50 Best MMA Prospects of 2013

Flyweight Division

#26 MMA Prospect: Sean Santella



Sean Santella’s wrestling background has served him well throughout his mixed martial arts career. Santella wrestled in high school before making his way over to the AMA Fight Club in his home state of New Jersey. Santella was a quick learner and soon made his amateur MMA debut in 2007. After a 4-1 amateur record, including a decision win over future UFC Flyweight Louis Gaudinot, Santella entered the pro ranks in 2008. Santella’s pro debut was unsuccessful as he dropped a decision to future UFC bantamweight Nick Pace in the Ring of Combat promotion. Santella would earn a draw in his next fight before embarking on a 5-fight win streak, winning each fight via submission. Santella, who had been competing as a bantamweight, finally had his win streak snapped by Bellator veteran Josh Rave before ultimately making his way back to Ring of Combat where he won his next 2 fights.

Santella eventually signed a contract with Cage Fury Fighting Championships in 2011. Santella immediately squared off with top Bantamweight prospect Aljamain Sterling for their Bantamweight title, but he came up short, losing via decision. It would be the last time Santella tasted defeat as he dropped down to 125 lbs. and has since run off 5 straight wins. Santella also captured the CFFC’s Flyweight title, which he is set to defend against former Bellator Bantamweight champion Zach Makovsky.

Camp/ Country:

Santella trains out of AMA Fight Club in New Jersey. AMA Fight Club is home to many of the East Coast’s top fighters, including the Miller Brothers (Jim and Dan) and Charlie Brenneman. Santella’s striking is still a work in progress, but his smothering takedown game, toughness, and slick submissions are both hallmarks of his training partners.

Career Forecast

Santella’s lack of striking is still a concern, but he makes up for it with excellent wrestling and submission skills. All 3 of Santella’s career losses have come at bantamweight and he has looked much stronger at 125 lbs. Santella brings a similar style to Clay Guida, in that he tries to push the pace, limit his striking exchanges, and is constantly looking for the takedown. Santella should continue to find success on the regional scene, but he will have to sharpen his all-around skills in order to compete with the UFC’s elite. If Santella is unable to score takedowns, his chances of winning decrease considerably. AMA Fight Club has solid contacts with the UFC, and I would not be surprised to see Santella sign with the UFC in the very near future.


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Video 1: Santella vs. Tito Jones (2011, Round 2)

Video 2: Santella vs. Bryan Lashomb (2012)

Other Links

Twitter: None
Sherdog Profile: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Sean-Santella-40958

Bantamweight Division

#27 MMA Prospect: Josh Hill



Canada’s Josh Hill may be the country’s next Top 10 MMA talent. Hill is currently 9-0 and has basically cleared out the division as far as Canadian Bantamweights go.

Hill began his MMA career in 2008, losing his lone amateur bout on record. He entered the pro ranks a few short months later, and impressively defeated his next 4 opponents. Hill moved on to capture the Aggression MMA Bantamweight Championship with a win over Diego Wilson before signing with Score Fighting Series.

Hill has since beaten 3 of Canada’s top Bantamweights while fighting under the Score Fighting Series banner. He also defeated Dream veteran Kiko Lopez in another regional event. He has yet to fight in 2013 due to suffering an injury leading up to his scheduled fight with WEC veteran Rafael Rebello in November of 2012.

Camp/ Country:

Hill trains at Iron Tiger Muay Thai, which is in close vicinity to his Ontario, Canada home. His camp does not seem to have any notable contacts to the UFC or Bellator, though it does house fellow prospects Adrian Wooley. Prior to Iron Tiger Muay Thai he was training at House of Champions.

Career Forecast

Hill is one of Canada’s top prospects and it usually does not take long for UFC matchmaker Joe Silva to discover and sign them. Hill could be a strong candidate to appear on the upcoming addition of The Ultimate Fighter, which is rumored to be targeting a Canada vs. Australia battle, though TUF 18 will also be hosting Bantamweights. The prospects are high that if Hill tries out for either of those seasons, he is likely a sure bet to make it into the house.

Hill’s skill set is UFC caliber at this point. He has a well-rounded overall game, with solid wrestling, striking, and submissions. His finishing rate has gone down recently, but it’s because he’s been facing stiffer competition. Canada has been looking for a lower weight fighter to support ever since Mark Hominick’s retirement. Josh Hill looks to be the type of fighter that can have a solid run in the UFC’s bantamweight division and it would be wise of the UFC to sign him while they still can to compete in their next Canadian show.


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Video 1: Hill vs. Federico Lopez (2011)

Video 2: Hill video profile

Other Links

Twitter: None
Sherdog Profile: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Josh-Hill-53662

Bantamweight Division

#28 MMA Prospect: Chris Holdsworth



Chris Holdsworth is a name to remember when it comes to future MMA stars. Holdsworth is a BJJ black belt under Marc Laimon and has since moved on to Team Alpha Male. Holdsworth’s BJJ is outstanding and he is one of the tallest fighters in his weight class at 5’11.

Holdsworth worked his way up the amateur ranks beginning in 2008. Within 2 years, he had built a 6-0 amateur record while also winning the Las Vegas based Tuff-N-Uff Amateur Bantamweight Championship.

Holdsworth moved on to the pro ranks in 2010 and quickly resumed where he had left off, submitting his first 3 opponents in a combined 4 minutes and 19 seconds. In 2012, he signed with Resurrection Fighting Alliance (RFA), which is home to many of MMA’s top prospects. In his RFA debut, he submitted undefeated Tyler Shinn via triangle. He has yet to fight in 2013.

Camp/ Country:

Holdsworth has a wide net of connections in the BJJ and MMA world. He could not have a chosen a better place to go train than Team Alpha Male, which is home to many of the best lighter weight fighters in the world. Holdsworth’s striking is still a work in progress, but he more than makes up for it with his dangerous BJJ.

Career Forecast

Holdsworth has yet to be tested in the MMA world. Holdsworth’s height is a huge asset, but it also puts some limitations on his ability to gain strength when competing against top-level wrestlers, i.e. Nate Diaz, Cole Miller, etc. As of now, Holdsworth is more than willing to go to the ground with his opponents, but he cannot simply rely on that strategy when facing the elite of his division.

He seems to be carefully making the correct career moves such as his training camp and signing with RFA that should one day enable him to be a solid contender in the UFC or Bellator. Holdsworth is due for a significant step up in competition, and if he is able to win a few fights over battle-tested foes I could see him quickly signing with the UFC and possibly holding his own against some of their fighters ranked between 11-20 (Mizugaki, Bedford, Perez, etc.)


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Video 1: Holdsworth MMA Highlights

Video 2: Holdsworth BJJ Highlights

Other Links

Twitter: https://twitter.com/holdsworth135‎
Sherdog Profile: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Chris-Holdsworth-51225

Light Heavyweight Division

#29 MMA Prospect: Jan Blachowicz



Jan Blachowicz is the reigning KSW Light Heavyweight champion with career victories over Houston Alexander, Goran Reljic, and Mario Miranda. Blachowicz nearly brought his talents stateside for the upstart World Series of Fighting promotion, but talks fell apart, and now Blachowicz is awaiting his next title challenger in Poland.

Blachowicz began his MMA career in 2007, losing his first fight via decision to Marcin Krysztofiak. Despite the loss, Jan signed with Poland’s leading promoter, KSW. His first fight with KSW was no easy order as he entered a 8-man, 1-night tournament. Blachowicz proved himself in a big way, winning all 3 of his fights to win the Grand Prix. Just as Blachowicz’s career looked to be taking shape, he lost his next fight to journeyman Andre Fyeet. It would be the last time Blachowicz would taste defeat for nearly 4 years.

Blachowicz rebounded by beating some of Europe’s top Light Heavyweights, Maro Perak, Christian M’Pumbu, and Antoni Chmielewski. Blachowicz looked to broaden his horizons by moving stateside with teammate and UFC veteran Tomasz Drwal. Jan began training at Team Alliance, but he he was unable to find any fights and unfortunately ended up suffering a knee injury that nearly wiped out 18 months of his career.

Jan moved back to Poland and resumed his career with KSW. He entered KSW’s Light Heavyweight tournament where he won 2 fights in 1 night, setting up a finals matchup between him and Bellator veteran Daniel Tabera. Blachowicz claimed his 2nd tournament by finishing Tabera via 2nd round TKO.

KSW brought in UFC and PRIDE veteran Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou to challenge Blachowicz for the vacant KSW Light Heavyweight championship. Sokoudjou was able to pull off the upset as he battered Jan with leg kicks, forcing the stoppage after 2 rounds. Jan would be sidelined for over a year due to injuries suffered in the Sokoudjou fight. Upon his return in 2011, he submitted Toni Valtonen to set up a chance at revenge against Sokoudjou. This time, Blachowicz controlled Sokoudjou for most of the bout, nearly finishing the fight in the 3rd round, before hanging on for a unanimous decision victory.

Blachowicz has since defended his title twice, defeating Houston Alexander and Goran Reljic, while also picking up a non-title win over Mario Miranda. Blachowicz was rumored to have signed with WSOF and was set to face Anthony Johnson, but talks fell apart after Jan refused to sign a multi-fight contract. Jan has since announced that he is able and willing to defend his KSW title, but there has been no word on a new challenger.

Camp/ Country:

Blachowicz began training at Octagon Rynik, but eventually moved over to PRIDE veteran Pawel Nastula’s camp. Nastula’s team has some of the best Polish talent in the sport including recent UFC signee Daniel Omielanczuk. Blachowicz attempted to train stateside at Team Alliance alongside Tomasz Drwal, but he was unable to find fights in the US and eventually returned back to Poland.

The UFC hasn’t made a full-pledged effort at bringing its promotion to Poland. They did just sign Polish fighters Piotr Hallman and Blachowicz’s training partner Omielanczuk, and will likely be on the lookout for more Polish talent as they are rumored to be visiting in 2014.

Career Forecast

Jan Blachowicz has been UFC ready for a couple of years now. He has gone 14-1 since 2008, with his only loss avenged. There is little left for Blachowicz to accomplish on the Polish regional scene, or anywhere outside of the UFC. It’s curious as to why the UFC was not willing to sign Blachowicz outright following his recently rumored talks with WSOF. With the UFC likely heading to Poland in 2014, Blachowicz should have been one of their top 3 targets in the Polish MMA market.

Blachowicz has solid striking, complete with power and a long jab. He is not the quickest fighter in the world, but he is accurate and usually makes his punches and kicks count. He has struggled with his striking defense at times, especially when it comes to leg kicks, but he has usually been able to counter those kicks with well-timed takedowns.

Blachowicz was once considered to be a better striker than grappler, but now those skills are nearly even. Blachowicz is a very skilled grappler for his size. His submission defense and transitions are above average and he has proved capable of attacking with his own submission game. Blachowicz’s wrestling is the one big question mark at this point in time. He has answered the challenge thus far against the likes of Mario Miranda and Daniel Tabera, but they are hardly considered elite grapplers.

Blachowicz’s lack of elite athleticism could come back to haunt him in the UFC. He tried valiantly to train stateside alongside guys like Phil Davis and Dominick Cruz, but it ultimately did not work out. Now, he trains with lesser skilled wrestlers in Poland that are likely unable to give Blachowicz the training he needs.

Nonetheless, Blachowicz has the technical skills and overall polish to go into the UFC and win immediately. He should be able to hold his own against the bottom half of the UFC’s roster, but could conceivably struggle against most of the Top 20. Blachowicz was fully ready to test his skills against Anthony Johnson, and likely had the grappling to possibly give Johnson trouble. Now, Blachowicz will have to wait for the UFC’s possible arrival to Poland where he could be an immediate signing for the hometown fans. Should Blachowicz sign, he has the potential to become the most accomplished Polish fighter to ever fight in the UFC.


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Video 1: Blachowicz vs. Julio Cezar (2010)

Video 2: Blachowicz Highlights

Other Links

Twitter: None
Sherdog Profile: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Jan-Blachowicz-25821

Heavyweight Division

#30 MMA Prospect: Tony Johnson



Tony Johnson supposedly was a 4-time All-American wrestler at Iowa State University and had the potential to be an NFL player, but despite claims of his collegiate wrestling prowess, there is not a whole lot of factual information to back that up. In addition, Johnson’s camp has routinely floated around the rumor that he was one fight away from signing with Strikeforce or the UFC, yet nearly a year later, those rumors seem to be false as well. Johnson still has the skills and raw athleticism to be a future Top 10 UFC Heavyweight, but time is rapidly running out on his opportunity to get his career on track.

Johnson had a long list of athletic accomplishments growing up, most of which came in wrestling and football. Johnson was recruited by some of the top schools in the nation, including Ohio State Univeristy, but he eventually signed a letter of intent with Iowa State University. There were some questions regarding the years he attended and according to MMA Junkie, he was a 4-time All-American, but after researching those claims and scouring through the NCAA brackets, Johnson’s name is nowhere to be found. He was not even listed an NCAA qualifier for the years he supposedly attended ISU. Nonetheless, Johnson said that he was ultimately forced to give up his athletic dreams to help take care of his newborn baby.

In 2008, Johnson began getting back in shape and soon concentrated his effort on a future MMA career. Just a few months later, he made his debut against future M-1 Heavyweight champion Kenny Garner. Johnson won the bout via 2nd round TKO and soon followed it up with back-to-back wins in 2009.

Johnson went on to sign with King of the Cage in 2010, immediately challenging Tony Lopez for his Heavyweight title. Lopez came into the fight with a 16-fight win streak and seemed to be on the verge of a big show contract, but Johnson put a quick end to those plans as he smothered Lopez with his wrestling to win a 5-round unanimous decision. Johnson’s title reign would not last long as King of the Cage brought in future UFC contender Daniel Cormier. Johnson held his own early, but he eventually succumbed to Cormier’s wrestling and was choked out midway into the 1st round. Johnson competed once more for King of the Cage before signing a contract with Bellator in 2011.

Johnson’s relationship with Bellator started off decent as he won his debut against fellow prospect Derrick Lewis. The bout was hardly Johnson’s most impressive performance, but he was arguably one of their top heavyweights on their roster. For reasons unknown, Bellator and Johnson got into a bitter contract feud that lasted nearly 2 years.

Johnson hinted that he was on the verge of a Strikeforce contract to fight Josh Barnett, but that never proved true. A few months later, he ended up signing withe One FC where he was set to face former UFC champion Tim Sylvia. Johnson once again threw out the rumor that if he beat Sylvia, a UFC contract would be waiting for him. Johnson did go on to defeat Sylvia, but he was not signed to the UFC as promised. He is supposedly still under contract with One FC.

Camp/ Country:

Johnson currently trains out of American Kickboxing Academy, which is home to some of the top heavyweights in the world including Cain Velasquez, Daniel Cormier, and Todd Duffee. He also trains out of the SUCO boxing club in Tennessee, though it is not known which camp he spends more time with. Johnson previously trained out of American Top Team and Ghost Wolf.

Career Forecast

Tony Johnson’s career has been an absolute train wreck of mishandling. He has fought just once in the last 2 years, and after finally getting out of his Bellator contract he goes and signs with One FC, who have notoriously strict contact terms as well. Had Johnson stayed in decent shape and picked up a few wins on the regional circuit following his loss to Cormier, he probably could have signed with the UFC back in 2011. The same holds true had he picked up a few wins after his Bellator release earlier this year. Thankfully, Johnson has started working with American Kickboxing Academy, which will hopefully guide him towards making wiser career decisions.

One FC could have been a good opportunity for Johnson had it only been a 1-fight contract. Soa Palelei and Andrei Arlovski resisted signing long-term deals with One FC because they had no UFC out clause. The win over Sylvia has put Johnson back on the map, but now we will see whether it was worth the cost. One FC has continually made claims that they are the biggest promotion in Asia and will one day conquer the UFC. Yet, there was a reason Palelei did not sign with One FC, and now Johnson will likely have to learn the hard way. Palelei has since been signed to the UFC, and his management should be applauded for resisting One FC’s contract terms.

Johnson’s physical tools are the one thing I do not have to question at this point in time. Despite hovering around 300+ pounds at varying points in his career, Johnson is one of the best overall athletes I have seen in the Heavyweight division. He was a heavily recruited athlete coming out of college and even had offers from Ohio State University and Florida. Though some have questioned Johnson’s commitment due to recent weight issues, it seems to be that he was quite motivated to succeed as a 2-sport athlete at the NCAA I level. It is no often that an athlete has the talent to compete in two sports at such an elite level, but it seems as if Johnson was that rare type of athlete coming out of high school where he ran a 4.6 40-yard dash, bench pressed 350 lbs., and squatted 550 lbs.

Johnson’s wrestling accomplishments in college may be a mystery, but he certainly does flash some solid wrestling skills that have mostly been his ticket towards winning fights. His striking still looks to be confined to boxing techniques, where he likes to use a left jab to set up his big right hand. He does tend to stand in front of his opponents and we have seen him get rocked for it in previous bouts with Lewis and Sylvia.

Johnson’s size is also a huge asset. Once he gets his opponent down to the floor, he does an excellent job at keeping them there. Johnson doesn’t have elite finishing skills, but he does just enough to usually prevent a referee standup. Johnson has hopefully gotten his weight issues under control, recently stating that he is walking around at 280 lbs. He could stand to lose a few more, but for now, it is a step in the right direction. Johnson’s conditioning is still a big question mark. He’s faded down the stretch of his last couple of fights and things will only get harder against stiffer competition.

If Johnson is in peak shape and signed with the UFC tomorrow, I see no reason why he could not rise through the ranks and find himself in the Top 15. He’s going to struggle against strikers with good takedown defense, but if he can get his conditioning up to par, Johnson really could be a beast to handle. Based off recent footage, he seems to be a step slower than he should be operating at. If he can back to his optimal weight and showcase some of the explosion of his earlier football and wrestling career, there is a ton of upside that makes Johnson a legitimate elite level prospect.

Johnson compares somewhat favorably to Daniel Cormier, though he lacks the polish and overall skill level of his fellow AKA training partner. Hopefully, Johnson has witnessed firsthand from Velasquez and Cormier, the level of commitment and conditioning needed to compete at the UFC level. My hope is that Johnson’s management has not signed a long term deal with One FC. If Johnson truly is a free agent, it should only be a matter of time until he is finally able to make good on the recent rumors of his arrival to the UFC.


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Video 1: Johnson vs. Tim Sylvia (2013)

Video 2: Johnson vs. Daniel Cormier (2010)

Other Links

Twitter: https://twitter.com/HulkJohnson
Sherdog Profile: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Tony-Johnson-41069

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