On the Outside Looking In: Bantamweight Free Agents

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.


If there is any division the UFC hasn't flexed their worldwide domination in, it's the bantamweight class. The UFC currently has 23 fighters under contract making it the smallest division in MMA's top promotion. Bellator features 7 fighters on their site, while Strikeforce hasn't promoted fights in the class. As stated before in the featherweight article, Zuffa would do themselves justice by starting to build the division in Strikeforce if and when they decide upon a merger. Needless to say there are many excellent fighters to be found in this untapped division. The upcoming Dream Bantamweight Grand Prix will showcase an amazing line-up of 135lb fighters including Masakazu Imanari, Yoshiro Maeda, and Takafumi Otsuka, among other stand outs. Every fighter in this tournament will have the attention of North American promotions and without belaboring the state of Japanese MMA, hopefully many will consider a stateside run. There are several more fighters I would like to include because this is a largely untapped division, but I had to narrow it down to a manageable list.

Hiroshi Nakamura (12-4-4)

SBNation Rank: 20

Fight Matrix Rank: 7

Nakamura is an exciting veteran of the Japanese Shooto and DEEP organizations. Like many other lower weight fighters in these promotions, Nakamura would take bouts without much regard for divisions. ‘Iron' has tested his mettle against top competition, losing only once in his last 14 bouts which include a draw with FW kingpin Hatsu Hioki and defeating DEEP champion Masakazu Imanari by decision in a non-title affair. Nakamura stated after the Imanari bout that he would like to "fight abroad" and with his record, age (30), and admirable record he should garner some notice from top promotions like the UFC.


Wagnney Fabiano (14-3-0)

SBNation Rank: 11

Fight Matrix Rank: 12

Following a submission loss to Joseph Benavidez at the WEC 52 finale, Fabiano was mysteriously cut by Zuffa. It seemed like harsh treatment for a former IFL featherweight champ, six-time WEC vet, and 3rd degree BJJ black-belt who was actually supposed to challenge Brian Bowles for the title before the champ was injured and replaced by Benavides. I'm sure the UFC takes a different side to this story and where Fabiano lands now is uncertain. Hopefully, differences can be overcome and both sides can agree on something so that the 36 year old returns to the cage soon.


Masakatsu Ueda (12-1-2)

SBNation Rank: 10

Fight Matrix Rank: 15

Ueda is SBNation's top ranked bantamweight fighter outside of the UFC. His resume includes wins over Atsushi Yamamoto, Akitoshi Tamura and draws with recent Joe Warren challenger Marcos Galvao, and WEC/UFC stand out Takeya Mizugaki. He is a highly skilled veteran with a stellar record who at the age of 34, probably should consider making a run at the world's top promotion before time catches up with him.


Takafumi Otsuka (11-7-1)

SBNation Rank: 22

Fight Matrix Rank: 11

Otsuka's record is not astounding but his quality of opposition keeps him in the upper echelon when it comes to ranking the 25 year old Japanese fighter. Otsuka fought mostly up weight until recently, which takes an edge off of his losses to Bibiano Fernandes, Rafael Dos Anjos, Kazuyuki Miyata, and Koichiro Matsumoto. Combine that with the fact that he has not been finished since his debut, and you can see his potential. Otsuka recently started training stateside with the likes of Team Alpha Male BW title contender Joseph Benavides, which means he's taking his game to the next level. Otsuka will be a part of the fantastic Dream Bantamweight Grand Prix starting on May 29th, taking on Kenji Osawa in the opening round.


Masakazu Imanari (21-8-2)

SBNation Rank: 19

Fight Matrix Rank: 15

Japanese submission wrestler Imanari is another fighter who is open to challenging any fighter within 25 pounds of him. He started his career in the lightweight division before finally settling on the bantamweight division, along the way picking up wins against Jorge Gurgel, Yoshiro Maeda, Mike Thomas Brown, and Atsushi Yamamoto. The 35 year old Imanari will have some serious deliberating to do with his career depending on how well he does in the upcoming Dream Bantamweight Grand Prix. If he wins, he may consider an offer from North America but if he loses early in the tourney it could signal the twilight of a great career. Imanari will be facing Keisuke Fujiwara at Dream 17 in the opening round of their Bantamweight Grand Prix.


Yoshiro Maeda (28-9-2, WEC 1-2)

SBNation Rank: 20 (FW)

Fight Matrix Rank: 17 (FW)

Maeda recently made the decision to drop to bantamweight and enter the Dream BW Grand Prix. Considering he was a top 25 fighter in the featherweight division, he should be a favorite to win this tournament. The 29 year old has wins over Fredson Paixao, Charlie Valencia, Micah Miller, Chase Beebe, Takafumi Otsuka, and Masanori Kanehara prior to dropping to 135 so you can bet the power that garnered 14 KOs will set him apart from the bantamweight crowd. Maeda is UFC ready.

\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.

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