Worldwide MMA Prospect Report (8/5-8/11)

While this was a relatively quiet week of regional MMA, there were still plenty of good events going on and the Worldwide MMA Prospect Report is here to break down the action for you.

Brazil was very busy this week, with an SFT show on Thursday being the highlight. Russia didn’t see much action besides a sub-par MMA Series card. The U.S. was the busiest of the big three countries, as Titan FC and CES both had cards on UFC Fight Pass, XFC put on a ton of fights in one night, LXF showcased a lot of talent in California after nearly two years without a show, and a number of smaller promotions also had events. LUX Fight League and Combate Global were the highlights of Latin American action, and Combate in particular has been putting on consistently good shows this year without much mainstream media attention.

Honorable mentions: Nate Marquardt returned after four years off to pick up a flawless armbar at age 42, Ali AlQaisi won a five-round decision to claim the Titan FC Featherweight Championship, Bobby Nash got his fourth straight first-round finish since his 0-3 UFC stint, UFC and PFL veteran John Howard returned to CES to pick up a win in their main event, Motonobu Tezuka won his fifth fight in a row as he continues to dominate the Japanese regional scene and hunt a UFC return after going 0-2 all the way back in 2012 and 2013, Vinicius “Mamute” Moreira got a much-needed win back in Brazil after getting finished four times in a row on the big show, and Ricky Bandejas, who won his Combate Global debut after a 3-4 Bellator run.

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

Heavyweight

Nyle Bartling: Improves to 4-0
Old ranking: .5, #134 prospect
New ranking: .5, #127 prospect

Bartling is now 4-0 as a pro to go with his 5-0 amateur record, and all of those wins have come by finishes. Six have come by KO/TKO, but he also has two pro wins by arm triangle and an amateur win with a rare keylock to prove that he has jiu-jitsu skills to call on in addition to his natural power. He picked up the biggest win of his career so far by knocking out a 5-4 opponent halfway through the first round, who was by far the most experienced person he’d faced. He’s still pretty unproven, but any heavyweight with his varied finishing record is worth watching out for.

Middleweight

Aldo Vargas: Improves to 7-0
Old ranking: .5, #305 WW prospect
New ranking: .5, #227 MW prospect

Vargas has a great record for a 20-year-old, but I have some doubts about that being his real age since some of his listed wins were back in 2016 when he would have been just 15 years old. He moved to middleweight for the first time this week and picked up the fourth first-round submission of his career with a rear naked choke over a 5-6 opponent. He also has a couple knockouts on his record, but all of his wins have come on the incredibly weak Bolivian regional scene, so it’s hard to properly gauge his talent.

Khamzat Chapanov: Improves to 5-2
Old ranking: .5, #222 prospect
New ranking: .5, #213 prospect

Chapanov made the initial rankings thanks to a history of first round finishes, including a knockout of a 6-2 opponent in March 2020. Unfortunately he lost his first fight of 2021 in a controversial split decision for his MMA Series debut, so he returned to the local scene this week and picked up two first round wins over debuting opponents via a triangle choke and a head kick, though the semi-final fight was considered amateur. He’s obviously got some major weapons in his arsenal, but he can’t afford another loss anytime soon if he wants to fight for a larger organization.

Welterweight

Thierry Lucas: Improves to 4-0
Old ranking: .5, #329 prospect
New ranking: .5, #323 prospect

Lucas joined the rankings despite his lack of experience because he racked up three KO/TKOs in a seven-month stretch of 2020, including an impressive one for Shooto Brazil that I saw that October. He then had to pull out of a fight after catching COVID-19 and saw several other fights cancelled due to pandemic restrictions. He returned this week to win a decision over a 2-0 opponent at Arena Global. This was the toughest matchup so far in his young career and he continued to look strong in most facets of MMA, and he’s also only 23 years old so he has plenty of time to keep developing. He fought at 163 pounds, which was the first time he’d gone below 170 pounds, so maybe he’s angling towards a drop to lightweight as his career progresses. 

Eric Alequin: Improves to 5-0
Old ranking: 1, #222 prospect
New ranking: 1.5, #197 prospect

Alequin joined the rankings with a strong decision over a 3-0 prospect during his Combate Global debut back in April then came back this week and got a first-round rear naked choke against a 2-0 youngster who used to be a pro boxer. In-between his MMA fights, he won a professional grappling match against a solid veteran, which shows just how high level his skills on the floor are. His ground striking is opportunistic but is mostly used for setting up submissions and position advancements, while his footwork and striking technique on the feet still need some refinement.

Moses Murrietta: Improves to 9-5
Old ranking: 2.5, #84 MW prospect
New ranking: 3, #131 WW prospect

Murrietta came into this week on a four-fight losing streak, which is very unusual for a prospect and especially one as highly rated as him, but all of his opponents were high-quality fighters and he’s previously had success for Bellator, M-1, and LFA. He showed that my confidence in him was justified this week by knocking out “Contender Series” alum Leon Shahbazyan (7-2, tier 5.5) just three minutes into their fight at LXF. Murrietta made a good choice in moving down to welterweight after sometimes being out-muscled at a higher weights, but he doesn’t move up a ton this week because I’d like to see some consistent wins and I’m starting to doubt how high-level the younger Shahbazyan is.

Eduardo Rufino: Improves to 10-4
Old ranking: 4, #97 prospect
New ranking: 4.5, #85 prospect

Rufino now has an impressive three-fight winning streak against opponents with a combined record of 31-9-2. He started it with a win for Shooto Brazil in 2018, then won one for Future FC last year before joining SFT this week. He’s heavily muscled and used his strength to control his opponent against the fence and ground for long stretches of the fight while also landing damaging strikes that added up over time. His opponent was in tier 2 but was someone I think is overrated, so Rufino moves up just one tier for this quality win. 

Leon Shahbazyan: Falls to 7-3
Old ranking: 5.5, #56 prospect
New ranking: 2, #153 prospect

As the younger brother of UFC middleweight Edmen Shahbazyan, there have been big expectations around Leon for most of his career. He built up a good 7-1 record, but it was against opponents with an awful combined record of 32-70 and he lost to the only non-can opponent he faced. He still managed to get a shot on the “Contender Series” in 2019, likely due more to his name than his ability, and got knocked out by Phillip Rowe in the third round. He came back this week after two years away and got knocked out again, this time just three minutes into the first round against quality regional veteran Moses Murrietta (8-5, tier 2.5). He’s still 25 despite the twists his career has already taken, but at this point he doesn’t have a single good win on his record and is at risk of falling out of the rankings with another loss.

Lightweight

Balajin: Improves to 21-1
Old ranking: 1.5, #208 prospect
New ranking: 1.5, #211 prospect

Balajin continued to build one of the most inflated records in MMA by winning a fight this week against a debuting opponent after taking out a 3-7 can slightly over a month ago. While the 14-fight win streak is impressive, he desperately needs to find better competition if he wants to prove he’s more than a can-crusher. He’d be an ideal candidate for ONE Championship’s contender series, as the promotion has lots of Chinese talent and is able to attract prospects from around Asia who would be a more legit challenge for him than the free wins he’s currently picking up

Jose Martinez: Improves to 12-5
Old ranking: 3, #136 prospect
New ranking: 3, #142 prospect

Martinez has mostly fought in Oklahoma, so it was only fitting that he was part of the main event for the first show of new promotion Martial Combat League. He lost a decision for LFA in his last fight back in January, so he needed a rebound fight and got just that with a 8-9 journeyman opponent in this one. He easily dominated the fight and got a tap out after just two minutes, which is a good way to re-assert his superiority to the lower-end regional scene. I’d love to see him sign with Texas-based Fury FC, as they’re the largest regional promotion in his area and he should be fighting better talent than he’ll find with MCL.

Erick “The Ghost Pepper” Gonzalez: Improves to 14-5
Old ranking: 3.5, #124 prospect
New ranking: 3.5, #123 prospect

Gonzalez was a great part of Combate Global (previously known as Combate Americas) for a number of years, going 8-4 with Latin America’s top promotion until they parted ways at the end of 2019. He didn’t fight in 2020 but has returned this year, first with a win for Naciones in March then with a decision over a 5-3 opponent for the LXF main event this week. This was a really easy matchup for them to give him, especially considering some of the talent they were able to bring in for some of their other matchups, which makes me suspect that they hope to keep him long-term and were setting him up with a win to start off his organization tenure on the right foot. He didn’t move up for this win, but he continued to build his record impressively and I could imagine him seeing interest from Bellator or LFA with another win or two. 

Dan Collins: Improves to 5-0
Old ranking: 4.5, #103 prospect
New ranking: 4.5, #103 prospect

Collins picked up a high initial ranking with a very impressive darce choke over a 7-2 opponent for UAE Warriors in November 2020. That was his second appearance for the reputable promotion, but this week he went back to his native England to take on a 4-1 can-crusher for the main event of Almighty FC and ended up winning with a body kick early in the third round. He’s now five-for-five for finishes in his pro career, but he doesn’t really move in the rankings because his opponent was worse than his record may have appeared.

Featherweight

Jair de Castro: Improves to 9-2
Old ranking: .5, #169 flyweight prospect
New ranking: .5, #309 featherweight prospect

De Castro came into this week with five submissions and three wins by unknown means on his record, so his second round finish by ground and pound was a good dimension for him to show. However, the fact that it came against a 5-9 opponent makes it considerably less impressive. The weird thing about this fight was de Castro moving up to featherweight after typically fighting at flyweight and occasionally bantamweight. He fought at 125 pounds just 5 months ago, so I have to guess this was a short notice fight and we’ll see him back at a lower weight class for his next fight as he looks to build on a streak of four straight finishes.

Bruno “Xinoco” Henrique: Improves to 15-4
Old ranking: .5, #302 LW prospect
New ranking: 1, #218 featherweight prospect

Henrique has some good wins over talented opponents on his resume, but he just hasn’t been active enough to attract much buzz. He fought once in 2017, once in 2018, once in 2019, not at all during 2020, then came back this week to win an Iron Man CF title with a decision over longtime regional stalwart Carlisson Diego (15-7). This extended his winning streak to four, and all have come against decent (albeit unranked) opponents, but he really needs to be much more active if he wants to get signed to a big-time promotion. I can easily see this win getting him signed to one of the larger Brazilian shows like SFT or Future, as he showed off good speed and movement while looking very comfortable on the ground.

Maike Linhares: Improves to 15-3
Old ranking: 6.5, #53 prospect
New ranking: 7, #39 prospect

Linhares has had quite an eventful career, as he started 9-0 and won the Jungle Fight bantamweight belt in 2015 before moving to RIZIN and getting his first career loss then losing the title in back to back fights. He came back at 145 pounds in 2017 and got two wins over good opponents to claim a couple of regional titles, then he jumped to ACB in 2018 and went 1-1 but was not retained when the promotion merged to form ACA. He managed to beat a 14-5 opponent for Future FC in 2019, but it had been 28 months since that fight coming into this week’s fight on the first-ever Brazilian Fighting Series card. He caught his 12-6-1 journeyman opponent with a flawless questionmark kick in the second round and knocked him fully unconscious with a shin straight to the jaw as he looks to re-establish himself on the fringes of international-level MMA. Given his past pedigree, it shouldn’t take many more performances like this for him to earn another shot with a big promotion.

Bantamweight

Fedor Durymanov: Improves to 8-2-1
Old ranking: .5, #277 featherweight prospect
New ranking: .5, #240 BW prospect

Durymanov got easy wins in his first three fights but was then thrown into the fire against other prospects in Central Asia and Russia and has had a stop-start career because of it. He fought to a draw in his fourth fight, then didn’t fight in either 2016 or 2017 after that. He came back to go 1-1 in 2018 but took a year-and-a-half off following the loss. He resurfaced with M-1 in 2020 and got three straight nice finishes against quality opponents before losing a decision to a 9-0 opponent in August 2020. As seems to be his habit after bad results, he took a year off to recover and came back this week to choke out a 5-4 opponent in the first round. He was clearly the higher level fighter in this one, but maybe he needed the easy win to help with the mental rebound after a tough loss. He seems to be popular with the MMA Series fans and announcer, so I imagine they’ll offer him another fight sometime soon.

Austin Bashi: Improves to 4-0
Old ranking: .5, #243 prospect
New ranking: .5, #235 prospect

Bashi is 19 and has only been pro for nine months, but he’s used his strong wrestling and jiu-jitsu to get three decisions and a submission in quick succession. He took on a 3-3 opponent this week for his fourth win with XFC, and while I said after his last fight that I wanted him to take on a more experienced fighter, this was not really a step up in talent. I think he has a very bright future ahead of him, but he’s visibly not as bulky and physically mature as a lot of other fighters, so it may take a little time for him to grow into his full potential as that strength is crucial for a wrestler. 

Erick Viscondi: Improves to 9-2
Old ranking: 1, #194 prospect
New ranking: 1, #175 prospect

Viscondi has been fighting high quality Brazilian opposition for essentially his entire career, and both of his losses were reasonable since one came against undefeated super-prospect Rafael Ramos while the other came in Russia when he fought for ACB Young Eagles in just his fourth professional fight. He destroyed an 0-2 can earlier in 2021 to rebound from the loss to Ramos for Shooto, and this week he took on a 6-1-1 unranked opponent for the bantamweight title at Iron Man CF. He was the physically stronger fighter in this one and tossed his opponent around for a round and a half before getting the back to set up a rear naked choke. His opponent didn’t seem all that skilled despite the inflated record, so Viscondi only moves up the rankings slightly, but with the title win for a small promotion he should hopefully get another chance with one of the country’s top companies. 

João “Alicate” Elias: Falls to 14-3-1
Old ranking: 1.5, #150 prospect
New ranking: .5, #283 prospect

Elias had two impressive performances with Future FC in 2019 that earned him prospect status: first, he submitted Rafael Costa (9-1 at the time, currently in tier .5), then he fought to a draw against Bruno Korea (11-3 at the time, now tier 15 and fighting on “Dana White’s Contender Series” later this year). Beating a prospect and drawing with a UFC candidate are both great results. He also got an armbar against a 10-10 veteran in his November 2020 SFT debut to further build his resume, but he got knocked out late in the first round this week by a knee from fellow tier 1.5 prospect Aleandro Caetano. He stayed in the rankings thanks to those previous performances, but this was my first time seeing Elias live and I was not at all impressed with his stand up or strength. It should be noted that he’s mostly a grappler/jiu-jitsu guy and didn’t get many opportunities to show those skills this week because he couldn’t get his opponent to the ground the couple times he tried.

Aleandro Caetano: Improves to 22-6-1
Old ranking: 1.5, #142 prospect
New ranking: 3.5, #91 prospect

Caetano claimed a catchweight title for Shooto Brazil in November 2020 after an illegal upkick while his knees were down, and he got signed to SFT off the back of that success where he took on João Elias (14-2-1, tier 1.5) in an excellently-matched clash of prospects. He showed strong wrestling and some great Muay Thai skills that lead to a devastating knockout knee from the clinch at the end of the first round of his fight this week. That brings him to five wins out of his last six fights, and four of those have beem against other talented prospects, so he’s definitely someone to keep track of on the Brazilian scene.  

Ryan Kuse: Improves to 4-0
Old ranking: 2, #128 prospect
New ranking: 3.5, #85 prospect

Kuse continued his dominant start to his pro career with a second round TKO in his second fight for Titan FC. His opponent was a decent boxer from prominent gym Team Alpha Male, but he was just 1-1 in MMA and was not able to hold up against Kuse’s forward pressure and strong wrestling. He’s aggressive with his strikes once he gets on top, but he’s also good at keeping his weight in position to hold his opponent down. He’s shown a ton of ability against other early-career fighters and I’d love to see him take on another prospect to see if he’s as next-level as he’s looked.

Wanderley Junior: Improves to 10-4
Old ranking: 2.5, #115 prospect
New ranking: 1.5, #150 prospect

Junior has been fighting at a high level in Brazil for a few years in a row, with all of his last six fights coming for SFT or Future FC. The high point was undoubtedly winning the SFT bantamweight title at the start of 2020, but he lost it to Jean Matsumoto this week in his first attempt at a defense. He showed solid skills on the ground and landed a couple heavy strikes that broke up the general pattern of him getting pushed back, but this fight clearly showed the gap between Junior and a next-level prospect. He’s still got plenty of time in his career to get back to a championship level, but he’s lost just enough fights to top Brazilian opponents to make me doubt his potential to make an impact internationally.

Jean Matsumoto: Improves to 10-0
Old ranking: 7.5, #15 flyweight prospect
New ranking: 9, #3 BW prospect

Matsumoto made his pro debut in 2018 at the age of 18 and made an immediate impression with three wins in that year. He came back with a crazy five wins in 2019, which culminated with winning the SFT flyweight belt at the end of the year. He missed 2020 and most of 2021 due to the pandemic, but he used that time away from the cage to build muscle in preparation for moving up a weight class this week to challenge for a second title. He took on champion Wanderley Junior (10-3, tier 2.5), who was the toughest test he’d had so far, and passed with flying colors. There was lots of back and forth in this fight, both in terms of scrambles on the ground and exchanges on the feet, and while Matsumoto didn’t win every single one he was clearly coming out ahead most of the time. It ended up going to a decision, and he won at least four rounds on all the judges’ scorecards, which is a fair indication of how good he looked in this one. He’s incredibly agile and flexible on the ground, and some of his escapes just don’t seem possible until he pulls them off. He did get dropped with a big shot pretty early in this one but managed to recover from it without too much difficulty, which is overall a good sign for when he faces adversity in the future. He’s just 21, but he’s talented enough that I don’t see him staying in Brazil for much longer.

Carlos Candelario: Improves to 8-0
Old ranking: 15, #74 flyweight overall
New ranking: 15, #150 BW overall

Candelario turned pro in 2015 and joined New England-based promotion CES later that year, where he won five straight to earn a shot on “Dana White’s Contender Series” as a flyweight. He won his fight with a decision over a Brazilian with great jiu-jitsu and was signed to the UFC in 2017, but he got hurt and then was cut during the flyweight purge the next year without ever fighting for the top promotion. He continued to battle injuries for the next couple years and ended a four-year absence with his return to CES this week. He got his second career win against 39-year old Miguel Restrepo, (5-5-1), who had already lost four of his last five as a punching bag for young prospects. Candelario dominated but he wasn’t able to get the finish despite doing so back in 2017, and he generally didn’t look as dominant as someone with the UFC stamp of approval should look against a 50-50 journeyman. This could easily have been ring rust, as he started to look better the longer the fight went on. He’s still undefeated and has the previous “Contender Series” win, so he could end up back on the UFC radar with another win or two.

Flyweight

Wascar Cruz: Improves to 12-7
Old ranking: 2, #73 prospect
New ranking: 2.5, #64 prospect

Cruz is 37 and made his Combate Americas debut this week against 38-year-old Claudio Ledesma (16-9) in a battle of two very experienced flyweights. His record isn’t the best but that’s mostly due to the high level of competition that he’s consistently faced, which mostly recently includes winning the Titan FC flyweight title in 2020 then losing it in his first defense earlier this year. Cruz fits a lot of muscle onto a small frame and is therefore very strong for the division, which he uses to control his opponents with intense wrestling. He got a ground and pound finish towards the end of the second round this week after dominating most of the fight. He proved that he’s still got some gas in the tank despite his age.

Prospects joining the rankings

Lawrence Bonds, heavyweight. Improves to 5-2
New ranking: .5, #133 prospect

Bonds debuted in 2018 and went just 1-2 that year with two knockout losses to bad veterans. He’s since refined his game plan and no longer tries to overwhelm every opponent he faces immediately, and as a result he’s put together four straight first round finishes. First there were two first rounds knockouts, including a decent 6-3 veteran, then there was a quick rear naked choke, and most recently he tapped out a 10-5 Brazilian with a kimura in the co-main event of RUF 42. That’s probably his most impressive win yet, and since ONE Championship is using RUF as their recruiting ground for potential American talent, I could see them giving him a shot in their bare-bones heavyweight division. 

Konstantin Glazunov, light heavyweight. Improves to 6-0
New ranking: .5, #114 prospect

Glazunov got five straight knockouts with three in the first round between 2015 to 2018, including a couple over decent veterans. He then was absent for 33 months before returning this week with MMA Series to TKO a young 2-1 wrestler. He looked accurate, mixed speeds well, and threw a diverse set of strikes to wear his opponent down before moving in for the kill just before the end of the first round. He’s pretty tall but not that thick for a light heavyweight, and I could maybe see him being a candidate for middleweight in the future.

Austin Lutchen, lightweight. Improves to 5-0
New ranking: .5, #396 prospect

Lutchen has been a pro for two years and has won all of his fights by first round finish, one by ground and pound and the other four by submissions. He’s pulled off chokes and a heel hook, which is a good diversity of attacks to see from a young fighter. He got a rear naked choke over a 6-4 fighter this past week as part of the main event for B2 in Iowa, and beating another veteran with an alright record is enough for him to claim a spot towards the bottom of the rankings. He still has a lot to prove, but I’m always happy to take a look at an undefeated youngster with a finishing habit.

Wdison Costa, lightweight. Improves to 13-5
New ranking: .5, #365 prospect

Costa entered this week with first round finishes in all 12 of his wins, with 10 by KO/TKO and two by submission. However, most of his victims were overmatched beginners, and he usually lost when faced with better opposition. His best win was his most recent, a two-minute knockout of a 12-6 opponent for Shooto Brazil in November 2020, but he got an even better victory this week against veteran grappler Antônio Carlos Ribeiro (17-6-1). It took him until the second round to get the finish with ground and pound, but he showed clean technique and good strength to stay in good positions throughout the fight and constantly be the fighter scoring points. Putting together these two solid wins in a row is enough to elevate him into the prospect rankings when before he was more of a can crusher. He was the main event for Watch Out Combat Series (WOCS) this week, I can only really see him staying with them if a title shot is coming in his next fight, as he’s bounced around tons of promotions throughout his career.

Prospects leaving the rankings

Moacir Rocha, middleweight. Falls to 10-5-1
Old ranking: 2, #97 prospect

Rocha dropped to welterweight this week but still got dominated by a much stronger opponent in his second fight for SFT. He’s got a few wins over opponents with good records but he’s never beaten a real prospect and has now continued his habit of losing when faced with tough opposition. I wasn’t very impressed with what I saw in this fight, and he’d have to put together an unlikely winning streak to regain his ranking. 

Takeya Takemoto, bantamweight. Falls to 12-7-1
Old ranking: .5, #299 prospect

Takemoto went on a four-fight win streak from 2019 to early 2021 to win the bantamweight title for small Japanese promotion Gladiator. That earned him a spot in the rankings despite only beating a series of regional veterans on his way to the title, and it also got him a fight in Grachan this week. He ended up losing a decision to longtime Japanese veteran and UFC washout Motonobu Tezuka, and while he couldn’t be expected to win a tough matchup like that, when I look back at his record he’s now lost six times to decent-to-good fighters, which isn’t good enough to be a prospect when you’re not also beating fighters of that caliber.