Introduction to the Top Prospect Rankings

Johnny Eblen looks across the MMA cage to his opponent. Johnny Eblen is the top ranked middleweight in the prospect rankings. Photo Credit: BELLATOR MMA / LUCAS NOONAN

Hello reader, and welcome to a new monthly series of articles that I will be writing for this site. You may have seen some of my Worldwide Prospect Reports in the past, but due to life circumstances I’m no longer able to go into that level of detail on the global MMA scene. However, I will be maintaining lists of the top 15 prospects in each male weight class and plan on writing about the changes that occur in them each month. You can access the rankings here: https://mma-prospects.com/divisional-prospect-rankings/

The most difficult part of the entire ranking process was arriving on a definition of what constitutes a prospect. The goal was to highlight fighters who are not well known on the international MMA scene but have the potential to make it to top promotions and find success there. To do this, we instituted the following rules:

Rules of the Rankings

1. No fighters who have signed with the UFC are eligible for the Prospect Rankings, but athletes who have competed on TV shows “The Ultimate Fighter” or “Dana White’s Contender Series” may be eligible.

The UFC is the largest stage in MMA, so anyone who’s fought there should have at least a moderate level of name recognition. Many fewer people watch “TUF” or the “Contender Series” and competitors who don’t earn a contract through them can sometimes go overlooked. The only exception to this rule is if a fighter is signed by the UFC then released without ever having a fight.

2. If a fighter is not competing for a major organization (Bellator, PFL, ONE, ACA, or KSW) that fighter must either be 30 or fewer years old or have fewer than 15 professional fights to be eligible for the Prospect Rankings.

The age and experience cutoffs were difficult to determine, but they’ve worked well so far to identify prospects with true top-level potential. While it may occasionally exclude some uber-talented 31 year-old, the line had to be drawn somewhere. Equally difficult was determining what constitutes a major promotion, and that is subject to change as the global scene evolves.

3. If a fighter is competing for a major organization (Bellator, PFL, ONE, ACA, or KSW), that fighter must either be 25 or less years old or have fewer than 10 professional fights to be eligible for the Prospect Rankings.

This category is designed to highlight up-and-comers who are already part of major promotions but still have significant room for growth. Most of these guys have sky-high potential but are sometimes less proven than their older and more experienced counterparts.

Goals of the Series

I will update the rankings regularly when fighters get signed to major promotions, lose eligibility due to age or experience, win or lose fights to move themselves in or out of the rankings, or are added to fill a spot left vacant by a departure. The order will be determined by my curated rankings, which you can find here if you’re interested in my tier grading system or would like to delve deeper than the top 15 in each class.

I plan to take notes on each change as it happens then release the list of changes at the start of a new month. For example, earlier this week both Jailton Almeida and Jack Della Maddalena left the rankings after earning UFC contracts on the “Contender Series.” Nasrudin Nasrudinov also left the rankings, but in his case it was because he is over 25 and had his 10th fight after fighting for a major organization (ACA) in his fights before the “Contender Series.”

Another goal is to list and analyze the number of prospects who come from each represented country and promotion. This should shed some light on the top producers of talent and over time illuminate shifting trends in the complex ecosystem of global MMA. Since these changes are gradual, the demographics will only be updated every three months. At the time of publication, the demographics are as follows:

Country Breakdown

CountryNumber of Prospects
Russia35
America24
Brazil12
England6
France6
Japan4
Poland3
Bahrain2
Canada2
Ukraine2
Turkey2
Australia1
Azerbaijan1
Bosnia1
Cameroon1
Georgia1
German1
Jordan1
Kazakhstan1
Kyrgyzstan1
Mexico1
Moldova1
New Zealand1
Nigeria1
Norway1
Philippines1
Scotland1
South Africa1
South Korea1
Spain1
Sweden1

Unsurprisingly, the top 3 spots are filled by the traditional MMA powerhouses of Russia, America, and Brazil. What’s more noteworthy is the sheer volume of talent that Russia is producing, as its 36 prospects are nearly one-third of the 120 total ranked and as many as America and Brazil combined. Dagestan and nearby republics in the North Caucuses have produced an assembly line of smothering Sambo masters who have dispersed across the globe in dreams of emulating the success of Khabib Nurmagomedov.

France took an unexpected fourth place tie, as the country just legalized full-rules MMA within the last year and has had few fighters excel on a global stage until the emergence of Cyril Gane.

England is seeing a fantastic youth movement at the moment, as the oldest of their six prospects is 27 and four of them are under 25. Japan was once near the pinnacle of the MMA world during the days of Pride, and while their talent production has flagged as of late they do still take sixth place in this list. Poland in seventh place surprised me originally, as it is an MMA-crazed country that produces tons of high-caliber fighters, but I realized this is mostly due to KSW’s hoarding of most of the top local talents.

Finally, it bears mentioning that 20 different countries are represented by just a single prospect. This diversity is an indicator of just how global the sport of MMA has become, and I hope more new countries will have their turn to see their top talent highlighted as this series continues.

Promotional Breakdown

Promotion Number of Prospects
Bellator17
ONE13
ACA11
Brave CF11
LFA7
Cage Warriors 6
Open FC5
RCC5
AMC Global4
Eagle FC4
Fury FC4
RIZIN4
CFFC3
UAE Warriors3
Contender Series2
KSW2
PFL2
Titan FC2
WWFC2
Ares FC1
Art of Scrap1
Combate Global1
Eternal MMA1
FEN1
Gladiator CF1
GMC1
Ippon Primorye FC1
Lux FL1
Oktagon1
Road FC1
Superior Challenge1
Taura MMA1

As you would expect, a lot of the top young and/or inexperienced fighters across the world are signed to top promotions like Bellator, ONE, and ACA. It’s pretty impressive that Brave CF also manages to crack the double-digits despite being in existence for a much shorter time, likely due to their meticulous worldwide talent identification and accumulation of overlooked talents in the lightest weight classes.

In the next tier, we see that well-recognized UFC pipelines LFA and Cage Warriors continue to pump out talent. They are followed by four straight Russian promotions, which shows just how widespread the talent is across that country. After that, we see four fighters with Fury FC and three with CFFC, which accurately reflects my opinion that Fury has worked their way to the #2 regional promotion in the U.S. thanks to their activity and gathering of talent during the pandemic.

Finally, UAE Warriors has already sent a few fighters to the UFC this year and continues to develop more exciting talents in the wings, as they employ a wide-spread scouting strategy similar to Brave CF while also doing their part for local talent development through their series of Arabia-only cards.

KSW and PFL have dramatically fewer prospects than the other three major promotions, and while that may seem strange at first, Polish fighters are very active so many of them quickly cross the 10-fight threshold while still in their 20s and PFL has shown more interest in signing ready-to-compete veterans rather than developing talent internally. The other promotions with just one or two prospects provide a sampling of global MMA, as they’re based in locations as disparate as Sweden, Australia, Mexico, and South Korea. MMA is the fastest growing sport in the world, and I can’t wait to see how it continues to evolve.