Here are my top 10 Heavyweight prospects. I've disqualified guys who have fought for UFC, are currently signed with Bellator or have fought for them more than 2 times, and WSOF as they have graduated from prospect status. In this listing I've tried to balance potential, and upside with their current MMA resume. I also consider age, martial arts base, training environment and level of activity over the last year.
#10 Ion Cutelaba
Record: 5-1; 1 NC
Cutelaba has finished four of his five victories inside on one minute. His only loss is by DQ for hitting to the back of the head just when he was finding his groove against Michal Andryszak and getting ready to land some of his GnP. He brings a Combat Sambo background into the cage where he won a European Championship. He also has also trained in Judo and Greco-Roman wrestling.
Ion is a powerful puncher but he wings his punches in a manner that a more technical striker could take advantage of. It looks like he has tightened this up to some extent from his earlier fights, He also has to be careful about staying on balance, as Michal Andryszak was able to take him down with ease , and his ground and pound is absolutely brutal.
My concern with Cutelaba is that he is small for the HW division. While he has the power to compete at heavyweight and could fill out more, I also wouldn't be surprised to hear that he drops to LHW if he were to get a call to the big leagues. He is currently training at CSA Moldova which does have a few good prospects but no history of fighters competing at MMAs highest levels.
#9 Anthony Hamilton
Hamilton started out his career 6-0, but then dropped back-to-back fights to current UFC fighter Walt Harris, and former UFC fighter Fabiano Scherner. Since then he has rebounded and stopped his next 5 opponents. The highlight of this most recent winning streak has to be the incredible head kick KO of previously undefeatedSmealinho Rama to win the MFC Heavyweight title. Hamilton had successfully grappled with Rama in the 1st round, and then hit the big Head kick just seconds into the 2nd round.
Hamilton trains with Greg Jackson at one of the top camps in the world. For his win over Rama he had UFC contender Travis Browne in his corner, and has access to some of the best to work with. At age 33 I would hope he could get a shot at UFC soon, but we will have to see how his MFC contract play out. He is scheduled to face TUF 10 veteran Darrill Schoonover at the MFC event on January 17th.
East has won five in a row four by first round stoppage since suffering his only loss to MMA vet Tony Lopez back in April 2012. In that loss East started out very well, but started to gas in the 2nd round, and Lopez was able to finish him in the 3rd.
Cody was a New Mexico State Champion wrestler but has been working on his striking. In addition to his five MMA victories in a row, he also won a very low level (and ugly) boxing match in Texas last spring.
East has trained at Greg Jackson's with fighters like Travis Browne, and Frank Mir in the past. That is a great environment for East to be in as he is sure to improve. I think his ceiling is in the top 25.
Cody has spent time in jail for a 2008 abuse incident, and more recently in 2012 for a probation violation. Like his brother Tyler, who just got out of prison this spring, East's past could be a factor in keeping him out of one of the bigger shows until he can put it a little bit farther in his past. .
#7 Dmitriy Sosnovskiy
It would be easy to dismiss Sosnovskiy's recent victory over the corpse of Alexander Emelianenko as a case of a young fighter taking advantage of a once great veteran who just mailed it that night, but not so fast. While there is a little truth, that a victory over Alex doesn't mean what it did even just a few years ago, Sosnovskiy's athleticism and talent jumped off the screen as he seized his opportunity against a big named opponent.
Against Emelianenko, he looked to take the fight straight to the ground, where he was able to work some GnP, before taking the back and finishing the fight with more ground and pound. Dmitriy is very aggressive looking for his takedowns, and uses the top position to punish his opponents.
Sosnovskiy has been linked as a training partner with current UFC Heavyweight Alexey Oleinik. He is in a good, but not elite training environment and should continue to improve.
#6 Denis Smoldarev
Another Eastern European, Sambo based fighter making waves in MMA is Smoldarev. While he is called "The Brock Lesnar of Estonia" it is only because of his size and muscular build as their MMA games are very different. He has really started to come into his own over the last year and defeated another very good prospect Ante Delija (8-2) last time out to earn a M-1 HW title shot down the road.
Denis does not have the one punch power, but puts his all around kickboxing game together very well to overwhelm his opponents. Against Delija he was taken down numerous times, but proved that he can grapple as he secured top position, passed to side control and secured the submission by Americana.
I'm not sure if Smoldarev is tied to M-1 for long, but I wouldn't be surprised to see UFC come calling very soon, especially considering their expanded European schedule. While a native of Estonia his hometown of Narva-Jesuu is right on the Russian border and Russian is the primary language there. He is currently training in St. Petersburg Russia at the Alexander Nevsky Club. He is another fighter that could benefit from moving to a top flight camp as his physical potential is off the charts.
#5 Tony Johnson Jr.
Tony Johnson was an Ohio State Wrestling champion in High School and was recruited to wrestle at Iowa State. Life apparently got in the way, and Johnson never completed his time at Iowa State. He is a tremendous athlete and also a standout football player, clocked as fast as 4.5 sec in the 40 yard dash.
Johnson was 6-1 but then did not fight for nearly two years in part due to a contract dispute with Bellator. He fought for Bellator back in 2011, defeating current UFC fighter Derek Lewis, but then did not fight again anywhere until this summer when he defeated former UFC Champion Tim Sylvia in OneFC. In his second fight back he was rocked early, and held off late by Chris Lokteff suffering a split decision loss. Johnson's other loss is to top UFC fighter Daniel Cormier, so it is safe to say that he has not avoided fighting very good competition so far.
The concern with Johnson is how much he lost during his two years off from the sport. If he has lost some of his athletic ability, it will reduce his advantages that he has over people. He is now training at American Kickboxing Academy alongside great fighters like Cain Velasquez, and Daniel Cormier. Training with some of the best Heavyweights in the sport should help push Tony, and improve his prospects over the next few years. I think Tony could be a top 10 HW if he puts it all together.
#4 Chris Lokteff
Lokteff recently picked up the biggest win of his career when he knocked off fellow top prospect Tony Johnson Jr. at OneFC 12. That win cemented a 4-0 2013 campaign for Lokteff, that saw him rebound from his only career loss in Oct 2012. That loss is the only thing keeping Lokteff from moving higher up the rankings as it came to a rather inexperienced, and uninspiring fighter named Sam Kei.
Lokteff has made very good progress for a guy that had no significant athletic experience before beginning MMA back in 2010. He trains with Integrated MMA in Brisbane, Australia. At integrated he trains with Adrian Pang a 30 fight MMA veteran. I think Chris will be a solid addition to any of the big organizations, but I have trouble seeing him fighting his way higher than the 15-20 ranking range.
#3 Yosef Ali Mohammad
Weight: 238 lbs
Yosef is a Swedish ADCC champion, who is extremely athletic for a Heavyweight. He also has very fluid, and powerful striking, as all three of his wins have come inside of 1:25 in the first round. The only loss on his record appears to come with some controversy, as it came in his second pro fight against then 6-0 Viktor Pesta where he was initially ruled the winner by split decision, but they it was overruled by the governing body after the fight was reviewed.
He trains with Avam, which isn't a powerful team. I think that this would be a great training partner for Alexander Gustafsson moving forward if he can get linked up with his countryman. Yosef has the highest ceiling of any heavyweight on this list as I think he has all the physical tools to be a serious title contender down the road. A few more big KO's and someone will give him a shot very soon.
Ishii is the 2008 Olympic Gold medalist in Judo. His career got off to a rough start as he was match with an accomplished veteran Hidehiko Yoshida in his first pro fight, and Fedor not long after. Since a year off after the Fedor fight, and some reports that he had serious, potentially career threatening injuries, he has returned and been very active this year. Since last December 31st he has won 6 fights, and will have his 7th in just over a week at the Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye New Years eve event. The list of guys he has beaten includes well know UFC veterans Tim Sylvia, Sean McCorkle, Pedro Rizzo, and Jeff Monson. There has been speculation that he will drop to LHW at some point, but against Monson he weighed in above 240lbs so I don't see that move coming soon.
Ishii will need to continue working on his striking, against Monson he appears to have a rinse and repeat cycle of a few weak jabs, followed by his left hand. Monson has never been known to be a dangerous striker, Ishii landed the only takedowns in the fight and yet it was a very close fight. Ishii's clinch as you would expect from an elite judo practitioner is his strength. He has some very nice takedowns on Monson in their fight, and launched a much bigger McCorkle in their fight. Ishii looked very tired by the end of the Monson fight, even though it wasn't fought at a grueling pace, but I will give him a little bit of a pass, as that was his 6th fight in 10 months at that point.
Ishii is likely earning a decent paycheck headlining cards in Japan right now. I do not know if he is tied up contractually to IGF in Japan, where he has fought most of his recent fights. UFC would certainly have to pay Ishii above the standard rate for a new fighter, and that could be a factor that keeps him out of the UFC for at least a little while moving forward. I could see his career arch being similar to Michael Bisping's. He would lose to better fighters early in his career, but if UFC gave him some favorable match-ups as the most popular fighter in a key market, he would stick around long enough that he could develop into a top 10 fighter.
#1 Marcin Tybura -
Marcin has stopped all three opponents since moving to M-1, and 8 of 9 as a pro. He is looking to get a clinch, move to body lock and then take the fight to the ground. Once he is on the ground he uses his ground and pound very effectively. It is not super powerful GNP that will end the fight in one or two punches, but it is almost non-stop with lighter punches. Marcin is a BJJ Purple belt, and he is active in competing around Europe in competitions. He will look for a sub if it is there, but he is not going to give up position hunting for one allowing him to maintain top position and continue with his ground and pound attack.
Trains at United Gym with a bunch of guys with Sherdog profiles, but nobody that stands as an equal talent to Tybura out of that gym. As UFC looks to expand in Europe, and has a live event planned for Poland in 2014 Tybura will be a prime target. Tybura seems comfortable with his game plan and I think his ceiling is inside the top 10 if he is given the opportunity.
Prospects who have signed with UFC/Bellator/WSOF:
Ruslan Magomedov - UFC
Viktor Pesta - UFC
Steve Mocco - WSOF