While there was no UFC this week, there were still plenty of top-level fights going on. ONE Championship had a decent card on Friday morning. Later that day, Bellator put on an eight-fight card highlighted by a middleweight title fight, and PFL simultaneously kicked off it’s playoffs on Friday night. PFL did a very good job of bringing in some new talents for the showcase fights that filled their prelims, and I’d expect to see some of those names return for the regular season next year. CFFC held an event on Saturday, while a few smaller U.S. promotions also held shows.
In Russia, RCC had another great card full of matchups between Russian and Brazilian prospects. Open FC went to Kyrgyzstan for the promotion’s first international event. Kyrgyzstan and the other Central Asian countries have seen a lot of interest recently from outside promotions now that travel restrictions have loosened, as there is so much talent concentrated in that area that has very few top-level promotions to showcase it. Later in the week, ACA Young Eagles returned with another show full of the top young talents across the region, as usual dominated by wrestlers from various parts of the Caucasus region.
In Brazil, new promotions RFA (whose acronym remains a mystery) and Number 1 MMA had their first shows, while other small promotions like X1 Kombat and Thunder Fight provided more opportunities for local talent to show off their skills. It’s great to see the Brazilian scene start to get back to normal with new promotions emerging from the wreckage created by the pandemic, because it’s historically been such a hotbed of talent as a country and still has tons of great fighters who just don’t get the attention they used to.
Peru saw a new promotion rise, as Warriors Combat Championship (WCC) put on their first event with a quality mix of some of the country’s top amateur and pro fighters.
On UFC Fight Pass, Ultimate Warrior Challenge in Mexico brought a solid batch of Latin American prospects on Friday. Unified MMA made its first appearance on the platform in the Canadian promotion’s 40th show. This Prospect Report also contains write ups of the LUX FL fights that happened last week on fight pass, as the results took a while to be published.
Honorable mentions this week:
PFL: Magomed Umalatov moved to 10-0 and got his second win for PFL with a decision over quality veteran Leandro Silva, Bellator, KSW, and ACA veteran Brett Cooper got an impressive knockout in his PFL debut, UFC vet Olivier Aubin-Mercier won a decision over fellow alum Darrell Horcher for his second PFL victory, Gleison Tibau got an arm triangle choke in a dominant two-minute performance for PFL, Loik Radzhabov got revenge over Alex Martinez for a loss earlier in the PFL season, Raush Manfio won a controversial decision over Clay Collard to get into the PFL finals, Ray Cooper III put on an impressive performance to beat Rory MacDonald in his semi-final, and Magomed Magomedkerimov won his PFL semi-final against a fill-in Sadibou Sy.
Other: Raufeon Stots got an upset win over Magomed Magomedov to put himself into Bellator title contention, Andrey Koreshkov made his return to Bellator and outmatched Sabah Homasi, Gegard Mousasi defended his Bellator middleweight title, longtime ONE Championship flyweight Alex Silva picked up a decision win over rising prospect Li Tao Miao, UFC veteran Zhang Lipeng held on for a win in his ONE debut against promotional stalwart Eduard Folayang, Brandon Davis defended his bantamweight title for Gulf Coast MMA to get his fourth post-UFC win in a row, KB Bhullar moved up to 205-pounds coming off his disastrous UFC stint and won a decision over a 4-4 opponent, Strikeforce, UFC, Bellator, and ACB alumnus Nah-shon Burrell showed off his striking in the CFFC co-main.
First time reading the column? You can catch a quick explanation of the ranking system here
Maxim Kolosov: Falls to 11-4-1
Old ranking: .5, #129 prospect
New ranking: .5, #137 prospect
After joining the rankings slightly more than a month ago with a knockout for Open FC, Kolosov joined RCC this week and got matched against fellow Russian giant Yuriy Fedorov (7-3, tier .5). He did well with his wrestling in this one and was probably leading the round for most of it, but with more than four minutes gone he got caught with a big knee to the face while pushing his opponent against the fence. That stunned him, which gave his opponent an opportunity to unload a flurry of punches and get the finish with seconds remaining in the round. I was concerned about Kolosov’s level of competition in the past and this loss doesn’t help address them at all, but he doesn’t immediately drop out of the rankings because he was matched against a fellow prospect.
Yuriy Fedorov: Improves to 8-3
Old ranking: .5, #118 prospect
New ranking: 1, #107 prospect
Fedorov took his third fight with RCC this week and got a good win after losing back in February to a leg-destroying low kick from tier 25 Kirill Kornilov. His other two losses come against Oleg Popov (tier 15) and Alexander Soldatkin (tier 5.5), so he’s only fallen against really high-quality opponents. He came into the week with an even 3-3 split of submissions and TKOS and added another knockout with a big knee and some follow-up punches. His opponent controlled him with wrestling for some of the round, but Fedorov fought back well and never got into too negative a position due to his size and strength. This was the first fellow prospect that he’s beaten, which is a good sign as you can’t stay ranked forever if you keep losing to better opponents and only beating bad ones.
Alexander Podmarev: Improves to 12-4
Old ranking: 2, #77 prospect
New ranking: 5.5, #39 prospect
In my last write up of Podmarev, he scored an uninspiring victory after an injury to his opponent and I said that a fight against a good prospect would teach us a lot about his real skill level. My wish was granted this week with his fight against tier 6.5 Andre Miranda, and while I think I had overrated the Brazilian somewhat, Podmarev showed off strong top pressure and ground and pound this week to complement the solid boxing and great natural power that he’s shown in the past. He stunned his opponent with a couple big right hooks to start the fight and was in control from then on, landing some good shots while standing but really excelling with his striking on the ground. With about 10 seconds left in the fight, he made the brilliant calculation that he no longer needed to worry about maintaining top position and slid directly into a deep armbar that forced a very quick tap. It shows great situational awareness to decide to chase the finish like that and also shows great stamina and flexibility for a heavyweight to pull that off so late in a fight. It helps his gas tank that he comes in easily 30 pounds under the weight limit, and he doesn’t lose out in the strength department given how muscular he is.
Andre Miranda: Falls to 7-3
Old ranking: 6.5, #28 prospect
New ranking: 3, #65 prospect
Miranda lost the first two fights of his career but then went on a seven-fight winning streak in Brazil that culminated in earning titles in Jungle Fight and Mr Cage. He faced rising youngster Alexander Podmarev (11-4, tier 2) this week and came into the ring with a lot of confidence. A smile got wiped off his face quickly once he realized how strong his opponent was, as he got caught with a couple big punches then bundled to the ground. Miranda spent most of the second and third rounds in bottom position getting pounded on and doing just enough to survive when the pressure got turned up, but with seconds to go his opponent slipped off the top for a nasty armbar that forced a tap. He looked exhausted just minutes into the fight and was visibly not in as good shape as his younger opponent and didn’t really seem to have an advantage in any area of MMA. He still stays in a decent tier because this was the fight that finally confirmed to me that Podmarev’s prior dominance was an indicator of a real high-level talent, and I think Miranda could still pose a threat for most lower-level heavyweights either in Russia or back in Brazil.
Davion Franklin: Improves to 4-0
Old ranking: 7, #23 prospect
New ranking: 10, #121 overall
Franklin exploded into my rankings with a devastating two-minute knockout of a veteran for Bellator back in May 2021, as I hadn’t seen his first two fights for the promotion and was unaware of his immediately-obvious talent. He cuts down to 265 but is pure muscle and puts it to good use for spectacular finishes, as his knockout this week came in just 21 seconds with a crushing right hand to the chin of Everett Cummings (15-0, tier 8). Franklin is one of the better prospects coming out of the elite camp at Jackson Wink, as his dynamite hands are paired with strong wrestling and a killer intensity and drive to bring the fight to his opponents. At just 27 years old, he could easily have a decade of high-level heavyweight fighting left in him, and from what I’ve seen so far he has the base to build towards becoming one of the better big men in the whole world.
Everett Cummings: Falls to 15-1
Old ranking: 8, #6 prospect
New ranking: 2, #81 overall
I overrated Cummings coming into this week because I saw that he had two prior wins for Bellator and let that blind me to the rest of his record being pretty bad cans or inexperienced nobodies. Looking back at it, neither of those prior wins for the big promotion were against very good opponents so they just helped legitimize his inflated record. He took on rising superstar Davion Franklin (3-0, tier 7) this week and got run over by a right hook that sent him to sleep right at the start of the fight. He’s a big strong guy who can probably overpower most lower-level fighters, but this fight exposed his chin and the fact that he’s nowhere near the athletic caliber you would usually expect from a top prospect. Some heavyweights can get away with being unathletic, but it didn’t pan out for Cummings this week and he paid the price in the form of his first career loss.
Graham Park: Improves to 8-2
Old ranking: 1.5, #83 prospect
New ranking: 1.5, #78 prospect
Park came into this week on a five-fight winning streak, including three for Unified MMA. That streak culminated in him winning the promotion’s light heavyweight title in his last appearance 23 months ago. He returned this week to defend his belt against an outclassed 9-9 journeyman brawler who Park unsurprisingly made short work of. He got the fight to the ground relatively early on and just kept delivering strikes from every position until the ref stepped in with over a minute left in the round. He didn’t really improve his ranking for this easy win, but it’s a nice reminder of the talent he has after his absence. I could see him joining a U.S.-based promotion like LFA because he’s probably progressed about as far as he can in Canada given the lack of quality opponents in his division.
Ty Gwerder: Falls to 5-3
Old ranking: 7, #26 prospect
New ranking: 2, #97 prospect
Gwerder started high in my rankings despite being 1-2 in Bellator and relatively inexperienced overall because he scored a number of highlight-reel knockouts and had faced really strong competition in his Bellator stint. This week he took on kickboxer Khadzhimurat Bestaev and looked like he was on his way to another quick win by stunning his opponent several times in the first round and beating him up both on the feet and when he got top position on the ground. However, he may have punched himself out looking for the finish and had a much more competitive second round where he had an advantage in takedowns and ground strikes, but his opponent looked better on the feet. Then in the third, Bestaev was dominant with his striking while Gwerder just tried to survive. I could have seen the decision going either way but all three judges scored the second round for Bestaev, giving him the win and putting Gwerder at risk of getting released from the promotion. He fell way down the rankings because of the weakness in his gas tank that he exposed, but he still showed the power and striking ability that had so many people excited about him in the past.
Arseniy Smirnov: Improves to 9-1
Old ranking: 8, #8 prospect
New ranking: 8, #8 prospect
Smirnov knocked out an unranked 8-2 35-year-old from Argentina towards the end of the first round to move his RCC record to 7-1, with six straight in his last six fights. He kept the fight standing, and all of his fights have either been TKOs or decisions, so striking is clearly the default game plan. He was significantly larger than his opponent and just seemed stronger overall while not really struggling on his way to the knockout. However, he didn’t move up the rankings at all because his opponent was unranked and he’s proven himself against significantly better fighters in the past.
Sanjar Azhibaev: Improves to 20-7
Old ranking: .5, #400 LW prospect
New ranking:.5, #316 WW prospect
I said that Azhibaev would likely take one or two easy fights after he got viciously knocked out back in July, as he’d done that after past losses, but he proved me wrong by joining OFC this week and getting a second round TKO over a 9-3 can-crushing wrestler. He wasn’t as large or strong as his opponent but he had better flexibility and agility and used those skills to maintain control on the ground and land strikes from every angle. He got pushed against the fence a couple times and also got wobbled once by a haymaker, but for most of the fight he was landing more technical shots, including a few damaging ones, and controlling the location and pace of the fight. He moved back up to welterweight for this fight but I think he belongs at 155-pounds for the long-term as the size and strength disadvantage he suffered in this one is not something you want to have to deal with in every fight.
Gerikhan Mazaev: Improves to 5-0
Old ranking: .5, #217 MW prospect
New ranking:.5, #312 WW prospect
Mazaev was one of my lowest ranked middleweights coming into the week, as he was undefeated, had one win for ACA YE, and is part of Akhmat Fight Club, but had never faced an opponent with more wins than losses. That changed this week as he dropped to welterweight and won a decision over Nikita Severov, a 3-0 wrestler who couldn’t match Mazaev’s size, strength, and top pressure in their grappling exchanges. 170-pounds looks like a sustainable long-term weight class for him given that he’s just 5’10”, so that strength could be a real tough challenge for the many other grapplers and sambo practitioners he will keep coming up against. Mazaev did a good job defending a couple submission attempts his opponent tried, but I’d like to see some more aggressive and/or powerful ground and pound from him, as right now it mostly seems intended to score points. His striking on the feet is basic but it’s not super critical given how good he is at getting the fight to the fence or taking it to the ground. He’s now got two wins with the junior ACA show and will almost certainly be given more fights to continue his progression with the organization.
Kyron Bowen: Falls to 9-6
Old ranking: 2, #160 prospect
New ranking: 1, #221 prospect
Bowen earned a shot on “Dana White’s Contender Series” in August 2020 after a seven-fight winning streak over mediocre American regional fighters. When appearing on the show, he got choked by Collin Huckbody in just 90 seconds. He got signed to PFL for their 2021 season but got knocked out to start the second round of his only regular season fight. He came back this week for a showcase fight and got run over by Michael Lombardo with wrestling and hard striking, and the fight ended in the first round due to some chopping leg kicks that shut Bowen’s calf muscle down completely. He was in agony on the ground as Lombardo just kept kicking away until the ref stopped the fight. That means he’s now on a three-fight losing streak, and he’s only staying in the rankings because of how good those three opponents have been. I highly doubt that PFL brings him back next year, so it will fall on him to prove his talent in whatever regional promotion he joins.
Artur Karavaev: Improves to 15-6
Old ranking: 2, #159 prospect
New ranking: 3.5, #119 prospect
Karavaev has fought for RCC since their first show in 2017 and improved to 9-2 with the promotion by smothering André Ricardo, who I had all the way up in tier 6.5. Karavaev doesn’t rise as high as his defeated opponent because his strategy was pretty boring and showed no real threat of finishing, which is the same style that has won him lots of decisions but proven to be less successful against higher-level opponents. He should be coming into the prime of his career at age 29 and he’s now won four in a row, so maybe I’m being overly cautious with his ranking, but he just doesn’t present anything that would threaten the many other strong wrestlers throughout Russia and the surrounding countries.
Roman Mukhamedshin: Falls to 9-3
Old ranking: 2, #152 prospect
New ranking: 1, #239 prospect
Mukhamedshin fell to 3-2 with RCC after Brazilian import Eduardo Rufino wrestled him for one round then knocked him unconscious early in the second. His other two losses came against good prospects, and he has a win over current Oktagon champion and tier 10 fighter David Kozma, which is why he stays in tier 1 despite getting outclassed in this one. He’s got great jiu-jitsu and uses his length well to set up chokes, but the drawback is that he’s skinny and didn’t have the strength to fend off his shorter and bulkier opponent in this one. I’d guess he’ll get another chance with RCC soon, likely against a weaker prospect to try to keep his spot in the promotion.
Eduardo Rufino: Improves to 11-4
Old ranking: 4.5, #85 prospect
New ranking: 5, #70 prospect
I’ve never written about a prospect in two straight Prospect Reports before, but Rufino has made it happen by winning a fight with RCC just nine days after a layoff-ending win for SFT. He must want to make up for the time he lost during the pandemic, and in a rarity I had him rated higher than the tier-2 Russian he was brought in to face. He spent most of the first round using his strength and wrestling to drive his opponent against the cage and wear him out, then he unloaded with two huge right hands to open the second round and end the fight. The first hook caught his opponent right on the chin and stunned him, then the second one had some extra viciousness on it and dropped his opponent stiff. He moves up slightly for beating a ranked prospect, but I didn’t see anything new between this week and the last so I can’t move him up too much for beating someone at a lower rank.
André Ricardo: Falls to 10-4-2
Old ranking: 6.5, #27 MW prospect
New ranking: 1.5, #207 WW prospect
Ricardo is someone who’s been on the radar as a prospect for a while after being part of “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil” season 4 and getting a win for ACB in 2017. He made his return to Russia this week with RCC but got completely controlled by solid wrestler Artur Karavaev ( 14-6, tier 2) and was unable to get off his back or threaten submissions whenever he ended up on the ground. He had two finishes against solid opponents back in Brazil leading into this one, and all of his previous losses have come against fighters who are now in the rankings, so there’s no questioning that he has talent. His lack of wrestling and cardio that he showed this week are major concerns though, and must be addressed before he can possibly improve his ranking back towards where it was.
Michael Lombardo: Improves to 12-2
Old ranking: 20, #147 overall
New ranking: 20, #144 overall
Lombardo has been on the radar of top promotions for a while; he won a prelim fight for Bellator back in 2017, lost a decision on “Dana White’s Contender Series” at middleweight to Kyle Daukaus in 2019, won in a talent-finding event for M-1 in early 2020, then returned to the “Contender Series” later in the year and got a win this time at a lower weight class. He’s a dominant wrestler but didn’t get a UFC contract because he couldn’t finish the fight. He was someone I was expecting to get a short-notice call up to the big show, but after a year without that materializing, he joined PFL this week and put on a very impressive performance. His striking looked a lot more put together and dangerous than it has in the past, and the powerful leg kicks that he delivered in this one showed the influence that training with prominent gym American Top Team has had on him. He only landed six total calf kicks, but they were so vicious that his tier 2 opponent’s legs were swelling after the first couple and he could no longer stand after about three minutes. Lombardo was relentless in his targeted attack, continuing to kick away at the injured calf on the ground and even landing a couple unconventional punches directly to the muscle. The destruction he was causing was evident and eventually the ref had to stop it before something got too seriously damaged. Lombardo doesn’t move much in the rankings because I already rated him much higher than his opponent, but this impressive performance should be enough to earn him a spot in the 2022 PFL welterweight season if the UFC doesn’t swoop in first.
Vitor Estevam: Improves to 5-0
Old ranking: .5, #305 BW prospect
New ranking: .5, #388 LW prospect
Estevam is a product of Team Nogueira, and he earned a ranking due to four wins in a one-year stretch during 2018 and 2019. He then dropped off the map for 23 months before resurfacing this week with a decision win over a debuting opponent. That was hardly an impressive result considering he’d taken out 3-0 and 5-3 fighters in his two prior fights, but it’s always good to see fighters get back to being active after the struggles of the pandemic. Notably, Estevam moved all the way up to lightweight after fighting at 135 or 145-pounds in all of his previous fights, so he may have added some extra weight during the time off.
Bekzat Isakov: Improves to 5-1
Old ranking: .5, #391 prospect
New ranking: .5, #359 prospect
Isakov impressed me a lot with a second-round rear naked choke over a 9-3 prospect back in March to win the Batyr Bashy lightweight title, so he joined the rankings despite being inexperienced. He joined OFC this week for their Kyrgyzstani event and got an easy matchup against an Uzbekistani making his debut. Isakov took the fight to the ground easily and progressed to back mount quickly, then tried to climb higher up to sink in a mounted triangle. He got shaken off but smoothly transitioned into a more conventional triangle from bottom position that was inescapably tight and forced a quick submission. He’s only 21, so if I were the OFC matchmakers I would keep him with the promotion as a prospect to develop and hopefully make inroads with his talent-rich home country.
Erik Silva: Improves to 7-1
Old ranking: .5, #348 featherweight prospect
New ranking: 1, #276 LW prospect
Silva is an obscure prospect out of Venezuela (as in, there’s not even a picture of him, age, or height on his fighter profile), but he’s now won three straight fights by first round submission in LUX against solid competition. The first was an 8-3 opponent back in 2019, then after a 16-month gap he took out a 6-6 opponent in March 2021 and 12-5-1 veteran Daniel Vega this week. Vega has given good challenges to all sorts of talented opponents, so seeing Silva dominate him and choke him out so quickly made me realize it was time to take him more seriously as a prospect. However, he’s still yet to fight anyone else ranked.
Adilet Nurmatov: Improves to 7-1
Old ranking: .5, #292 featherweight prospect
New ranking: .5, #332 LW prospect
Nurmatov picked up two wins in one night in late June, then came back this week for OFC’s Kyrgyzstan show. He got matched against a 3-2 opponent who couldn’t match his size or strength even though Nurmatov was coming up a weight class. He pushed his opponent down quickly and pounded in a series of left hooks that forced the stoppage. Nurmatov continued to show that he’s an aggressive fighter and quality athlete, but he still needs to fight a higher caliber of opponent if he wants to progress substantially.
Francesco Patron Manzo: Improves to 8-0
Old ranking: 1, #273 prospect
New ranking: 1, #261 prospect
Manzo has an incredible record for a 21-year-old, helped by the fact that he’s been fighting professionally since he was 16. He picked up the fifth submission of his career this week in the first round of his fight against a 6-7 journeyman for LUX Fight League. This marked his fifth win in two years for the promotion, and he seems to have found a steady home there as one of Mexico’s up and coming young talents. However, he didn’t improve his ranking much this week because he took out a 5-5 opponent with ground and pound in just 30 seconds back in May, so we already knew he was well above his opponent’s level. Hopefully he’ll start getting matched up against some other strong prospects soon to help the country’s best fighters start rising to the top.
Marco Antonio Elpidio: Improves to 12-4-1
Old ranking: 1.5, #195 prospect
New ranking: 2, #175 prospect
Elpidio started his career 6-0-1 on a variety of small shows before getting signed to Combate Global (then known as Combate Americas) to start 2017. He ended up going 4-3 for the promotion and featured in three main event fights during his trio of years with them, then was without a promotion for about a year during 2020 until he picked up a win for iKon that November. He joined LUX this year but lost a disappointing decision to a 9-7 fighter in his debut, then came back this week to beat a 4-1 prospect who I’d ranked in tier .5 but probably didn’t belong in the rankings. He’s now been in 10 straight decisions, win or lose, dating back to his Combate Global debut, and while he’s clearly not a finisher he’s shown enough skills to be a high-level test for any prospect looking to make a name for themselves in Mexico. He also still has room to grow himself and could start getting some outside attention due to his good record if he can start stringing together wins more consistently.
Elvin Espinoza: Improves to 6-0
Old ranking: 1.5, #190 prospect
New ranking: 4, #111 prospect
Espinoza made his debut for PFL this week against a can-crushing 5-1 wrestler who was no match for him in any area. Espinoza is incredibly shredded and looked dangerous in the striking before taking his opponent to the ground. He moved through positions pretty dominantly but did get shaken over the top once when he tried to set up an armbar and didn’t pay enough attention to maintaining his dominant position. However, he was quick to re-reverse the positions and ended up back on top, passing guard quickly, before shooting a forearm under the chin for the rear naked choke finish. He also has a quality 6-2 amateur record, so he’s been training for a while even if his pro record is relatively shallow. He looks like a really quality fighter and getting interest from a top promotion like PFL so early is a great sign, but this is about as high up the rankings as he can go until he fights a ranked opponent.
Timur Nagibin: Falls to 18-6
Old ranking: 8, #28 prospect
New ranking: 6.5, #45 prospect
Nagibin had his sixth fight for RCC this week and dropped to 4-2 with the promotion after a clear decision loss to Milson Castro. He’s beaten some good opponents in the past with wrestling and striking from top position, and he showed flashes of those skills in this fight, but it wasn’t a match for Castro’s deadly striking game. The third round was particularly bad, as he got chased around the cage for most of the time and was barely throwing anything threatening in return. I still consider him a quality fighter given the skills he’s shown and his history with RCC, his brief stint with ACA, and his 6-2 run with M-1 earlier in his career. The last person to beat him before this was Mikhail Odintsov, who’s now with PFL, so while Nagibin is a good prospect, he’s just not at an international level currently.
Milson Castro: Improves to 14-3
Old ranking: 10, #165 overall
New ranking: 15, #140 overall
Castro picked up his third straight win for RCC, and his second of 2021, with a decision win over top Russian prospect Timur Nagibin (18-5, tier 8). He really showcased his striking in this one, using long straight punches, snapping kicks, and knees up the middle to keep his opponent off balance and inflict a solid amount of damage. He was driven against the fence a few times but was never in any real danger and showcased good scrambling skills on the ground. His striking is what really makes him next level though, as his technique and timing are so crisp that it’s hard for any of his opponents to get in range and implement their game plans. I think he’s one of the best Brazilians fighting in Russia right now, and I would expect ACA to show interest soon, though maybe he’ll stay with RCC in the hope of getting signed to an American promotion.
Jose Perez: Falls to 4-1
Old ranking: .5, #304 prospect
New ranking: .5, #327 prospect
Perez joined the rankings less than three months ago by securing his third impressive submission for CFFC in his brief career, which led to him getting matched up against fellow 4-0 prospect Deandre Anderson (tier 1). Their match ended up being the main event after a title fight had to be scratched, which means everyone got to see Perez get knocked out cold by a right-hand bomb just 11 seconds into the first round. I’m not even sure if he threw a strike in this one, and while he remained in the rankings due to the jiu-jitsu skills he’s shown, this sort of knockout makes me doubt his chin and in turn question his long-term ceiling if he’s forced to be a one-dimensional fighter.
Dzhambulat Zelimkhanov: Improves to 8-2
Old ranking: .5, #277 prospect
New ranking: .5, #242 prospect
Zelimkhanov joined Akhmat Fight Club in 2018 and made an immediate impression by knocking out his opponent in the first round in a battle of 3-1 records. He dropped off for two years during the merger of organizations into ACA, but he resurfaced with the Young Eagles in March 2020 and went 3-1 with two TKOs and a decision over a 7-1 opponent leading into this week. He got matched against a 1-0 grappler who was nowhere near his level, as he provided decent takedown defense and even reversed positions occasionally for the first couple minutes of the fight, but he seemed to run out of energy incredibly quickly under Zelimkhanov’s nonstop pressure. The last few minutes were pure survival mode while quick punches rained down and sapped the little bit of resistance that was left. He looked great in this one, but it was not exactly a challenging matchup considering his resume.
Deandre Anderson: Improves to 5-0
Old ranking: 1, #214 prospect
New ranking: 2, #151 prospect
Anderson started his pro MMA career 4-0 for KOTC after a 5-1 amateur career, and he’s also competed in professional kickboxing and boxing (though he’s mostly lost there). He moved to CFFC this week and after getting a lucky spot in the main event, “The Prodigy” made sure that no one who saw the fight will be forgetting him anytime soon. He was matched against a lethal submission specialist but it didn’t matter in the slightest because he knocked him out with the first real punch he threw. It was a hard overhand left, and since it wasn’t thrown with a ton of wind-up, it’s a great sign that Anderson has real natural power in his fists despite only having one TKO on his record coming into this week. He was already considered a prospect on the rise at age 24, and this highlight-reel finish in a notable promotion could really start to build some buzz around his name going forward. His opponent was only tier .5, so I’ll hold off on moving him up the rankings too aggressively until I see him take on a more-established opponent.
Jean Silva: Improves to 8-2
Old ranking: 1, #206 prospect
New ranking: 2, #155 prospect
Silva earned his spot in the rankings at the end of June with a great knockout for Future FC, then came back this week for RFA’s first show and got a standing guillotine in less than a minute. His opponent was 5-2 but was also 38 with no good wins, and Silva was able to lock the choke in tight immediately after his first takedown attempt and finish it with a violent yank on the neck. This is the second guillotine of his career and those are his only two submissions, so he may be a bit of a specialist there. He’s also re-translated his nickname since his last fight from “Assassin of War” to “Lord Assassin”, which certainly has a better ring to it. He’s 24 years old but already seemed to have a good reputation with the crowd and audience, which is a great sign that he’s someone with next-level potential.
Solo Hatley Jr.: Improves to 9-5
Old ranking: 1, #239 prospect
New ranking: .5, #289 prospect
Hatley competes as both a pro boxer and MMA fighter, and at 24 years old he entered 2021 as a solid prospect in both sports. He was coming off a series of boxing wins and had gone 1-1 with Bellator, with the loss coming to Aaron Pico, so I thought the top-level promotion would surely give him another chance. Instead, he lost split decisions for both FAC and Peak Fighting while also slipping up as a boxer and came crashing down my rankings from his initial spot in tier 7. He went to yet another split decision this week and finally had one go his way, but he was taking on a 6-5 journeyman in B2FS as he continued his tour of Midwestern main events. He really should have pulled off a better result if he wants to be considered a prospect worthy of top promotions. As a result, I moved him down a tier despite the win to reflect the fact that he’s nothing more than a longshot at this point.
Basir Saraliev: Improves to 6-0
Old ranking: 1.5, #193 prospect
New ranking: 1.5, #193 prospect
Saraliev impressed me with wins over 2-0 and 4-0 fighters for ACA YE in November 2020 and April 2021, but his “win” this week left a lot to be desired. First of all, he was matched against a 1-2 18-year-old in what was an obvious mismatch despite his opponent’s size advantage. Secondly, while he looked good in defending a takedown and getting one of his own, the fight was stopped after he jammed his left hand in the eyes of his opponent while transitioning to side control. It didn’t look at all intentional, but the ref didn’t see what caused it and ruled it a win for Saraliev when it almost certainly should have been a no contest. It adds to his record but doesn’t help his ranking at all.
Renzo Mendez: Improves to 15-6
Old ranking: 1.5, #169 BW prospect
New ranking: 1.5, #189 featherweight prospect
Mendez started his career ingloriously with a 1-4 record in his first five fights, but he’s gone on a crazy run since then to become one the best fighters currently active in Peru. That run contains an active win streak that he extended to seven with a decision win in the main event of WCC1, along with two good wins for Combate Global in 2019. He took on a 19-year-old 3-2 Uruguayan this week as he moved up to featherweight and had some problems with his opponent’s size and strength, so it might be in his best interest to go back down to 135-pounds for the long-term. He did show off his impressive jiu-jitsu skills and threatened several submissions while generally controlling the fight on the ground on his way to a decision. He took some hard shots when his opponent managed to get on top and also got moved from top position a few times due to his opponent’s strength advantage, so it was not as dominant a performance as he likely hoped for against an opponent with a weak record.
Dzhaddal Alibekov: Improves to 5-1
Old ranking: .5, #322 prospect
New ranking: .5, #276 prospect
Alibekov debuted in 2019 and won two fights that year before signing to ACA YE in 2020. He lost his debut fight that March but came back with a first round rear naked choke of a 4-1 opponent that November, then in 2021 he got a second round TKO and a first round submission over two straight 4-3 opponents. The crowd was chanting his name, which was something they didn’t do for the 40-or-more other fighters that night, so it seems likely that he was given the “main event” spot and an easy matchup against an opponent on a two-fight losing streak due to being a local favorite. He put on an impressive all around display by landing a couple solid strikes then taking his opponent down just seconds into the fight, which was followed with ground and pound until the ref stood them up for an accidental strike to the back of the head. Alibekov then landed a punishing shot that staggered his opponent and allowed him to start raining down punishment from top position, which caused a desperate scramble. He snatched his opponent’s neck in transition, threw in his leg hooks, and squeezed hard to force the tap. This was a strong performance, but the caliber of his opponent means I can’t move him beyond the lowest tier.
Carlos Abreu: Improves to 9-3
Old ranking: .5, #297 prospect
New ranking: .5, #290 prospect
Abreu returned from 22 months off to pick up a win for RFA when his 5-3 opponent injured his shoulder while striking halfway through the second round. He wasn’t all that impressive in this one, especially to start the fight as he was taken down quickly and pounded on for a while. He managed to get a good slam of his own later in the round and seemed to be keeping the momentum in his direction when the fight abruptly ended. He has a win for ACB and a bunch of good wins on the Brazil regional scene on his resume, but I’d need to see a much better performance to move him into a higher tier.
Murad Zarmanbetov: Improves to 7-1
Old ranking: .5, #137 flyweight prospect
New ranking: .5, #244 BW prospect
Zarmanbetov spent the first five fights of his career dominating in China, but left after suffering an injury during a fight that caused his first loss in 2018. He made his return to MMA and popped up on my radar by choking out a 4-0 prospect in an upset for EFC in March 2021, but he apparently didn’t earn another fight with the promotion as he took a fight this week with the tiny Universal Fighters League in Russia, where he knocked out a debuting Kyrgistani in less than two minutes. This was just a filler fight to hopefully get him some more attention from larger promotions, so the most notable change in his ranking is that he moved up to bantamweight after fighting at 125-pounds in the past.
Braian Gonzalez: Falls to 8-2
Old ranking: .5, #260 prospect
New ranking: .5, #331 prospect
I added Gonzalez to my rankings back in June after being impressed with his first two fights for UWC, but he suffered one of the biggest upsets of 2021 this week. After only losing to Umar Nurmagomedov earlier in his career, he got matched against an 0-3 opponent as a +900 favorite who was expected to turn it into a massacre. He hurt his opponent a couple times early in the first round but couldn’t get the finish and may have tired himself out with his endless punches, as he got caught with a big knee then finished with ground strikes in an upset that truly no one could have predicted. I’m keeping Gonzalez ranked because he showed lots of the same dynamic striking that earned him the spot in the first place, but this is an ugly result to have on his record.
Irvin Amaya: Improves to 7-1
Old ranking: .5, #254 prospect
New ranking: 1.5, #160 prospect
Amaya is a 25-year-old from Mexico who has clearly received good technical training from one of the many exceptional boxers in his country. He won his first five fights against opponents with a combined 21-6 record, which is extremely tough competition for someone making their start in MMA. He then suffered his only loss in his LUX debut back in 2018 when he unfortunately broke his leg halfway through the round against a quality 5-1 opponent. He missed three years due to that injury and scheduling issues during the pandemic, then returned to LUX with a super impressive decision over a 13-3 opponent back in March 2021. That put him on my radar as a prospect, then he came back this week to win a decision over another prospect in Antonio Rodriguez (7-2, tier .5). Interestingly, this was actually Amaya’s second decision win over Rodriguez, as they faced off back in 2015 in what was their second and third professional fights respectively. With two straight quality wins over high-caliber opposition, I have to imagine Amaya is setting himself up well for a future shot at their bantamweight title.
Juan “Pegajoso” Diaz: Improves to 7-0-1
Old ranking: .5, #247 prospect
New ranking: .5, #240 prospect
Diaz had a fight booked twice earlier in 2021 but they fell through both times, so he took a short-notice fight against an overmatched 9-8 veteran for UWC in the biggest spotlight of his young career. He looked much more athletic and clearly had powerful striking, as his opponent was desperate to take the fight to the ground and fight a way to entangle the legs for a submission. Diaz showed good composure and jiu-jitsu defense to gain top position and land punches that eventually got the fight stopped in the first round. Diaz is very young, remains undefeated, and has a ton of room for growth, but he’s still only faced veterans and okay prospects so he remains in the lowest tier for the time being.
Hurshed Nazarov: Improves to 8-0
Old ranking: 1, #213 prospect
New ranking: 1.5, #155 prospect
Nazarov is a tall, dynamic athlete fighting out of Tajikistan who has now won three fights this year for ACA YE. He’s listed at 21 years old but I’m not sure how trustworthy that is, because if that’s the case then he made his pro debut a couple days before his 15th birthday, which seems crazy. Even if he’s a few years older than advertised, he’s still young and has a great base to build on for future development. He joined ACA YE in January 2021 and beat an opponent making their MMA debut, then won a decision over a 4-0 prospect in April, and finally won another decision this week over a 3-1 grappler. Nazarov throws hard kicks to the legs and body from both sides with very little wind-up or wasted motion and has quick and powerful hands, though his punches are a little loopier than they should be. He showed strong, technical takedown defense to fend off most of his opponent’s shots and reverse a few of them in the first two rounds, then in the third round he showed off his offensive grappling with a powerful double leg takedown that led to top control for most of the round. His opponent was unranked and seemed pretty one-dimensional, so I don’t want to move Nazarov up the rankings too quickly, but he’s looked very impressive every time I’ve seen him fight and I can’t wait for him to test his talents against one of the many other prospects in the organization.
Mateo Vogel: Falls to 5-2
Old ranking: 1, #200 prospect
New ranking: .5, #242 prospect
Vogel is a young Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu specialist from Canada who started his career with three submissions before getting his first pro loss due to a disqualification for an illegal upkick against a superior prospect. He then beat a 4-0 opponent to earn himself a contract with CFFC in 2021, and he started his tenure with the new promotion off well by choking out a 5-1 opponent back in April. However, he got a much tougher opponent this week in Bellator vet and former CFFC title challenger Da’Mon Blackshear (9-4, tier 6.5). Vogel seemed to realize pretty early that he was outmatched in the striking department and didn’t have the physical strength necessary to control his opponent against the ground for extended periods, so he started attacking leg locks and heel hooks in every scramble as his best shot at pulling out the upset. He got somewhat close a couple times but Blackshear was too well drilled in his defense to ever leave a major opening and Vogel took a ton of punishment from the bottom when he got stacked up during his risky searches for a sub. He survived all three rounds but got swept on the scorecards and will need to improve his striking defense and movement if he wants to avoid being forced into this situation in the future.
Eko Roni Saputra: Improves to 5-1
Old ranking: 1.5, #168 prospect
New ranking: 2.5, #116 prospect
Saputra is an Indonesian wrestler who was once part of his country’s national team, and he’s spent his entire MMA career with ONE Championship. He was finished in the first round in his debut, but he’s put up five straight first-round finishes against relatively weak prospects since then. This week he added an impressive highlight to his resume with a 10-second knockout of a 6-6 journeyman, as the first right stunned his opponent then the second massive overhand right shut the lights off and left him lying on the mat for quite a while. Saputra’s four prior wins came through three submissions and a quick injury, so showing that he has big-time power in his hands to go along with his excellent wrestling is a great sign for his continued progress in the top Asian promotion.
Alimardan Abdykaarov: Improves to 15-6-1
Old ranking: 2, #140 prospect
New ranking: 6, #42 prospect
Abdykaarov has now pulled off upset TKO/KOs in all three of his fights for OFC this week, including a title win this week that saw him rocket up the rankings. He knocked out a high-quality Brazilian just two months ago and took on a fighter with a very different style this week in Armenian wrestler Ayk Kazaryan. He got controlled decisively in the first round but didn’t panic or waste too much energy, so he managed to weather the storm and picked up his striking pace considerably in the second round. His opponent’s takedown and clinch attempts started getting much sloppier and less powerful, so Abdykaarov was able to deal with them much more easily and do some damage with his counter shots. In the third round, it was obvious his opponent was exhausted and he did a good job picking him off and then piling on the pressure once he sensed a finish was close. With three straight finishes over prospects and a solid mid-level title now in his possession, I could see ACA trying to sign him to add to their bantamweight division.
Ayk Kazaryan: Falls to 10-2
Old ranking: 5.5, #75 featherweight prospect
New ranking: 2.5, #121 BW prospect
I said that Kazaryan was heading towards a title fight in my first ever Prospect Report after he scored his fourth straight decision win, and he proved me right by dropping to bantamweight this week to challenge for the OFC belt. It looked like he was heading towards another of his typical wrestling-heavy decisions after the first round against Alimardan Abdykaarov (14-6-1, tier 2), as he kept him pinned against the fence for the majority of the round and clearly inflicted more damage even though neither was landing hard. However, Kazaryan gassed out really quickly and I have to wonder if the cut back down to a lower weight class sapped some of his stamina, as he started to get beat up in the second round then got finished by ground and pound in the third. He’s proven that he’s a solid prospect with some of his earlier wins for OFC and other organizations, but he’s very one-dimensional as I have questions about most of his skills outside of his stellar wrestling.
Da’Mon Blackshear: Improves to 10-4
Old ranking: 6.5, #30 prospect
New ranking: 7.5, #17 prospect
Blackshear started his career by going 6-2 for various small shows in the Southern USA before getting a shot at the CFFC title in 2018 and losing a decision to current UFC prospect Pat Sabatini. He then won a fight for CES in 2019, got a submission on the Bellator prelims in 2020, then got a fight in Titan FC in February of this year. He lost another decision that time, losing rising stud Danny Sabatello. He went back to CES in April to choke out a 5-2 prospect, then returned to CFFC to take on Canadian grappler Mateo Vogel this week (5-1, tier 1). Blackshear won a clear decision by initiating the exchanges on the feet and landing with more power and frequency then stuffing Vogel’s increasingly-desperate submission attempts. It never got quite as bad as Ryan Hall’s ridiculous fight in the UFC earlier this year, but it was the next closest thing as Vogel realized a quick leg-lock was his best chance at winning while Blackshear had no intention of giving him an opening to pull one off. He showed great accuracy and power with his ground strikes and used them to disrupt the flow of his opponent’s attacks and inflict considerable damage from his top position. His previous losses in title fights show that he’s probably not talented enough to go far in a major promotion, but Blackshear is the next step below that and should probably get another title shot for a mid-size organization like CFFC in the near future.
Salavdi Dzhamaldaev: Falls to 7-1
Old ranking: .5, #134 prospect
New ranking: .5, #154 prospect
Dzhamaldaev went pro three years ago at age 19 and won three fights in a five-month span, including one against a 3-0 opponent, to attract attention from ACA early into his career. He signed with them late in 2019 and rattled off four straight wins for the Young Eagles against inexperienced fighters (2-0, 1-0, 2-1, 1-0), with three of the four coming by finish. He’s now 22 and trains out of Berkut FC, so his future should be bright given the talent in that camp, but he suffered his first professional loss this week in another YE show as Islam Konchiev (5-2, tier 1) finished him with ground strikes in the third round. Dzhamaldaev was the taller and slimmer fighter in this one and seemed incapable of stopping Konchiev’s takedowns or getting his opponent off of him once top control was established, so he ended up spending a large majority of the first two rounds on his back and burning a lot of energy in escape attempts. He was visibly starting to get ragged in the second, but he recharged enough to start the third with a cracking overhand right that stunned his opponent and allowed him to set up a hail-mary guillotine attempt. Unfortunately, he just didn’t have the energy to pull it off, as just when he took mount with the choke his opponent was able to scramble, reverse the positions, and deliver enough quick ground strikes that the ref was forced to stop in to protect the exhausted Dzhamaldaev. I’m sure his coaches will have him working on his stamina and escaping from off his back after a result like this, and I look forward to seeing if he’s managed to shore up those weaknesses the next time he makes an appearance for ACA.
Khasan Bisultanov: Improves to 7-1
Old ranking: 1, #109 prospect
New ranking: 1.5, #82 prospect
Bisultanov went 6-0 from 2018 to 2020 to start his career, including three wins for ACB/ACA YE, but then lost a decision to a 4-0 opponent in his first fight of 2021 to drop down from tier 2.5. He moved back up one tier this week with an exciting fight against an energetic 5-1-1 Tajikistani that ended in a third round submission win and brought his Young Eagles record to 4-1 overall. He’s a tall and skinny flyweight who has used his length and snappy kicks with both legs to fight from the outside and win by points or TKO in the past, which he did with success this week as well. He also showed that he’s willing to mix it up and shoot takedowns to deliver strikes to a stockier grapple, then pulled off a deep guillotine from a front headlock when his opponent tried to take him down in the third. Bisultanov showed a range of skills this week that will unquestionably help move him back up the rankings.
Islam Konchiev: Improves to 6-2
Old ranking: 1, #98 prospect
New ranking: 3.5, #54 prospect
Konchiev entered the year totally off my radar, as the 21-year-old was just 2-2 with his losses coming against talented veterans and his wins against debuting opponents. The matchmakers for ACA YE gave him a shot in January and he proved that he was talented with a second round choke over a 5-3 opponent, then got another second-round choke just four weeks later over a 3-1 opponent for Naiza FC. His great performance in that fight prompted me to add Konchiev to the rankings, then I bumped him up to tier 1 in April after a hard-fought decision over a 5-1 opponent who was also just 21. This week, he took on his toughest test yet in Salavdi Dzhamaldaev (7-0, tier .5) and was shockingly dominant. There were very few striking exchanges in this one because Konchiev got the fight to the ground quickly in the first two rounds and flowed excellently from one position to another to maintain top control and thwart any efforts to unbalance him. He got careless with his guard to open the third round and took a huge right hand as punishment that forced him into a sloppy takedown while he tried to clear his head. His opponent sank in a deep guillotine, fell to the ground, then tried to reverse into a mount to finish the choke, but Konchiev showed impressive composure and did everything right to prevent the squeeze from getting too tight and create an angle so he could scramble out. He immediately swiveled into side control and started zipping in shots with both hands while surfing his opponent to keep his body weight firmly placed on top. None of the shots were destructively powerful but their combined effect was enough that the referee was forced to step in to protect his worn-out opponent. I was hugely impressed with his grappling and ground striking in this fight, and while he’ll have to maintain better vigilance to protect himself against better strikers, he’s proven so far this year that he’s a very exciting prospect who seems to be improving noticeably every time he enters the cage.
Umalat Israpilov Improves to 13-3
Old ranking: 2, #72 prospect
New ranking: 2, #72 prospect
Israpilov had already established himself as a rising prospect in ACA YE by beating 4-0, 6-1, and 4-0 opponents in the five months between November 2020 and April 2021, so I’m unsure why he was given a big step back in competition this week against a 1-1 beginner. The matchmakers clearly knew something though, as the two had a back-and-forth grappling match in which both had control at times but Israpilov had more time on top and was in more dangerous positions, like taking his opponents back several times to hunt for a choke. He got the decision win but his ranking remains unchanged due to the tough fight against someone I thought should be an easy opponent.
Andres Luna Martinetti: Improves to 11-0
Old ranking: 5.5, #38 prospect
New ranking: 7, #19 prospect
Martinetti started his career with a couple quick wins on the Ecuadorian scene, then moved to Peruvian promotion Fusion FC and dominated on his way to winning and defending the flyweight title. He joined UWC 3 months after that defense and was put in the main event right away as a new undefeated potential star, and while this was definitely the biggest fight of his career it certainly wasn’t the toughest opponent. He was given a 6-5 Mexican scrapper who had never beaten an opponent with a pro win, so the result seemed pretty pre-determined from the fight’s start. Martinetti has mostly been known for his jiu-jitsu in the past, as he has five rear naked choke finishes and just one stoppage through strikes, but he showed that he can catch you if you’re not careful by cracking his opponent with a big right hand early in the first round. That punch stopped the proceedings before they even really had a chance to get started. He had to deliver a few follow-up shots to get the finish, but it was the one big one that changed the fight. He moves up a few tiers because of the highlight-reel finish and new skillset he showed off in this one, and with a record like his at age 25 I imagine he’ll be fast-tracked to a shot at the title in the hopes of getting him signed to the UFC or another top-level promotion.
Prospects joining my rankings
Khadzhimurat Bestaev, middleweight. Improves to 11-4
New ranking: 3, #83 prospect
Bestaev has a truly unique build as a 6’6″ middleweight, as he’s impossibly slender but uses his kickboxing background well to keep distance with jabs and kicks that are surprisingly powerful. He got dominated in the first round of his Bellator debut this week against fellow prospect Ty Gwerder, and it looked like he might get knocked out a couple of times, but he managed to survive and didn’t spend too much energy in desperate escape attempts. He turned it up in the second while his opponent started to tire, and he won the striking for the first half of the round before spending the second half on the ground. He then beat up an exhausted Gwerder for the majority of the third round and won a 29-28 that was unpopular with the crowd but was totally reasonable when I went back and rewatched it. He showed durability and stamina to go with his excellent striking skills and physical gifts, and that’s a very intriguing combination. He has struggled in past steps up in competition, going 0-2 for LFA at light heavyweight and losing a “Contender Series” fight in 2020, but he’s got enough unique tools that he merits a high initial ranking.
Tyler Veal, welterweight. Improves to 1-0
New ranking: .5, #331 prospect
Veal is someone I’ve had my eye on for a while due to the insane 14-2 amateur record he put together from 2015 to 2020. He took on all sorts of talented amateur opponents with good records in that time, then took 18 months off during the pandemic to prepare for his professional debut this week. He got an easy matchup against a 1-3 opponent and unsurprisingly used his wrestling to grind out a decision, which is the same way he won 12 of his 14 amateur fights. He may never accumulate the world’s most thrilling highlight reel, but he’s proven to be a highly effective fighter already despite being just one fight into his pro career. He does get one of the absolute lowest spots on the list for now, as he’ll need to prove himself against substantially better opponents to really solidify himself as a prospect.
Losene Keita, welterweight. Improves to 6-0
New ranking: .5, #302 prospect
Guinea is a small country in West Africa not exactly known for its MMA talent, but Keita is probably the best fighter coming out of there to date. He’s 23 and began his amateur career in the Netherlands at age 19, going 3-0 from 2017 to 2018 before going pro at the end of 2019 and winning three decisions in two months for tiny Dutch promotions. He joined the new World Fighting League early in 2020 and has unlocked his knockout power with the promotion, scoring three straight first-round knockouts to boost his record and win the welterweight championship this week. However, the competition has been quite weak, as two of his knockouts came against fighters in their debut while the third was against an 18-39-1 veteran picked off the scrapheap. He’s shown promise so far, but he’ll need to join a bigger European promotion if he wants to get matched against the type of fighters who will actually challenge him.
Myktybek Orolbay Uulu, lightweight. Improves to 6-1
New ranking: .5, #397 prospect
Orolbay Uulu debuted in 2018 and quickly won four fights in seven months against nobodies on the Kyrgyzstani regional scene, which earned him a fight against a 3-0 fellow prospect. He got a first round KO in that one and was impressive enough to earn a chance with ACA Young Eagles in December 2020 after 18 months away during the pandemic. Unfortunately, he got matched against excellent grappler Khalid Satuev, who was 8-0 at the time and is now in tier 4.5 following the win, and ended up losing a decision in which he was mostly helpless. He returned this week with OFC and took on an 8-1 Georgian can-crusher, and Uulu ended up re-discovering his power with a big right hand that shut his opponent down relatively early in the first round. He’s far from an elite prospect given the grappling weaknesses that I saw just eight months ago, but he has some submissions on his record so he’s not totally incompetent on the ground and he’s also shown off good natural power in his hands. He’s young and has plenty of time to develop, which is good because he’ll not be ready for major fights for a few years at least.
Timothy Cuamba, featherweight. Improves to 3-0
New ranking: 1, #206 prospect
Cuamba lost his amateur debut in 2018 but won five straight after that as an amateur. He then went pro in December 2020, and he’s won three straight for CFFC since then. He’s got boxing training that’s obvious in the flurries of sharp straight punches that he uses to establish his range and do damage without over-committing to any one shot. His first two wins were against 0-0 and then 1-0 fighters, and he continued the pattern of taking on matching records by taking on James Lyons (2-0) this week. Lyons also had two wins for CFFC and impressed me a ton when I watched him, but I’m glad that I waited on ranking him after seeing the fight this week. Lyons was constantly trying to get in close to either dirty box or engage in grappling but he wasn’t able to match the continuous striking output and smooth movement that Cuamba used to keep him circling around the outside of the cage for most of the fight. He landed lots of power shots that probably would have dropped most opponents, but Lyons has a great chin and was able to barely survive. It was so one-sided that one judge scored in 30-25, meaning two separate rounds earned a 10-8, which was a fair indication of the total dominance Cuamba was showing. He moved into tier 1 despite being so early in his career because of how high-level his hands and defense appeared in this tough matchup.
Prospects leaving my rankings
Paulo Santana, welterweight. Falls to 5-1
Old ranking: .5, #294 prospect
Santana was someone I ranked due to his 5-0 record despite never seeing him fight, but then he came back this week after 27 months away from competition and lost a split decision to a 1-1 opponent just starting their career. He’ll have to string together a bunch more regional wins if he hopes to make it back onto the list.
Otgonbaatar Nergui, welterweight. Falls to 5-3-1
Old ranking: 1, #226 prospect
Nergui got a first round submission for ONE’s “Warrior Series” 22 months ago but then dropped off the map during the pandemic. He made his return this week for the main show and got a favorable matchup against Rahul Raju, who was 2-5 with ONE and 7-6 overall. He looked good with his striking in the first and stuffed his opponent’s long-distance takedown attempts with relative ease. However, he came out looking a little tired in the second and definitely wasn’t as sharp in any area though he still had the striking advantage. Eventually he got tangled up by an ugly takedown and it became clear that his jiu-jitsu is not very good, as Raju had a massive advantage on his way to getting a rear naked choke. Nergui will have to show some more skill and endurance before I’d consider putting him back in the rankings.
Jafeth Herrera Quiros, lightweight. Falls to 4-2
Old ranking: 1, #246 prospect
I had ranked Quiros because he went 4-0 as an amateur then 4-1 to start his pro career, and the only loss came due to a cut against an opponent that he beat later that year to prove his superiority. He also won his Lux debut back in 2020 and mixed submissions and knockouts well, so his stock was on the rise, but he ended an 18-month layoff this week with a decision loss to Marco Antonio Elpidio (11-4-1, tier 1.5) that showed that he’s not on the same level as a typical prospect on my list. He’s still early in his career, so he’s got time to rebound if he can find more success in the future
Neal Anderson, lightweight. Falls to 10-4
Old ranking: 1, #246 prospect
Anderson started his career as a pretty average part of the Canadian scene, going 4-3 between 2008 and 2013, then took three years off and returned in 2016 to start a six-fight winning streak against opponents with winning records for Unified MMA. None of the people he beat were elite, but they were at least competent fighters for him to prove his skills against. He ended a 27-month absence this week by dropping down to featherweight for a shot at the title, but he got convincingly out-grappled by Maged Hammo (9-5-1, unranked) on his way to a fourth-round loss by rear naked choke. Anderson is now 34 and seems to be entering the decline stage of his career, and while he’ll probably pick up a few more wins on the regional scene he’s no longer really a prospect for future growth.
Minkail Khusenov, bantamweight. Falls to 3-1
Old ranking: .5, #310 prospect
Khusenov earned a ranking based off of two straight wins for ACA YE this year, first a triangle over a debuting opponent in January and then a well-fought decision over a 6-2-2 fighter in April. I was excited by the fact that he was already finding success in such a tough show at age 21, but he crashed back to earth this week by losing a tight split decision to a 5-4 guy with consistency issues. He had a few moments of cage control but his opponent had more, especially in a dominant first round, and they landed a similar number of strikes but the hardest ones of the fight were definitely by his opponent in the third round. Even if you thought he won the fight, which he and his corner did, it was too close a contest for me to be comfortable ranking him at just 3-1, but I could easily see him rejoining next year if he can bounce back with a couple good wins in the interim.
Antonio “El Malilla” Rodriguez, bantamweight. Falls to 7-3
Old ranking: .5, #260 prospect
Rodriguez lost a decision to fellow tier .5 prospect Irvin Amaya (6-1) for LUX and has now lost two of his last three, with the win coming in the easiest fight of the three during his LUX debut. He’s certainly a decent fighter but nothing I saw from him in this one makes me think that he’s destined for high-level success.
Aleksandr Dontsov, bantamweight. Falls to 5-2
Old ranking: 1, #207 prospect
Dontsov started his career 5-0 with three first-round submissions and two decisions, including three quality opponents back to back leading into 2021. He’s lost two decisions this year, including a split one this week against a 3-2 opponent that was enough to remove him as a prospect. He had a great second round where he was the instigator on the feet and controlled positions on the ground, but he wasn’t able to replicate that success in either the first or third and deserved the decision he got. He isn’t quite good enough on the feet to make striking a viable option when he runs into an opponent who can neutralize his offensive grappling.