When I set out to do a top 25 list of MMA prospects, I wanted to focus on two different things. First, while I based it on established criteria, a data-driven method, and deep technical analysis, the project was still a relatively straightforward attempt at a scouting report. The second goal, however, was to use these 25 prospects as the basis for a (relatively) longitudinal examination of outcomes. This is the second installment in that process; check out the first here.
One of the most important things I learned from my examination of Leland and Smoogy's World MMA Scouting Report was that prospects often take longer to develop and reach the upper echelons of the sport than we'd think, on the order of years instead of months, and that it's important not to focus on the short term at the expense of looking toward future outcomes. There are many different arcs that a top prospect's career might take, from the meteoric rise of a Georges St-Pierre or Chris Weidman to the long and winding road of a Carlos Condit. Moreover, a lot of prospects simply never put it all together, and no scouting report (regardless of the sport) can ever hope for a perfect rate of success. The impetus behind studying these fighters over the long term is to refine the underlying methods of this scouting report and thereby improve the criteria according to which we evaluate prospects. For reference, read the recap I wrote upon completion of the list, check the Story Stream on the right side of the page for links to the various scouting reports, and here's the top 25:
25) Steve Mocco, HW
24) Michinori Tanaka, BW
23) Nick Newell, LW
22) Max Nunes, MW
21) Gleristone Santos, FW
20) Walter Gahadza, WW
19) Ramazan Emeev, MW
18) Rick Glenn, FW
17) Georgi Karakhanyan, FW
16) Jim Alers, FW
15) Tyrone Spong, LHW
14) Marlon Moraes, BW
13) Mansour Barnaoui, LW
12) Islam Makhachev, LW
11) Niklas Backstrom, FW
10) Sheymon Moraes, BW
9) Marif Piraev, WW
8) Pedro Munhoz, BW
7) Mike Rhodes, WW
6) Henry Cejudo, FLW
5) Lance Palmer, FW
4) Thomas de Almeida, BW
3) Justin Gaethje, LW
2) Aljamain Sterling, BW
1) Mirsad Bektic, FW
And now let's take a look at how they've fared since I first scouted them.
Signed to the UFC: Mirsad Bektic (1-0), Aljamain Sterling (1-0), Pedro Munhoz (0-1), Mike Rhodes (0-1), Jim Alers (1-0), Michinori Tanaka
Sterling won a hard-fought decision over the game and tough Cody Gibson at UFC 170 on extremely short notice, while Pedro Munhoz dropped a brutal matchup against probable top bantamweight contender Raphael Assuncao, also on late notice. Mike Rhodes lost a close but uninspiring decision to unheralded journeyman George Sullivan on the UFC on Fox 10 card back in January and showed that he still has a lot of holes in his game that need filling.
Alers won a thrilling, back-and-forth fight - the fact that it didn't get a performance bonus is borderline criminal - against fellow top prospect Alan Omer at the Abu Dhabi Fight Night; if you haven't seen that scrap, make it a priority to do so. My top selection, Mirsad Bektic, overcame two illegal knees and terrible officiating to take a majority decision over top featherweight prospect Chas Skelly at UFC on Fox 11. It was a solid fight, but it showed that Bektic still has quite a bit of growing left to do.
Other notable signings: Nothing since last month's installment.
Overall results: 11-3, 3-2 UFC
1. Mirsad Bektic: 1-0 (win vs. Chas Skelly, 4/19, UFC on Fox 11)
2. Aljamain Sterling: 1-0 (win vs. Cody Gibson, 2/22, UFC 170)
3. Justin Gaethje: 1-0 (win vs. Richard Patishnock, 1/18, WSOF 8; WSOF lightweight champion)
4. Thomas de Almeida: 1-0 (win vs. Vinicius Zani, 3/30, MMA Super Heroes 3)
6. Henry Cejudo: 1-0 (win vs. Elias Garcia, 1/31, Legacy Fighting Championship 27)
7. Mike Rhodes: 0-1 (loss vs. George Sullivan, 1/25, UFC on Fox 10)
8. Pedro Munhoz: 1-1 (win vs. Billy Daniels, RFA 12, 1/24; loss vs. Raphael Assuncao, 2/22, UFC 170)
10. Sheymon Moraes: 1-0 (win vs. Felipe Alves, 4/12, Nitrix Champion Fight 20)
11. Niklas Backstrom: 1-0 (vs. Max Coga, 3/22, Europa Fighting Championship)
16. Jim Alers: 1-0 (vs. Alan Omer, 4/11, UFC Fight Night Abu Dhabi)
22. Max Nunes: 1-0 (vs. Boris Miroshnichenko, 4/6, ProFC 53)
25. Steve Mocco: 0-1 (vs. Smealinho Rama, 2/21, WSOF Canada)
Let's take a look at some of the recent action. Here's Thomas de Almeida beasting on Vinicius Zani in a fight that's well worth your time:
Sheymon Moraes, my favorite prospect on the list, absolutely ethering the overmatched Felipe Alves with a counter elbow:
And the GIF of the finish:
Under-the-radar Swedish prospect Niklas Backstrom showing off his improved striking against top German FW Max Coga, with a GIF of the front kick finish:
3. Justin Gaethje: vs. Nick Newell, WSOF 11, July 5th
4. Thomas de Almeida: vs. Aaron Phillips, Legacy Fighting Championship 32, June 20th (for Legacy bantamweight title)
5. Lance Palmer: vs. TBA, WSOF 11, July 5th
6. Henry Cejudo: vs. Damacio Page, Legacy Fighting Championship 31, June 13th (for Legacy flyweight title)
8. Pedro Munhoz: vs. Matt Hobar, UFC Fight Night: Miocic vs. Dos Santos, May 31st
9. Marif Piraev: vs. Benjamin Brinsa, LFFC, May 3rd
17. Georgi Karakhanyan: vs. Rick Glenn, WSOF 10, June 21st
18: Rick Glenn: vs. Georgi Karakhanyan
21. Gleristone Santos: vs. Robert Washington, Titan Fighting Championship 28, May 16th
24. Nick Newell: vs. Justin Gaethje
The Gaethje-Newell fight has been rumored for a while, but wasn't officially announced until a couple of weeks ago. That's a fantastic scrap; I favor Gaethje's brutal right hand and low kicks, but I wouldn't be surprised if Newell took advantage of Gaethje's recklessness and aggression and jumped on a submission. I'm not sure about Newell, but Gaethje still has four fights left on his WSOF contract, so we can't expect to see him in the UFC anytime soon.
Almeida's brutal treatment of Vinicius Zani won him a matchup for the Legacy bantamweight title against another undefeated prospect; this and one more victory will probably garner him an offer from the UFC, if they don't pick him up for a short-notice bout in the meantime.
Cejudo-Page is fascinating. If Cejudo doesn't have his mind right, or fails to improve his game, then Page is probably going to be pretty rough on him; for all of his flaws as a fighter, Page is still good enough to give really, really raw prospects like Cejudo a real challenge. I'm willing to bet that Cejudo will receive a UFC offer if he beats Page, though he'd be wise to take a little more time to round out his skills.
Pedro Munhoz has an interesting test with Matt Hobar booked for the Dos Santos-Miocic card. Hobar's flown under the radar a bit, but he's long for the division (5'10), with an arsenal of high-amplitude takedowns and solid striking. Marif Piraev's upcoming matchup with Benjamin Brinsa is less interesting; the Dagestani has also beaten the former UFC signee, and Brinsa is coming off another loss in the meantime.
Karakhanyan-Glenn is another matchup of fighters I profiled, and it's one of the best featherweight matchups possible outside the UFC. These are two polished and extremely well rounded fighters - they're probably the most advanced prospects I profiled, along with Jim Alers and Gleristone Santos - who are both more than ready to compete against top-15 opposition.
Speaking of Gleristone Santos, he's finally set to make his Titan Fighting Championship debut after being forced off a February card with visa issues. It's not all that interesting a scrap: Santos should probably be fighting better competition, he's deep enough into his career that the window is closing, and he needs to make moves now.
If Santos isn't getting a stiff enough challenge, Michinori Tanaka is probably a bit overmatched in his North American debut. He's scheduled to fight Roland Delorme at UFC 174 in Vancouver, and this will be a pretty tough matchup for Tanaka. Delorme has the edge in size, the depth of his skill set, and overall experience.
We'll be back next month for another look at these prospects. Questions? Concerns? Criticisms? Any upcoming fights that I've missed? Let me know in the comments.