Here are my top 10 Flyweight prospects, and I'm finishing it up at a good time as one of them fought last weekend, and three of them are in action coming up this weekend. I've disqualified guys who have fought for UFC, Bellator, 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.
My goal is to keep these list as living document, so as a fighter wins/loses, or get signed by one of the bigger organizations I will try to continuously update this throughout the year.
Top 10 Prospects
#10 Mikihito Yamagami
Yamagami has been as high as 22 in the BE-meta rankings but has dropped back as some other fighters passed him by. He has spent most of his career at 115lbs where he was a Shooto champion, but his desire to get to the UFC, and an increasingly difficult weight cut has lead him to start competing at FLW recently. He has also spent time competing at 122lbs in kickboxing for the R.I.S.E promotion.
Mikihito sticks to his kickboxing base in MMA, looking to use his long reach, and good kicks . Even after moving up from STW to FLW he is still taller than many of his opponents and he has improved over the years at fighting tall and keeping his opponents at a good range.
While training mostly in Japan, Yamagami has also made trips to the United States to train at Alliance MMA, where he can get some familiarization with both fighting in a cage, and the Unified Rules, both of which he has not had much of experience with.
Yamagami vs. Ito Highlights
#9 Marcin Lasota
Lasota's idol is BJ Penn, and he goes by the nickname BJ, in his honor. He is another of the growing list of Polish talent that will be making their name in the big shows very soon. Marcin is currently at least a BJJ Purple belt, but the info I found about that was from mid 2012... so I do not think it is out of the question that he has received another belt promotion since then. After starting his pro career with three straight decisions he has submitted three of his last four opponents including Tymoteusz Swiatek (12-1) in his last fight. In November it was announced that he has signed with Cage Warriors FC, and would be dropping to FLW after spending most of his career at this point at BW.
Marcin's MMA game is centered on his grappling. He has a very nice double leg that he times well off of his strikes, or catching his opponent moving forward. Once on top, he uses his grappling skill to control his opponent while searching for submissions. He is going to have to continue to improve his striking if he want to maximize his potential, but he appears to have the athleticism to improve those skills.
Lasota trains with Gracie Barra - Lodz, which is also the home to recent UFC signee Pawel Pawlak. While this camp has not produced a ton of UFC talent to this point, it has some quality talent that can push him and help him improve. I think Lasota's can be a top 15 fighter down the road.
Lasota vs. Szumski - Pro Debut
2012 looked like it was going to be a big year for Sandoval as UFC started its flyweight division, and he was emerging as one of the better prospects in the division improving his record to 4-1 by the end of 2011. He ended up not fighting during 2012, but returned in 2013 going 2-0, and now looks to be very close to a UFC contract.
Sandoval is a powerful wrestler, who has some big slams off of his double leg shots. He also is not afraid to sacrifice position to hunt for a guillotine choke that is the staple of his camp at Team Alpha Male.
Sandoval trains at Team Alpha Male, one of the best teams in the sport. He should be challenged day in and day out working alongside some of the best coaching around and working with numerous world top 10 fighters. I think he has top 15 potential down the road.
#7 Dileno Lopes
Lopes was #1 on the 2012 BE scouting report, and many expected to land a job in the UFC by now. I considered leaving him off the report because he fought in the elimination round of TUF: Brazil 1... losing to eventual winner Rony Jason. This is one of those times, where I used some discretion, and didn't confine myself too much into a box. Lopes fought up two weight classes for his TUF chance against the eventual winner of the show. I'm actually surprised UFC let him on the show under those circumstances, and then did not invite him back as Flyweight got going later on in 2012.
He has won 12 of his 13 victories by submission, with 9 of those being Guillotine chokes. Dileno is going to look to strike his way into a grappling exchange, where he is looking for his submissions. He is very aggressive, and will push the tempo in order to overwhelm his opponents, and get his submission attempts.
Lopes trains with Nova Uniao Manaus. This isn't the main Nova Uniao camp that is the best lighter weight camp in the world, but there are some solid Brazilian regional fighters that train here. Lopes could be a top 10 fighter down the road if he continues to develop.
I'm surprised that Santella hasn't been picked up by the UFC yet. He is a very solid fighter, who has been competing in the Ring of Combat, and Cage Fury Fighting Championship circuits that have produced numerous UFC fighters over the last several years. When UFC announced that they were adding the Flyweight weight class back in 2012, I assumed he would be one of the first guys they picked up.
Santella has a wrestling background, and mixes that base in with an aggressive submission game. He has a very quick double leg shot, but isn't worried about ending up in a scramble because his main goal is to grapple. If Sean ends up on his back he is very aggressive with his submission and sweep attempts. Striking is still Sean's weakness, but it is serviceable to help him get to his ground game.
Sean trains at AMA fight club in New Jersey alongside numerous UFC veterans such as Jim Miller, and Charlie Brenneman. This is a top-notch training environment that should help him improve as he moves into the UFC. He has been a pro for over five years now and is UFC ready today. I don't see as high of a ceiling as some of the other prospects on this list, but I also think he is more of a sure thing who could fight his way into the top 15.
Santella vs. Lashomb highlights
#5 Pietro Menga
Menga has been training in Martial Arts since he was six years old, and has developed a well-rounded skill set. His first of over 20 professional Muay Thai fights was at age 16, and he has been working on his MMA game since age 15.
Despite his Muay Thai background, Menga has submitted five of his last six opponents. He is very adept at catching his opponent's kicks and taking the fight to the ground from there. Once on the ground he is looking to pass guard, and work to the side control where he can attempt a submission.
Pietro trains at the MMA Academy in Liverpool under the watchful eye of UFC veteran Jason Tan. TUF 18's Michael Wooten also trains at the gym and is one of Menga's chief training partners. He also spends time at several other gyms around the Liverpool area to help round out specific BJJ, or boxing skills. I think Menga's ceiling is inside the top 10.
Menga just announced today that he is going to be fighting Sotir Kichukov on March 22nd.
#4 Adriano Moraes
Moraes began training in Judo at age 8, moved to Capoeira in a more informal setting, and then was training in BJJ by age 16. He has a wealth of martial arts experience that he has incorporated with his tremendous athletic ability.
Adriano has very good striking, keeping his opponents on the outside with with good combinations. He also shows that BJJ, and Judo background with solid takedowns and transitions where he can control his opponents and look for submissions.
Moraes trains with the Constrictor team in Brasilia that is home to several UFC talents. Rani Yahya, Paulo Thiago, and some other rising fighters such as #9 Bantamweight prospect Renato Carneiro are part of this gym. He is in a good training environment with a growing record of producing quality fighters with the tools to compete at the highest level. I think Moraes ceiling is inside the top 10.
Shinn was a two time national qualifier while wrestling for Oklahoma St. An interesting note is that the quickest pin of his college career came over current UFC fighter Josh Sampo back in the 2006-2007 season. He saw his mat time decrease dramatically during his Junior and Senior year as he suffered several injuries and then Jordan Oliver arrived in Stillwater, and began his amazing career. Shinn continues to round out his game and has become a BJJ Purple Belt. He has competed at Bantamweight so far in his career, but recently decided to make the cut to Flyweight, a weight he competed at during his redshirt freshman year in college. His will start the cut with a 130lbs catchweight fight on February 8th.
In the cage Shinn is a relentless wrestler who is going to shoot for his single and double leg take-downs. Once he is on the mat he is constantly trying to improve his position and work for a submission, or ground and pound. Tyler will need to sure up his striking as he moves forward, but as good as his wrestling is it just needs to be functional to complement his wrestling.
Tyler trains with Elite Combat systems in Stillwater, OK. He is the only MMA fighter of note from this team but through his Oklahoma St. connections he has spent time training with the Team Takedown guys near Dallas and also out in Las Vegas at Xtreme Couture, and Robert Drysdales.
Shinn vs. Land - Shinn fight starts at 10:00 minute mark
#2 Leandro Higo
Higo is likely on the cusp of a call from the UFC at any moment as his management has had several discussions with UFC in the past. He has been fighting since 2006, with many of those fights coming at Bantamweight and even Featherweight. He has wins over UFC veterans Jose Maria Tome, and Wagner Campos on his resume, but has struggled over the last year to stay as busy as he would like.
BJJ one of Higo's strongest assets as 8 of his wins have come by way of submission. He has good takedowns, and his double leg frequently ends up with a big slam. On the feet he throws good combinations, and if his opponent is back on their heels he will come up the middle with a flying knee that he times well.
He trains with the Pitbull brothers of Bellator fame, and also travels to Team Nogueira to get work with more quality training partners. These are great training environments and he is learning from and working with some of the best in the game. He should continue to improve, and I suspect that he will get his chance in the UFC during the 1st half of 2014.
#1 Henry Cejudo
Cejudo won an Olympic Gold Medal in Freestyle wrestling in 2008 at age 21. After his gold medal performance he stepped away from wrestling took up amateur boxing, competing in several tournaments in Arizona. After almost three years away he returned to the wrestling mat in an attempt to win a spot on the 2012 US Olympic team. He came up short in that run but was still competitive
Henry looks like he is still thinking a little too much at times in the cage as he tries to mesh his elite wrestling with the boxing and other MMA skills that he has picked up. There are positions I've seen him in where he could just use his wrestling to get by, but it looks like he is hesitating to try and work on a different technique. That being said, when Elias Garcia popped him in the mouth with a good punch, his wrestling took over and showed exactly why he will be so hard stop.
Cejudo does not come without questions. He is not training at one of the elite camps, and has missed weight his last two times out. I was very tempted to move him down the rankings, but his potential and wrestling skill set is off the charts. I also think he is going to get every chance to succeed as his ability to appeal to multiple markets (US Olympian, both his parents are Mexican), he almost as comfortable on the set of Jay Leno as he is in the cage and he could be the first breakout star for the FLW division.
Cejudo vs. Sessions Fight starts at 7:04
Summary: It was very difficult to leave quality fighters like Alexandre Passidomo, and Nick Urso off this list as I could see both of those fighters signing with UFC any day now based on their bodies of work. Malcolm Gordon also got a serious look after he submitted Mike Davis last weekend, but came up just short of the list for now. This is one of the few divisions where I feel like UFC could sign every fighter on this list today, and they would be competitive. In many weight classes guys have a lot of work still left to do before they can really think about swimming in the UFC waters, but at FLW it is more of just sustaining progression.
Top Prospect Summary:
It is much harder than you might think to settle on 10 top prospects, and most of the time I'm debating my list even after I hit publish. One of the biggest struggles is balancing potential against accomplishment and it was an interesting process from start to finish. I will likely refine my criteria to allow fighters with one Bellator fight on my list as numerous prospects have had one off fights on Bellator prelims over the last several years.
My goal is to keep all the list updated and six fighters from my lists have already signed with UFC, or WSOF since I started in December. I will work in the updates to my "Prospects to Watch" weekly piece, most likely at the start of each month. Hopefully I've been able to familiarize everyone with some new talents that will be coming to a bigger stage near you soon. I watch a ton of fight video along with amateur wrestling, BJJ, Kickboxing and sambo videos along the way, but I never claim to be perfect and if you think I've missed someone in any of the weight classes let me know and I will take a look.