10 Best MMA Featherweight Prospects of 2014 – Full Text

#10: Rick Glenn

Rick Glenn was featured in last year’s report, coming in at the #4 spot. So, why did he drop to #10 this year? Primarily, it is because of the recent infusion of Russian talent, but it also can be attributed to Glenn’s inactivity in 2013-2014. He hasn’t fought in over 6 months, and in a strange development, dropped out of a WSOF scheduled title shot against Georgi Karakhanyan. There were rumors that Glenn dropped out of the fight due to a possible UFC contract offering, though a family emergency was eventually cited. Karakhanyan ended up winning the WSOF title against Glenn’s replacement, Lance Palmer, and he will now once again face off against Glenn as the headliner for WSOF 10. This is a huge opportunity for Glenn to make his presence known as an elite Featherweight. He has had his issues against better wrestlers and grapplers, but he has always had a knack for turning the tide and letter his striking and conditioning reign superior. Glenn trains out of Roufusport, and is very comparable to Erik Koch. He’s not as explosive, but he’s long and lanky and can knock you out in a variety of ways. Glenn’s submission defense has held up against some notable BJJ guys as well, and with Ben Askren as a training partner, one would think his takedown defense has improved in recent months.

Sherdog: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Rick-Glenn-20171
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Gladiatorglenn

#9: Bekbulat Magomedov

Jonas Bilharinho (red glove tape) vs. Andre Maracaba

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Bekbulat Magomedov is a virtual unknown outside of his native Russia. Despite going 12-0, I still can’t find any source as to where he trains. What I do know is he comes from a Sambo background and hails from the Dagestan region, though he now fights out of Moscow. Magomedov recently gained some attention after being rumored to have signed with the UFC, but his current promoter, RUFF, supposedly denied Magomedov’s release. It’s a bit of a surprise that Magomedov is even fighting in the China-based RUFF organization, yet after recently defeating China’s top prospect Guan Wang, Magomedov could be tied up there for some time. Magomedov’s wrestling and ground game are already at an elite level. He excels with a variety of takedowns, and once in top position, he attacks with heavy punches and submissions. Magomedov is only 23 years old and despite having not faced the best competition level, he’s proven with his win over Wang, that he is a cut above most other prospects. I will once again use the comparison of Khabib Nurmagomedov as a similarly-styled fighter currently competing in the big leagues. He doesn’t really attack with big slams like Rustam Khabilov, and his striking is not explosive like an Alexander Shlemenko. He’s more of a grinder, a push the pace type fighter, with a suffocating ground game.

Sherdog: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Bekbulat-Magomedov-82154
Twitter: None

#8: Raoni Barcelos

Raoni Barcelos is arguably Brazil’s top prospect in the world today. In fact, in 2012, Brazilian MMA media named Barcelos the top MMA prospect in all of Brazil. Barcelos’ resume is packed full of honors and achievements. He claimed the Brazilian Nogi Championship at the Black Belt level in 2009. He was a 3-time world champion in lower belt divisions. He’s wrestled for the Brazilian National Wrestling Team, winning a Silver medal at the Pan’s in 2006. Barcelos was a black belt by the age of 20, and the man that awarded it to him, was his father and Carlos Gracie disciple, Laerte Barcelos, who has been training Raoni since the age of 2. Barcelos used to train out of Ruas Vale Tudo, but has since been seen around Nova Uniao. Barcelos’ grappling background is top notch, but he has won many of his recent fights with his striking. He has quick leg kicks, and has some power in his hands as well. He recently suffered his first career loss to Mark Dickman in RFA. The loss will hopefully be a valuable learning lesson for Barcelos prior to him making the jump to the UFC. Make no mistake, Barcelos will bounce back from this, and he will eventually fight his way into the UFC, it’s just a matter of when.

Sherdog: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Raoni-Barcelos-94587
Twitter: https://twitter.com/RaoniBarcelos

#7: Mark Dickman

I didn’t have Mark Dickman tabbed to be a Top 10 Featherweight prospect, but that all changed after Dickman stunningly submitted highly-touted Brazilian Raoni Barcelos. Dickman wrestled at the NAIA level where he won a national title in 2007. After watching tape of Dickman, it became clear that he is not just a one-dimensional wrestler. He has very heavy hands and finished his last 3 fights prior to his RFA debut via strikes. Dickman’s only career loss was to fellow prospect Jordan Rinaldi. Dickman has claimed that the loss has made him a better fighter, and I believe it after watching his recent 4-fight winning streak. Dickman still needs to prove himself over his next few fights in RFA, but if he can pick up 2-3 more wins, I see no reason why UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby would not come calling.

Sherdog: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Mark-Dickman-71074
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TrickyMMA

#6: Rasul Mirzaev

Julio Arce (white trunks) vs. Jason McLean

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Rasul Mirzaev is a fighter that I thought I would never see inside the cage again. Mirzaev landed himself in jail after being convicted of negligent manslaughter in his native Russia. He has now served his time and has already fought twice since being released, winning back-to-back decisions. Mirzaev trains out of the highly-respected Fight Nights Team, which is also home to big show veterans Vitaly Minakov, Ali Bagautinov, and Gasan Umalatov. Mirzaev has excellent striking with big KO power. He moves like a seasoned pro, has a great chin, and is tough as nails. His wrestling and submissions are above average as well. Mirzaev was once signed to Bellator before the incident took place. There is no question that Mirzaev has the skills to compete in the UFC or Bellator, but the likelihood is that neither promotion will give him that opportunity, and my guess is he would have a difficult time being granted a visa should that slim opportunity ever come to fruition. Yet, this could all change now that RFA has signed Mirzaev to an 8-fight contract. I was surprised as any to read that news, but if it ends up being true, RFA is known to have an excellent working relationship with the UFC. Should Mirzaev find success in RFA, and eventually lessen the magnitude of his past incident with the MMA media, a mid-tier promotion may end up giving him a shot. I just don’t see that being the UFC due to their penchant from distancing themselves from potential negative media.

Sherdog: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Rasul-Mirzaev-66959
Twitter: None

#5: Gleristone Santos

Gleristone Santos has been one of my favorite prospects to watch over the years. I’ve hyped him up on MMA forums and have tried to get him noticed by UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby, but for whatever reason Santos has not gotten the call despite an impressive 25-4 record and countless KO highlights on Youtube. The guy is vicious and explosive with every strike he throws. So, why isn’t the UFC paying attention? There could be more to the story that we just don’t know about. He’s tried out for TUF Brazil on two different occasions and was not selected. He recently signed with Titan FC, but visa issues forced the cancellation of his recent debut. He’s still penciled in to appear on their next card, but I wouldn’t hold my breath at this point. Santos trains out Brazilian Top Team, which is stacked with talent, and though they are not what they once used to be, Santos should still be in good hands under the tutelage of Murilo Bustamante. Santos used to go under the name Antonio Glaristone, though his background growing up in Brazil is not well known. He supposedly has dozens of unrecorded fights not listed on his official record, though Sherdog does have his MMA debut recorded as 2005, when Santos had just turned 17 years old. With this much experience under his belt, highlight reel knockouts, the backing of Brazilian Top Team, and UFC stars such as Anderson Silva and the Nogueira brothers proclaiming their approval of Santos’ skills, I once again ask, why has Santos not signed with the UFC?

Sherdog: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Gleristone-Santos-35842
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ToninhoFuria

#4: Marat Gafurov

Sheymon da Silva Moraes (red glove tape) vs. Pedro Nobre

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Marat Gafurov is the reigning M-1 Featherweight champion, having recently defended his title against American prospect Lee Morrison. Gafurov has a grinding-type style similar to Khabib Nurmagomedov. He recently switched camps from Legion Fight Team over to the lesser known Fighting Eagle. Gafurov used to fight at 155 lbs., and holds a split decision win over current UFC Lightweight Mairbek Taisumov. Ever since Gafurov dropped down to 145 lbs., he has looked more and more impressive. He is well-rounded in all areas of the fight game. His striking is still limited, but it’s enough for him to close the distance and get his opponent to the ground where he can attack with a wide arsenal of submissions. Gafurov will likely be tied down with M-1 for the next couple of years, but it would be no surprise to see him find immediate success in the UFC or Bellator.

Sherdog: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Marat-Gafurov-74954
Twitter: None

#3: Lance Palmer

Lance Palmer was my #1 Featherweight prospect in last year’s edition. I heard a bit of disagreement about my pick, with a lot of people proclaiming Goiti Yamauchi was more deserving of the #1 spot. Fast forward a year, and both Palmer and Yamauchi are coming off losses that have their long-term success in question. I am still confident that Palmer will have the better career of the two, and in fact, I still hold the belief that Palmer can be a future Top 10 contender with a few more years of seasoning. Since last year’s report, Palmer went on to sign with World Series of Fighting. He was immediately thrust into a title match on short notice against Bellator veteran Georgi Karakhanyan. Most weren’t giving Palmer much of a shot, but after 2 rounds of their scheduled 5-round fight, it was becoming clear that Palmer’s wrestling might just be enough to win him gold. That notion disappeared in a moment’s notice though as Karakhanyan was able to apply a guillotine choke and induce the tap out. Palmer will likely earn himself another crack at Karakhanyan in the near future, but first he has to get some more cage experience. Duane “Bang” Ludwig was very complimentary of Palmer’s improvement under his tutelage. The hope is that Palmer will continue to put the work and time in to eventually capitalize on his All-American wrestling pedigree.

Sherdog: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Lance-Palmer-80836
Twitter: https://twitter.com/LancePalmer

#2: Darrion Caldwell

Darrion Caldwell is one of the most decorated wrestlers in the fight game today. Winner of the 2009 NCAA Championship at 149 lbs., Caldwell never quite reached that level again after dealing with a severe shoulder dislocation. He attempted to make the Olympics in 2012, but after not qualifying, he set his sights on a future career in MMA. Caldwell, who wrestled at North Carolina State, began training at Power MMA Team alongside Ryan Bader, C.B. Dollaway, and Aaron Simpson. He quickly signed on with Legacy FC, where he won his first 3 career fights. In 2013, Bellator announced that they had signed Caldwell to a long-term deal. Bellator has thus far brought Caldwell up slowly, wisely matching him against fighters with a similar amount of cage experience. Caldwell debuted against Lance Surma, submitting him in the 1st round and is set to compete once again just 6 weeks later. Caldwell’s takedowns, grappling control, and athleticism are unquestioned. He is a cut above nearly every Featherweight prospect in these areas. His striking and overall comfort-ability in a cage is what will determine Caldwell’s long-term success. Caldwell is a risk-taker in the cage. He flies in with knees, kicks, and punches from all angles. His submission game looks to be fast-developing and all signs are pointing to him having a solid career if he stays focused. Caldwell is in no way ready to compete with Pat Curran or Patricio Pitbull, but he should be able to work up to the tournament level within the next couple of years.

Sherdog: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Darrion-Caldwell-105431
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Dadeez87

#1: Levan Makashvili

By last count I had about 150 Featherweight Prospects written down heading into this report. Levan Makashvili’s name barely made the cut, but as I began to break down tape and inspect fighter records, Makashvili continued to move up the ranks. From 150 to 100, 100 to 50, 50 to 25, 25 to 10, and so on. Makashvili somehow, someway ended up at the top of my report, ahead of All-American wrestlers Darrion Caldwell and Lance Palmer, Brazilian striker Gleristone Santos, and tough Russians Marat Gafurov, Rasul Mirzaev, and Bekbulat Magomedov. Makashvili is a blend of all 3 types of fighters. He has wrestling, KO power, and the gritty toughness of an Eastern European fighter. Makashvili recently won the Cage Fury FC Featherweight Championship by finishing Bellator veteran Scott Heckman in the 4th round. That win should definitely boost his profile as CFFC has recently sent some of its top fighters to the UFC. Makashvili’s official MMA record is a bit of a question mark as mixedmartialarts.com has him listed at 8-0, while Sherdog has him at 4-0. Some of those unlisted fights seem to be from when he lived and fought in Eastern Europe. Levan fights out of New York now, but I have also found a source saying he grew up in Russia. Makashvili has excellent size, conditioning, and the overall physicality needed to compete in the UFC. He has exceptional instincts and just seems to be a natural fighter. After pouring over tape of the top Featherweight prospects, Levan’s overall package of skills presented the least risk of not only competing, but winning at the next level. Caldwell and Palmer have the pedigree, but they are just not there yet with their overall skill level. A lot of the other prospects haven’t faced top-level wrestlers, or may be undersized for their division. Levan used to fight at 155 lbs. He has international experience, and most of all, he’s been doing this despite training at a fairly unknown camp. Imagine if Levan starts training out of Greg Jackson’s, Longo-Serra, or ATT. The sky is the limit for Levan if he continues to improve upon his current skill set.

Sherdog: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Levan-Makashvili-126881
Twitter: None

Honorable Mentions:

  • Calvin Kattar
  • Niklas Backstrom
  • Keoni Koch
  • Chris Gruetzemacher
  • Rob Font
  • Julio Cesar Neves
  • Nick Lobosco
  • Freddy Assuncao
  • Jerrod Sanders
  • Jordan Rinaldi
  • Martin Buschkamp
  • Damon Jackson
  • Kevin Aguilar
  • Artur Rofi
  • Anzor Azhiev
  • Chris Fishgold
  • Alexandre Pimentel
  • Alexey Nevzorov
  • Brenson Hansen
  • Guan Wang
  • Tom Duquesnoy
  • Lee Morrison
  • Jang Yong Kim
  • Mark Striegl
  • Timur Valiev
  • Oleg Borisov
  • Mark Cherico
  • Pavel Vitruk
  • Graham Spencer
  • Demarte Pena
  • Bae Young Kwon
  • Andre Tieva
  • Ricardo Lucas Ramos
  • Aaron Phillips
  • Sergej Grecicho
  • James Jenkins
  • Clay Collard
  • Luke Sanders
  • Jordan Parsons
  • Drew Brokenshire
  • Marat Magomedov
  • Daniel Romero
  • Jared Downing
  • Josh Berkovic
  • Gavin Tucker
  • Tural Ragimov
  • Shanon Slack
  • Felipe Froes

 

For more prospects information, check out my Top 25 Prospects rankings, which are updated daily.

Final Words

So, just to sum up this year’s 2014 MMA Featherweight Prospects Report, I will list the rankings and will be updating the list as I go. Once I have completed every weight class, I will set up an index as I did for last year’s report. A few Featherweight prospects ended up signing with the UFC during the break between my 2013 and 2014 Report. Mirsad Bektic, Brian Ortega, Robert Whiteford, Alex White, Alan Omer, Sean Soriano, Zubaira Tukhugov, Douglas Andrade, Noad Lahat, would have likely been in the mix for a Top 25 spot had they not signed with the UFC.

The 2014 MMA Prospects Report rankings are as follows:

  1. Levan Makashvili
  2. Darrion Caldwell
  3. Lance Palmer
  4. Marat Gafurov
  5. Gleristone Santos
  6. Rasul Mirzaev
  7. Mark Dickman
  8. Raoni Barcelos
  9. Bekbulat Magomedov
  10. Rick Glenn

 

 

2013 MMA Prospects Report revisited

Last year’s 2013 Featherweight Prospects report rankings were as follows:

  1. Lance Palmer – Signed w/WSOF
  2. Doo Ho Choi – Signed w/UFC
  3. Chas Skelly – Signed w/UFC
  4. Rick Glenn – Signed w/WSOF
  5. Jim Alers – Signed w/UFC
  6. Andre Fili – Signed w/UFC
  7. Gleristone Santos
  8. Tom Niinimaki – Signed w/UFC
  9. Goiti Yamauchi – Signed w/Bellator
  10. Chris Gruetzemacher – Signed w/WSOF

9 of last year’s Top 10 Featherweight prospects signed with the UFC, Bellator, or WSOF a few months after my report on June 1, 2013. The lone holdout, Gleristone Santos, signed a contract with Titan FC, but has struggled with visa issues.

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