50 Best MMA Prospects of 2013

Bantamweight Division

#16 MMA Prospect: Marlon Moraes



It was just over 18 months ago that Marlon Moraes’ MMA career was sinking fast. He had just just lost his 2nd straight fight, dropping his record to a paltry 6-4-1 overall, and his future prospects of ever being a part of the UFC were laughable at best.

Seemingly overnight though, things began to change. Moraes, alongside his childhood friend and current UFC lightweight Edson Barboza, started to train alongside former UFC champion Frankie Edgar. Moraes made the necessary career decision to cut down to 135 lbs. He was soon stunningly offered a chance to fight Miguel Torres in The World Series of Fighting’s inaugural event. The overall whirlwind of positive results fell like dominoes as Moraes has gone 3-0, with 2 knockouts and a decision victory over former WEC champion Miguel Torres.

It wasn’t always so easy for Moraes though. He made his MMA debut in 2007, fighting in his native Brazil. Moraes had previously competed in Muay Thai tournaments, but also possessed a slick BJJ game that not many fans had witnessed. He started 3-0, before being called up to Brazil’s prominent Shooto-Brazil promotion. Moraes struggled to compete against higher-level competition as he lost back-to-back fights, each via TKO.

Moraes fought twice more in Brazil, going 1-0-1, before moving to Florida with Barboza to train at The Armory. Moraes’ career seemed to be on the upswing as he submitted his next 2 opponents, but just 2 weeks after winning that 2nd fight in a row, he accepted a short-notice fight with Ralph Acosta and lost via submission. 6 months later, Moraes received a huge opportunity to face experienced WEC veteran Deividas Taurosevicius for a chance at winning The Ring of Combat Featherweight Championship. Moraes showed off some ultra-impressive BJJ, nearly submitting his black belt opponent, but he ultimately allowed Taurosevicius to escape from a rear-naked choke and was submitted himself just a few seconds later.

The loss was a huge learning moment for Moraes as he soon made the necessary changes towards achieving his current MMA success. Following a win over WEC veteran Chris Manuel, Moraes dropped down to 135 lbs. and knocked out Jarrod Card. That KO win was showcased on HD Net’s Inside MMA, and must have caught the eye of World Series of Fighting (WSOF) as Moraes was surprisingly tapped as Miguel Torres’ debut opponent for WSOF 1. Moraes proved that his past record was not a reflection of his current skill set and out-struck Torres for nearly all 3 rounds to earn the decision. A few months later WSOF matched Moraes against recent signee Tyson Nam, who was fresh off an upset win over Bellator Bantamweight Champion Eduardo Dantas. Moraes made quick work of Nam at WSOF 2, knocking him out in the 1st round.

Camp/ Country:

Moraes now trains at Ricardo Almeida Jiu-Jitsu and Valor MMA alongside Edgar and Barboza. Moraes’ camp and training partners have connections to both the UFC and Bellator. Moraes’ recent improvements and wins should be more than enough evidence that whatever he has done over the last 18 months is working. Sparring and grappling with Frankie Edgar should make Moraes ready for any Bantamweight that comes his way.

Career Forecast

Moraes is only 25 years old and just seems to be hitting his stride. Moraes has stated in recent interviews that he is in no hurry to sign with the UFC or Bellator. He is perfectly happy with WSOF and what they have done for his career already. As mentioned previously, it was only a short while ago that Moraes was struggling to win fights, so he still may be trying to build up his confidence and experience.

There is not much upside for Moraes staying with WSOF at this point though. He has beaten their two best fighters and his only challenges left would be possibly waiting around to win their yet to be debuted championship title. Regardless, Moraes has to be on the radar for the UFC and Bellator. Both promotions are hungry for Bantamweight talent, and the way Moraes fights, he should be a force wherever he signs.


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Video 1: Moraes vs. Tyson Nam (2013)

Video 2: Moraes vs. Miguel Torres (2012)

Other Links

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MMARLONMORAES
Sherdog Profile: www.sherdog.com/fighter/Marlon-Moraes-30936‎

Welterweight Division

#17 MMA Prospect: Dhiego Lima



Dhiego Lima is the younger half of the emerging brother tandem that could one day take over the Welterweight Divisions of the UFC and Bellator.

Though Dhiego’s older brother, Douglas, was born in Brazil, Dhiego by all accounts was born stateside. The Lima brothers started training in mixed martial arts at a very young age. Dhiego gravitated towards the striking arts a bit more than Douglas. Dhiego made his amateur debut in 2006 at just 16 years old. Lima built a 4-2 record as an amateur though there are discrepancies between his record on mixedmartialarts.com and Sherdog. Nonetheless, Lima turned pro in 2010, winning his first 3 fights via submission, including wins over fellow prospects Steve Montgomery and Keon Caldwell.

Lima followed his brother’s lead to the Canadian promotion, MFC, where he debuted for them in 2010. Dhiego started to put himself on the map as a prospect to watch as most of MFC’s events were televised on HD Net. He didn’t disappoint as he knocked out Bill Fraser and Jamie Toney, while also earning a submission win over Josh Taveirne.

In the meantime, Dhiego’s brother, Douglas, had vacated his MFC Welterweight title after leaving for Bellator. It only seemed natural that Dhiego would keep the title in the Lima family, but he soon fell victim to his first career loss. After having scheduled fights with Terry Martin and Bruno Carvalho scrapped, he eventually ended up facing Strikeforce veteran Nate Coy. Coy used his wrestling to grind out a 3-round decision.

Lima has since bounced back with wins over Nick Hinchliffe and Roger Carroll, but for reasons not announced, he has not been scheduled for an MFC event in over a year’s time. He is tentatively scheduled to once again compete outside of the MFC banner against Rick Rainey at an XFC event in September.

Camp/ Country:

Lima trains under UFC veteran Roan Carneiro, who is based out of American Top Team Atlanta. Dhiego trians alongside his brother and was recently one of Brian Stann’s main training partners. Lima seems to have access to high-level training partners that specialize in all disciplines, but there has not been any definitive word on whether he’s receiving the type of wrestling instruction needed to advance his career. Lima also seems to be affiliated with Ascension MMA, which is home to the Assuncao brothers.

Career Forecast

Dhiego Lima looks to have all the tools to one day be a star in the UFC. His older brother Douglas has already made his presence known in Bellator, and that has led to Dhiego to clearly state that his future aspirations are with the UFC only because in his words, “Bellator is his brother’s.”

Dhiego is still only 23 years old and the sky seems to be the limit on his future potential. He still has to sort out his wrestling before being fully ready to test himself against elite level competition, but based off what he has been able to do thus far against somewhat experienced competition, he is not too far away from making a run in the UFC Welterweight Division, comparable to that of an Erick Silva or Jordan Mein.

Lima could go to the UFC right now and win fights, but in the mean time he has gained invaluable experience on the regional scene, especially regarding his recent decision loss to Strikeforce veteran Nate Coy. Lima had no answer for Coy’s wrestling and you can guarantee that he is in the gym making sure he is better prepared next time he faces a high-level wrestler.

Dhiego’s brother, Douglas, is essentially the #2 guy in Bellator at just 25 years old. Dhiego won’t be able to skyrocket through the UFC’s ranks quite as fast due to the higher competition level, but it would be no surprise to see him one day reach Top 10 status or possibly even see him contend for a title a few years from now. Once the Lima brothers are able to address the wrestling deficiencies there may be no better brother tandem in the sport.


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Video 1: Lima vs. Bill Fraser (2010)

Video 2: Lima Highlights

Other Links

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DhLima121‎
Sherdog Profile: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Dhiego-Lima-59607

Bantamweight Division

#18 MMA Prospect: Sheymon Moraes



Sheymon Moraes is already one of the top strikers in his weight class. It’s just a waiting game for when the rest of the MMA world will take notice. Moraes had a decorated career competing in Muay Thai tournaments and is currently the go-to guy at Team Nogueira for striking.

Moraes made his MMA Debut in 2012, winning his first 2 fights before entering a 4-man Bantamweight Tournament in the Bitetti Combat promotion. The 1-night tournament showcased four of Brazil’s top Bantamweight fighters, including future UFC veteran Pedro Nobre. When the dust settled, Sheymon Moraes, the least experienced fighter of the bunch, came out with his hand raised, earning TKO finishes over Pedro Arrude and Nobre, to win the Bitetti Combat Bantamweight Championship.

Moraes competed once more in 2012, defeating Eliel dos Santos via decision. Moraes has not competed in 2013, though he has been busy helping coach Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira’s team on The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 2.

Camp/ Country:

Moraes has outstanding connections thanks to his close association with Team Nogueira. Moraes has already competed under the Bitetti Combat banner, which is one of the premier organizations in Brazil. Moraes’ training partners are some of the best in the world and he has spent considerable time on his wrestling and ground game while there. If you ask any member of their team, they all consider Moraes to be a future champion.

Career Forecast

To make this crystal clear, Moraes’ striking would literally be the best in the UFC’s Bantamweight Division if he were to sign tomorrow. His Muay Thai, quickness, and chin are truly that good.

Sheymon Moraes is only 22 years old, but he is likely on the radar of both the UFC and Bellator. Moraes has gone about his MMA career in a very calculated fashion. He aligned himself with arguably the best team in Brazil, and has already claimed Bitetti Combat’s Bantamweight Championship. Moraes has stayed busy with his coaching duties at Team Nogueira, which has also allowed him to concentrate on his training rather than rattle off a bunch of wins and never improve upon his overall skill set.

It’s only his ability to stop the takedown and lack of experience that worry me at this point. There are a ton of solid fighters on the Brazil regional circuit, and Moraes would be wise to test his skills against more experienced competition before being thrown to the wolves by the UFC.

I don’t think he is invincible at this point. His wrestling and clinch work are still at ground level as far as comparing him to UFC competition, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Moraes reminds me a lot of a younger Jose Aldo. If he can continue to improve his ground game, which has already looked better in just a few short months, he should project to be a future title contender and possibly a champion one day at 135 lbs.


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Video 1: Moraes vs. Pedro Nobre (2012)

Video 2: Moraes Highlight Video

Other Links

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sheymonmoraes‎
Sherdog Profile: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Sheymon-da-Silva-Moraes-93951

Lightweight Division

#19 MMA Prospect: Gilbert Burns



Gilbert “Durinho” Burns may possess the best pure BJJ in the entire Lightweight division, and it’s only a matter of time before he backs up that statement by signing with the UFC or Bellator.

Burns began training BJJ at a local Nova Uniao affiliate under the tutelage of Ramon Lemos. Burns quickly rose through the ranks of the BJJ tournament circuit, capturing 2nd place at the 2010 BJJ World Championships before eventually winning Gold in 2011. Burns soon struck up a friendship with UFC legend Vitor Belfort and began helping him not only train for his fights, but was selected to help coach Belfort’s team on the inaugural season of TUF Brazil. Burns soon decided to leave the BJJ circuit behind and follow Belfort’s path towards reaching MMA success.

Burns won his lone amateur bout in 2011 before moving on to the pro ranks a few months later. Burns quickly showed off his BJJ prowess as he submitted his first 3 opponents via 1st round submission. Burns’ wins were especially impressive because he absolutely dominated each second of his fights against fairly seasoned veterans Jose Salgado and Vinicius Bohrer. Burns soon found it very hard to find opponents after his quick accumulation of wins. He has since racked up 2 more victories, both 1st round finishes, though he has only fought once in 2013.

Camp/ Country:

Burns now trains alongside Belfort at the Jaco Hybrid Training Center, otherwise known as the Blackzilians. His alliance with Belfort and the Blackzilians should only help his chances with eventually signing with the UFC or possibly World Series of Fighting. Burns’ striking is still his weak area, but working alongside the likes of Belfort, Henri Hooft, and Tyrone Spong should provide him with an ideal training environment to make the needed improvements to his overall game.

Career Forecast

It has recently become very difficult to project a world class grappler’s success in MMA. We have seen fighters like Demian Maia and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza make their mark in MMA, but there have been far more world class grapplers that have come up a bit short. The same conditions usually apply to why a high level Black Belt struggles in MMA, such as a lack of striking, poor conditioning, or the inability to score takedowns against high-level wrestlers. In Gilbert Burn’s case, I believe we have another fighter in the mold of Maia and “Jacare.”

Burns’ grappling is simply on another level compared to most Jiu-Jitsu Black Belts. He is extremely adept at taking his opponent’s back and once he gets the fight to the ground, it’s pretty much over. Burns used to grapple in the 167 lbs. division, so now that he is competing at 155 lbs. in MMA, he seems like an absolute beast in the strength department. Burns is very stocky, but unlike Rousimar Palhares, he is still tall (5’9) enough to reach his opponents with strikes or shoot in for takedowns.

Burns is never going to be a world beater with his striking, but he doesn’t need to be either. He simply needs to have enough striking to set up his takedowns. I haven’t really seen him take a punch that tested his chin, but my hope is that his training partners at Blackzilians will have him well prepared for the bumps and bruises required to make it to the elite level.

It is extremely rare for any world class BJJ fighter to reach a championship level. Many of the highest-level BJJ guys start too late in the game to ever fully round out their skills. Maia and “Jacare” have gotten very close in their careers, but they each have come up a bit short despite their improved striking games. Burns entered MMA at age 26, which is the exact same age frame that Maia and “Jacare” each made their respective full-time transitions to MMA.

The UFC’s Lightweight division is stocked full of high-level wrestlers and grapplers, yet pound-for-pound, I don’t think any of them could beat “Durinho” in a straight BJJ match. Yet, this is MMA we are talking about, so I still see Burns falling short to the elite guys in the UFC who likely have better conditioning, wrestling, and striking at this point in time. I am not trying to sell Burns short though. We have seen a grapplers like Mark Bocek and George Sotiropoulos find decent success in the UFC’s Lightweight Division with a fairly similar grappling-centric skill set like Burns.

I don’t think Burns is quite ready to face elite level competition, but I certainly feel he has the capability to eventually be a Top 20 fighter in the UFC.


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Video 1: Burns vs. Jose Salgado (2012)

Video 2: Burns Highlights

Other Links

Twitter: None
Sherdog Profile: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Gilbert-Burns-91727

Light Heavyweight Division

#20 MMA Prospect: Patrick Cummins



Remember the name, “Patrick Cummins,” because he is likely to be a Top 10 UFC Light Heavyweight in the very near future. With only 4 career fights under his belt, Cummins is still a few wins away from a UFC contract, but there is little doubt that once he signs, he should start making waves in the division.

Cummins grew up in Pennsylvania, playing a variety of sports alongside his two brothers. All 3 siblings eventually attended Penn State University where Cummins made the wrestling team as a walk-on. He quickly worked his way up from the bottom, achieving All-American status as a heavyweight twice in his career. In 2003, he finished top 4 in the nation and just one year later earned runner-up honors After college, Cummins attempted to make the Olympic wrestling team, but ultimately fell short of that dream. During his Olympic bid, he roomed alongside Muhammed Lawal, who eventually planted the seed for Cummins’ transition to mixed martial arts.

Cummins began training and shed nearly 50 pounds to get down to Light Heavyweight. In 2010, Cummins participated on the EA Sports MMA Fighter Exchange, which paired an aspiring MMA prospect with a Strikeforce top contender. Cummins landed the always entertaining Jason “Mayhem” Miller. Alongside Miller and his manager Ryan Parsons, the trio ventured down to Brazil where they trained at the famed Nova Uniao complex. Cummins reaped the benefits as a few months later he submitted his way to a 1st round victory. With his successful MMA debut behind him, Cummins looked destined for the fast track to success, but unfortunately some troubles from his college days came back to haunt him.

Cummins and fellow prospect Eric Bradley were sentenced to jail time due to stealing items from fraternity houses. After 8 months, Cummins was released, and returned back to California where he began training at Reign MMA. Cummins returned to the cage at Pro Elite 3, winning once again via 1st round finish, but Pro Elite soon went under and Cummins was left scrambling for potential opponents. He sat out for over a year before finally returning in 2013 to pick up consecutive wins over journeyman opponents. Unfortunately, Cummins has continued to find it difficult to find fights as over 40 opponents have turned down fights with him.

Camp/ Country:

Cummins trains at Reign MMA, which is one of the top camps in the world right now. He trains daily with the likes of Mark Munoz, Jake Ellenberger, and their newest addition Chael Sonnen. One would think that Cummins would have the UFC connections due to his camp affiliation, but it just happened yet, though not for a lack of trying. The UFC brass know very well who Cummins is and they have advised him to pick up a few fights before potentially bringing him in.

Cummins’ manager, Ryan Parsons, has done a commendable job getting his name out there. He recently appeared on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Hour, which can be seen here. Cummins has also been featured by most of the big MMA websites in some recent articles. Dennis Bermudez is the only client of Parsons’ currently on the UFC roster, but with promising prospects Satoshi Ishii and Gregor Gillespie, it would be no surprise to see all 4 of these fighters competing in the UFC in the next few years.

Career Forecast

So, with only 4 career fights and already being 32 years old, why is Patrick Cummins considered to be an elite level prospect? Pure and simple, Cummins’ wrestling, training environment, and previous experience wrestling bigger bodied fighters gives him a unique edge that should immediately pay dividends at the UFC level. He is not polished by any means when it comes to his striking, but he has an excellent killer instinct and is ultra-tough in the trenches.

Cummins is used to wrestling against guys the size of Cole Konrad, Steve Mocco, and Cain Velasquez. He understands the intricacies of positioning and leverage. He is also explosive and knows what it takes to drive through his takedowns. Cummins’ wrestling should immediately allow him to contend with anyone on the UFC’s current roster. Yes, that even means Jon Jones. I am not saying Cummins would win, but you just can’t disregard his skills as you would most other Light Heavyweights. Cummins is an aggressive style of wrestler. He’s in your face and doesn’t try to hide his strategy. He’s there to win, and his way to win is to take you down and either pound you out or submit you.

Cummins’ striking is still a bit of a mystery due to only 2 of his fights being available on YouTube. He’s only been in the sport for about 3 years, so you can’t fault the learning curve that he’s probably dealing with. Luckily, he hasn’t strayed away from his wrestling pretending to be something he’s not. Cummins brings a similar strategy to that of Chael Sonnen, which is to push the pace, always move forward, and basically negate the distance that usually makes good strikers effective. Some may point to Ryan Bader as a comparison for Cummins, but Bader has at times fallen in love with his striking, which has ultimately cost him big fights. If Cummins brings a Sonnen-like mindset and gameplan into his fights, he can literally go in and beat Top 15 competition right now.

Cummins is getting a late start in the MMA game, and he could, and likely will run into some bumps along the road once he enters the UFC. Cummins is likely not ready to face elite level strikers like Machida or Teixeira, but I don’t think anyone is for that matter. A quick glimpse across the UFC Light Heavyweight division reveals that many of their Top 10 stars are aging and are likely close towards retirement than their prime. The window of opportunity is there for Cummins to come in and make his presence known.

There are too many unknowns to truly predict Cummins’ rise up the UFC ranks. He’s never been past the 1st round and I’ve never really seen him be hit. What happens when he gets put on his back or when he can’t get his opponent to the ground. Some of these questions will be addressed in the coming months, but based off the limited footage I have seen, expect big things from Patrick “Durkin” Cummins.


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Video 1: Cummins vs. Tasi Edwards (2012)

Video 2: Cummins vs. Ricky Pulu (2013)

Other Links

Twitter: https://twitter.com/OfficialDurkin
Sherdog Profile: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Patrick-Cummins-72981

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