UFC Fighters to Watch in 2017

I was a little unsure whether to post this blog because it kinda pisses on itself… If I go telling people who I think are good fighters (and particularly underrated fighters), then the lines probably aren’t going to be as good. In the end I thought there are enough people doing this that this will get lost in the fog and really, I’m not that important 😛

Breaking through level 1
People already in the top 15 UFC fighter rankings, who I expect to make a push for the top of the division.

Jessica Andrade USADA is the only thing that bothers me about this pick. That aside, I think she’ll get a title shot this year and I would not be the least bit surprised if Andrade absolutely demolishes Joanna Jedrzejczyk. I think she would have smashed Moroz, so hopefully they make that matchup again.
Ranked at #5 in the official UFC rankings. MMA Junkie only have her at #11 which is fucking ridiculous considering they have Alexa Grasso at #6.
Big power, impressive wrestling, a really solid gas tank and a good chin. She doesn’t really look any different to how she looked at 135lbs and she was contending with the top of the tree there. Much, much bigger girls like Pennington, who is a very good clinch fighter and an absolute grinder, who has had her breakout year this year.
Joanna has been rocked by people with a LOT less power than Andrade. Given her good gas tank, I find it hard to envisage JJ not getting smacked around at some point and JJ does not have power to deter the Andrade attacks. So that’s basically given away what I presume will be one of my picks at some point late in the year.
I just finished listening to The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani giving out his end of year awards and predicting his end of year award winners for 2017 – Both he and his co-host predicted JJ as female fighter of 2017. I’m going with Andrade for mine (assuming she doesn’t get popped), so we shall see.
Misha Cirkunov A bit of a tricky one because it depends who he is matched up against. However, in an aging division, he’s someone I see making continued improvements and picking off a couple of the guys above him. If he gets matched up against Bader then possibly he gets wrestle-fucked but I don’t think that’s a bad matchup due to Bader’s chin. Gus looked poor in his last fight, OSP I think is a poor and massively overrated fighter, Manuwa would certainly test his chin but I’d favour Misha, Rua is pretty much done, Rumble would be an interesting fight but basically you get through the first round and a half and Rumble is there for the taking. I don’t think we’re looking at a title shot for Misha this year but a couple of competitive but impressive wins seems most likely.
This writeup could be written for Corey Anderson. The reason I haven’t gone for him is because he does look like he has a duff chin. Cirkunov looks like he has a good chin to me. His weakness is possibly his cardio, so I would want to see him perform well in a R3 before I get really confident but skills wise I think he’s legit.

Breaking through level 2
The following fighters are ranked outside the top 15 in their division but I believe will have a good year and stand a good chance of moving into that top 15.

Colby Covington and Kamaru Usman These two could be pretty interchangeable in terms of a writeup.  They would both merk a lot of guys in the top 15 and it’s a bit ridiculous that they’re not ranked already. I wouldn’t bet anyone outside of Woodley against either of them. I would definitely back them both to beat several of the top 15, though I’m not gunna say who in case those matchups get made 🙂
The knock on Covington was his standup. I actually think his standup has been pretty decent for a while (back as far as the Pyle fight) and people started to realise that a bit more in his last fight. My main problem with him is the stuff he says… he says a lot of dumb shit and that doesn’t fill me with much confidence in terms of decision making at the highest level.
Usman seems more level headed but perhaps a little less of a threat to be a finisher more long term. Again, the opportunity for prop betting the decision is there, particularly for Usman.
Justin Scoggins He lost his last fight against Munhoz but the guy is legit and that was a terrible matchup. His main problem is his lack of power but that also opens up opportunities for prop betting – Scoggins by unanimous decision.
Kevin Lee Dude is just good at stuff…. He’s good at taking you down and beating you up and he’s good enough at striking to hang with most people.
Rustam Khabilov …. by decision. Will probably wrestle-hump his way into the bottom of the top 15 where he’ll find his natural level but he’s just there to bet on by decision every time.
Santiago Ponzinibbio I’d kinda forgotten this guy existed till I had a look through the fightmatrix rankings site to see if I’d missed anyone. He’s older than I thought he was but still just about young enough to be making improvements as a semi-prospect. I would take him to beat at least 1/3 of the current top 15 at welterweight, which I think is probably the most inaccurate list in terms of actual talent at the weight.
Nordine Taleb He got a surprise KO in his last fight and if he’s added power to his game, that’s a massive bonus. A grinder in the mould of Covington but with a lower tempo… However, as very much an under the radar guy, it’s not so much I think he’s going to end up being a top 15 guy, I just think he’s going to offer value depending on the matchup.
Vicente Luque It’s possible that the impressive KOs will negate any value here. However, adding that power is something that has piqued my interest. At 25 he’s an interesting age. He’s showed poor defensive wrestling on TUF and in his loss to Michael Graves but I think that’s a hole he can fill in. I wouldn’t bet him against any dominant wrestler until we see for sure though.

Newbies
Could easily end up top 15 but more likely will just make a decent impression. Less fights and more question marks than the fighters above.

Tatiana Suarez She absolutely carved up the (decent level of) competition on TUF and in the finale. Impressive offensive grappling should be enough to pick off a lot of competition in this division. I’d have to remind myself of her standup, so that’s a possible hole.
Justin Ledet Another who could have gone in the breakthrough category. In a weak division we could easily see him zoom into the top 15 in one or two more fights. Very good striking and very good jiu jitsu but we’re yet to see his wrestling. There are a lot of big lumps at heavyweight so he could get wrestle-humped to a decision loss. He also doesn’t appear to have massive power. If he can make 205 then I’d say that was a better fit and he could be kind of like an upgraded Magnus Cedenblad. At 265lb I think the options are probably limited by his size but he’s someone I’ll be keeping an eye on.
Tyson Pedro Very little to go off but what he have seen looked impressive. A dominant grappler with power.
Matthew Lopez At this weight you kinda hit a brick wall in the top 5-8 fighters but this guy has a good all round game. He’s got nice scrambles and generally just a good, scrappy, fighter’s instinct.
Shane Burgos a Lando Vanatta-ish style perhaps in his debut (from recollection). Not the sort of fighter I like betting on because he’s a risk taker but he looked way ahead of the curve in terms of a debut fighter.

Quick Mentions & Turnarounds
Zak Cummings I think he’ll run the table on this vets season of TUF. I’m not sure he’ll do much beyond that but a season of TUF is worth a mention.
Lauren Murphy In a threadbare division, she’s been on the wrong end of some iffy decision and as such will be under-valued.
Nina Ansaroff It will be very interesting to see how she gets on this next event. Competitive fights against two good fighters in Lima and Kish but ultimately she showed tactical weakness in staying on bottom too long. She’s had a long layoff now and if she can display better takedown defense and a more urgent desire to scramble and escape, she could pick off 2 or 3 top 20 fighters.

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