50 Best MMA Prospects of 2013

Heavyweight Division

#11 MMA Prospect: Jared Rosholt



Jared Rosholt is going to be a future Top 10 contender in the UFC’s Heavyweight Division. Rosholt is 8-1 overall with his only loss coming to recent UFC signee Derrick Lewis. Since the loss, Rosholt has made some considerable improvements and is now ready to set his sights on the UFC Heavyweight roster.

If the name Rosholt seems familiar to some UFC fans, it’s because his older brother Jake, once competed there as a UFC Middleweight. The Rosholt brothers had wrestling in their blood as Jake, Jared, and currently the youngest, Blake, all went on to wrestle at Oklahoma State University. Jared was a 4-time national qualifier, earning All-American honors 3 times, and a national runner-up in 2010. Rosholt soon followed in his brother’s footsteps as he transitioned over to mixed martial arts following the conclusion of his collegiate wrestling career.

Rosholt went on to make his debut in 2011, and in just over 3 months, he was able to rack up 4 quick wins, all coming via finish. Rosholt looked to be on the fast track to a UFC contract, but he suffered a torn ACL and was sidelined for over a year.

He eventually made his return in 2012 where he faced off with fellow prospect Derrick Lewis at Legacy FC 13, in what would be a 5-round title fight for Legacy’s vacant Heavyweight championship. Rosholt started out strong, controlling the early part of the fight, but in the 2nd round, Lewis was able to get back to his feet and shockingly pull off the upset by stunning Rosholt with strikes and finishing him via knockout.

Rosholt may have come back a bit too early from his knee surgery, but he is not one to make excuses. Rosholt worked diligently on improving his conditioning and striking before stepping back into the cage against Richard Odoms in 2013. Rosholt has since run off 4 straight victories, against somewhat reputable competition like Odoms and Bobby Brents.

Camp/ Country:

Rosholt trains out of Team Takedown, which also houses Johny Hendricks, Jake Rosholt, Shane Roller, and Chas Skelly. The wrestling-heavy camp fits right in with what Rosholt is looking to do in most of his fights. He has also trained his Jiu-Jitsu with Marc Laimon at Cobra Kai.

Career Forecast

Jared Rosholt has some of the best wrestling in the entire Heavyweight Division. Wrestling has always been known as one of the fundamental skills needed to succeed at the elite level, and Rosholt should have no problem showing he has what it takes to compete amongst the Top 15 fighters in the world today.

Rosholt’s striking was always my big concern, but following his KO loss to Derrick Lewis, he has made some remarkable changes. Rosholt lost 20 lbs. and his speed, conditioning, and movement looks completely revamped. He’s also developed a big overhand right that is capable of knocking people out cold. His still chooses to take a few more punches and leg kicks than I prefer, but he has mentioned that he is continually working on fighting at a distance, which at this point is his #1 weakness. Rosholt does keep his hands a little lower than desired, and though he can take a punch, he’d be wise to shore up his technique prior to signing with the UFC.

Rosholt’s wrestling is top notch. His top game is developing and he is capable of finishing his opponents via ground ‘n’ pound or submission. Though his conditioning looks stellar, Rosholt will have to make it a priority to better his finishing skills because the only times I have seen him struggle on his feet are when he’s fatigued and getting a bit sloppy with his takedown attempts.

It’s still a bit early to stack Rosholt up against the likes of Cain, JDS, or Cormier, but I would like his chances against anyone outside the Top 10. The UFC’s new breed of Heavyweights are arguably considered to be Travis Browne, Stipe Miocic, and Todd Duffee. In my opinion, Rosholt has the skill set to beat any of those fighters. There is risk involved forecasting such success for a somewhat untested, inexperienced fighter like Rosholt, but it is not often that we are able to see such a high level wrestler enter the sport of mixed martial arts, especially in the Heavyweight Division

Mark my words, when Rosholt signs with the UFC, it won’t be long until he starts being discussed as a potential threat to Cain’s title reign. Rosholt may not have the overall game to unseat Cain, but he’s certainly got what it takes to be a legitimate contender for years to come.


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Video 1: Rosholt vs. Jason Walraven (2013)

Video 2: Rosholt vs. Kirk Grinlinton (2011)

Other Links

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JaredRosholt
Sherdog Profile: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Jared-Rosholt-76763

Light Heavyweight Division

#12 MMA Prospect: Robert Drysdale



Just as Roger Gracie and Vinny Magalhaes have left the UFC another BJJ phenom looks to be on his way towards signing with them. Roger Drysdale, famed BJJ coach to many current UFC stars, has recently upped his record to 6-0 overall with every win coming via 1st round submission.

Drysdale was born in Utah, USA, but he soon moved with his family to his mother’s native Brazil. Drysdale’s athletic background during his youth is somewhat unknown, but upon his move back stateside for college, he began training in BJJ in Nevada. Drysdale quickly fell in love with the sport and under the tutelage of former UFC fighter John Lewis, he quickly began to find success on the grappling circuit. In 1999, Drysdale decided to dedicate himself full-time towards grappling and moved back to Brazil. He soon opened up his own school and eventually reached black belt status in 2004. Drysdale went on to win Gold in the 2005 World Jiu-Jitsu Championships and Silver in 2006. The best was yet to come though as in 2007, Drysdale stunningly won the 2007 Abu Dhabi Championships in the Absolute weight class by submitting Marcelo Garcia.

Drysdale’s grappling accomplishments made him a hot commodity in Nevada where he immediately began teaching at Extreme Couture. Later on that year, Drysdale opened up his own academy stateside and has since been a top destination for many of the UFC’s biggest stars. Drydsale continued to teach and participate in grappling tournaments for the next couple of years, including a 2009 Superfight with Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. He also started to dabble with a potential MMA career as he won an amateur bout and also helped coach Forrest Griffin’s team on Season 8 of The Ultimate Fighter. Drysdale soon began training full-time for a potential UFC career and supposedly auditioned for Season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter, but was unable to compete due to a brain aneurism.

Drysdale was able to gain clearance to fight in Canada’s Aggression FC promotion, where he won his first 3 fights via 1st round submission, including a victory over TUF 3 alum Mike Nickels. In 2012, Drysdale signed with Legacy FC and has since won 3 more fights, highlighted by a 2013 submission victory over Bellator veteran D.J. Linderman. Drysdale’s prior medical issue has supposedly been addressed and if true, it should only be a matter of time before the UFC comes calling.

Camp/ Country:

Drysdale trains primarily out of his own training facility, Drysdale Jiu-Jitsu. He has trained at Extreme Couture in the past and has full access to the bevy of gym in the Las Vegas area. Between the likes of Randy Couture, Frank Mir, Dan Hardy, Martin Kampmann, and Forrest Griffin, Drysdale likely has no shortage of high level sparring partners to choose from. The only downside to Drysdale having his own gym is his continual obligations towards running it. He is one of the most in demand instructors in the USA, and has recently been expanding his style of BJJ across the United States. Though he’s stated that he has left BJJ competition behind for an MMA career, his business operations have made it difficult for him to concentrate 100% of his efforts towards that pursuit.

Career Forecast

Fans have good reason to doubt that an elite level BJJ practitioner can come into the UFC and have immediate success. A host of elite grapplers like Roger Gracie, Vinny Magalhaes, and Andre Galvao have washed out of the UFC and Strikeforce in recent years, while fighters such as Demian Maia and Ronald “Jacare” Souza have become exceptions to the norm. So, where does Robert Drydale fit in? My bet is somewhere in the middle.

Maia and Souza have become top contenders because they were able to make themselves well-rounded. Drysdale has not taken that exact route and has shown little evidence of a burgeoning striking arsenal. Rather, what he does show is the ability to take his opponents to the ground with little or no effort. That is usually the norm on the regional scene where opponents are not at the caliber of UFC level competition, but it is obvious from all of his fights that Drysdale comes in with the same gameplan. He’s not there to hide his intentions of shooting in for the takedowns. He stays out of danger on the feet and eventually finds his opening to take the fight into his world. For this reason, I believe Drysdale compares very favorably with Demian Maia.

Maia at Middleweight fell in love with his striking, which led to losses. At Welterweight, he’s gone back to his roots and is once again in the thick of the title hunt. Drysdale, if he can implore a similar style of takedowns and ruthless grappling control, there’s few fighters in the UFC’s Light Heavyweight Division that can stop it. Where Vinny and Roger has failed, I don’t see Drysdale making the same mistakes. Drysdale has shown to be much more aggressive and driven to finish his fights quickly. He doesn’t waste time on his feet flicking out jabs or kicks like Vinny and Roger have. Maybe, once Drysdale starts facing the likes of Phil Davis and Muhammed Lawal, things will quickly change, but my money is on Drysdale making a vastly stiffer effort towards finishing his fights.

The UFC’s Light Heavyweight division is extremely thin. Most of their Top 15 fighters are over 30 years old and have not evolved much from their prior glory years. The time is ripe for a fighter with Drysdale’s style to come into the UFC and make some waves. Vinny Magalhaes had a decent shot of doing that, but he simply cannot take a punch. Drysdale’s ability to do so is still a question mark, but one that I am willing to bypass as I put together this report.

Drysdale is not perfect by any means. He still rushes in for takedowns without setting them up. He’s never been past the 1st round and based off his aggressive style could struggle in the later rounds of fights. His striking looks tentative and he could be in serious trouble against opponents that can stuff his takedown attempts. These are all reasons to worry, yet I have less questions about Drysdale’s future success than I did for the majority of every other Light Heavyweight prospect including Tyrone Spong. Drysdale, pound-for-pound, is ready to compete at the UFC level. Though already 32 years old, he has shown off his athleticism in recent grappling bouts against the likes of “Jacare,” and that’s good enough for me to believe he has the skill and tenacity to compete with the UFC’s elite.

Ultimately, Drysdale’s future success will come down to matchups. I could see him struggle against better wrestlers like Phil Davis or Rashad Evans, but I really think he has the skills to go out and beat some big names in this sport. Fighters like Shogun, Lil’ Nog, Henderson, Sonnen, etc. are all reaching their end. The UFC needs an infusion of talent in their UFC Light Heavyweight division, and Drysdale should be able to step up to the plate.


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Video 1: Drysdale vs. D.J. Linderman (2013)

Video 2: Drysdale feature video by Bobby Razak

Other Links

Twitter: https://twitter.com/robertdrysdale
Sherdog Profile: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Robert-Drysdale-67894

Light Heavyweight Division

#13 MMA Prospect: Tyrone Spong



Tyrone Spong may be the most devastating striker to ever enter the UFC Light Heavyweight Division. At just 2-0, and with his combat sports career still intertwined with kickboxing, there are some lingering questions about whether Spong can truly dedicated himself towards learning the ground game. If Spong is able to develop his takedown defense, he has all the potential in the world to one day become the UFC Light Heavyweight champion should Jon Jones eventually vacate his title and move to Heavyweight.

Spong was born in Suriname,which was colonized by the Dutch, and located in South America, just north of Brazil. Spong’s family eventually moved to the Netherlands, which is home to many of the world’s top kickboxers. In Spong’s teenage years he began sparring with Gilbert Yvel and Alistair Overeen, and soon made his kickboxing debut in 2001. From 2001-2008, he amassed a 41-3-1 record in kickboxing, and soon proved he was ready for the best the kickboxing world had to offer.

Despite being undersized and one of the youngest competitors, Spong qualified for the K-1 Heavyweight Grand Prix in 2009 and 2010. Spong found mixed results against the elite Heavyweights of K-1, and though he represented himself well, he came up short against the likes of Gokhan Saki and Alistair Overeem. In 2011, Spong started to come into his own as a striker and has since run off 8 straight wins, including knockouts of kickboxing legends Remy Bonjasky and Peter Aerts.

Spong’s attention soon started to drift toward mixed martial arts in 2011-2012 as kickboxing began to struggle through rough financial times. Spong moved stateside and began training at the Jaco Training Facility, which is home to the Blackzilians camp. He was rumored to have signed with Titan FC, but a few weeks later announced his intentions to fight for the World Series of Fighting.

In the World Series of Fighting’s debut event, Spong made his own respective MMA debut, knocking out journeyman Travis Bartlett. Spong struggled with visa issues, but eventually came back in 2013 to score a decision win over striker Angel DeAnda at WSOF 4.

Camp/ Country:

Spong trains out of the Blackzilians camp where he has developed a close friendship with former UFC champion Rashad Evans. Blackzilians is stocked full of UFC level training partners like Vitor Belfort, Alistair Overeem, Anthony Johnson, and Thiago Silva. Spong has contributed his own striking expertise while getting schooled in all things grappling and wrestling. The Blackzilians camp at times has been criticized for not having a central leader and though they experimented having Mario Sperry as a head coach, they ultimately went back to having multiple coaches in varying disciplines.

Some may argue that Spong is getting to train his wrestling with Rashad, but in all reality the Blackzilians camp is mostly known for their striking. I don’t foresee Spong moving camps, but a venture to neighboring American Top Team or a move out west to American Kickboxing Academy could do wonders for Spong’s career. Both camps have made a penchant for developing their fighters’ overall skills. Individualized training is something Spong likely requires in order to get his grappling up to par with the UFC level competition. As previously mentioned though, Spong is unlikely to leave the Blackzilians camp due to his manager being the owner of the Jaco Hybrid Training Center.

Career Forecast

Tyrone Spong has all the potential in the world to be one of the best strikers the UFC has seen in some time. Yet, the question is whether Spong will be able to shore up his ground game to make him one of the best mixed martial artists in the world. That remains to be seen as Spong has thus far only faced mediocre competition that were primarily strikers.

Spong is a beast of a fighter though. He has all the raw components of a future champion with excellent size, athleticism, power, and speed. If anyone is going to be able to hurdle that learning curve, Spong has the ability to do so. He is still young, having just turned 28 years old, and has surrounded himself with a variety of world class fighters throughout his career. Despite only having 2 fights on his record in MMA, he has over 70 fights in kickboxing, which makes him a seasoned veteran when his fights are standing.

As we all know with great strikers, they are usually only as good as their takedown defense allows them to be. Spong has at times looked hesitant striking under MMA rules. Not only is he fighting with smaller gloves, he is now having to fight longer periods of time out of the clinch, or up against the cage. All these nuances do not happen overnight, and thankfully WSOF has allowed Spong to face some lesser skilled opponents in his first few bouts. Many fans are calling for Spong to face better skilled competition, but it would be foolish to throw Spong to the wolves at this point. It is perfectly understandable to let him slowly develop, while fighting on NBC Sports, and getting some fights under his belt.

Spong’s striking speaks for itself with 46 career KO/TKO’s in kickboxing. He has devastating power in his hands and is also well known for using kicks, knees, and elbows. Spong has also recently proven that he can go 3 rounds in MMA, and though many criticized his decision win over DeAnda, it was likely an invaluable learning lesson for the level of conditioning Spong will need to compete.

Another question surrounding Spong’s long-term viability in the sport is his back-and-forth relationship with kickboxing. Spong is still making good money from kickboxing and you cannot fault him for staying busy and taking advantage of his kickboxing skills, but at some point Spong is going to have to truly dedicate himself fully towards mixed martial arts. At Spong’s age, he can afford to leave kickboxing alone for a few years and pursue this mixed martial arts dream. Part of me wonders whether Spong wants all in though. Spong is a striker through and through. He’s said in a few interviews that he’s enjoyed training wrestling and grappling, but I think most in the know, realize that it is probably not the truth.

Spong is basically a whitebelt in all things ground-related. His athleticism will allow him to get by in some sketchy situations, but in all reality, Spong has an uphill battle, I’m not he’s going to be able to win, especially considering his current training environment and continued participation in kickboxing events.

Taking all this into consideration, this is why I have Spong ranked #2. He certainly has the physical tools to easily be #1, but not having wrestling or grappling experience in this day and age in mixed martial arts is basically a death sentence for long-term success. Some may argue that Jose Aldo or Anderson Silva never had world-class wrestling or ground games, but they have at least shown throughout their careers that they can consistently stuff takedowns or handle themselves admirably on the ground.

Spong could walk into the UFC and dominate the likes of Fabio Maldonado and Joey Beltran, but once he starts facing strikers with submission skills, the fear starts to set in that Spong may not have what it takes to make it to the next level. Spong has Top 5 potential. Heck, he has championship potential, but it will all come down to the efforts he is currently putting towards learning the intricacies of being a well-rounded mixed martial artist.


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Video 1: Spong vs. Travis Bartlett (2012)

Video 2: Spong K-1 Highlights

Other Links

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Tyrone_spong
Sherdog Profile: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Tyrone-Spong-113237

Bantamweight Division

#14 MMA Prospect: Bibiano Fernandes



Is Bibiano Fernandes still considered a prospect? Not really. At 33 years old with previous claims to the Dream Bantamweight and Featherweight titles, Fernandes has earned his place amongst the top fighters in his weight class regardless of promotion. Yet, the reason I ultimately chose to to include Bibiano in the MMA Prospects Report is because he hits all the parameters for qualification. He has never fought in the UFC, PRIDE, Bellator, or Strikeforce. Beyond the MMA diehards, nobody really knows just how good Bibiano is. So, going to back to the original goal of the MMA Prospects Report, which was to bring more attention to talented fighters outside of the major promotions, Bibiano’s inclusion was a must.

Fernandes grew up in Manaus, Brazil, and had what one would term a tough upbringing. He lived in the jungle for a time, and cleaned the mats of his BJJ gym just to train. Luckily, that BJJ gym provided him the training and sanctuary needed to change his life’s path. Fernandes eventually moved on to win Gold Medals in the Black Belt Division for the Pan American JJ tournament (2004-2006) and World JJ tournament (2003, 2005-2006). Having dominated the BJJ scene in his weight class, Bibiano was ready to tackle a new challenge, MMA.

Bibiano stepped right into the deep end of the sport, challenging future WEC champion Urijah Faber in the King of the Cage promotion for their Bantamweight (145 lbs.) Championship. Bibiano nearly submitted Urijah in the opening minutes of their fight, but Urijah turned the tide and earned the stoppage due to some big elbows that cut Bibiano open. After nearly a year away from the cage, Bibiano brought his talents to Japan, competing against their prized star, Kid Yamamoto. Bibiano went on to lose via unanimous decision, dropping his overall MMA record to just 1-2.

Having faced arguably the top 2 guys in the 145 lbs. division, Bibiano took a step down in competition, and quickly started to pile up victories. After back-to-back wins in Canada, Bibiano entered the Dream 2009 Featherweight (139 lbs.) Grand Prix. Bibiano defeated Japanese veterans Takafumi Otsuka and Masakazu Imanari to reach the semifinals of the tournament. In the semis, Bibiano quickly submitted future Bellator champion Joe Warren enabling him to move on to the finals where he would face Hiroyuki Takaya later on that same night. In a close fight, Bibiano was able to sneak out a victory and become the first ever Dream Featherweight Champion.

Bibiano went on to successfully defend his title against Joachim Hansen before once again facing off with Hiroyuki Takaya. Takaya would get his revenge, winning a unanimous decision and the Dream Featherweight title. Bibiano would chase down a Dream Championship once again, as Dream soon announced their 2011 Bantamweight (135 lbs.) Grand Prix. Bibiano was the odds on favorite to win, and that he did, outlasting Takafumi Otsuka, Rodolfo Marques, and Antonio Banuelos to win the Dream Bantamweight Championship.

Unfortunately, Dream was struggling to stay afloat and Bibiano was forced back to the free agent market. After nearly signing with the UFC in 2012, Bibiano ended up signing with One FC where he quickly won their Interim Bantamweight Championship.

Camp/ Country:

Bibiano now calls Vancouver, Canada his home. He primarily trains under Matt Hume at AMC Pankration alongside Demetrious Johnson and Tim Boetsch. Fernandes has shown some stellar growth in his striking over the years and is one of the most well-rounded fighters in the Bantamweight Division. Fernandes’ coach, Matt Hume, currently holds an executive position with One FC, so we can likely expect Bibiano to stay with their promotion for as long as they are willing to pay him top dollar.

Career Forecast

It looks as if Bibiano is content to finish his career fighting in obscurity. He has stated in interviews that he fights in front of full stadiums and is treated with such great respect by One FC’s fans, but he has to know that means little in the eyes of most others that regard Bibiano as being afraid to sign with the UFC. Bibiano has always made money his primary concern in MMA. Had the UFC offered him more dollars upfront, Bibiano would likely be challenging for the UFC Bantamweight title right now. Unfortunately, Bibiano could not allow himself to gamble with the possibility of losing in the UFC, which would have made his demand in Asia much less.

It seems as if Bibiano is happy, fighting lesser competition and collecting paychecks in the process. He has made it clear he does not fight to prove anything to anyone. Unfortunately, stateside fans will likely never get to experience Bibiano’s skills against comparable competition.


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Video 1: Fernandes Highlights

Video 2: Fernandes vs. Antonio Banuelos (2011)

Other Links

Twitter: None
Sherdog Profile: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Bibiano-Fernandes-11465

Bantamweight Division

#15 MMA Prospect: Aljamain Sterling



Aljamain Sterling has all the makings of a future star in the UFC Bantamweight Division. Sterling wrestled at the Division III level in college before finding his way to MMA in 2009. He went 6-1 as an amateur before going pro in 2011. Sterling won his first 2 pro fights and quickly moved on to fight for the Ring of Combat Bantamweight Championship. In a close battle, Sterling earned a decision victory over Claudio Ledesma. Sterling never hung around to defend the ROC title though as 1 month later he signed with Cage Fury Fighting Championships (CFFC).

Sterling’s CFFC debut could not have gone better as he defeated Evan Chmielski via 1st round TKO to earn a title shot against CFFC Bantamweight Champion Sean Santella. Sterling was able to overpower Santella throughout the fight and cruised to a unanimous decision victory, capturing the CFFC Bantamweight Championship. Sterling has since defended the title twice against Casey Johnson and Sidemar Honorio.

In 2013, Sterling was forced to undergo surgery to correct a torn labrum. He should return in the 2nd half of 2013.

Camp/ Country:

Sterling is based in New York where he trains at Team Bombsquad. His camp is home to UFC veteran Mike Massenzio and Bellator Featherweight Shahublat Shamhaelaev. Team Bombsquad is one of the most respected camps out on the East Coast. They were most famous for being UFC champion Jon Jones’ former team.

Career Forecast

Sterling is tall and lanky. He wrestled in Junior College. He utilizes a long jab, and is a bit unorthodox with his striking. He has great takedowns with a solid top game. He trains at Team Bombsquad. He grew up in New York…Does this description remind you of anyone? If you said Jon Jones, you were correct. Let me clarify though, Sterling is no Jon Jones. He is still young and developing his overall skill level, while Jones seems to be that once in a lifetime type fighter. Yet, Sterling has a lot of parallels to Jones and I would not surprised to see him utilize his physical tools to one day make a run in the UFC Bantamweight Division.

Sterling still has holes in his game. He’s nearly been caught by submissions and also leaves himself open for counters, but these are just small flaws in an otherwise outstanding skill set for a top prospect. Sterling could be a Top 15 UFC Bantamweight if he were to sign with the UFC tomorrow. He’s still flying under the radar because he hasn’t really fought outside of the East Coast regional shows thus far. Depending on when he returns from his recent shoulder surgery, it may only take 2-3 more wins for the UFC or Bellator to come calling.


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Video 1: Sterling Highlights

Video 2: Sterling vs. Casey Johnson (2012)

Other Links

Twitter: https://twitter.com/FunkMasterAljO
Sherdog Profile: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Aljamain-Sterling-66313

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