As a fan of mixed martial arts it is exciting to see prospects emerge and develop. It is exciting to watch guys like Cain Velasquez move from prospect to elite fighter and contender. It is exciting to see guys like Jon Jones burst onto the scene from the “minor leagues” and succeed. It is exciting to see guys like Ryan Bader, Phil Davis, King Mo and Ben Askren transition from successful wrestler to successful MMA fighter. Any time someone develops a list of prospects the definition of “prospect” varies. Some people would include guys like Phil Davis, Joe Warren, Lyman Good, Tyron Woodley and Ryan Bader in a prospect list. Therefore, I think it is important to define what I mean by “prospect”. By “prospect” I have in mind a guy who is emerging in lesser known promotions who is likely to get a chance in one of the bigger promotions (i.e. UFC, WEC, Strikeforce, Bellator, Sengoku or DREAM). I believe there are several guys on the rosters of the bigger promotions who still are prospects and need to be developed, but for this purposes of this list a prospect is one who has not got their chance yet.
1. Gunnar Nelson – (8-0-1)
Nelson right now is the hottest prospect in MMA. The Iceland native is coming off of an impressive victory over fellow prospect Eugene Fadiora. Nelson is a Renzo Gracie black belt who has finished all eight of his fights. Rumors are that Nelson is hearing from top organizations. He could certainly use some seasoning and there is question as to whether or not he will be able to hang with the UFC welterweights. Regardless, there is a shortage of competitive opponents outside the bigger organizations. Look for Nelson to get his shot in a major promotion…if he wants it.
2. Papy Abedi – (7-0)
Abedi is a powerful Swedish middleweight who has finished 5 of his fights by way of TKO. Rumors have swirled around Abedi and the UFC for a while now, but nothing has come to fruition yet. Some people have compared Abedi to Hector Lombard due to his judo background. Abedi has been content fighting only once or twice a year, but he is certainly on the UFC radar. Abedi is scheduled to fight Nathan Schouteren on October 29th at Superior Challenge 6, if he wins his next fight I look for him to get a shot.
3. Chris Weidman – (3-0)
It is very tempting to rank Weidman as the number one prospect. However, he is only 3-0. He is a two time All-American wrestler out of Hofstra University. Weidman is hyed by all who have seen him. He wowed scouts witha n impressive performance in the ADCC against BJJ ace Andre Galvao where he was extremely competitive. The Serra-Longo product is coming off of a win over another highly touted prospect in Uriah Hall. I would not be shocked to see the UFC try to snatch up Weidman the way they did Cain Velasquez. Regardless, he will end up in a bigger organization very soon. Bellator is an option as well. I would not be the least bit surprised if Weidman’s next fight was in the UFC.
4. Alexander Sarnavsky – (10-0)
Sarnavsky is an un-defeated Russian lightweight with a lot of hype. I would be interested to see how he would do against stiffer competition. To his credit Sarnavsky is coming off of a win over Karen Grigorian in May. However, Russians have been historically difficult to work with and I would be shocked to see him go to the UFC. Sarnavsky is an M-1 fighter so I think Strikeforce is a serious (and likely) option for him.
5. Nazareno Malegarie – (18-0)
Yes, you read that correctly…18-0. Malegarie has posted a very impressive record and it will not be long until he is in either the UFC or Bellator. I am not sure about the level of competition he has faced, but it is time that he faces some of the featherweight elites. Malegarie trains with UFC lightweight Thiago Tavares in Brazil. He could keep on winning in small shows in Brazil or challenge himself in an organization like the WEC. Regardless, an 18-0 record is impressive and certainly will get the attention of the big promotions.
6. Jimi Manuwa – (9-0)
Manuwa may be the hottest prospect in the U.K. right now. The “Poster Boy” is coming off of an impressive win over Valentino Petrescu. 8 of his 9 wins have come by way of TKO. Manuwa has fought both at 185 lbs and 205 lbs. He is much better suited as a middleweight. I heard rumors of Manuwa signing with the UFC, but Manuwa denied the rumors when asked. However, it will not be long. Maybe one more win…if that. I think Manuwa can not only make in the UFC middleweight division, I think he can eventually contend.
7. Yussup Saadulaev (7-0-1)
Saadulaev is a feathweight/bantamweight that hails from Illinois. He has a good resume to make it to an organization like the WEC. He is ranked very high by many prospect watchers. I have heard no rumors of interest in him, but if he keeps on winning he can’t be ignored.
8. Lukasz Sajewski (8-0)
This Polish lightweight has to be on the radar. I like him a lot. Nicknamed “the Wookie”, Sajewski trains alongside WEC fighter Maciej Jewtuszko. Also, Sajewski just won a fight against highly regarded prospect Marcin Held. The crazy thing is that he is only 19-years old. I do not know if the bigger organizations want to give him more time to season, but he certainly has the resume to get a shot. I think Sajewski has tons of long term potential.
9. Kevin Belingon
Belingon is garnering intrest from the WEC following his impressive win last week over Dalai Bayin. The Wushu expert has a lot of potential and with the UFC wanting to exapnd into the Asian market a talented Filipino fighter on the WEC roster will help. If reports are acurate, belingon will fight one more time this year and if he wins he will get a chance in the WEC in 2011.
10. Yan Cabral – (9-0)
This is a welterweight prospect that I am very high on. Cabral trains out of the Nova Uniao gym in Brazil alongside guys like Jose Aldo and Marlon Sandro. Their success has drawn interest in other fighters. Cabral boasts an impressive record with all his wins coming by way of submission. The BJJ black belt has an impressive record and he has to be turning some heads. Cabral’s ground game is impressive,b ut he needs to improve his stand up in order to be a threat in an organization like the UFC, nevertheless look for him to get a shot sooner than later.
11. Jonas Billstein – (7-0)
The 19-year old German fighter has shown incredible promise. He is not ready for the UFC yet, but I believe he is a name to keep in mind. I believe within 2 years time Billstein could be a force in the light heavyweight division. With the UFC hosting an annual show in Germany it is very possible that Billstein will get a chance. At 7-0 Billstein appears to now be the best un-signed German prospect. Keep an eye on this youngster.
12. Simeon Thoresen – (13-1-1)
The Norwegian disciple of Joachim Hansen is a highly regarded welterweight who may be closing in on an opportunity with a large promotion. At 6’1″ Thorsen has the size to be an effective welterweight. Many people have a lot of hyp around “the Grin”. I think a venue like the Ultimate Fighter or Bellator would suit him very well.
13. Magomed Saadulaev – (10-0)
While his record is impressive at welterweight Saadulaev’s future is most likely in a lower weighr class due to his height. He will get a chance to fight again on October 1st. A win will certainly create more buzz around him. However, I don’t expect to see him with the UFC.
14. Quinn Mulhern (13-1)
The King of the Cage welterweight champion may very well get a call to the UFC soon. He holds a recent win over UFC veteran Rich Clementi. His only career loss came at the hands of UFC fighter Mike Guymon. Mulhern continues to improve on his jiu jitsu base. I think Mulhern needs better competition and the best welterweight competition is in the UFC.
15. Fabio Maldonado – (17-3)
This is a guy that I have been talking about for a while and quite frankly I am surprised that he has not competed int he UFC yet. He trains with the Nogueira brothers and is a very capable boxer. He just fought and won in June so maybe his time is finally coming. Overdue if you ask me.
Others to pay attention to:
Myles Jury, Ethan Garrison, Ivan Jorge, Lanus Jones, Yuri Villefort, Al Iaquinta, Bruno Santos, Magno Almeida, “Xande: Ribeiro, Hai Lin Ao, Hacran Dias, Rumen Dimitrov, Hans Stringer, Marcin Held, Carlos Antonio de Souza, Eduardo Dantas, Thiago Meller and Jan Blachowicz.