prospect rankings

Introduction to the Top Prospect Rankings

Hello reader, and welcome to a new monthly series of articles that I will be writing for this site. You may have seen my previous Prospect Rankings Updates for MMAProspects, and that series will continue here in the same format, just with a new home. I will be maintaining lists of the top 15 prospects in each male weight class with updates at least once a week as 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 extensive 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 (A note on the Tapology rankings: each weight class has a “Top Fighters” list for people with a grade of 10 to 100, and a “Prospects” list for fighters with grades of .5 to 9.5, so if your favorite prospect is not in one list, make sure to check the other.). I will write a monthly column about the changes that have occurred within each top 15 ranking, with explanations for all of the movements within the rankings and analysis of the fights that prospects had.

I will write another column every three months showing which countries and promotions are represented in the prospect rankings, along with analysis of the changes that have happened since the previous demographic summary. This should shed some light on the top producers of talent and over time illuminate shifting trends in the complex ecosystem of global MMA.

The most difficult part of the entire prospect rankings 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, I instituted the following rules:

Rules of the Prospect Rankings:

1. Fighters who have signed with the UFC are not eligible for the Prospect Rankings unless they are released without ever fighting for the promotion. Athletes who have competed on TV shows “The Ultimate Fighter” or “Dana White’s Contender Series” may be eligible if they are not offered a contract and fit the other criteria of these rankings.

2. If a fighter is competing for a major organization (Bellator, PFL, ONE, ACA, or KSW), that fighter must either be 25 or fewer 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 or more experienced counterparts.

3. 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.

Notable Alumni:

This series has been going on since September 2021, and moving to MyMMANews is a good opportunity to look back at some of the top talents who have previously been featured in the rankings. Within each sub-category fighters are organized by the date they left the rankings, with the oldest departures first and the most recent last.

UFC Fighters:

In 9 months of this series, 6 top talents have spent some time in the rankings before catching the eyes of the world’s top MMA promotion. The list is:

Daniel Zellhuber: Zellhuber was the first ranked prospect to join the UFC through the Contender Series, and while he’s been inactive since, he is scheduled for his UFC debut against Trey Ogden in September, where he will look to stay undefeated.

Benoit Saint-Denis: BSD was signed directly to the UFC after going 8-0 with 7 submissions and a knockout for Brave and other regional promotions. While he was given a very tough debut against Elizeu Zaleski and took a lot of damage, he showed unreal toughness to keep pushing forward and showed his potential recently by dropping to lightweight and choking out Niklas Stolze.

Jake Hadley: Hadley also joined the UFC through the Contender Series, becoming the first prospect to get signed after missing weight. Unfortunately he suffered his first professional loss in his UFC debut by way of decision, but he has the talent to rebound against a less difficult opponent than Allan Nascimento.

Muhammad Mokaev: Mokaev is about as obvious a prospect as you can find, as he’s hand future star written all over him dating back to his amateur days with IMMAF. He’s looked great so far in the UFC and is one of the sport’s top young talents.

Khusein Askhabov: Askhabov compiled an incredible 23-0 record in Ukraine and Russia, though his competition was often questionable. He was originally booked to fight on the 2021 COntender Series but when that fell through due to visa issues, he was signed outright and is scheduled to face Herbert Burns in July.

Charles Johnson: Johnson earned his way into the rankings with an impressive title win then defense for LFA and was signed directly to the UFC. Unfortunately for him he’s booked to face Mokaev, which is a brutal way to make your debut, but I think Johnson has the striking skills to stick around the UFC roster for a few years at least.

Other Major Promotion Signees:

In addition to the UFC, some top prospects have made their way to other major promotions around the world. They are:

Saygid Izagakhmaev: Izagakhmaev is one of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s top students, and after years of domination against good Russian prospects, ONE signed him and were rewarded with a dominant performance and round 2 submission of a great grappler in his debut.

Jarrah Hussein Al-Silawi: Al-Silawi has long been one of the top talents coming out of the Middle East, and after an easy knockout on the PFL Challenger Series, he was signed to the main promotion and managed to win his first regular-season fight by a somewhat controversial decision against Gleison Tibau.

Yusuf Raisov: Raisov is an incredibly well-rounded fighter with tons of experience despite just being 26. He had a good stint with ACB, went off to record more good wins with other Russian promotions, then returned to the re-named ACA and immediately had a 25-minute war against former UFC fighter and ACA title challenger Hacran Dias. Raisov has challenged for the title in the past himself, and one more win would probably be enough to earn him another chance.

Eduard Vartanyan: Like Raisov, Vartanyan had spent some time with ACB/A and had great success but fell short in title shots then went off in search of new challenges with other promotions. After some more good wins, he was re-signed to ACA but had to be removed from the ranking due to his age and experience.

Both #11 bantamweight prospect Marcos Breno and #2 lightweight prospect Mansour Barnaoui have recently signed to Bellator, but they remain in the rankings until they fight and officially become ineligible.

Major Promotion Graduates:

As noted in the rules section above, fighters already signed to major non-UFC promotions can be eligible for these rankings as long as they are either 25 or fewer years old or haver fewer than 10 professional fights. Several talented fighters have met those requirements for long enough to make it into the rankings but subsequently departed due to turning 26 or having their 10th fight. There are quite a few of these fighters, and many seem poised to be top talents for a long time to come:

Alex Polizzi: Polizzi is an exciting talent with great wrestling, and while his shine was dulled recently after Yoel Romero dominated him, the fact that he was even matched up with a legend like Yoel shows the regard that Bellator has for him.

Anatoly Malykhin: Malykhin was briefly in the rankings when he was 9-0 but was removed when he recorded his 10th win. He has gone on to win the interim heavyweight title for ONE in his next fight and is looking like a potential superstar for the promotion.

Steve Mowry: Mowry was a no-brainer addition to the initial rankings, as the giant heavyweight had gone 7-0 as an amateur then 9-0 as a pro with dominant wins for Bellator. He picked up his 10th win with an easy submission against an overmatched veteran, and while he hasn’t fought since then he should be in line to challenge for the Bellator title in his next few fights.

Johnny Eblen: Eblen is another undefeated Bellator fighter who snuck into the rankings at the start but quickly hit the 10-fight limit. He has remained undefeated and will be challenging Gegard Mousaisi for the title on the next Bellator card.

Ibragim Magomedov: Magomedov is a talented Dagestani wrestler who has spent most of his career taking on other top talents in ACA’s talented middleweight division. He scored a knockout over a former Brave champion in December 2021 to bring him to the 10-fight limit and hasn’t fought since, but he could be a top contender if he can win a couple more fights against good competition.

Murad Ramazanov: Ramazanov is another talented Dagestani middleweight, and he’s gone 11-0 so far in his career with the last 3 wins all coming for ONE. However, he turned 26 while in the rankings and therefore became ineligible, but he’s probably just 1 more win away from a title shot.

Joshua Pacio: Pacio is the 125-pound champion for ONE but was just 25 when this series started, making him eligible for a brief stretch until he aged out. He’s looked very talented and is still improving as a fighter, so he may be set up for a long reign as champ.

Kyle Crutchmer: Crutchmer is a talented wrestler signed to Bellator who spent a few months in the rankings before hitting the 10-fight limit and being removed. He’s ranked in their top-10 welterweights and will likely remain there for a long time, but he may lack the striking needed to challenge for the title.

Simon Biyong: Biyong is yet another Bellator fighter who joined the rankings with 9 fights and then departed with their next contest. He made an impressive statement back in May with a decision win against the highly touted and undefeated Luke Trainer, which proved that he’s a name to watch in their light heavyweight division.

Murad Magomedov: Magomedov is an explosive grappler with good submissions and a versatile striking game that has made him one of ACA’s best flyweights. Unfortunately he’s been inactive for a while and turned 26 in that time which forced me to remove him.

Imran Bukuev: Bukuev is another talented ACA flyweight who had to leave due to his age, and while he’s not as well-rounded as Magomedov his wrestling is spectacular and makes him a tough opponent for just about anyone.

Other Notes:

Two currently ranked prospects, #12 heavyweight Mohammed Usman and #11 light heavyweight Zac Pauga, are currently competing on The Ultimate Fighter, so one of them may also end up in the UFC soon. They’ve both won their first fights of the season but I am waiting to update their ranking until they are either eliminated from the competition or win it to avoid excessive updates.

Several current prospects are also currently booked for upcoming Contender Series fights:

#6 heavyweight prospect Waldo Cortes-Acosta

#3 light heavyweight prospect Anton Turkalj

#8 light heavyweight prospect Vitor Petrino

#1 lightweight prospect Mateusz Rębecki

#13 flyweight prospect Alessandro Costa

#15 flyweight prospect Steve Erceg

There are still DWCS spots to fill, and I’d be surprised if there’s not at least a couple more ranked prospects given a chance to fight their way into the UFC

Overall, I hope this introduction has given you a clear sense of the criteria for these rankings as well as showing you the array of talent I’ve identified in a relatively short time. I look forward to continuing to track top prospects as they emerge from across the world and make their way to the elite levels of MMA.

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