50 Best MMA Prospects of 2013

Flyweight Division

#21 MMA Prospect: Josh Sampo



Josh Sampo began his mixed martial arts career in 2008, going 5-0 as an amateur before making his pro debut one year later. Sampo won his first 3 fights before moving up a weight class in order to face WEC veteran Mike French. Sampo lost via decision, and has since dropped back down to Flyweight. Sampo won his next 3 fights including a victory over prospect Czar Sklavos. In 2012, Sampo would take a big step up in competition as he faced off with UFC veteran Will Campuzano. Sampo more than held his own during the fight, but in the final round, Campuzano was able to catch Sampo with a knee that knocked him out.

Sampo rebounded with a submission win before once again testing his skills against a former UFC fighter. Sampo faced off with battle-tested UFC/WEC veteran Antonio Banuelos under the Legacy Fighting Championship banner. In a bit of an upset, Sampo was able to control the pace and neutralize Banuelos’ striking on way to a unanimous decision victory. Sampo followed that up with another impressive victory, this time facing off against Bellator veteran Alexis Vila. Sampo once again pulled off the upset, tapping out Vila in the 5th round with a guillotine. The upset win over Vila earned him the Florida-based Championship Fighting Alliance Flyweight title.

Camp/ Country:

Sampo’s camp, St. Charles MMA, is not home to a bevy of experienced veterans, but is full of rising prospects like UFC Welterweight Lance Benoist, Strikeforce veteran Matt Ricehouse and fellow Flyweight prospect Alptekin Ozkilic. Sampo’s BJJ training is under Rodrigo Vaghi. Unfortunately, it seems that Sampo’s camp has not been doing enough to bring him the attention that should be merited with beating big show veterans like Banuelos and Vila. There is virtually no footage of his fights available to the public.

Career Forecast

As mentioned previously, there is not a ton of footage available on Sampo. Luckily, the final results are available, and wins over two veterans like Banuelos and Vila earn quite a bit of respect. From what I was able to gather, Sampo was doing well against Campuzano as well. If Sampo can continue to win and finish fights, he will likely find himself with a UFC roster spot very soon. Sampo has proven to be a well-rounded fighter with good striking and excellent grappling skills. Until there is more footage available of Sampo’s fights, it is too difficult to predict Sampo’s future prospects of competing amongst the elite, but based off what he has done in his last few fights, he seems to be the fastest-rising prospect in the Flyweight Division.


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Video 1: Sampo vs. Nick Dioneda (2009)

Video 2: Sampo interview/Training Highlights

Other Links

Twitter: None
Sherdog Profile: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Joshua-Sampo-66883

Middleweight Division

#22 MMA Prospect: Elvis Mutapcic



Elvis Mutapcic is one of the fastest rising prospects in the sport thanks to a 5-fight win streak that included victories over TUF alumni Cezar Ferreira, Sam Alvey, and Joseph Henle. Mutapcic was the reigning MFC Middleweight Champion before vacating his title to sign with the upstart World Series of Fighting promotion.

Mutapcic grew up in Bosnia, which placed him right in the epicenter of daily warfare. Luckily, Mutapcic’s family moved stateside, settling into Des Moines, Iowa, which has always been known as a hotbed of MMA talent. Mutapcic began training and was soon competing at 17 years old, though the fights were considered non-sanctioned. He soon drifted away from the sport for nearly 4 years as he stayed busy working various jobs. Mutapcic eventually joined a new fight camp and resumed his career in 2007. The major MMA databases vary in accuracy regarding his early days, but according to Sherdog, he went 0-3 as an amateur despite some of those fights occurring after his pro debut. Nonetheless, once Mutapcic turned pro, he started to rack up wins, including 3 straight finishes to kick off his career. Mutapcic’s undefeated streak would soon come to an end as he lost a split decision to former prospect Andy Branson.

Mutapcic bounced back by winning his next 5 fights, including victories over TUF’ 17 alum Zak Cummings and Josh Rosaaen. Mutapcic seemed to be moving on to bigger and better things as he signed with Shark Fights in 2011. Competing as the co-main event of Shark Fights 16, Mutapcic squared off against fellow prospect Artenas Young. Both fighters struggled to mount any offense, though Young was able to do just enough to win via decision.

The loss was thought to be devastating for Mutapcic’s future career prospects, but Mutapcic redeemed himself in a huge way as just 2 months later he knocked out future TUF Brazil 1 winner Cezar “Mutante” Ferreira in the opening seconds of their fight. Ferreira was considered to be one of the top prospects in the world and in a blink of an eye, Mutapcic stole all of that thunder. Mutapcic has not looked back since, winning his next fight via submission before signing with the Canadian-based MFC.

Mutapcic made an emphatic MFC debut by finishing veteran Jacen Flynn via 1st round TKO. Mutapcic was soon vying for the vacant MFC Middleweight title as he was matched up against TUF 11 alum Joseph Henle. The fight was even after 2 rounds, but Mutapcic was able to earn the stoppage in Round 3 after leveling Henle with a huge leg kick that ultimately injured Henle’s knee. Mutapcic went on to successfully defend his title in a hard-fought 5-round decision over TUF 16’s Sam Alvey.

Mutapcic has since signed with the World Series of Fighting and is set to compete in their 4-man Middleweight tournament, which will crown their inaugural Middleweight Champion. Mutapcic will face UFC veteran Jesse Taylor in the 1st round of the tournament.

Camp/ Country:

Mutapcic trains out of the Roundkick Gym in Iowa. Not much is known about the camp though Mutapcic has been known to train with UFC veteran Josh Neer. Neer is a warrior of a fighter, but he alone will not be able to give Mutapcic the level of training needed to reach elite status in the UFC. Neer notoriously struggled with his wrestling, so it would be a mistake for Mutapcic to think he can continue to win with just his striking and some submission skills.

Career Forecast

Elvis Mutapcic seemed to be on his way to the UFC, but in a bit of a surprise he ended up signing with WSOF. With recent news that WSOF’s contracts are much more stringent than first thought, it now seems unlikely that Mutapcic will be fighting in the UFC any time soon. He is set to face Jesse Taylor, with the winner facing Dave Branch or Danillo Villefort for the title. Mutapcic has historically struggled against wrestlers, so this is a very dangerous fight for Mutapcic.

Mutapcic is a powerhouse in the striking department. He does have one-punch power, but he is usually more lethal with his kicks and knees, usually targeting the legs and midsections of his opponents. Mutapcic has developed some decent takedown defense and submission skills over the last few years, but being on the ground is still not his strong suit. Mutapcic showed he could go 5 rounds in his fight with Alvey, but he did slow down tremendously, so he will have to continue and work on his conditioning as he steps up his competition level.

Mutapcic’s main weakness is his wrestling. He struggles fighting off his back and his overall ability with transitions and reversals are lacking. As previously mentioned, his fight against Jesse Taylor will either be a rude awakening or a true sign that Mutapcic has turned the corner with his wrestling.

His move to WSOF seems to be a lose-lose situation at this point. He could go in and win their title, but then be stuck in their promotion with a championship clause intact. There are simply not enough high-level Middleweights roaming around the free agent market that WSOF could bring in for him should he win the title. The flip side would be if he lost to Taylor in the opening round of the tournament, where he would ultimately lose all the hype he has recently accumulated. Mutapcic was likely 1 fight away from a UFC contract, but he essentially threw that opportunity away by signing with WSOF.

Mutapcic currently has Top 15 potential in the UFC Middleweight Division, though part of me wonders if he could ever cut down to Welterweight. His wrestling is still the big question mark, but if he can keep his fights standing, he could compare very favorably to Costa Philippou and Lorenz Larkin. Mutapcic has all the makings of a fan favorite. He delivers big punches with a quiet, humble personality similar to Robbie Lawler. Mutapcic doesn’t have that type of polish yet, but he looks to be right on the brink of making that happen.



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Video 1: Mutapcic vs. Cezar Ferreira (2011)

Video 2: Mutapcic Feature Story on InsideMMA

Other Links

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ElvisMutapcic
Sherdog Profile: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Elvis-Mutapcic-28038

Welterweight Division

#23 MMA Prospect: Yan Cabral



Yan Cabral’s entry into the UFC ranks seemed to be a lock following his selection to participate on The Ultimate Fighter Brazil 2. Unfortunately, Cabral suffered a broken hand and by all accounts has returned back to Brazil without any promise of a future UFC contract.

Cabral began his MMA career in 2007, winning his first fight via 1st round submission. He went on to win a 2nd straight fight overseas before returning home to Brazil where he competed for Shooto Brazil. Cabral raised his record to 3-0 overall, and soon decided that Europe would be his training grounds towards one day preparing him for a bid in the UFC.

Cabral primarily faced underwhelming and overmatched competition throughout his stay in Europe. He went on to win his next 6 fights all via submission, while also capturing a few regional titles. By 2011, Cabral was 9-0 and was in search of greater challenges. He initially signed with Japan’s DEEP promotion, but never ended up competing for them as he was surprisingly chosen as PRIDE legend Kazushi Sakuraba’s next opponent for DREAM 17. Cabral accepting the bout with open arms, knowing that this was finally the opportunity he had been waiting for to put his name on the map.

Sakuraba looked to keep things standing early, but he paid for it, as Cabral hurt him with punches before taking him down and submitting him via arm-triangle. Cabral’s buzz quickly grew, but he was unable to capitalize on his newfound momentum as DREAM essentially shut down their doors.

Cabral returned back to Brazil and went nearly 18 months without a fight. Then came the announcement that the UFC were holding tryouts for The Ultimate Fighter Brazil. Cabral made the cut alongside 3 of his Nova Uniao training partners Leonard Santos, Roberto Amorim, and Rony Silva. Unfortunately, Cabral would have to beat one of his brethren as he was was matched up against Rony Silva in his preliminary round matchup to get into the house. Silva stood no chance against Cabral’s ground game as Yan reluctantly tapped him out in the 1st round.

Cabral went on to be picked 4th overall by team Werdum. After Team Werdum gained control of the fight picks, Cabral was chosen to face David Vieira. Yan submitted Vieira in the 2nd round via rear-naked choke, but it was soon revealed that he had hurt his hand. After x-rays, Cabral’s fears were confirmed as he had suffered a broken hand and was forced off the show.

Though it was rumored that he might be brought back at the Finale, it never came to fruition. Cabral has since been booked for an upcoming BJJ tournament in September with no mention of a possible return to MMA.

Camp/ Country:

Cabral has been a long-time fixture of Brazil’s Nova Uniao camp. He has all the trademark skills of a Nova Uniao fighter and is known as one of their top ground technicians. Cabral has also briefly trained at Tiger Muay Thai in Thailand to work exclusively on his striking.

Career Forecast

Yan Cabral was one of the early frontrunners to win The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 2. The fact that the UFC has already evaluated Cabral and deemed his skills sufficient enough to compete on the show, puts Cabral’s name at the top of the pack should the UFC need a last minute injury replacement for a future Brazilian fight card. It is a bit curious though as to why Cabral has not been signed outright following the conclusion of TUF Brazil 2. Santiago Ponzinibbio and Luiz Dutra, both of whom also fell victim to injuries on the show have been offered a roster spot. Cabral did win his Quarterfinal round fight just as Dutra did, yet Cabral was not offered a contract. It is a very strange fallout from an all-around stranger season of TUF Brazil that was plagued by injuries.

Cabral’s ground game is simply off the charts. Once he gets his opponent to the ground, it is game over. He has one of the very best arm-triangle’s in the game today to go along with a full repertoire of go-to submissions. Cabral is a willing striker, though it’s obvious that he is only trying to close the distance to bring things to the floor. He is deceptively strong and excels with his trip takedowns.

Cabral still has visible holes in his overall fight game. His striking still needs work and his conditioning and overall wrestling ability are still question marks should he move on to the elite level. Nonetheless, the results are there, counting his TUF Brazil 2 fights, Cabral is 12-0, winning every single fight via submission. There is simply no other prospect out there that has been able to produce those types of statistics.

Cabral will never be a flashy style of fighter, but he is methodical and effective with what he ultimately looks to do, which is use his elite level BJJ game. Cabral is going to run into superior wrestlers and strikers that have the ability to stuff Cabral’s takedowns. For that reason, Cabral will likely never reach Top 10 status, but he does seem to have the skills to break into the Top 25. Had he not gotten injured on TUF Brazil, Cabral likely could have won the show, and been given the proverbial TUF winner push that past season winners have enjoyed. Nonetheless, Cabral has already put himself on the map and it should be long until the UFC eventually comes calling.



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Video 1: Cabral vs. Gary Kono (2009)

Video 2: Cabral Highlights

Other Links

Twitter: https://twitter.com/yancabral1
Sherdog Profile: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Yan-Cabral-27090

Welterweight Division

#24 MMA Prospect: Cathal Pendred



Cathal Pendred is the reigning Cage Warriors FC Welterweight Champion and is likely the next Irish fighter to make the step up to the UFC.

Pendred grew up playing rugby throughout his youth. Despite being one of the bigger guys and participating on one of the top amateur teams, Pendred never went pro. Instead, he ended up traveling to San Diego for a short stint where tried out MMA for the first time. Pendred was addicted and he soon poured everything he had into becoming one of the top fighters in Europe.

Pendred turned pro in 2009, winning his first pro fight before deciding to drop down to Welterweight. Pendred struggled with his weight cut and ended up losing via submission. Pendred rebounded by winning his next 4 fights, raising his overall record to 5-1. Pendred signed on with Cage Warriors FC in 2010, winning his debut. Just a week later, Pendred stepped into the cage on short notice against a much more experienced Lee Chadwick. The fight took place at Middleweight, and Pendred paid the price, losing via 1st round TKO.

Pendred slowed down his pace a bit and the wins soon followed. He built up his record to 9-2-1, which finally started to gain him some traction on the European fight scene. Pendred officially put himself on the map by defeating UFC veteran David Bielkheden via decision in 2012. He followed that up with an upset victory over submission expert Bruno Carvalho, which ultimately earned him a shot at the Cage Warriors FC Welterweight Championship. Pendred faced recently crowned champion Gael Grimaud, who was fresh off a submission win over UFC veteran Jesse Taylor. It was a back and forth war of attrition, but Pendred was able to walk out with his hand raised and the title wrapped around his waist.

Pendred’s rise continued as he defended his title later that year against recently released UFC vet Che Mills. Mills missed weight for the fight, turning it into a non-title affair, and after 3 rounds of Pendred’s wrestling dominance, the fight was stopped via TKO.

Camp/ Country:

Pendred trains out of SBG Ireland, which is also home to burgeoning UFC Featherweight star Conor McGregor and rising prospects Chris Fields and Patrick Holohan. SBG Ireland has a strong buzz around it thanks to McGregor and the camp’s recent success in the Cage Warriors promotion.

Pendred has also been recently training with UFC Welterweight Gunnar Nelson, which is exactly the type of style of fighter Pendred needs to embody . If Pendred can develop some type of submission game from the top, he could one day be a future contender. With the UFC possibly exploring a return to Ireland in 2014, Pendred seems to be a lock for a possible spot on the fight card.

Career Forecast

Cathal Pendred has a very different style than his teammate Conor McGregor, so there shouldn’t be any comparisons made based off McGregor’s meteoric rise in the sport. Pendred has a very conservative, grinding, wrestling-based style that will likely not lead to many Fight of the Night awards. Yet, mixed in with his conservative approach is a rare hard-nosed approach towards winning. We see a lot of top-level fighters trying to win off points instead of doing everything in their power to finish a fight. In Pendred’s case he does win most of his fights via decision, he is always pushing forward and using what limited skills he has towards working for the finish.

If Pendred has an achilles heel, it is that his overall finishing skills are severely lacking. While striking, he has a decent right hand, but he is very stiff and won’t win many fights if he can’t bring things to the ground. He has a developing top game that is starting to turn the corner, but he still struggles with his submissions and needs to start incorporating more elbows.

Pendred is a huge Welterweight. At 6’2, he would be one of the Top 5 tallest fighters in the UFC Welterweight Division. Beyond being just tall though, Pendred carries a ton of muscle on him, which truly makes him a very dangerous fighter in the clinch. Pendred loves to bully his opponents up against the cage where he uses his strength advantage in the clinch to bring things to the ground. His style is somewhat similar to Jake Shields, but without the top-level Jiu-Jitsu. As mentioned though, Pendred makes up for his lack of finishing skills with an absolute drive to win. After watching Pendred fight, there is no questioning Pendred’s will to succeed. If there is one thing Pendred and McGregor share, it is that type of mentality.

Looking across the UFC’s Welterweight division, I truly see Pendred finding legitimate success in the UFC. He is steadily improving his overall skill level by training with Gunnar Nelson and Conor McGregor, and at 25 years old, he still has time on his side. Pendred’s striking will eventually stop him from becoming a Top 10 Welterweight, but I see him having a relatively decent chance at becoming a Top 25 fighter and another force hailing from Ireland’s rising fight scene.



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Video 1: Pendred vs. Che Mills (2013)

Video 2: Pendred Highlights

Other Links

Twitter: https://twitter.com/PendredMMA
Sherdog Profile: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Cathal-Pendred-64373

Welterweight Division

#25 MMA Prospect: Rashid Magomedov



Rashid Magomedov is the reigning M-1 Welterweight Champion with a 15-1 overall record.

Not much is known about Rashid’s athletic background, though he does hold some accolades in boxing and was listed as a hand-to-hand Combat National Champion for Russia. Magomedov made his MMA debut in 2008, winning his first 4 fights via TKO/KO finish. He eventually signed with the M-1 promotion where he quickly started to make his name known with close decision victories over future Bellator fighters Frodo Khasbulaev and Shamil Zavurov. Magomedov extended his winning streak to 7 before ultimately losing a rematch with Khasbulaev via split decision.

Magomedov rebounded with 3 straight wins, including a 1st round TKO of Rafal Moks and a decision victory over TUF 16 alum Igor Araujo. Rashid briefly competed outside of M-1 in 2011 as he won a 16-man tournament by defeating 3 opponents in as many days.

Magomedov returned to M-1 in 2012 where he defeated Yasubey Enomoto for the M-1 Welterweight title. Magomedov went on to successfully defend his title against Alexander Yakovlev in a close decision. Rashid had yet to fight in 2013, though he was tentatively scheduled to fight Brazilian Silmar Nunes outside of M-1, but M-1 supposedly forced Rashid to turn down the fight at the last minute.

Camp/ Country:

Rashid trains out of Gorec MMA, which is home to fellow M-1 fighters Ramazan Emeev, Khanilav Kanilaev, and Magomed Sultanakmedov. Gorec is not considered one of the elite camps in Eastern Europe, though it is home to a strong collection of upcoming talent. They have yet to send one fighter to the UFC or Bellator, which is a concern for Magomedov’s chances at moving stateside.

Career Forecast

Magomedov is probably Russia’s top overall fighter that has never competed for a major promotion and it will likely stay that way as long as he is M-1’s champion. M-1 has had their fair share of conflicts with Bellator and their disputes with the UFC are very well known. M-1 has failed to promote any new title contenders over the last few years, so Magomedov is basically at their mercy as far as bring in new talent or allowing him to test himself against stateside competition.

Magomedov is a natural striker, but his greatest skill is probably being so well-rounded. He has stellar takedown defense and is also virtually impossible to submit. His finishing skills are a bit lacking, but he does have power in his hands. His aggressiveness comes and goes, but he has made it a habit of pulling out close decisions by being better conditioned than his opponents. Though Magomedov is not a massive Welterweight by any means, he does seem to have a strong build and generates a lot of power from his legs. He is extremely light on his feet with superb reflexes.

Magomedov’s size will be a concern should he sign with the UFC or Bellator. He has admitted in past interviews that he virtually cuts no weight and usually walks around at 176 lbs. He has gotten away with it thus far in his career mainly because there are few high-level wrestlers competing in Russia. He has yet to become an elite finisher and his passiveness at times can become a bit frustrating to watch. Magomedov has always been a very cerebral fighter and he can somewhat be a Lyoto Machida-type fighter in that he would rather wait out his openings than simply push the pace and attack.

Rashid could very well be the top prospect in the entire Welterweight Division when it’s all said and done. He has shown that he can go 5 rounds with some very high-level competition, and he has really raised his overall game over the last couple of years. The main problem is that Magomedov’s career is now stuck in neutral. M-1 seems to have no intention of letting him out of his contract and they have proven to be very conservative with recruiting outside talent to keep their champions busy. We recently saw Vyacheslav Vasilevsky’s failed attempt at escaping his M-1 contract and if anything that episode has only made M-1 more paranoid about losing their top talent to stateside competition.

Should Magomedov eventually sign with the UFC, I could truly see him being a Top 25 fighter, capable of winning fights against the likes of Mike Pyle, Rick Story, or Matt Brown, all of whom are Top 25 at the moment. His wrestling is too much of a wild card to predict his success against the Top 10, but if Magomedov can somehow make the cut to 155 lbs., he could truly be a championship level fighter.


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Video 1: Magomedov vs. Rafal Moks (2011)

Video 2: Magomedov vs. Yasubey Enomoto (2012)

Other Links

Twitter: None
Sherdog Profile: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Rashid-Magomedov-41524


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