While this is a not necessarily a list of true free agents, it represents fighters who are not under contract with UFC, Strikeforce, or Bellator; the top three televised promotions in North America.
After the UFC merged the WEC roster into the promotion, their lightweight division is undeniably the best the MMA world has ever seen and therefore very hard to break into the rotation. There are currently 53 light weights in the UFC (although some listed have stated that they will be dropping to 145), Strikeforce has 18 fighters under contract, and Bellator has 13 fighters listed. Overall, the lightweight division is arguably the deepest and most talented class so getting in the door of a major promotion and staying there is the toughest job in all of MMA. That being said there are still quite a few fighters out there with the talent to make it into the top US promotions.Jadamba Narantungalag (4-2-0)
SBNation Rank: 21
Fight Matrix Rank: 9
Narantungalag is a kickboxing convert who started his MMA career fairly late in life. The Mongolian seems to have adapted to the game pretty well considering wins over Akihiro Gono and Kazunori Yokota in Sengoku. At 35, one would hope that an offer to fight in a bigger promotion as soon as possible and while Strikeforce or Bellator offer the better options to acclimatize to the cage, the UFC is not out of the realm of possibility for Narantungalag…and I would love to hear Rogan & Goldberg struggle pronouncing his name during play by play.
Satoru Kitaoka (28-10-9)
SBNation Rank: 23
Fight Matrix Rank: 17
It’s not often you find an 11 year veteran that is only 31 and it seems like Kitaoka’s been around even longer. The Pancrase mainstay has challenged, defeated, and submitted some of the top cats in MMA including Kurt Pellegrino (sub), Carlos Condit (sub), Paul Daley (sub), Kazunori Yokota, and Takanori Gomi (sub)…DAMN! Seriously, it seems astounding that he hasn’t even made an appearance in the UFC, but that could all be manager issues so who knows. He’s the one guy on this list that could make an immediate impact in the UFC.
Brian Cobb (17-6-0, UFC 0-1)
Fight Matrix Rank: 23
Cobb is a fighter with a nice record but not a lot of experience against quality opponents. His lone appearance in the UFC resulted in a TKO loss to Terry Etim, who is not known for his KO power. But let’s get back to the positives. Prior to the Etim loss, ‘The Bandit’ was on a 9 fight win streak which included capturing the Palace Fighting LW title and defending it twice. His last bout was a split decision win that came against tough journeyman Kazunori Yokota at Sengoku 15. The California native would be a nice addition to the Strikeforce roster where he could test himself against better competition, or he could be a solid addition to the next Bellator lightweight tourney.
Akihiro Gono (32-16-7, UFC 1-2)
Fight Matrix Rank: 27
Gono recently made the amazing drop to 155 after fighting most of his stellar career in the ‘Minowaman’ class, meaning he’s taken on anyone and everyone in Shooto, Pancrase, Pride, and the UFC. Gono’s list of impressive wins include Ivan Salaverry (KO), Tim McKenzie (TKO), Daniel Acacio, Hector Lombard, Gegard Mousasi (sub), Yuki Kondo, and Hayato Saurai (sub), as well as draws against Murilo Rua and Chael Sonnen. Even his losses are impressive; Matt Hughes (UD), ‘Shogun’ Rua, Dan Henderson, Dan Hardy (split), and Jon Fitch (UD). Consider that for just a moment. Although he is 37 and been fighting since the dawn of MMA (he debuted in 1994), I would still consider him a force in the 155 class as well as an active MMA Hall of Famer.
Katsunori Kikuno (14-3-2)
Fight Matrix Rank: 29
Kikuno is one of the Japanese fighters that fans have been clamoring to see test himself against top competition. Kikuno’s only losses in the past 5 years are to Eddie Alvarez (sub) and JZ Cavalcante (split), unfortunately those are the only standards that we can use to base his potential. Kikuno would make a nice addition to the Strikeforce roster, or would be a favored pick in a future Bellator tourney.
Drew Fickett (41-13-0, UFC 4-3)
Fight Matrix Rank: 35
Fickett has a gigantic resume for a 31 year old fighter. Wins over Dennis Hallman, Carlo Prater, and Kenny Florian on regional promotions provided him a chance to showcase his skills in the UFC. Although it turned out to be a short lived stint, Fickett made an impact with wins over John Neer, Josh Koscheck, and Keita Nakamura in the 170lb class. After the UFC his career took a bit of a downturn including a 4-8 run in regional shows. ‘Night Rider’ has since made the drop to 155 reviving his career and is currently riding a 5 fight win streak, all by submission.