard, and he almost got the finish in the first round with his dominant wrestling and ground and pound. Unfortunately, he totally gassed out going for the finish and got beat up badly before forfeiting between the second and third rounds. This unsurprisingly drew Dana’s White’s fury and got him released, but I genuinely wish more fighters were able to be that honest after taking as much punishment as he did. He made his return this week for Cage Warriors and took out an unranked 4-1 grappler with his usual strong takedowns and vicious ground strikes. He’s clearly talented enough to be back at the top level soon, and at 26 years old he still has plenty of time to develop.

Featherweight

Magomed-Salakh Ilyasov: Improves to 7-0
Old ranking: .5, #349 prospect
New ranking: .5, #322 prospect

Ilyasov got his second straight first-round knockout for Belarus FC and has now finished all seven of his fights, with five of those in the first frame. Unfortunately it’s hard to gauge just how good he is, as these last two Belarusian opponents have been 0-2 and 1-3, and the best record he’s ever beaten was a single 1-0 Uzbekistani. I get that he’s just 22 and you want to build your young fighters, but at this point he should at least be facing more experienced fighters instead of true cans. He does look very explosive, but it’s so obvious from the minute you see the two fighters that he’s going to win the fight. 

Ruslan Kumakhov: Improves to 6-0
Old ranking: .5, #303 prospect
New ranking: .5, #245 prospect

Kumakov picked up the fifth finish of his career by knocking out a 2-0 opponent in the third round for Belarus FC. He’s still never had more than 1 fight for a promotion, but this was the end of a two-year layoff, so maybe he’ll finally find a home in Belarus. He’s a classic Russian wrestler with strong ground and pound and a great gas tank, and his standup also looks competent.

Franklin Ferreira: Improves to 7-0
Old ranking: .5, #299 BW prospect
New ranking: 3, #119 featherweight prospect

Ferreira beat five nobodies to open his career, but he’s added two really impressive decision wins since then. The first was over an 8-3 fighter in 2020, and the second was this week over Joao Oliviera (10-3, tier .5) in the Road to Future main event. He moved up a weight class this week, but despite being 5’7”, he could probably stick at 145-pound long-term because he’s super muscular. He trains with the famous Pitbull brothers and showed very strong wrestling and ground striking to go along with the jiu-jitsu skills you would expect from a Brazilian prospect. He was really dominant in this one, and there were several times that he was dropping hard enough ground strikes that I thought the fight might end, but Oliviera was just tough enough to survive despite taking a pounding. Ferreira showed that he deserves to be fighting at the highest level of Brazilian MMA with this one.

Farbod Irannejad: Improves to 10-2-1
Old ranking: .5, #261 prospect
New ranking: 1, #234 prospect

Irannejad lost to the excellent Taylor Lapilus in 2018, then lost for Brave CF last year in his return after two-and-ahalf years away, but he’s won two good decisions since then to re-establish his status as a prospect. He took on Tuomas Gronvall (7-3-1) for NFC in his first fight of 2021 and won a unanimous decision with his strong wrestling as he continues to bounce around Europe. 

Mert Özyildirim: Falls to 9-3
Old ranking: 2, #157 prospect
New ranking: .5, #262 prospect

Özyildirim has now suffered all three of his defeats in his last four fights, which isn’t a great sign. The only reason he’s still on the rankings is that he choked out a 9-3-1 prospect in his first fight of 2021. He lost a decision this week to Jarno Errens (10-2, unranked), who is probably the best of the fighters that’s beaten Özyildirim. His wrestling just isn’t working as well against better competition, but he’ll get one more chance to prove himself.

Georgy Shakhruramazanov: Falls to 10-1
Old ranking: 4.5, #92 prospect
New ranking: 4, #102 prospect

Shakhruramazanov started his career 7-0 against beginner opponents, then moved to GFC/EFC, where he beat 5-0, 7-3, and 10-3 opponents back to back to move to 10-0 and set himself up as a fast-rising prospect. Unfortunately he suffered his first career loss this week due to a doctor’s stoppage after a second round where he got dominated on the ground and cut open badly. He won the first round with good forward pressure and powerful hands, but he also got a little reckless and got hit with some well-timed counter shots, and he didn’t have that same energy or aggression coming forward in the second. I didn’t move him far down the tiers because I feel like he still would have had a chance to win the fight in the third if it wasn’t for the badly-placed cut, but hopefully this loss will teach him to manage his energy better and be a little less reckless in his attacks. 

Rasul Magomedov: Improves to 9-3
Old ranking: 4.5, #90 prospect
New ranking: 5.5, #74 prospect

Magomedov faced off against 10-0 Georgy Shakhruramazanov in a battle of tier 4.5 prospects seemingly going in opposite directions, as he’d lost his last fight while his opponent was undefeated. He was on the back foot in the first round but became the aggressor in the second and got the fight to the ground after about a minute. Magomedov maintained dominant top position and landed flurries of short elbows and quick hammerfists, and while none of the strikes threatened to knock his opponent out, they did enough damage to his eyebrow that the doctor was forced to stop the fight before the final round. This was a good rebound after getting caught in a triangle by an opponent he should have easily beaten, but I’m still cautious of moving him too far back up the rankings.

Ruslan Yamanbaev: Falls to 11-8-1
Old ranking: 5, #83 prospect
New ranking: 2.5, #133 prospect 

Yamanbaev doesn’t have the prettiest record because of the 6-7 start to his career, but he’s fought high-quality opponents in the majority of his fights. He was on a five-fight win streak coming into this week’s fight, which included winning the EFC featherweight title back in April with a second-round triangle over Rasul Magomedov. He was losing that fight but managed to pull off the slick submission off his back to claim the title in unexpected fashion. He was unable to defend it this week against Busurmankul Abdibait Uulu (12-3-1, tier 9), who simply overpowered Yamanbaev on his way to a second round TKO. He just wasn’t strong enough to resist in this one, and while he definitely has grappling skills, he was probably never championship caliber.

Elias Boudegzdame: Improves to 17-7
Old ranking: 6, #58 prospect
New ranking: 6, #61 prospect

Boudegzdame has been a strong part of the Middle Eastern regional scene since 2012 and went 3-2 with Brave CF in some of their earliest shows. He then went 1-1 with UAE Warriors before returning to Brave this week, where he was booked against Decky Dalton (11-5) but ended up fighting a 6-4 last-minute replacement. This was a complete mismatch from the start, as he got an easy takedown, moved effortlessly into mount, and threatened a few submissions before slipping over the top with a textbook triangle. Giving up mount for bottom position would usually be a risk, but when you’re as high level on the ground as Boudegzdame, you can afford to take that risk because you know you have the skills to get yourself out of there. In this case, he ended up with a 90-second submission but didn’t move up the tiers because of how clearly superior he was to his opponent.

Jeremy Pacatiw: Improves to 11-4
Old ranking: 7, #28 BW prospect
New ranking: 8, #20 featherweight prospect

Pacatiw fought for Brave CF from 2016 to 2019, going 6-4 for the top Middle Eastern promotion in that time against decent competition. He made his debut for ONE Championship this week and won a decision over Chen Rui (9-2, tier 6.5), going up a weight class in the process as most fighters do due to their weight cutting rules. Pacatiw showed great striking and solid wrestling in the first two rounds, but in the third his takedowns started getting stuffed and he ended up using his footwork and head/body movement to hold on for the win. Chen is a solid veteran of ONE, so that’s a high-quality debut win for Pacatiw. He’ll probably be at ONE for the long term now, so I don’t expect to write much more about him now that he’ll be in major shows.

Abdurakhman Gitinovasov: Improves to 8-1
Old ranking: 7.5, #28 prospect
New ranking: 8, #22 prospect

Gitinovasov is a prototypical Dagestani grappler and his methodical, calculated style is very hard to overcome even if it can be dull to watch. He’s now won three fights for EFC in 2021, and four total, but strangely his competition has gotten worse each time. In January he ground out highly touted prospect WIlliam Starks at a joint event with UAE Warriors, then in April he won a split decision over quality veteran Ilya Varvarskiy (10-4-3, unranked), before getting matched against mediocre journeyman Viktor Mitkov (11-6) this week. Gitinovasov dominated almost every second of this fight; in the first round he used a single leg hook to ride his opponent against the fence while delivering blows with the outside hand and doing an exceptional job of letting his weight crush down onto his opponent, and in the second and third Mitkov could no longer resist and got taken down easily then bullied through various positions on the ground. Gitinovasov threatened a couple submissions and threw a few strikes in there, but he never looked that close to ending the fight nor did he seem to care about a finish. His ground technique is flawless, and that’s enough to keep him edging up the rankings despite his declining competition. I have to imagine he’s getting close to a shot at the EFC title, or at the very least a showdown with another top contender, which will be an excellent test of just how skilled he is.

Khasan Magomedsharipov: Improves to 6-0
Old ranking: 7.5, #23 prospect
New ranking: 8.5, #12 prospect

Khasan is the younger brother of the UFC’s Zabit Magomedsharipov and he moved from Russia to the US to make his debut for Bellator at just 20 years old. He was matched against a 3-4 grappler who attempted several desperation imanari rolls for heel hooks, as he knew there was no other way to stop the -1200 favorite Dagestani’s onslaught. He pieced his opponent up on the feet, not landing with a ton of power but connecting solidly and using good distance management and head movement to stay away from return shots. In the second round, he switched to a wrestling attack and kept his opponent pinned against the cage by staying on his back, controlling the wrists, and slipping in a single leg from the rear to disrupt his opponent in a style that would be familiar to any Khabib fan. He looks super skinny and will definitely benefit from a good strength and conditioning program, but his ceiling is immensely high with the tools he’s already shown at this early stage of his career.

Hamza Kooheji: Improves to 11-2
Old ranking: 8.5, #8 BW prospect
New ranking: 8.5, #14 featherweight prospect

Kooheji is one of the best homegrown Bahranians to come out of Brave CF, going 7-1 for them between 2016 to 2020. For whatever reason, they haven’t booked him since September 2020, so he made his debut for BFC this week and beat up a 2-0 Belarusian teenager on the feet, eventually forcing a retirement after two rounds. He doesn’t move at all in the rankings for taking out an overmatched opponent, but he did move to featherweight for the first time since early in his career.

Busurmankul Abdibait Uulu: Improves to 13-3-1
Old ranking: 9, #9 prospect
New ranking: 10, #190 overall

Uulu lost twice in 2015 in his first year as a pro, then lost one more time in 2017 in Poland, but he’s undefeated since then. That includes a 4-0-1 run with M-1 Challenge from 2017 to 2019, then took a year off during the pandemic before joining EFC earlier in 2021. In both of his fights that I’ve seen, he’s come in looking huge compared to his opponent, been very aggressive with powerful strikes, and hasn’t seemed to get tired despite his output and muscle bulk. He took out a tier 5 opponent this week with a second round knockout after battering him on the feet and on the ground in the first round. He can get slightly out of control occasionally, but he’s skilled enough that he hasn’t been punished for it yet. He should attract some more attention now that he’s an EFC champion, and he could end up in a bigger promotion in not too long.

Bantamweight

Ayzhigit Erkebay Uulu: Improves to 6-2
Old ranking: .5, #341 prospect
New ranking: 1, #195 prospect

Erkebay Uulu came into this week as the absolute last prospect to scrape onto my rankings, but he changed that in a big way by overpowering Zhuman Zhumabekov (11-4, tier 1) on his way to winning the Naiza FC bantamweight belt. His boxing looked really good, with a sharp left jab that he constantly pumped out to disrupt his opponent and find his range and a powerful right hand that he used to mix in straights and tight hooks. He’s fought at higher weights twice in his career and he’s very thickly muscled for a 5’9” bantamweight, and he used his strength advantage well to toss Zhumabekov off him whenever he didn’t want to engage in grappling. He landed a perfectly-aimed right uppercut towards the end of the second round that connected straight to the jaw and instantly turned off the lights. He suffered a bad loss in his Naiza debut, getting knocked out by a 2-3 opponent, but he’s rebounded excellently since then and looked like he has some real potential in this one.

Myktybek Oskonbaev: Falls to 10-4
Old ranking: 1, #212 prospect
New ranking: .5, #322 prospect

After earning himself a ranking with a split decision win over Mikhail Sirbu (15-7, tier 4.5 going into the fight) for Moldova’s Eagles FC, Oskonbaev made his debut this week for the amusingly similar Eagle FC in a return to his home country of Kyrgyzstan. Unfortunately for him, he was matched against fellow prospect Daniyar Koishybek (6-1, tier 1.5) and ended up losing a 29-28 decision in a grapple-fest. He controlled position for the majority of the second round but was similarly dominated in the first and third rounds, and his opponent also inflicted slightly more damage with his striking. Oskonbaev is now trading wins and losses over his last six fights, which is not a good way to move up the rankings.

Zhuman Zhumabekov: Falls to 11-5
Old ranking: 1, #201 prospect
New ranking: .5, #309 prospect

After getting a TKO over Vadim Malygin to claim the Naiza FC bantamweight belt in his last fight, Zhumabekov got outclassed this week by Ayzhigit Erkebay Uulu (5-2, tier .5) on his way to getting knocked out cold in the second round. His striking looked wild and when he tried to initiate grappling he didn’t look to have the size or strength to match his opponent. He’s now 31 and has gone 0-1 in Brave CF, 3-2 for AMC, and now falls to 3-1 with Naiza, which overall paints a picture of a solid fighter who struggles when he’s asked to step up much in competition. He remains in the rankings for now because he’ll still provide a solid challenge for most up-and-comers, but his ceiling seems limited.

Daniyar Koishybek: Improves to 7-1
Old ranking: 1.5, #164 prospect
New ranking: 1.5, #158 prospect

Koishybek got his second win for EFC this week with a 29-28 decision over Myktybek Oskonbaev (10-3, tier 1) in a triumph of Kazakhstan over Kyrgyzstan. He won the first and third rounds with pressure against the fence and solid wrist and leg control to prevent his opponent from getting up, but he was out-grappled in the second round and overall didn’t show anything new to make me think that he’s earned a higher ranking. His ground and pound is much more effective at scoring points and preventing the referee from standing the fight up than it is as an actual threat to end the fight, and he didn’t really attack submissions at any point, so I’d like to see some more finishing drive as he continues to develop.

Ricky Camp: Improves to 12-4
Old ranking: 1.5, #150 prospect
New ranking: 4, #84 prospect

Camp had an uninspiring start to his career, as he went 5-4 on the weak regional scene of Guam and the Mariana Islands. He’s turned it around since then, winning seven-in-a-row since 2016 and fighting in places as disparate as Australia and Alaska, with Hawaii in between for good measure. He was injured in 2019 and therefore was coming off of a 27-month absence this week when he made his LFA debut against Greg Fischer as the co-main event. He had decent hands and did a good job mixing in powerful kicks to the legs and body. He also showed good takedown defense, and while he spent more time pressed against the cage than he would like, he did well to neutralize any strikes coming from Fischer and also showed off a couple nice escapes and whizzers to prevent takedowns. He got a well-deserved boost in the rankings for this one, as he proved on a very big stage that he has what it takes to hang with a high-level American regional veteran. If he can win one or two more good ones with LFA, we could see him in UFC in not too long, as Dana White loves to bring in talented guys with unusual backgrounds.

Flávio Santos: Improves to 10-4
Old ranking: 2.5, #66 flyweight prospect
New ranking: 2.5, #123 BW prospect

Santos made a return to MMA this week after two years away from the cage, and he also returned to his home of Brazil after his last fight was a split decision loss for M-1 in Russia. He typically fights at flyweight but went to 135-pounds this week to take on Tarcísio Henrique Romano (7-3-1, unranked) for Road to Future. Santos controlled the first two rounds with technical movement on the feet and superior jiu-jitsu on the ground, and he managed to do enough damage with his ground strikes that the doctor stopped it before the third round. This win justifies his relatively high initial ranking, but since he’s already beaten plenty of unranked fighters with good records (4-1, 4-0, 8-1, 5-1, 6-2, 8-0), he doesn’t move up any further for taking out another one. 

Greg Fischer: Falls to 10-3
Old ranking: 2.5, #114 prospect
New ranking: 2, #136 prospect

Fischer joined LFA in July 2020 to challenge Jimmy Flick for the flyweight title despite fighting most of his career at bantamweight and got choked out just 38 seconds into the fight. He returned to 135 pounds this week after a year off and had a much more competitive fight against Ricky Camp (11-4, tier 1.5), ultimately losing a split decision that should have been unanimous against him. He showed good wrestling instincts in this one and pulled off a few technical reversals against the cage, but he just wasn’t on Camp’s level as a striker and couldn’t get an advantageous enough position to do a ton of damage. He only drops one tier despite being on a two-fight losing streak, as both of his opponents have really impressed me and he looked very competent if not spectacular in this one.

Aydemir Kazbekov: Improves to 8-1
Old ranking: 3.5, #88 prospect
New ranking: 3.5, #88 prospect

Kazbekov is a Dagestani grappler with a great double-leg takedown, creative submissions, and strong ground and pound. He won six fights between May 2020 and March 2021, which earned him a fight with Brave CF in June. He was a massive favorite for that one, but he got caught in a triangle from his unranked 4-0 opponent late in the first round and picked up his first career loss. He took an easy fight this week against a 3-4 Belarusian and tossed him around the cage for the first round before getting on top and pounding his head into the mat early in the second round. This was purely a rebound fight, as they were clearly nowhere near the same caliber of fighter.

Farid Basharat: Improves to 7-0
Old ranking: 4, #72 prospect
New ranking: 4.5, #62 prospect

Basharat was born in Afganistan but started his career in England, where he went 4-0 as an amateur and 6-0 as a pro leading into this week. His last win in 2020 was the most impressive, as he won a decision over a 4-0 fellow prospect, but he got a tougher challenge this week against Finnish veteran Janne Elonen-Kulmala (16-8-1, unranked), by far his most experienced and credentialed opponent to date. This was also his first fight outside of England, as he moved to quality Czech promotion Oktagon, but his dominance was unchanged. He looked okay in the stand-up but didn’t look comfortable throwing long combinations, but that hardly mattered since he was able to take his opponent down whenever he shot. He spent most of the first round delivering ground and pound, took the back in the second to look for a rear naked choke and dropped more punishment when he wasn’t able to get it, then returned to the same tactics in the third to eventually get the tap out. I really liked how he alternated between throwing one or two strikes and trying to slide a forearm under the neck, and it seemed like a great strategy to keep his opponent off balance. His stand-up definitely needs work, but he’s a great prospect based on his ground skills alone.

Jordan Winski: Falls to 11-3
Old ranking: 4.5, #68 prospect
New ranking: 2.5, #122 prospect

Jordan “I’m gonna” Winski has one of my favorite nicknames in MMA, but unfortunately he got absolutely smothered this week by Brian Moore in his Bellator debut. He showed very little ability to get up once he was put on his back and also ran out of gas somewhere in the second round, but this was also a short-notice fight after 26 months off against the toughest opponent of his career. If I had to guess, his next fight will be back at the top level of the American regional scene, though it also wouldn’t be crazy if Bellator gave him another shot on the prelims to see what he can do with a full training camp.

Gamzat Magomedov: Improves to 6-1
Old ranking: 5, #54 prospect
New ranking: 9.5, #1 prospect

Magomedov scored an awesome double-knockdown TKO over wonderkid Mochamed Machaev to bring his record with Brave CF to 5-1. His one loss came in just his third fight against current UFC signee JP Buys, so he can be forgiven for that one. He had one TKO in his past but mostly used his wrestling to dominate his way to decisions, so this performance gave him a big boost up the rankings for pulling off a dramatic upset. The only reason I didn’t move him all the way to my best overall list is that he didn’t have time to put on a performance that actually proved he’s considerably better than Machaev, but the power he showed off is enough to move him to top prospect status.

Mochamed Machaev: Falls to 10-1
Old ranking: 10, #178 featherweight overall
New ranking: 8.5, #7 BW prospect

Machaev came into this week as one of the hottest young prospects, as he’d put together a 7-0 record in Austria and 3-0 with Brave CF against opponents with combined records of 49-23 by age 21. He got matched against another hot prospect in Gamzat Magomedov (5-1, tier 5), but he was definitely the favorite for this one. He got caught with a big right hand 30 seconds into the fight, and he showed incredible toughness and flexibility to roll out of the way of a diving Magomedov. Unfortunately, a massive left hand met him on the way up and smashed him back to the ground, where he started eating heavy shots. Machaev tried to protest the stoppage, but he was almost unconscious for a couple seconds and definitely would have taken extra damage for no reason if it wasn’t stopped. He’s still an incredible prospect, but his chin may be a bit of a weakness, as Magomedov is known more for his wrestling than his power striking.

Flyweight

Idris Alibi: Improves to 5-0
Old ranking: .5, #185 prospect
New ranking: 1, #130 prospect

Alibi has been with Naiza FC since his pro debut in November 2019 and he earned his spot in the rankings with an impressive knockout of a 3-1-1 opponent in January 2021. He got a shot at the vacant flyweight title against tier 1 opponent Aslan Utegaliev and spent most of the fight attempting takedowns and either grinding his opponent against the fence when they didn’t work on sticking in guard and landing conservative strikes to score points. It was far from the most inspiring title win that I’ve seen, but it was a quality performance to stay undefeated and could earn him some attention from Russian promotions, especially if he defends it at some point.

Aslan Utegaliev: Falls to 9-4
Old ranking: 1, #129 prospect
New ranking: .5, #172 prospect

After winning four straight for Naiza FC between November 2019 and February 2021 and building his overall winning streak to six, Utegaliev was given a shot at the vacant flyweight title against Idris Alibi (4-0, tier .5). Their fight went the full 25 minutes, and more than half that time seemed to be spent against the fence in a wrestling-heavy affair. I thought he’d won two rounds but none of the judges gave him more than 1 despite his occasional strikes seeming to cause more damage than his opponent’s. He drops back to the lowest tier with this loss and will likely serve as a gatekeeper to test other rising prospects in his next few fights, though he is still just 24 himself.

Kevin Wirth: Falls to 8-3
Old ranking: 4, #73 BW prospect
New ranking: 2.5, #65 flyweight prospect

After losing a decision for Cage Warriors against Joseph Morales (9-2, tier 35), Wirth is now on the first losing streak of his career, as he lost another decision against Askar Askar for LFA back in October 2020. He’s always fought for solid promotions starting with KOTC then progressing to LFA, CFFC, and now Cage Warriors. While having your first consecutive losses at age 34 isn’t great timing for the trajectory of Wirth’s career, they’ve both been against very good opponents, so he still maintains a decent ranking. He showed good wrestling and solid striking in this one, but unfortunately at his age it may be difficult to rebuild enough momentum to get an opportunity from a top promotion. 

Alden Coria: Improves to 5-0
Old ranking: 4, #53 prospect
New ranking: 4, #50 prospect

Coria went 5-0 as an amateur, 2-0 for Fury FC in 2019, and has since won three straight for LFA. However, he still hasn’t faced another prospect, so he doesn’t move up much this week despite choking out journeyman Donnie Ballou (7-4, unranked) with a guillotine in the first round. He was already in a higher tier than his competition would merit thanks to the explosive finishing ability he’s shown in his previous fights, so once again demonstrating his ability to take out weaker competition doesn’t change his outlook. He’s only 23 and has a ton of room to grow, so hopefully he gets a matchup against another top prospect soon. Someone like Christian Natividad, who’s another undefeated tier 4 prospect signed to LFA, would be a super fun matchup.

Mansur Malachiev: Improves to 10-0
Old ranking: 6, #41 BW prospect
New ranking: 15, #74 flyweight overall

Malachiev beat opponents with a combined record of 3-6 to get his first seven wins, and was fighting debuting fighters as recently as September 2020, so it’s really impressive to see how far he’s come in such a short time. He made his debut for EFC in December 2020 and choked out a 6-1 opponent to debut in my rankings at tier 1.5, then got a quick shot at the bantamweight title against Ruslan Sariev (12-0, tier 7 at the time), where he managed to pull off a major upset with a third round guillotine. This week, he became the champ-champ by beating Rashid Vagabov (8-1, tier 6) and has now positioned himself excellently to get signed by ACA, Bellator, or some other major promotion. It actually looked like Malachiev would get submitted to start the fight, as Vagabov threatened a couple painful-looking omoplatas that twisted his shoulder hard. However, Malachiev was extremely tough and stayed active in his defense even when he was in terrible positions, and he somehow managed to start a scramble that ended up with him on his opponent’s back halfway through the first round. He got a choke in amazingly quickly against a high-level grappler and forced a tap to win his second belt of the year.

Rashid Vagabov: Falls to 8-2
Old ranking: 6, #28 prospect
New ranking: 5, #42 prospect 

Vagabov has been with EFC/GFC since his thirdrd pro fight, and while he lost a fight to a 12-0 opponent and the fight after that, he put together a five-fight win streak to rebuild his momentum and earn a shot at the flyweight title. He showed impressive submission attacks off his back with super flexible legs and looked like he was going to end the fight with omoplatas a couple times, but his opponent just wouldn’t go out. He ended up ending up on the bottom after a scramble and got choked out quickly, but he didn’t drop too far because of how good he looked to start the fight. He’s only lost to elite, undefeated prospects, so while he’s not elite himself, he can still be very good.  

Prospects joining my rankings

Shamil Gaziev, heavyweight: Improves to 5-0
New ranking: .5, #131 prospect.

Gaziev has now recorded five-straight finishes in less than a minute since making his debut in October 2020. That’s an insane pace for a brand new fighter, and while his 1-0 opponent at Belarus FC’s contender series was his toughest competition yet, he trains at KHK MMA Team, which is supported by the Bahraini monarchy and has become a breeding ground of top Russian fighters. He rushed his opponent with a flurry of hard hooks, bullied him into the ground and got straight into mount, then dropped non-stop punches against his opponent’s forearms for 40+ seconds. When he realized that the ref wasn’t going to stop the fight, he got into back position and ended the fight in seconds with a rear naked choke to put an exclamation mark on this dominant performance. Gaziev also went 7-2 with IMMAF as an amateur, which is another great indicator that he’s a very legit prospect. Now he just needs an opportunity to prove it against a better opponent. 

Brendson Ribeiro, light heavyweight: Improves to 12-3
New ranking: 1, #94 prospect.

Ribeiro built an impressive record 10-3 in Brazil from 2015 to 2018, making his pro debut at age 18, but his wins were almost entirely against nobodies while his losses were to his two most experienced Brazilian opponents and a Russian in his lone fight overseas. He was away from MMA for almost three years before returning in May 2021 to choke out a 20-13 veteran for Nacao Cyborg, then he got his shot for Road to Future this week against a bulky 6-1 opponent. He proved to be the physically stronger fighter and used that to control his opponent against the fence and ground in the first round while mixing in ground strikes. He got the fight to the ground earlier in the second round and spent four minutes delivering hard shots before locking up a guillotine just before the end of the round when his opponent tried to scramble. Ribeiro is heavily muscled and has a quality gas tank, and at just 24 he’s showed that he’s a threat to finish his opponents with both chokes and his fists, all of which makes him someone exciting to watch going forward.

Imran Taysultanov, middleweight: Improves to 6-0
New ranking: .5, #226 prospect.

Taysultanov faced off against a debuting opponent for Naiza FC and stuffed an early takedown then quickly transitioned to an anaconda choke for the finish before his opponent could get back up. That gives him six straight first round finishes, and he’s proved he can end fights with either his chokes or his powerful hands, so he earns a ranking despite not yet fighting any tough opponents. He’s in great shape and is still young, so there’s plenty of room for more growth here. 

Brunno Ferreira, middleweight: Improves to 4-0
New ranking: .5, #223 prospect.

Ferreira is a jacked and explosive Brazilian who ran through a 4-4 opponent in the Road to Future prelims, beating him up on the way to a second minute rear naked choke. He’s now finished three opponents in the first round and the other in the second, but he’s yet to face anyone good so this initial ranking is based entirely off the athleticism and jiu-jitsu he showed this week. 

Florim Zendeli, welterweight: Improves to 4-0
New ranking: 1, #239 prospect.

Zendeli started his career with two ground and pound finishes followed by a rear naked choke, then made his debut for Germany’s National FC this week and picked up a surprising first-round knockout over Kennedy Rayomba (4-0, tier 2.5), who I’d heard great things about. Zendeli has good height for the division at 6’1”, and he also showed off quality power with this knockout. He’s also now just the third Macedonian to make it into my rankings, and I always enjoy seeing talent emerge from smaller countries. He’s still mostly an unknown at this point, but this impressive win guarantees that I’ll be watching closely for him going forward.

Chris “Breezy the Future” Brown, welterweight: Improves to 7-3
New ranking: 1.5, #199 prospect.

After scoring a knockout in his 2019 LFA debut, Brown had a rough 2020 and dropped two straight decision losses, though one of them was a split against current UFC member Ignacio Bahamondes. He’s rebounded with two wins for the top regional promotion so far this year, first with a decision over a 5-2 opponent in April then again this week over a 9-6 Brazilian after a slam towards the end of the second round caused a shoulder injury. He’s a strong wrestler and has proved in the past that he has knockout power, so he’s someone I’ll be tracking despite the sporadic struggles he’s had.

Brandon Laroco, lightweight: Improves to 6-2
New ranking: .5, #334 prospect.

Laroco fights out of California and went 4-0 on the local amateur scene before joining Dragon House as a pro. He went 4-1 for them and also mixed in a win on the Bellator prelims before losing his second Bellator fight in 2019. He took 28 months off before returning this week for Cage Warrior’s show in his native state and dominating Alex Trinidad (5-2, tier 1). He pushed the pace and was always in Trinidad’s face, either throwing quick strikes or trying to get the fight to the ground. He managed to take the back in the second round and that was all he needed to set up the rear naked choke finish. He’s now 26, so he should be entering some of his best years and this is a good way to start them off. 

Evertom Freitas, lightweight: Improves to 15-4

New ranking: .5, #309 prospect.

Freitas came into 2021 with a number of first round submissions on his record, but he’d also lost two straight fights to close out 2019. He’s a high-level BJJ black belt and started his rebound with a first-round heel-hook in February against a 6-4 nobody, but his win this week was much more impressive. He was matched against Natan Mota (5-0, tier 1), who already had several highlight knockouts against veterans like him, but he got the fight to the ground in the opening seconds then quickly attacked with an armbar to get the win. He’s only 26 despite his extensive record, so hopefully this win signals that he’s improved his all-around game enough to beat higher-quality opponents than he has in the past

Isilyar Aliev, featherweight: Improves to 5-0
New ranking: .5, #349 prospect.

Aliev made his pro debut in 2018 and had picked up two TKOs, one submission, and a decision over a 2-0 opponent before getting his first real test this week at EFC. He was matched against 35-year-old gatekeeper Alikhon Khasanov (16-7, unranked), and he absolutely dominated him with takedowns and positional dominance for the whole 15 minutes. I was surprised he didn’t get stood up at several points, but it probably wouldn’t have made a difference given how immediately effective his takedowns usually were. My rankings are filled with many other young grapplers from Russia and Central Asia, but it’s worth including Aliev for at least as long as he stays unbeaten.

Jakshylyk Myrzabekov, featherweight: Improves to 5-0
New ranking: .5, #346 prospect.

Myrzabekov made his debut less than a year ago and quickly piled up four wins with three knockouts in five months for small Kyrgyzstani shows. This included a debut for Eagle FC against a 2-3 opponent when they had a January 2021 event in his home country, and he took his second fight with them this week when they returned to look for more Central Asian talent. He was matched against a muscular Russian with five straight first round finishes, so this was by far his toughest test yet, and he impressed by dominating with wrestling and not giving up top position once he had his opponent on the canvas. It was not a highlight-filled fight, but it was a very solid marker on Myrzabekov’s record to establish himself as a prospect to keep an eye on.

Jarno Errens, featherweight: Improves to 11-2
New ranking: .5, #247 prospect.

I thought Errens was a can-crusher coming into this week since he’d beaten 10 opponents who ranged from mediocre to terrible and had lost to two 3-0 prospects. He got by far the best win of his career with a decision over 9-2 Turkish wrestler Mert Özyildirim for NFC. He’s definitely got the necessary athletic ability to be a solid prospect, so hopefully this is a sign that he’s starting to fulfill some of his potential at age 26.

Jayson Scott, bantamweight: Improves to 1-0
New ranking: .5, #321 prospect.

Scott was one of my top rated amateurs in the world coming into his pro debut, as he was 12-2 against excellent competition and is still just 21. He had an insane eight rear naked choke finishes as an amateur and used them to claim three different amateur titles in the last 18 months. Most of his recent fights were at flyweight but he made his debut at bantamweight, and while it’s unusual for someone to move up in weight while going pro, this could be due to him adding muscle weight as he ages and matures into his body. He’s obviously as early as you can be in your career, but with an 80-second TKO this week on top of everything he showed as an amateur, I’m definitely intrigued.

Asset Anarbaev, bantamweight: Improves to 6-0
New ranking: .5, #321 prospect.

Anarbaev is a 21-year-old who’s spent his entire pro career with Naiza FC. He got knockouts over debuting opponents in his first two fights but has won decisions since then, including this week against his toughest opponent yet, Vadim Malygin (15-7-1, tier .5). This fight was mostly long-distance kickboxing where Anarbaev had a marginal advantage, though he also closed range a few times to dirty box and land a couple solid knees. It was far from dominant, but beating a prospect and moving to 6-0 earned him his spot in the rankings. Since he’s so young, he has time to improve his finishing ability as he continues to add muscle and power to his frame.

Bairam Shammadov, bantamweight: Improves to 8-3
New ranking: .5, #234 prospect.

Shammadov went 3-3 to start his career, including an unsuccessful 1-2 spell with ACB and Akhmat Fight Show. He took almost three years off between 2016 and 2019, and when he returned he built up his record with four straight easy first-round finishes against opponents with a combined 1-4 record. He made his debut for EFC this week and pulled off an upset by knocking out Shamil Magomedov (11-2-1, tier 1). He showed excellent wrestling and upper body strength to consistently stuff his opponent’s takedowns, and even redirected one into a pretty threatening armbar, but he seemed to realize his easiest path to victory came on the feet. Shammadov was consistently walking his opponent down and throwing power shots with his right hand, alternating the angle of the punches until he landed a huge uppercut towards the end of the first round. He immediately dove in for a finish but did well to not get wild or reckless, as he maintained good posture to stay above his opponent and rain down accurate bombs. I was very impressed by this performance, but I’m keeping his ranking low for now since this is the first time he’s beaten a legit opponent.

Prospects leaving my rankings

Terrance Jean-Jacques, light heavyweight: Falls to 5-3
Old ranking: 1.5, #78 prospect.

Jean-Jacques joined Cage Warriors this week but got matched against rising prospect Zac Pauga and lost a unanimous decision. He’s a very strong wrestler and used that to slow down Pauga’s onslaught, and he also managed to land a couple of the wild bombs he was throwing, but 5-3 just isn’t a good enough return to merit inclusion in the rankings. He also showed off a strong chin to withstand some of the punches he was taking, but he slowed down significantly as the fight went on and didn’t look refined in any technique besides his wrestling. 

Maxim Konovalov, middleweight: Falls to 11-6
Old ranking: 1, #135 prospect.

Konovalov got marginally outpointed in striking and dominated in grappling for the first two rounds of his fight against rising stud Imam-Shapi Mukhtarov (9-0, tier 3.5). In the third, he decided to shoot his first takedown of the fight and paid the price, as Mukhtarov trapped him in a guillotine that was so tight that it eventually put him to sleep. Konovalov is now 1-3-1 since 2018 and that’s not enough to keep him in the rankings despite the quality competition he’s faced.

Bruno Dantas, middleweight: Falls to 5-2
Old ranking: .5, #183 prospect.

Dantas made his Future FC debut this week to end a 20-month layoff and moved down to welterweight to get knocked out in the second round by Valmir da Silva (7-1, tier 1). He looked solid when trying to bring the fight to the ground but was outclassed in all elements of striking and didn’t really have an answer for da Silva’s pressure. His other loss came against a 5-0 opponent, which shows that this isn’t the first time he’s failed to make the step up against another legitimate prospect.

Ayub Gaziev, welterweight: Falls to 12-3-1
Old ranking: 1, #241 prospect.

Gaziev has Russian heritage but was born in Austria, where he’d been incredibly successful leading up to his Brave CF debut this week. Unfortunately, he was on the receiving end of an incredible highlight-reel knockout from Valeriu Mircea, who hit Gaziev with a straight right so hard that it nearly turned his head a full 180 degrees and left him on the canvas. He only has two other losses, but one was to a 4-0 fighter who was probably his second-best opponent after Mircea, and his best win came early in his career against a 3-0-1 35-year-old. The combination of his weak schedule and disappointing performances against other quality fighters make me think he’s not going to ever make major waves in MMA.

Nemanja Kovač, welterweight: Falls to 13-5
Old ranking: 1, #234 prospect.

I could excuse Kovac’s loss for Brave CF back in March because he was matched up against a top-level striker and showed incredible heart and an iron chin by surviving for a decision. This week he returned to SBC, where he had gone 13-2 in the past, and got choked out by a 9-9 journeyman halfway through the first round. That’s not the sort of fight you should lose if you have aspirations of being a top-level fighter, though at 26 there is still time for him to rebuild considering his impressive record.

Bahromjon Mashrapov, lightweight: Falls to 3-1
Old ranking: .5, #398 prospect.

Mashrapov impressed me with knockouts of a 2-0 opponent in December 2020 and a 3-0 opponent in April 2021, but this week reminded me why I usually don’t rank fighters so early into their careers. He got controlled pretty easily by Magomed Kabardiev (5-0, tier .5) and took a bunch of ground and pound even if none of it was a threat to end the fight. He’s still super young and has the skills to be a factor going forward, but he’ll have to prove himself again after this loss.

Alex Trinidad, lightweight: Falls to 5-3
Old ranking: 1, #252 prospect.

Trinidad probably should have been in tier .5 coming into this week, as he’d already been finished twice by the two best opponents he’s faced. While one of those was for Bellator against current UFC member Gabe Green, Trinidad has also only beaten other prospects early in their careers that have combined for a decent 12-6 record. This week, he got overpowered then choked out in the 2nd by Brandon Laroco (5-2, unranked) at Cage Warriors, and it seems like he’s just not good enough to take on higher-level opponents.

Gianluca Rocca, lightweight: Falls to 6-1
Old ranking: 1.5, #187 prospect.

Rocca received a solid initial ranking because he’d beaten opponents with a combined record of 18-9 on his way to a 6-0 record, but he moved to Combate this week and got choked out in the one-round semifinal by a 5-5 French grappler. Nothing he did in this fight impressed me all that much, and it seems likely that he was just undefeated due to the weak competition in Italy.

João Oliveira, featherweight: Falls to 10-4
Old ranking: .5, #298 prospect.

Oliveira ended a 26-month layoff as part of the main event for Road to Future, but he got absolutely mauled by Franklin Ferreira (6-0, tier .5) on his way to a unanimous loss. He showed a lot of durability and rolled well with all the strikes that his opponent dropped on him, but he was rarely in a position to do much offensively himself. He’s tall at 5’10” but his strength is pretty lacking as a result, and at 33 he seems unlikely to do much outside of the Brazilian regional scene. 

Natan Mota, featherweight: Falls to 5-1
Old ranking: 1, #225 prospect.

Mota had some hype around him coming into this week due to a string of impressive knockouts over fellow prospects and decent veterans, but I still had reservations because we hadn’t seen much of his ground game. Those fears were justified this week in his fight for Future against veteran Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Evertom Freitas (14-4, unranked), as he got taken down early into the fight and tapped to an armbar after just 30 seconds. He’s still 22 so there’s time for him to join a gym that can supplement his striking skills with more grappling training, but he’s out of the rankings until I see evidence of that.

Vadim Malygin, bantamweight: Falls to 15-8-1
Old ranking: .5, #330 prospect.

After a good 2020 that saw him record decision wins over 6-3 and 6-1 opponents for M-1 and RCC, Malygin has now lost two straight for Naiza FC in 2021 and dropped out of the rankings as a result. He’s gone 3-3-1 for M-1 over his career, which shows that he’s undoubtedly got some talent but isn’t able to pull out the win often enough to be considered a prospect. While I’m sad to remove a nickname as fantastic as “Bad Santa” from the rankings, I need to see some more consistency from Malygin before I’d reconsider his status. He’s 27, so there’s definitely a chance he’ll manage to rebound. 

Alves da Silva, bantamweight: Falls to 7-2
Old ranking: .5, #254 prospect.

Da Silva fights out of Chute Box and built a quality record by age 22, both of which are good signs for his chances as a prospect in the future. However, this week at Road to Future 3 he showed that he’s not quite ready for the big time, as he got controlled on the ground then choked out in the second round by a decent 8-4 grappler who’d spent his whole career in small regional shows. He moved down to flyweight for this fight, which might be his long-term weight class as long as the cut isn’t too brutal, but he definitely needs to work on his grappling before he can hope to have sustained success on the Brazilian scene.

Shamil “BJ” Magomedov, bantamweight: Falls to 11-3-1
Old ranking: 1, #177 prospect.

Magomedov is a Dagestani prospect out of the Nurmagomedov camp who went 8-2-1 from 2014 to 2017 before missing all of 2018 and 2019. He returned in March 2020 and beat 3-2, 0-0, and 6-7 opponents for EFC and UAE Warriors, and he looked good enough in the process to earn himself a ranking despite the level of competition. However, this week he got matched against Bairam Shammadov (7-3, unranked), who was the first fighter with a decent record he’d faced since his last loss. His level changes were consistently stuffed by the strong Azerbaijani, and he spent his time on the feet circling around the edge of the cage to try to find openings to grapple until he got caught with a head-snapping right uppercut that sent him straight to the ground. He tried to scramble to protect himself but took a number of hard strikes without improving his position and the ref was forced to call it off with 30 seconds left in the round. Magomedov has now lost to basically every good fighter he’s faced, and his impressive record and training camp isn’t enough to keep him as a prospect if he can’t deliver results.