50 Best MMA Prospects of 2013

Heavyweight Division

#6 MMA Prospect: Steve Mocco



Cain Velasquez, Brock Lesnar, and Cole Konrad have all recently proven that top level wrestling is the key component to ruling the Heavyweight division. Enter Steve Mocco, a 2008 Olympian, 2-time NCAA Champion, and 4-time All-American. He’s quickly racked up 3 wins on the regional circuit since debuting in 2012, and is training regularly at American Top Team. All signs point to him signing with a major promotion in 2014, which would quite possibly make him the most feared wrestler in the entire Heavyweight division.

Mocco was born and raised in New Jersey. He began wrestling in his youth and once he hit high school, there was no stopping him as he won nearly every title possible. After winning the National High School Wrestler of the Year in 2001, Mocco committed to Iowa University. Mocco, despite being a true freshman, dominated nearly everyone in the 285 lbs. Heavyweight division. He ultimately came up just one match short of winning the NCAA National title in 2002. The next year, Mocco would go on to win the NCAA Championships, though it would be the last time he wrestled for Iowa.

Mocco had pretty much proven all he needed to at the collegiate level and set his sights on the 2004 Olympics. Mocco came up short in qualifying, but instead of returning back to Iowa, he decided to join some of his fellow Olympian hopefuls at Oklahoma State University. Mocco’s decision to transfer was met with some disdain from Iowa fans, but he put it all behind him and went out and dominated the Heavyweight wrestling scene in 2005, winning the NCAA Championships that included a field of Cole Konrad and Cain Velasquez. Mocco was also recognized as the 2005 Collegiate Wrestlers of the Year.

2006 signaled the final year of Mocco’s NCAA eligibility. Outside of a loss to Cole Konrad, Mocco once again dominated during the regular season. Yet, in the NCAA Finals, Mocco fell short once again to Konrad. Mocco decided to try out for the football team before he left OSU. He made the team as a Defensive Lineman and played sporadically throughout his senior year.

After graduation, Mocco once again looked to make the Olympic wrestling team. He was considered an underdog to make the team, but he ended up taking a best-of-three series to claim his spot on the 2008 Olympic squad. Mocco won his first 2 matches, but he eventually came up short in the quarterfinals to the future silver medalist. Mocco returned back to the states and won a couple of prestigious wrestling tournaments before announcing his retirement later that year. He soon picked up a coaching job at Lehigh University, but after training with members of the team, he decided to give the Olympics one last shot. Mocco was unable to crack the 20212 Olympic team, finishing 3rd in the qualifiers.

Following Mocco’s final attempt at wrestling glory, he has been training with UFC veteran Carmelo Marrero, and was soon called upon to help Antonio “BigFoot” Silva prepare for his fight with Cain Velasquez. After talking with the ATT coaches, Mocco decided to give MMA a shot. Mocco signed with the Resurrection Fighting Allicance (RFA) and made his official debut in 2012. He defeated fellow wrestler Tyler Perry via 2nd round submission. Mocco won another fight on the regional circuit before returning to RFA in 2013. He was originally set to to face striker James Wilson, but ended up squaring off against IFL and Bellator veteran Lew Polley. Mocco used his wrestling to thoroughly outpoint Polley and earn a unanimous decision victory.

Camp/ Country:

Mocco trains out of American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida. Mocco was originally brought in as a training partner for Antonio Silva, but following the camp, ATT Head Coach Ricardo Liborio, talked Mocco into giving mixed martial arts a shot. He has since become one of ATT’s prized prospects and Liborio has made it a mission to transform him into a future champion. The transition has not been easy, but Mocco has been put through the fire at ATT, where he regularly gets to train alongside UFC level competition.

Career Forecast

With Brock Lesnar, Cole Konrad, and Mark Ellis recently retiring from MMA, Mocco is the only NCAA Heavyweight wrestling champion left competing. Yet, as most fans know by now, just being a world class wrestler does not equate to guaranteed MMA success. Wrestling is still a huge asset because it usually allows a fighter to dictate where the fight is going to take place, but when it comes down to it, Mocco is going to have to show that he can survive on the feet and be more than simply a lay ‘n’ pray artist. Mocco has thus far passed every test put in front of him, but I wouldn’t consider any of his opposition at the level needed to compete in the UFC. Lew Polley was an experienced fighter with a recent win over Carmelo Marrero, but Polley’s main skill was his wrestling, which was easily cancelled out by Mocco.

At this juncture, the main hurdle Mocco is facing, is father time. He already 31 years old and is getting a late start into everything MMA, from learning submissions and striking, to getting used to fighting in a cage with kicks and punches being thrown in every which way. It is a lot to overcome in such a short amount of time. We have seen the lack of striking from past wrestling champions, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mocco struggle with these same issues. Though fighters such as Velasquez and Daniel Cormier have rounded out their games, I would venture to say that they had better overall athleticism and more passion towards learning. That is not to doubt Mocco’s skills or intentions, but it seems as if he sort of stumbled upon MMA, rather than seeking it out.

Luckily, Mocco has surrounded himself with the right team and promotion to carefully mold him through these first couple years of MMA. There is no doubt that the UFC or Bellator are going to come calling soon. The question is whether Mocco will be ready to face that level of competition. Unfortunately, there is no available fight footage of Mocco’s MMA fights, so based on what I saw live on HD Net and reading play-by-play, the jury is still out on whether Mocco is UFC-ready. Those that have trained with Mocco, many of whom are current UFC fighters, say he is legit and have marveled at his wrestling. I trust Ricardo Liborio’s judgement in determining whether Mocco is ready for the UFC or not.

Once Liborio gives the thumbs up, the sky is the limit for Mocco. He doesn’t have great size, standing right around 6’0, but he is as thick as they come. Mocco is a bear of a man and does have some decent athleticism despite not looking the part. For him to be able to walk on the Oklahoma State football team, compete in 3 different Olympics trials, and win 2 NCAA Championships, does not just happen because Mocco is simply strong. He is explosive when he needs to be, and when it comes down to it, Mocco is a gamer. He loves to compete and when he is healthy and driven to win, there might not be a fighter that can stop him.

Now, before I go overboard, Mocco still has a ways to go before even being considered as an elite MMA heavyweight. We all witnessed Cain Velaquez’s struggles to the top, from being dropped multiple times by Cheick Kongo to getting knocked out by Dos Santos. This will be no walk in the park for Mocco. As mentioned, he’s already 31 years old and has put his body through years of punishment to achieve what he did in wrestling. Yet, I see no reason why Mocco couldn’t go into the UFC right now and beat the likes of Ben Rothwell, Matt Mitrione, Brendan Schaub and fighters of that level. The UFC Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight division are currently going through a transitional phase. Many of their perennial Top 10 fighters are past their primes and the time is right for new and hungry prospects to come and seize their spots. In the heavyweight division, Travis Browne and Stipe Miocic have jumped into the Top 10, and my gut says Mocco is capable of doing just that once he arrives in the UFC.

I do think Mocco is going to sign somewhere in 2014. He could go to Bellator today and probably win their Heavyweight championship just as Cole Konrad did, or he can take the tougher road, which is the UFC. I am not sure Mocco has what it takes to beat the likes of Cain, JDS, Cormier, etc., but if he truly wants to be considered the best in the sport, he knows where he needs to be. Mocco was never about aiming for 2nd place, so if there is anyone that is going to beat the odds of entering into a sport this late in the game and winning at the highest level, Mocco is the one.


moccorecord moccochart


Video 1: Mocco Training at American Top Team

Video 2: Mocco vs. Cole Konrad NCAA Wrestling Championships

Other Links

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SteveMocco
Sherdog Profile: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Steve-Mocco-104569

Featherweight Division

#7 MMA Prospect: Doo Ho Choi



Doo Ho Choi probably has the most of hype of any Featherweight Prospect in the world today. The combination of his knockout abilities, age, and similarities to Chan Sung Jung, have driven many of his supporters to label him as a future champion.

Choi, hailing from Gumi, South Korea, began his MMA career in 2009 at just 18 years old. He submitted his first opponent before moving on to compete in the M-1 promotion, where he won via TKO finish. Choi signed with Japan’s DEEP promotion in 2010, where he lost his only career fight via split decision to Yusuke Kagiyama. Choi rebounded with back-to-back wins later that same month and has since extended his win streak to 9.

Choi’s rise through the ranks truly began with his 2011 fight against former DEEP Lightweight Champion Nobuhiro Obiya. Choi was still thought to be a developing prospect and came in as the slight underdog, but he quickly showed why he was a fighter to watch, knocking Obiya out cold with a flying knee. Less than 2 months later, Choi looked to capitalize on his recent hype by facing off with PRIDE and Strikeforce veteran Mitsuhiro Ishida. Surprisingly, Choi missed weight citing a back injury during training. Regardless, It was a huge step up in competition, but Choi showed absolutely no fear, stuffing Ishida’s takedown attempts and finishing him with strikes in the 1st round.

Choi’s win over Ishida brought him a new wave of fans from all over the MMA world, but some bizarre events began to transpire leading up to his scheduled bout with Kazunori Yokota. He was supposedly reported missing, a week before his fight. Yokota was given a new opponent, and the whole debacle seemed to possibly stem from some type of disagreement between Choi and the promoter. 6 months later, Choi finally made his return, knocking out Kosuke Umeda. His next fight was cancelled due to being involved in a car accident just a few weeks before his fight with Shoji Maruyama at DEEP 60. Questions began to arise whether Choi was just suffering from a case of bad misfortune or possibly some issues regarding his maturity. In a matter of 1 year, Choi had 2 fights cancelled due to unusual events and had missed weight for his Ishida fight.

Thankfully, Choi has been able to put some of that drama behind him as he’s won back-to-back fights in 2013, which has prompted rumors that he is on the verge of signing with the UFC.

Camp/ Country:

Doo Ho Choi primarily trains out of Gumi MMA, which has yet to produce any notable names. Choi has at times ventured over to CMA Korea and more recently Team Posse, which is home to some better known fighters. Choi has recently been helping UFC title contender Chan Sung Jung prepare for his fight with Jose Aldo. Choi’s talents have not only caught the eye of his new training partners, but all of Asian MMA, as he is widely regarded as their #1 prospect. Korean Top Team, Team Posse, and Busan Team M.A.D are the most notable gyms in South Korea. One has to wonder if he will eventually make a permanent move to one of these bigger camps where he can further his overall skills.

Career Forecast

Doo Ho Choi claimed the UFC had contacted him in early 2012 and told him that he was likely 1 fight away from a contract. That didn’t end up happening, but the rumor was brought up again during the commentary of his recent win over Shoji Maruyama as broadcaster/fighter Satoru Kitaoka claimed Choi would sign with the UFC after this fight. Choi likely has heard from UFC officials and I have no reason to doubt that he is on the verge of signing with them, it’s just a matter of when. The UFC may be saving Choi’s signing for when they come back to Asia.

Choi has had some recent quotes possibly taken out of context, such as him being ready to fight UFC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo, that he would smash UFC Featherweight Nam Phan, or that he is unbeatable. Choi is only 22 years old and he will have his fair share of naysayers similar to recent Irish import Conor McGregor. He seems to be biting at the bit for an opportunity to fight in the UFC, and I hope he has a strong management team to keep him grounded for the time being. There are big concerns about him consistently making weight and Choi cannot overestimate his value and think that he can miss weight and get away with it in the UFC. He has recently shown he can hit 145 lbs., but it seems that every one of his coaches are worried about that issue leading up to his fights.

If fans want a comparison, they have to look no further than Chan Sung Jung. Choi is quick, with a great chin and can hurt you with punches or knees. His takedown defense is stellar as are his transitions on the ground. Choi is very strong, despite looking a bit wiry. I do expect him to suffer some losses along the way towards one day being a title contender. His penchant for exchanging rapid haymakers will likely lead to him being caught sooner or later. It will all be about how Choi is able to handle those first few losses and whether he is willing to change, just as Chan Sung Jung did after his early WEC losses. Ultimately, Choi’s hype is for real. He is an outstanding prospect that is just starting to come into his own.


choirecord choichart


Video 1: Choi vs. Shoji Maruyama (2013)

Video 2: Choi vs. Mitsuhiro Ishida (2011)

Other Links

Twitter: None
Sherdog Profile: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Doo-Ho-Choi-56689

Lightweight Division

#8 MMA Prospect: Justin Gaethje



Justin Gaethje has all the makings of a future Top 10 fighter. Though currently signed to the World Series of Fighting (WSOF), expect Gaethje to reach those expectations soon either in the UFC or Bellator.

Gaethje began his athletic career by wrestling throughout his youth. He eventually won a couple of state titles before enrolling at Northern Colorado University. Gaethje went on to reach All-American status, while also dabbling with a possible transition to mixed martial arts. Gaethje began competing in the amateur MMA ranks while still in school, quickly building a spotless record of 7-0.

In 2011, following his college graduation, Gaethje officially turned pro. He started his career with 3 straight TKO/KO finishes, including a knockout slam of featherweight prospect Kevin Croom. Gaethje moved on to win a decision over fellow top prospect Marcus Edwards and soon followed that up with 3 consecutive finishes in the Rage in the Cage promotion, including a 12-second knocked of UFC veteran Drew Fickett.

Gaethje went on to sign with the upstart promotion, World Series of Fighting. In his first fight with the promotion at WSOF 2, Gaethje put on a clinic against PRIDE and Strikeforce veteran J.Z. Cavalcante. Though the fight was stopped due to a cut, Gaethje was able to show throughout their fight that he was unafraid to go toe-to-toe with the former Top 10 Lightweight.

Gaethje’s next fight came against gritty wrestler and UFC veteran Brian Cobb, who had just beaten Ronys Torres at WSOF 1. Gaethje started out strong, nearly finishing the fight on multiple occasions, but Cobb used his veteran savvy to mount a comeback in Round 2 as Gaethje began to tire. Gaethje showed his own resilience by battling back in the 3rd round with the fight possibly up for grabs. Gaethje’s onslaught of leg kicks eventually forced Cobb unable to continue.

Camp/ Country:

Gaethje trains out of Grudge Training Center, which is home to some of the sport’s top talent in the world. Shane Carwin, Brendan Schaub, Brandon Thatch, and Eliot Marshall are just a small sampling of the fighters training out of Grudge, which is overseen by head coach Trevor Wittman. It is very obvious to see the improvements that Gaethje has made from a fight to fight basis. Wittman has raved about Gaethje’s potential, which should speak volumes considering Wittman’s past experience around world class fighters at Team Jackson.

Career Forecast

In less than a year’s time, Gaethje went from virtually an unknown prospect to blasting through respected veterans J.Z. Cavalcante, Brian Cobb, and Drew Fickett. Gaethje has cemented his status in the World Series of Fighting as their top Lightweight prospect, and quite possibly their top Lightweight overall. That is a great achievement for Gaethje considering WSOF has some of the best free agent talent in the sport. Yet, now it seems that Gaethje is ready for a new challenge, one that WSOF cannot provide him.

Gaethje is still just 24 years old, so his time in WSOF was an ideal place to gather more experience against veteran competition. Though his contract with WSOF has not expired, it’s all but guaranteed that he will eventually sign with the UFC or Bellator. WSOF did just sign Tyson Griffin and also has Jacob Volkmann on the roster, both of whom could be likely opponents for Gaethje’s next fight. The hope is that Gaethje will not be locked into a contract with WSOF should he eventually win their yet to be debuted Lightweight title.

Gaethje is a super aggressive fighter with excellent wrestling and power in his hands. He has a huge right hand and also attacks with knees and leg kicks. He is one of the most impressive prospects I have seen in quite some time that has a full arsenal of fight-ending weapons. He is very similar to Nate Marquardt in the way that he attacks and the aggressive nature in which he throws his strikes.

The drawback with being so powerful and aggressive is that he has shown some conditioning issues. I would consider this a minor issue because Gaethje is still learning his way as a professional and really just experienced adversity for the first time against Cobb. Gaethje’s submission defense and overall ability to work from his back are also in need of some further refinement, though he has passed all of the tests thus far. When he eventually signs with the UFC and moves up his competition level, he will have hopefully addressed these shortcomings.

With his wrestling background and explosive striking, Gaethje should be able to hold his own right now against current Top 25 fighters Gleison Tibau, Jamie Varner, or Evan Dunham. I would hate for Gaethje to be rushed at this point in his career, but his skill level will probably dictate just how fast he moves up the ranks. We have seen a guy like Khabib Nurmagomedov quickly rise through the Lightweight division and Gaethje is fully capable of doing the same.

Most incoming Lightweight prospects eventually hit a road block in the UFC’s ultra-deep Lightweight division. In Gaethje’s case, I don’t see any foreseeable cause for those types of concerns. I fully expect him to go in and make his mark in the division and it would be no surprise to me, to eventually see him fighting for a title a few years from now.


gaethjerecord gaethjechart


Video 1: Gaethje vs. JZ Cavalcante (2013)

Video 2: Gaethje vs. Brian Cobb (2013)

Other Links

Twitter: https://twitter.com/GAETHJE_FSU‎
Sherdog Profile: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Justin-Gaethje-46648

Flyweight Division

#9 MMA Prospect: Darrell Montague



Darrell Montague is our #1 Flyweight Prospect and arguably a current Top 10 fighter in the Flyweight Division. Montague made his MMA debut in 2008, winning his first fight in highlight reel fashion via spinning backfist (see Video 2 below). He followed that up with back-to-back submission wins before losing his first career fight to future UFC Featherweight Robbie Peralta. Montague soon dropped down to the Flyweight division, where he has since gone 10-1, with his only loss coming to UFC Flyweight contender Ian McCall.

Montague started to make a name for himself in the Tachi Palace Fights promotion, which was home to many of the top flyweights in the world before the UFC debuted their division in 2012. After going 2-0 in the promotion, Montague faced off with UFC veteran Ulysses Gomez for TPF’s Flyweight Championship. In a surprising upset, Montague was able to stuff Gomez’s takedown attempts and strike his way to capturing gold. Unfortunately, some of Montague’s thunder was stolen that night as Ian McCall defeated former consensus #1 Flyweight Jussier Formiga earlier on the card. Montague would put his title on the line against McCall in his next fight. McCall was ultimately able to out-wrestle and submit Montague after a competitive first few minutes.

Shortly thereafter, the UFC announced their plans for a Flyweight Division, which led to the signings of some of the top Flyweight free agents in the world, but for whatever reason, Montague was left out in the cold. Montague has gone 4-0 since the loss to McCall, including a win over former Shooto kingpin Mamoru Yamaguchi, but he has still yet to receive the call from the UFC. With TPF shutting their doors, Montague has few options in facing high-level competition.

Camp/ Country:

Millennia MMA is one of the top camps on the West Coast for lighter weight fighters. From WEC veterans Charlie Valencia and Manny Tapia to Bellator veterans Georgi Karakhanyan and Saad Awad, the camp is stocked with talent. Millennia MMA finally made its presence felt in the UFC with Lorenz Larkin’s arrival. Hopefully, Montague’s signing is not too far behind. Montague has also trained BJJ under UFC/WEC veteran Javier Vazquez.

Career Forecast

When the UFC introduced its Flyweight division, they forgot to sign one of the Top 10 Flyweights in the world, Darrell Montague. There is absolutely no reason Montague should not be competing in the UFC right now. It was rumored that Montague’s loss to McCall may have given UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby doubts about signing him.

Montague has proven throughout his career that he is one of the most exciting fighters in the division, complete with knockout power and solid submission skills. If Montague were to sign with the UFC, he would likely be a title contender in the very near future considering the lack of depth in the division.

Though Montague’s wrestling would likely hold him back from winning a title at this point, there is no more deserving fighter on the regional circuit that deserves an opportunity in the UFC than Darrell Montague.


dmontaguerecord dmontaguechart


Video 1: Montague vs. Ian McCall (2011)

Video 2: Montague vs. Dillion Croushorn (2009) – KO Highlight

Other Links

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/TheMongoose125
Sherdog Profile: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Darrell-Montague-34214

Flyweight Division

#10 MMA Prospect: Sergio Pettis



Sergio Pettis has already been labeled as the next big thing thanks to his big brother, UFC title contender, Anthony Pettis. Sergio has a similar skill-set as Anthony, having trained in Taekwondo and boxing at a very early age. Pettis competed in the amateur ranks of MMA from 2009-2010 before making his pro debut in 2011 as a Bantamweight. Pettis started things off with a bang, knocking out his first two opponents before using his BJJ to submit 2 of his next 3 opponents. Pettis was supposed to sign with Tachi Palace Fights, which housed many of the top Flyweights in the world, but the promotion soon shut its doors. Luckily Sergio signed a 4-fight contract with Resurrection Fighting Alliance (RFA), which has proven to be a perfect destination for developing prospects.

Pettis’ RFA debut was at Bantamweight as he squared off against fellow rising prospect Jimmy Jones. Pettis gave up a ton of size and was tested early in the fight, but Jones ultimately faded down the stretch, allowing Pettis to earn the decision victory. Afterwards, Pettis wisely decided his immediate fighting future would take place at 125 lbs. He defeated journeyman Josh Robinson and is now scheduled to face his stiffest challenge to date in UFC veteran Jeff Curran.

Camp/ Country:

Pettis trains out of Roufusport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He has been training there since he was a kid and coach Duke Roufus has obviously had time to refine and improve his already lethal striking arsenal. Pettis, like his brother, has an extremely active guard and seems unafraid to let things go to the ground. Sergio is not even close to his prime though, and he has let it be known that he’s still a couple of fights away from fighting at the UFC-level. His fight with Curran should be a tell-tale barometer for whether he is ready for the big time.

Career Forecast

Sergio Pettis has the talent and name value to become the UFC’s star attraction of the Flyweight division. We have seen Sergio’s brother, Anthony, grow into one of the sport’s most exciting strikers. Sergio is likely not far behind. The minor issues Sergio faces right now are his inexperience and age. Sergio is only 19 years old and there will likely be growing pains as he deals with high-level wrestlers and more experienced opposition. There is little doubt projecting that 5-7 years from now, Sergio could ultimately be the UFC flyweight champion or a top contender in the division.


spettisrecord spettischart


Video 1: Pettis featured on WI MMA Today (2013)

Video 2: Pettis vs. Tom McKenna (2012)

Other Links

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sergiopettis
Sherdog Profile: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Sergio-Pettis-50987

FeaturesMMA Prospects Reportprospect of the week