Prospect Rankings Update: February 2022

January 31-February 6

Middleweights:

Shamil Ramazanov: Improved from unranked to #15 prospect

Ramazanov has put together one of the least-mentioned 20-win streaks that I’ve seen in MMA, as he was 5-0 as an amateur and moved to 15-0 as a professional today. Part of that is due to his level of competition, as he’s faced some other undefeated prospects but has never taken on anyone truly high-caliber, while the rest is due to the promotions he’s been fighting for, as the largest of those is Russian show AMC Fight Nights and his last 5 fights have all come for “Hardcore FC”. He’s a dominant wrestler who finishes most of his fights by snatching a choke or pounding his opponent into oblivion on the ground, and its surprising that a bigger promotion hasn’t picked him up yet to test how he does against top opponents. This week, he took on 3-0 Yaroslav Kuk and beat him up for most of 2 rounds before finally landing enough consecutive strikes that the ref had to stop it. He’s spent most of his career at welterweight but is plenty big enough to stay at 185 pounds long term if he wants to. He enters at the bottom of the rankings for now due to his unproven competition, but his ceiling is incredibly high.

Shamil Abdulaev: Fell from #15 prospect to unranked

Trading one Shamil for another, Abdulaev gets pushed out of the rankings just weeks after rejoining them. He still hasn’t fought since 2019, so he will need to rely on departures from higher-ranked prospects if he hopes to regain his ranking.

Welterweights:

Abdoul Abdouraguimov: Improved from #7 to #2 prospect

After making quick work of talented Brazilian grappler Luciano Contini (13-3) back in December for his debut with Ares FC, the “Lazy King” outclassed another talented Brazilian this week in UFC veteran Godofredo Pepey (14-6) on his way to winning the promotion’s inaugural welterweight title. Drew Beaupre gave an excellent write-up of the short-but sweet fight at the end of his article breaking down the entire Ares FC 3 card, which I encourage everyone to read. The end result is that Abdouraguimov once again showed off his excellent wrestling on the feet and his deadly submission game on the ground, and at the rate he’s winning it feels almost inevitable that the UFC will come calling soon. To reflect that, he makes a big leap in the rankings this week, as the talent he’s shown makes me think he could be a real threat at the international-level. It’s scary to think that there’s still room for improvement, but at 26 years old its likely that in a couple years we will see an even more dangerous version of Abdouraguimov, and if that includes improved striking he will really be a force to be reckoned with.

Flyweights:

Joshua Pacio: Fell from #1 prospect to unranked (age in major promotion)

Pacio didn’t fight this week, but after he celebrated his 26th birthday in January he is no longer eligible for these ranking since he fight for a major promotion in ONE. He’s been their champion since 2019 and has 3 title defenses to his name, so its fair to say that he was already more of a superstar than a prospect. I would love to see him mix it up against the best in the world if he decides to make the move to the UFC, as there aren’t many potential challengers left in ONE that he hasn’t already beaten.

Abdula Aliev: Improved from unranked to #15 prospect

Aliev is another undefeated Russian prospect with a strong wrestling background, but the twist is that his entire 10-0 record has come for Chinese promotion WLF Wars. He claimed the title in just his 5th professional fight with a second round submission of Mudaerji Su, who has moved on to become a very bright prospect in the UFC. While Su has unquestionably improved since their matchup, that is still a very impressive win for Aliev to have on his resume, which he then followed up with 5 straight title defenses. Unfortunately, the most recent of those defenses was in January 2020, so he has now been inactive for more than 2 years. WLF Wars has continued to put on sporadic events since then, so this may be a case of Aliev looking to move to a better known promotion so that he can showcase his talents to a larger audience. His lack of recent fights have put him off the radar, but he’s a big sleeper prospect who could make major waves if he’s given the opportunity sometime in 2022.

February 7-13:

Heavyweights:

Hugo Cunha: Fell from #4 prospect to unranked

Cunha came into MMA with strong pedigrees in both wrestling and BJJ, and in a weight class typically filled with power punchers who often struggle on the mats, that’s a great base to build upon. He started his career 6-0, with 5 of those wins in the first round and the other in the 2nd, and the dominance he showed in those fights was reflected in his #4 ranking despite not facing the toughest competition. Cunha was scheduled to fight in the 2021 edition of the Contender Series but was forced to withdraw, which gave ONE the opportunity to add him to the mix in their heavyweight division. I was very excited to see him booked on this week’s card, and I thought he would make easy work of Canadian veteran Dustin Joynson, but he was ultimately betrayed by his lack of cardio.

An explosive takedown in the first round led to several minutes of ground control against the fence and gave Cunha some opportunities to hunt for submissions, but he didn’t inflict much damage and seemed significantly more tired than his opponent once the fight made its way back to the feet. That led to Joynson picking him apart with his jab and some mixed-in combinations, while Cunha mostly shelled up in a high guard and minimized the damage he took. He landed some hard shots when he did throw strikes, but the punches were labored and it was obvious he didn’t have the gas for extended exchanges of strikes. Cunha managed another good takedown in round 2 and attempted another grappling exchange in the 3rd round, but in both cases he wasn’t able to inflict much damage despite having positional control for a while, and while it was a split decision among the judges, in my eyes Joynson clearly deserved the win for inflicting much more cumulative damage across the fight. Much like Reug Reug, another hyped ONE heavyweight and former member of these rankings, Cunha will have to put in some serious work to improve his cardio if he hopes to have success with ONE and reclaim a spot among the elite prospects of MMA.

Kirill Grishenko: Fell from #14 prospect to unranked

Not a great week for ONE’s heavyweight prospects, as Grishenko also picked up the first loss of his career after getting overwhelmed by Anatoly Malykhin, who himself was previously one of the top prospects in these rankings. The two undefeated talents squared off for the interim heavyweight title, and it was pretty clear from the beginning that Grishenko was overmatched. He had a major height advantage and used it to land a couple nice jabs, but he just couldn’t do anything to slow down the relentless forward pressure and powerful hooks of his opponent. When the fight hit the ground with a couple minutes left in round 1, Grishenko didn’t even attempt to get back to his feet, instead closing his guard and trying to minimize the damage he took but still eating some heavy ground and pound. Big shots continued to connect in the second round, and he was visibly wobbled early but managed to recover, but eventually a big right hand landed clean on the jaw and dropped Grishenko unconscious on his back. He doesn’t fall that far in my grading system, as this was a matchup I always expected Malykhin to win, but this loss is enough to push Grishenko out of the top 15 for the moment. He’s shown great strength, cardio, and a strong clinch game in his past wins, so the tools are definitely there for him to rebuild and make his way back to the rankings.

Adam Pałasz: Improved from unranked to #14 prospect

Pałasz has bounced on and off of these rankings several times since this series started despite not fighting since November 2020, and with the departures of Cunha and Grishenko there is once again room for the Polish powerhouse. There hasn’t been any news of an injury, nor have there been reports of cancelled fights, so its hard to say what’s caused his inactivity, but hopefully he will be able to fight again sometime soon.

Adlan Ibragimov: Improved from unranked to #15 prospect

Ibragimov’s emergence continues Russia’s dominance of the heavyweight rankings, as 9 of the 15 spots are now occupied by Russian prospects. Ibragimov is a homegrown talent for ACA, as he is from their headquarters of Grozny in Chechnya and made his debut for their Young Eagles feeder promotion back in 2018. He won 4 straight against other promising talents to take home a tournament win, then moved up to the main show as a light heavyweight. I thought the weight drop was a smart decision, as he’s only 6 feet tall and weighs 230-240 pounds, with a decent amount of fat that he trimmed down during his cuts to 205. However, after going 1-1 as a light heavyweight, Ibragimov returned to his heavyweight roots in January 2022 for a dominant win against Brazilian veteran Carlos Eduardo (19-9). Like many other fighters from his area, his background is in combat sambo and he loves to take his opponents down and beat them up on the ground, which is exactly what he did in his recent fight. The entries to his double-leg takedowns are explosive, and once he got on top he was impossible to remove and rained down some vicious elbows, one of which opened a massive gash in Eduardo’s forehead and forced a doctor’s stoppage after the 2nd round. Ibragimov is now on a 2-fight winning streak for ACA, and is 6-1 overall against very tough competition, so he’s definitely a prospect on the rise. The one downside is that he’s already 33, but that is less important at the heavier weight classes, especially when your gameplan doesn’t revolve around agility and speed.

February 14-20:

Heavyweights:

Davion Franklin: Improved from #11 to #5 prospect

Franklin is a incredibly strong mountain of muscle with almost unreal explosion, and he passed by far his toughest test this week with a split decision victory over Said Sowma to open up Bellator’s main card. He’s only been fighting for two years, and all of his fights have come for Bellator against more experienced opponents. His first few opponents were regional guys and an undefeated can-crusher, but they were reasonable tests for Franklin to prove how skilled he is, and he rose to the occasion with 3 knockouts that showcased the bombs he has in his hands. This week’s fight was a big step up in competition, as Sowma is a rising talent in his own right who was featured in the prospect rankings until his last fight made him ineligible.

Franklin continued to throw everything with maximum intensity, which isn’t necessary when he has so much natural power that his jab was snapping his opponent’s head back, but whenever he landed strikes it was obvious the impact that he was having. He clearly won the first round in my eyes, and the second round as well though he did get controlled against the fence for a bit by Sowma’s technically sound wrestling. The third round was closer, and I scored it in Sowma’s favor after a lot of wrestling dominance, but Franklin still flashed his power and seemed to have improved his cardio since the only other one of his fights that went to decision. It was ultimately a split decision win in Franklin’s favor, but I thought it was pretty clear who the more dangerous fighter was and am glad he didn’t get robbed. Franklin was ranked #8 in Bellator coming into the fight and Sowma was #9, so this win could set him up for a big-time matchup against a top-5 opponent, which would be a remarkably fast rise for someone so early into his MMA career. Franklin is the real deal, and at just 27 years old he has a ton of time to tighten up his fundamentals and learn to fight a little more controlled to maximize the immense gifts of power and explosiveness that he has.

Light Heavyweights:

Josh Silveira: Moved from #1 middleweight prospect to #1 light heavyweight prospect

After his dominant performance in his middleweight debut to win the LFA title, I thought that Silveira had found his long-term weightclass, but he moved back up to 205 pounds this week for an opportunity with PFL’s Challenger Series. His opponent this week was Mohamed Juma (8-2), who normally fights as a heavyweight, but the size difference didn’t present any problems for Silveira’s strong wrestling game. He tossed Juma around the cage for a few rounds despite repeated cage grabs, then took the back in round 3 and quickly snuck his forearm under the chin. It took a little while to get the tap, but Silveira progressively flattened his opponent out and left him no choices besides tapping or going to sleep. It would be a huge coup for the promotion if they could sign Silveira for their 2022 season, as I had thought it was inevitable that the UFC would snap up one of the best undefeated Americans on the market.

Jamal Pogues: Fell from #15 prospect to unranked

Silveira’s return to light heavyweight pushes Pogues out of the rankings a couple months after he made his debut among them. He’s another talented fighter who hasn’t fought in a while, so hopefully he can change that soon if he wants to force his way back onto the list.

Middleweights:

Shamil Magomedov: Improved from unranked to #14 prospect

The Shamils just keep on coming, as Dagestan has produced another exciting undefeated talent in Magomedov. He is 9-0 and made his debut for Eagle FC this week by using his dominant wrestling to smother Ramazan Gamzatov (8-2), who is a highly credentialed grappler in his own right but couldn’t match Magomedov’s pressure or athleticism. The first 6 wins of his career came by KO, typically through ground and pound, as he dominated less gifted opponents on small regional shows. His 3 most recent wins, including this week’s, have all come by decision against tougher regional opponents but have still been comfortable and clear victories for Magomedov. He’s bounced around between quite a few promotions, but hopefully he has now found a home with EFC where he can continue to hone his skills and build towards a title shot.

Shamil Abdulaev: Improved from unranked to #15 prospect

Despite getting dropped from the rankings just 2 weeks ago, Abdulaev makes his return this week thanks to multiple departures from the middleweight rankings, which have been very volatile over the duration of this series.

Welterweights:

Nursulton Ruziboev: Moved from #4 middleweight prospect to #12 welterweight prospect

Ruziboev became the second middleweight prospect to change weight classes this week, dropping down to welterweight, which will almost certainly be his weight class when he joins a larger promotion despite most of his recent fights coming at 185 pounds. He put on another dominant performance this week with a 45-second kimura of talented Brazilian Luciano Contini (13-4) as the main event for Kazakhstan-based promotion Octagon’s first ever event in Uzbekistan. Ruziboev now has a 7 win streak, all in the first round, and he’s not going to find better competition on the Central Asian scene than what he’s already been facing. He continues his tendency of fighting extremely frequently by already having another fight booked in March against talented Brazilian prospect Luis Felipe Dias (14-3), who will be one of Ruziboev’s challenges in his incredible 43-fight career. He drops significantly in the rankings with the change in weight, but that is entirely due to how stacked welterweight is worldwide and how comparatively empty the middleweight cupboard is. The only thing separating Ruziboev from the prospects ranked ahead of him is the caliber of their opposition, as Contini was a fighter with a good record who hadn’t proven himself against top guys, which is a consistent pattern in Ruziboev’s opponents. If he performs well in his return to the larger stage of Brave, I don’t know what else he could possibly do to get a large promotion to sign him. He’s the top talent coming out of Uzbekistan and has a rabid fan base, he’s a fantastic athlete who keeps a very active schedule and has a jaw-dropping amount of experience, and he’s proven to be a finisher both with his hands and with submissions, with the kimura being one of his favorites.

Tahir Abdullaev: Fell from #15 prospect to unranked

Abdullaev scored a very impressive win for UAE Warriors back in October 2021 to vault himself into the rankings, but Ruziboev’s return to welterweight and great performances from other fighters have combined to push him out of the rankings this week. He’s still a great talent with a lot of momentum, and I’d be surprised if he’s not back on the list sometime later this year.

February 21-27:

Welterweights:

Jarrah Hussein Al-Silawi: Moved from #6 prospect to unranked (Signed by PFL)

Al-Silawi has been one of the biggest stars of Arabian MMA for years, dating back to a strong run with Desert Force and multiple title runs with Brave more recently. He’s the only fighter to beat current #2 prospect Abdoul Abdouraguimov, though he did also suffer a loss to him, and I’ve been waiting a while for him to get a chance with a larger promotion. That chance came this week through the PFL Challenger Series, where the “Jordanian Lion” was gifted a very easy matchup against journeyman Michael Lilly (7-6). He delivered the highlight reel finish that the PFL matchmakers were obviously hoping for, as he nailed Lilly with a well-timed step in knee a few minutes into the first round after dominating in all facets of the fight. I thought Al-Silawi was more than talented enough to get signed directly into PFL’s 2022 season, so I can only think that this matchup was meant to help build some hype around him in his US debut. It’s unfortunate for the other Challenger Series contestants, as only one contract is awarded per week and there was plenty of talent on display, but Al-Silawi is definitely the top prospect from the group. He leaves the rankings since he is over 25, has plenty of experience, and is now signed to a major promotion, but I’m sure we’ll be seeing more big things from him this year.

Tahir Abdullaev: Improved from unranked to #15 prospect

Abdullaev’s absence from the rankings lasted all of a week, as he slots right back into his spot at #15 with the departure of Al-Silawi. The welterweight division is stacked with talent globally, but the young Azerbaijani is a dangerous finisher and someone I’m looking forward to watching whenever he manages to book his next fight.

Featherweights:

Fabricio de Andrade: Improved from #8 to #5 prospect

De Andrade continued his winning streak with ONE this week with a beautifully timed step-in knee to the liver that absolutely shut down Jeremy Pacatiw (11-4), who is a very dangerous striker in his own right. “Wonder Boy” has an extensive Muay Thai background, and it showed up again in this fight, as he raised his knee directly into the abdomen of his opponent as the fighters closed the distance between them to get the win less than 2 minutes into the first round. His last win was also set up by knees to the body, and he’s shown the ability to use all his available weapons during his 6-fight winning streak, with the 4 most recent wins all coming for ONE. De Andrade was already ranked as ONE’s #4 fighter at 145 pounds coming into this week, and a win over a rising prospect like Pacatiw should set him up to take on another ranked opponent in a potential title eliminator match later this year. He gets a solid bump in the rankings as a result of this victory, but I still would like to see how he does when matched up against an elite wrestler, as that element of his game has mostly gone untested as ONE has matched him up with other strikers in order to create fireworks like this week’s KO.

Bibert Tumenov: Remained #9 prospect

If the name Tumenov sounds familiar, its because Bibert’s older brother Albert had a solid run in the UFC that showcased his high-level striking, and the younger brother brings many of the same weapons to the table. He has excellent boxing for MMA, with a crisp and well-timed jab, good movement, and great patience and accuracy to pick his shots well and place them exactly where they need to go. At one point Tumenov was one of my top prospects in the world, but that changed in his last fight in March 2021 when he got dominated in grappling by Islam Omarov, who at the time was not nearly as well known. However, Omarov has remained undefeated on his way to claiming the #1 spot in my featherweight rankings and looks to be a special talent, so the loss has aged about as well as Tumenov could hope. Bibert’s other loss on his resume back in 2019 also came by a decision in which he was out-wrestled, that time by Timur Khizriev, who has similarly continued to impress and now sits as my #4 featherweight prospect. Tumenov picked apart an extremely washed-up Diego Brandão this week, easily sliding out of the way of wild bull rushes and sniping away at the head and body, eventually breaking his opponent’s nose with accumulated jabs before ending the fight with a perfectly placed hook to the liver in the second round. However, Tumenov doesn’t move up the rankings from this win because he’s clearly several levels above Brandao at their respective stages of their careers, and those past losses to elite grapplers make me want to see him tested in that area again to see whether he’s made the necessary adjustments. If he’s rounded out his game, he will be a tough puzzle for anyone to solve with his technical striking ability and could easily shoot back up the rankings.

Mukhamed Eminov: improved from unranked to #15 prospect

Jornel Lugo’s move back to bantamweight opens up a spot for Eminov to return to the rankings, and he has moved on and off several times. He’s a dominant champion for Russian promotion AMC Global and has beaten plenty of quality opponents across his numerous title defenses, but none of them have been at the elite level that he would face in an international promotion. His one loss came by decision to current #12 bantamweight prospect Nikita Mikhailov, who was definitely his toughest challenge, so I’d like to see him take on another top talent before I move him higher up the rankings despite his incredible 18-1 record.

Bantamweights:

Jornel Lugo: Moved from #7 featherweight to #9 bantamweight prospect

Lugo is one of a handful of undefeated prospects in the rankings that Bellator signed early in their careers and have been building up since. He got his toughest test so far this week against an always game Brian Moore (14-8) in a very hostile environment of Dublin Ireland, and he moved to 8-0 with his typical calculated and careful approach. Lugo switches stances frequently and pumps out an accurate jab from both sides and he does a great job moving his head just enough to let punches slip by him. He has good movement and distance management, and once his opponents are off balance he counters well with combinations and a great left kick that he can use to attack any part of the body. He used those talents to pick apart Moore at range, and although he was on the outside of the cage most of the fight he was landing significantly more strikes. He also did some solid work from the clinch and ended up winning a clear decision in a fight that never quite kicked into top gear. Lugo was ranked as a featherweight after fighting at 140 pounds in his last fight, but he dropped back down to his more natural bantamweight this week and looked strong for the weight class. He moves up a tier in my overall grading, as Moore was a much more proven opponent than his previous victories, but he ends up slightly lower in the rankings because the competition at 135 pounds is incredibly fierce. Lugo is a fighter on the rise, and I expect to see him matched against progressively tougher opponents as he makes his way towards the Bellator top-10.

Khaseyn Shaykhaev: Fell from #15 prospect to unranked

Shaykhaev made his return to the rankings last month when some departures opened up a spot for him, but he slides back out this week with Lugo’s weight class switch. It’ll be interesting to see what improvements he’s made when he next fights for ACA.