I asked anyone on the site if they wanted to contribute their own thoughts in terms of fighters to watch this year. Response was thoroughly underwhelming but never mind! 🙂 One person who put a lot of effort into their list was MMA Prophet, so here is his full email. At the end I’ll also include one other good reply I got.
It’s no surprise that MMA Prophet is currently 2nd top in terms of sales on the site. When you put effort in like this into a writeup, people appreciate that. Follow him and buy his picks! 🙂
Note: he sent me this on 8th January.
79.19 units profit, 29% ROI
Ranked fighters who will push on to the top of the division:
Ray Borg: Young/Talented Grappler who made the transition to Jackson Wink MMA. The sky is the limit for him and he has all the time in the world to get there at only 23 years of age. He also just thrashed Smolka. Once he gets his striking to that next level he will be a feared top-level contender.
Mirsad Bektic: He’s a killer with great wrestling, KO power and the skills to submit his opponents. He is undefeated and that’s for a reason. He also trains with American Top Team and the sky is truly the limit for him. Can’t wait to see what he can do.
Jorge Masvidal: One of the most undervalued ranked fighters to ever grace the octagon. He doesn’t really get finished and when he loses it’s a really competitive match up and arguable the fight could go either way. The guy is super well rounded and trains with killers at American Top Team. One of his main training partners is Colby Covington as well and if that wrestling knowledge and grit rubs off in any way on Jorge it makes him an even more lethal threat. I predict he beats Cerrone pretty decisively and steals Cowboys thunder. Cerrone doesn’t respond well to pressure and I’m sure Masvidal will bring the heat. He will be top 5 at the very least.
Lorenz Larkin: Phenomenal striker, I hope he stays in the UFC but a match up like him vs Gunnar Nelson could be interesting to see who is more deserving to ascend. Grappler vs striker, will Gunnar be able to out power Larkin and take him to the mat? I would love to see this matchup
Gunnar Nelson: Great grappler, improving striking, if he can get opponents to the mat it’s over (Besides Maia 😉 ).
Misha Circunov: Amazing grappler with ever improving takedowns and striking. His performances have been extremely dominant and in 2 fights I think we could see him easily ranked #3. He has a good fight IQ, is measured and finds ways to win. *Also* He picked Grab and Nunes to win their last match ups, this may be irrelevant but he understands what people bring to the table and I like that.
Francis Ngannou: He’s not human. He’s at a level where his sheer power can overcome skills his opponent poses. He has great stand up, he has shown he can submit people and he’s just an all round finisher. Next year he should break top 5 and maybe even fight for the belt. This is the kind of guy that could become a huge draw because of his physical attributes (like an Arnold Schwarzenegger) and UFC matchmaking should give him some good match ups to get to the top.
Jessica Andrade: A powerful tank of a girl with lethal standup. When she hits girls they don’t know what to do, much like an Amanda Nunes. Since moving down to strawweight it seems as though the sky is the limit for her. With her power as well it makes it easy for her to outwrestle opponents and make them pay with vicious ground and pound.
Michelle Waterson: Waterson is an extremely skilled striker and grappler who trains with an amazing team at Jackson Wink MMA. I feel like Waterson can make a big run for the strawweight belt but if she’s paired up with Andrade it would be a tough matchup for her. Waterson may out skill Andrade in kicks and BJJ but when it comes to boxing and wrestling I’m giving the edge to Andrade and that could be the difference. I see them both being top 5 or top 3 in the near future.
Just outside the rankings who will push into the rankings:
Curtis Blaydes: Great wrestling, improving striking, and a big powerful heavyweight. His only loss is to Francis Ngannou who’s one of my favourite ranked fighters to break into the top 5 for the HW division.
Jarrod Cannonier: Since his move from heavyweight to light heavyweight he has looked really sharp and has defeated top a prospect in Ion Cutelaba who’s only loss was to my top prospect Misha Circunov. At Heavyweight he gave Cyril Asker his first loss by KO and that dudes head is ginormous, which is usually indicative of a grant chin. His chin is good but that shot Cannonier delivered was something else. Cannonier has crisp powerful strikes, decent wrestling and positional control and above all he doesn’t like to take damage. He’s got a big test ahead of him taking on Glover Teixeira who is ranked #3, if Cannonier finds a way to beat his relatively chinny opponent he will find himself ranked just like that. Not to mention the light heavyweight division is pretty shallow so it shouldn’t be an issue.
Santiago Ponzinibbio: Lethal striker with great accuracy and takedown defense. To tell you the truth I’m shocked that he isn’t ranked yet. He is on a 3 fight win streak and needs to dispatch of Nordine Taleb to prove he’s a real contender in that stacked division of killers. Nordine is a much stiffer striker, has fought worse competition and has had some close calls where Santiago has lost to great people and beat some killers as well. We will definitely see him ranked soon.
Ben Nguyen: Lethal striker with pinpoint accuracy, he was on a tear until Smolka derailed him with outstanding grappling and ground and pound in the scrambles. That was a mistake from a young fighter but since then he has hired a mental coach and had a dominant victory over Geane Herrera who had fought the better competition out of the teo. If he fights Smolka again I would easily pick Ben to win and he should keep the fight standing or scramble to his feet. If that fight does happen they basically swap ranks and my prophecy comes into fruition.
Will Brooks: He’s a dominant wrestler with solid striking and he trains with the killers at American Top Team. He suffered his first loss in 3 years recently to Alex Oliveira who missed weight by 10 lbs and cracked Brooks’ rib during the fight. Will was arguably winning the grappling exchanges, even with a 10 lb deficit but the pain from his rib injury proved to be too much. All that aside he was a dominant champion in balloter and I see him busting into the rankings in the UFC real soon.
Newbies who looks like prospects:
Jenel Lausa: Excellent technical Muay Thai striker with a decent enough ground game to defend and even maintain top pressure. He has some serious KO power for the weight class and he’s also shown he can be measured and do what it takes to win a 3 rounder against someone who stricktly wants to take him down.
Shane Burgos: He trains with the likes of Jimmie Rivera and has showed he can hang with UFC fighters as well. Solid submission and smart technical stand up. Room for improvement but I see him climbing the ranks and becoming a contender.
Alex Volkanovski: Talented all round fighter who is a proven finisher. He was a dominant champion in another organization and his debut in the Octagon was long overdue.
Marc Diakese: He has looked great in his last two performances. What he lacks in striking he makes up for in powerful grappling capabilities. He shows everything a coach would want in a fighter to be able to mold them into an even more lethal weapon.
Drakkar Klose: His octagon debut is coming up at UFC Phoenix and it should be a dominant performance from the footage I’ve seen. He’s composed, sharp and has some serious power.
Abdul Razak Alhassan: KO wizard. None of his fights have made it past the 2-minute mark and he’s in it to win it. Looks like a physical specimen so with the right team and coaching the sky is the limit for young Abdul.
Andrew Sanchez: He’s shown he is a great grappler and does what’s necessary to control and win the fight. In his last fight he showed off a bit of his striking and beat a legit UFC vet in Trevor Smith who was on a 2 fight win streak. With the right training the sky is the limit.
Gerald Meerschaert: Another long overdue arrival into the UFC with a record of 25 and 8 (only 2 of those wins going the distance) and with past victories over the likes of Sam Alvey and Joe Gigliotti. He’s on a 6 fight win streak and has never been knocked out. He showed great grappling and submission skills against Gigliotti and should have a decent future in the UFC with some bumps along the way.
Justin Ledet: He’s shown great work in the Octagon so far, utilizing his jab and even showing of some of his underrated BJJ. The guy is small for the heavy weight division but he still packs a punch and makes up for it with agility and slick boxing technique. Even if he loses or makes the drop to light heavyweight I see a cool career ahead of him. Very entertaining fighter.
People I think will fade away and we should bet against:
Michael Bisping: (If he ever fights a top 4 Middleweight again lol) he’s getting old and taken a lot of damage. He has children and other career opportunities as well. When Michael loses again he will most likely retire or only come back for super fights if the money is right.
Johnny Hendricks: Severe decline/USADA.
Anthony Pettis: Severe decline and head seems to be elsewhere.
Thiago Santos: Incredibly chinny with bad fight IQ.
Mike Pyle: Incredibly chinny and old.
Gian Villante: Terrible fight IQ and cardio, he doesn’t seem like he want this as much as his opponents.
Raphael Natal: Terrible fight IQ, old, and regressing.
Cole Miller: Head is no longer in the game.
Mid-level career resurgence:
Tim Elliot: We saw his performance against Mighty Mouse, giving him one of his most difficult tests to date. Tim Elliot may never become champ but he does have all the tools and skills to become a top contender.
Demian Maia: For obvious reasons, he’s already going through it technically.
Junior Dos Santos: They have put a really easy fight in front of him with Stephan Struve and Junior is deadly to anyone in the Heavyweight division.
Eddie Wineland: This is a maybe and it really is dependent on the match ups they give him. He has the potential to win his next 2 but I don’t see him gunning for that belt again given his poor defensive striking style. All that said I think he can win one or two more depending on the matchup.
The following is from Jonathan Murray
9.52 units profit, 22% ROI.
Jessica Andrade: I believe she’s going to have a breakthrough year this year. I would go as far as to say that she will be the first fighter to defeat Joanna champion should she get the opportunity.
Excellent boxing mixed with strong grappling. Having been a relatively competitive undersized 135lb’er. She’s moved on in leaps and bounds since comfortably getting to 115lbs. We know she’s durable as hell and willing to take some contact to improve her position.
I think she may be a slightly more polished version of Claudia Gadelha in the offensive grappling area. She also packs enough power and volume to potentially disrupt JJ’s rhythm.
I think she’s a great prospect at 25 and has many good years ahead of her.
John Kavanagh’s second coming of Conor. He’s not. Not even close. I believe there’s much more hype than substance to Gallagher and personally can see him evaporating into lower level MMA shows than Bellator.
He’s a long way from the finished article and for all the bravado and talk about his ground game, he struggles to apply it against low-mid tier opposition. He’s not a great striker and has almost a one dimensional game.
He might have McGregor’s swagger and self confidence, but it’s as misplaced as claims that Cathal Pendred could be a great striker because he trained in the same gym as McGregor.
Gallagher seems to have concentrated more on marketing than the thing that will actually matter. Performance. For that reason I’m waiting on him to get some proper opposition so I can bet against him. This one is all about timing I think.