More often than not, we as fans of unarmed combat can find ourselves captivated by witnessing the materialization of the previously unknown. There’s an unparalleled reality that comes as a byproduct of the unknown becoming an unraveled sequence of results for us to divulge before our very eyes.
That being, well, reality.
It’s hard to gauge just how good a fighter can be in the early stages of their career. Some fighters are lead down an easier path, while others impress to a greater sense of validity by making it out of murderer’s row to the destination of their choice with only a few minor cuts and bruises. On this list, with the help of Shawn Bitter, a man that’s more than qualified to offer his view on the subject, I’ll let you know the five most exciting up and comers in mixed martial arts that you can find in action this weekend.
#5. Featherweight: Tywan Claxton (4-0) vs. James Bennett – Bellator 221
Air Claxton had a nice ring to it for a while. The nickname paired perfectly with the highlight reel, one that seemed to be a mainstay in Bellator’s “Best of” compilation videos for quite some time. Since his debut that captivated Bellator prelim goers far and wide, Claxton has been nearly flawless. Racking up three more wins and needing less than two rounds to finish two of them. On Saturday night Claxton will open up the main card portion of Bellator 221, looking to get back to his high-flying ways that dubbed him one of Bellator’s most highly-touted homegrown commodities. Claxton takes on Wisconsin’s own James Bennett, who is 4-1 as a pro with all four wins coming by first round stoppage.
#4. Welterweight: Gamzat Khiramagomedov (7-0) – PFL 2019 1
Khiramagomedov is a name that has flown massively under the radar. With already a few big setbacks in his career not fighting much has really had him go unknown to even the more hardcore fans. If Gamzat is healthy he can be one of the top prospects out Russia. He does have laser accuracy and has a quick release. When he does double up and throws two strikes he always makes his opponents pay. He does a great job at controlling range with an aggressive opponent moving backwards landing beautiful counters. Gamzat is very diverse and creative with his hands and legs while cutting slight angles perfectly. He fights former UFC fighter Glaico Franca. Franca is 6-0 since his release from the UFC.
#3. Bantamweight: Askar Askar (9-0) vs. Taylor Moore – Bellator 221
The lesser known of this five-pack of up and comers may very well come in the form of Palestinian-born bantamweight Askar Askar. Assuming some of you will be unable to get past the irrelevant fact that, yes, his last name is exactly the same as his first name, I must emphasize just how bright the future seemingly appears inside the cage for the 24 year old prospect. Askar hasn’t just crushed cans to get to this point, either. Amongst his nine-fight pro tenure, his previously defeated foes combine for a cumulative record of 38-23, which is a solid figure in comparison to his counterparts on the regional scene. Askar has also been previously slated to fight newfound Bellator bantamweight contender Ricky Bandejas, who he now shares the same promotional stable with.
#2. Womens Lightweight: Kayla Harrison (3-0) vs. Larissa Pacheco – PFL 2019 1
Kayla Harrison is a very accomplished grappler who won the gold medal in judo at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and gold at the 2011 and 2015 Pan-American Games. The judo practitioner has also a black belt in judo and has won two national championships. She’s only 3-0 in MMA but has fought opponents with much more experience but has still been able to run through each of them. Harrison has been impressive with her takedowns, dominate top control, and mostly her ground and pound. Harrison fights former UFC fighter and TUF 28 alum Larissa Pacheco. The Brazilian went 0-2 in the UFC and is 1-1 since her release including her TUF bout. Pacheco was originally a 135er but will be fighting for the first time at 155 moving up two weight classes.
#1. Featherweight: A.J. McKee (13-0) vs. Pat Curran – Bellator 221
I’m sure that many readers of this article will have some sort of a knee-jerk type of reaction to McKee’s inclusion on this list. There is surely a comprehensive case to be made for the notion of A.J. McKee having already surpassed the nature in which the prospect label comes with. How I see it, is a blue-chip level talent finally getting his chance to prove his graduation from prospect to contender by way of a distinct and clear step up in competition. McKee Has looked brilliant throughout his spotless professional tenure, but a former champion in Pat Curran Will undoubtedly provide McKee with the perfect measuring tool, as Curran on paper is his toughest test to date.