I've enjoyed reading Leland Roling's World MMA Scouting Report articles on up and coming prospects, which led me to wonder about the veteran fighters who are not on the top promotional cards and where they fit in the scope of the MMA landscape.
This is basically a fan's eye view of the top free agents in each weight class. While this is a not necessarily a list of true free agents contractually speaking, it represents fighters who are not under contract with UFC, Strikeforce, or Bellator; the top three televised promotions in North America.
The light heavyweight division is absolutely stacked in favor of the UFC and Strikeforce as evidenced by the fact that SBNation's Consensus rankings list no fighter outside of those promotions in the Top 25. There is very little room in the UFC house for anyone short of stellar with 34 fighters (although it's curious to see Chuck Liddell still listed), while 13 fighters are under contract with Strikeforce...they definitely could bolster the roster there if they plan on sticking around. Bellator is currently in the midst of crowning a LHW champion and guys looking to fight frequently may consider them an option.
Marcos Rogerio de Lima (8-0-0)
Fight Matrix: 21
De Lima, a former kickboxer, burst onto the world MMA scene with an astounding decision win over Paulo Filho last October. Leland Roling has him sitting atop the LHW prospects worldwide and it's only a matter of time before he punches his ticket to the UFC.
Ryan Jimmo (15-1-0)
Fight Matrix: 23
Jimmo is riding high with the 2nd longest winning streak in MMA (15) and is another prospect that Roling has provided in-depth scouting far better than I can, listing 'The Big Deal' at #7 in his LHW World MMA Scouting Report. Suffice to say that the Maximum FC champion and TUF 8 participant is very close to a big show ticket and Strikeforce is rumored to be interested. The 29 year old Canadian could also attract UFC attention, but may still be a little green when it comes to that shark tank.
Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou (11-8-0, UFC 1-2, SF 0-1)
Fight Matrix: 30
Sokoudjou is an enigma. He has the athleticism, youth, and striking prowess to crack the LHW upper echelon as well as the fortitude to take on anyone, regardless of weight class. KO wins over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Ricardo Arona in Pride put him at the forefront of the LHW scene. But KO losses to Luiz Cane, Gegard Mousasi, Houston Alexander, and inexplicably, Minowaman have derailed the ‘African Assassin'. However large his inconsistencies are, his ability to put on a war in the cage is equally as massive. Sokoudjou is currently on a two fight win streak and another win or two against decent opponents might entice Strikeforce or even the UFC to bring him back one more time. His next opponent is TBA in the Score Fighting Series promotion on June 10.
Tony Lopez (24-6)
Fight Matrix: 55 (HW)
At one time, Lopez concurrently held King of the Cage HW and LHW titles while riding a 16 fight win streak. Unfortunately ‘Kryptonite' lost those belts in succession to Tony Johnson Jr. and Mike Kyle. Lopez's frame is definitely better suited for LHW, but his ability to hang with tough HW fighters like Jeff Monson and Johnson Jr. showcase his resilience and athleticism (he lost both bouts by decision). An active fighter like Lopez, who is 17-4 over the last three years, would strengthen the Strikeforce 205 division and although he lost a decision to Raphael Davis at Bellator 34 the promotion could invite him back to a future tournament.
Attila Vegh (22-4-2)
Fight Matrix: 38
Vegh is coming off a huge decision win over Marcus Vanttinen, another rising prospect who was on an 11 fight win streak and had UFC eyes on him prior to the defeat. With the win Vegh should now be on several organizations radar. Not much is known about the Slovakian fighter, but Vegh's youtube fights indicate a well rounded striker that has decent takedown defense. He probably still needs a fight or two to convince Bellator or Strikeforce that the Vanttinen fight wasn't a fluke.