Continuing our series of articles focusing on the free agent market as well as taking a look at some of the most promising rising stars, I'll now turn the focus to the Light Heavyweight division. While probably one of the more loaded talent pools throughout the world, the division has seen some better days in terms of developing top-flight talent. Most of the best up-and-comers have been gobbled up by major organizations, but there are still some great acquisitions to be made for promotions like M-1, Strikeforce, MFC, and even the UFC.
This listing was compiled from a joint effort by myself and smoogy to better understand who's available in the free agent market for promotions to leverage. You can check out his listing of the Light Heavyweight division over at the UG, and check out previous installments of this series here: Welterweights, Middleweights
This listing contains free agent fighters only. Many fighters were left off the listing due to their contract statuses, i.e. Ryan Jimmo is signed with MFC for a lengthy contract.
Ricardo Arona (14-5) tops the list of talent in the Light Heavyweight division that remains unsigned to a major MMA promotion for the time being. The RINGS and PRIDE veteran, at one time, was considered a top five fighter in the division with wins over Dan Henderson, Wanderlei Silva, Guy Mezger, Kazushi Sakuraba, and Alistair Overeem over the span of his nine-year career. Following his upset loss to Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou at PRIDE 34, Arona left the sport to take some time off from competing only to return a little over two years later against Marvin Eastman at Bitetti Combat IV back on September 12th. Arona cruised to a decision victory over Eastman, although the win wasn't impressive by any means.
The appeal: Obviously, Arona's name and quality of competition in the past is the bigger selling point for him coming into a more established Light Heavyweight division in a major promotion and competing off the bat. His fight with Eastman probably doesn't inspire confidence that he's completely back into the swing of things, but time will ultimately help him.
The UFC has made comments about not being interested in Arona in the past, and Strikeforce should probably jump at the opportunity. His massive strength and grappling acumen could easily make him a challenger to Gegard Mousasi.
Mixing some of the best free agents in the division with some relatively unknown fighters, Phil Davis (4-0) makes the list as having a tremendous amount of upside stemming from his extensive wrestling background. Davis is a four-time NCAA All-American and 2008 NCAA champion wrestler from Penn State who amassed a 116-20 collegiate record. As we all know, top notch amateur wrestlers have a knack for becoming successful in this sport, and Davis could be a fighter that a promotion could begin to build around.
Davis had managed to win his first four bouts, one of those coming at UWC 6 back in April against Terry Cohens. While his list of wins lacks formidable competition, his pedigree alone will likely garner some interest from many of the larger promotions.
The appeal: Strong, highly-credentialed wrestlers are normally gobbled up by the UFC pretty quickly, but Strikeforce could probably use a guy like Davis to bolster their light heavyweight division. Smaller regional promotions will also be in the mix as Davis does need some time to develop his striking game as well. He has natural power, but his technical deficiencies in the striking game are obviously there from being so green in the sport.
Moving on to a different Davis, Raphael Davis (7-1) is a full-time firefighter in Los Angeles who has managed to become one of M-1 best light heavyweight fighters in the last year. He also holds wins over former UFC fighter Vinny Magalhaes and former MFC champion and Antonio McKee-trained Emanuel Newton. All of his wins have came within the first two rounds of his bouts, and a majority of those wins have come by way of submission.
Davis comes from primarily a wrestling background as he was a NCAA Division I All-American for Cal State-Bakersfield, and he also qualified for the 2000 Olympic Trials. A 2004 attempt to make the Olympics was hindered by a torn ACL, but he transitioned to training in jiu-jitsu from the failed attempt. He trains jiu-jitsu under sixth degree black belt Caique Elias, former Helio Gracie student, in Torrance, California
The appeal: The most interesting part about Raphael is that he started from a wrestling base and moved to high-level jiu-jitsu as well. As we all know, one of the complaints among fans is that high-level jiu-jitsu fighters have trouble gaining takedowns, but Davis has that kin. He also works with Jason Parillo to fine tune his striking game, so he may be on the verge of becoming a legitimate threat to the better competition he's bound to face. Strikeforce seems to be the best bet since he's located in California, and they could feed off local interest while allowing him to keep his day job.
Glover Teixeira (7-2) isn't a name that comes up very often these days, but his name should be considered as one of the top talents who has remained unsigned by a major MMA organization. Many fans discount him due to a loss to Ed Herman back in 2005, but Teixeira's Brazlian jiu-jitsu credentials coupled with his massive power and propensity to throw down make him easily one of the more exciting fighters who will finish a fight in the list.
After roughly a year-and-a-half long layoff, he returned to the MMA cage against Argentinian Leonardo Nascimiento at Bitetti Combat IV, winning via guillotine choke in only 3:11. While the UFC did express some level of interest back in 2008, he was ultimately not picked up by the promotion. A few more wins, and they'll likely be knocking on his door again.
The appeal: Huge knockout power, vast array of submissions, and a drive to finish fights... those are probably three things that Dana White and the UFC are wanting to see from a champion, let alone a fighter on the rise. Promotions such as Strikeforce and smaller regional promos will probably want to cash in on his style as well, but Teixeira's relationship with The Pit and Chuck Liddell could lead him to the UFC sooner rather than later.
Rounding out our list, Jamal Patterson (5-2) takes the final spot as a submission fighter with both striking and grappling acumen coupled with power and size. While his 5-2 record doesn't seem to indicate anything impressive, his losses come from former IFL champion and current UFC fighter Vladimir Matyushenko and former UFC fighter Reese Andy. "The Suit" as he's nicknamed, however, is the only man ever to submit Matt Horwich, a very respectable defensive jiu-jitsu fighter, and Patterson managed to do it twice, both in the first round. That should give you some sort of idea of how his power and grappling skills have meshed into a dangerous combination on the ground.
His most recent win came in very quick fashion at UWC 5 against Antwain Britt via his patented guillotine choke, but he hasn't fought since February. With a little more regularity in his fighting schedule, he should draw some interest from bigger organizations.
The appeal: He obviously has a powerful submission game that could put nearly any fighter into a precarious situation of being submitted, and he's managed to finish every opponent he's faced by submission with the exception of his two losses. His size, power, grappling ability, and striking are good enough to be tested at a higher level, and a promotion like Strikeforce could feature him within their "Challenger" series.
Mario Miranda (11-0) continues to maintain his undefeated record with his most recent win coming at Alliance Fights back in August against Lorenzo Hood. He holds victories over current UFC fighter Rick Story and former UFC fighter Joe Vedepo, and he's only went to decision twice in his career. He's a four-time Brazilian Champion in both freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling and a South American champion in both forms of wrestling. He's also a very formidable Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner on the floor, and the stories surrounding him regarding sessions with the Nogueira's and other legendary BJJ fighters truly make you believe this guy could be the next major player in the Light Heavyweight or Middleweight division.
Ricardo Romero (9-1) is a prospect out of the Northeast who fights primarily in one of the hotbeds for UFC prospects in Ring of Combat. He defeated fellow prospect Costa Philippou and Greg Jackson-trained and TUF 10 contestant James McSweeney, and he's only been to decision once in his ten-fight career. The former wrestler from Rutgers has solid takedowns and ground and pound coupled with big power, landing him on the radar for bigger promotions.
Christian M'Pumbu (14-2-1) is a French prospect who has been battling it out in M-1 Challenge for the last year or two. He holds some solid wins over Marcus Vanttinen and current UFC fighter Stefan Struve while also being a guy who's taken on stiffer competition than many of the other promising prospects on our list. Pumbu has a dangerous submission ground game that will likely draw some interest from more serious promotions. The M-1/DREAM/Strikeforce alliance will probably gobble him up eventually.
Jan Blachowicz (8-2) is one of the more promising light heavyweights out of Eastern Europe who holds a key win over M-1's Christian M'Pumbu, a rising star in the light heavyweight division as well. The Polish KSW veteran has a solid jab, good reach, formidable power, and great technique from top control. He's shown a submission game more recently, and he's been able to pull off armbar submissions from the top and bottom. He isn't a high level fighter yet, but I could see M-1 or the UFC showing interest if they put on an event in the region.
Stipe Bekavac (12-3) won't be a UFC product by any means any time soon, but he does have the skill-set and style to garner some interest from promotions like DREAM, Sengoku, or M-1. The Croatian fighter has a typical power-based kickboxing background with big reach, strong leg and body kicks, and a swinging-for-the-fences mentality. He'll be good for some excitement, but he needs to gain a ground game to go along with his lengthy frame to become a real weapon.
On the Radar
Paulo Filho (18-1) would easily be one of the most sought after prospects on our list if it wasn't for his visa issues or disappearing acts. His power grappling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu credentials make him a formidable force and a potential top five light heavyweight, but the emotional toll he's taken over the past couple of years makes it doubtful he'll last much longer in fighting.
Poai Suganuma (9-3) fell off the map after being beaten by Jared Hamman at ShoXC back in August of last year, and his loss to rising prospect and recent Strikeforce acquisition Yancy Medeiros was apparently an "oversight" by Suganuma. Nonetheless, he did manage to KO Jared Hamman in 0:15 seconds with a crushing knee in a battle before his loss in the rematch, and he participated in K-1 HERO's, Pancrase, and Icon Sport.
Costa Phillippou (5-1) could become a very dominant light heavyweight in the future. In his first professional MMA fight, he was barely defeated by rising star Ricardo Romero via split decision. If that doesn't give you enough interest in this prospect, he rattled off five straight wins following the narrow defeat, most by TKO. He is featured in Ring of Combat, so the UFC may be keeping an eye out.
Alexandre "Cacareco" Ferreira (18-6) has been fighting since 1998 and competed in World Vale Tudo, RINGS, the IFL, and recently in Jungle Fights. His Brazilian jiu-jitsu credentials have always been highly touted, and he's been one of the few who have been able to translate those skills to submission victories in this sport. He's always a dangerous competitor on the ground, and the UFC has been rumored to be interested. He's also faced some very stiff competiton over the course of his career, another huge plus.
Chris Weidman (2-0) was profiled by Sherdog.com as a promising prospect coming out of the Matt Serra and Ray Longo camp in New York. He's a four-time collegiate All-American wrestler out of Nassau Community College and Hofsta University with a heavy background in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Matt Serra. He's currently a purple belt, but he's competed against some of the highest level grapplers in the world. He defeated James Brasco at the ADCC East Coast Trials to secure a spot in the tournament, but his hope to upset the field at the 2009 ADCC championship was derailed by former UFC fighter Vinny Magalhaes. Nonetheless, he's a very capable fighter who will gain some considerable experience in Ring of Combat. He has the potential to be a contestant of The Ultimate Fighter.
Trevor Prangley (21-5) was recently cut from the MFC due to his involvement in Arena Rumble and the subsequent signing of another bout in another promotion. While the debate as to how MFC's non-exclusive contracts work is an argument for another day, Prangley still has a solid record and can fight at both middleweight and light heavyweight. He has knockout power and submission ability, but he's fairly susceptible to decision victories versus exciting barn burner battles. He'd be a guy who could win a championship and truly test the up-and-comers in a promotion like Strikeforce.
Falling into that same category, Tim Boetsch (9-3) has yet to sign with a competing promotion after giving fans some exciting performances in the Octagon in 2008. While he won't vie for a UFC title, he could be a solid acquisition for Strikeforce simply due to his style of fighting. Other UFC veterans on the free agent market include Jake O'Brien, Andre Gusmao, and Jeremy Horn.
Victor Valimaki (16-5) also remains on the free agent market. He's rattled of seven consecutive wins with stints in King of the Cage and M-1, but he has yet to be picked up by a major promotion. He's also managed to become quite the finisher as of late with six of his last seven wins all being finished inside two rounds. MFC would be the ideal place for this Canadian fighter as the Light Heavyweight division did lose its champion recently.
Cyrille Diabate (15-6-1) is beginning to produce some bigger wins as of late that should garner some interest from some of the Japanese promotions as well as Strikeforce. The former PRIDE fighter and Cage Rage veteran is mostly known for his 6'6" frame coupled with explosive kicks and knees, but he's managed to implement some elements of a jiu-jitsu game on the floor in more recent fights.