50 Best MMA Prospects of 2013

Featherweight Division

#36 MMA Prospect: Gleristone Santos



Gleristone Santos is one of Brazil’s rising stars. Although he has already competed 27 times, with an impressive 24-3 overall record, Santos is still unknown by the vast majority of MMA fans.

Santos began his MMA career at just 17 years old. After winning his first 6 fights, including a victory over Brazilian veteran Joao Paulo Souza, Santos’ next challenge came in the form of a 4-man, 1-night Grand Prix, where he once again defeated Souza in the Finals to win the tournament. Santos’ 9-fight undefeated streak would soon come to an end as he was knocked out by future Bellator title contender Patricio “Pitbull” Freire.

Santos got back on the winning track just 4 weeks after his KO loss to Freire. He proceeded to once again enter himself in a 4-man, 1-night tournament. After winning his preliminary fight via decision, Santos tired badly in the Finals where he faced off against Joao Paulo Souza for the 3rd time in their careers. This time Souza got his revenge, submitting Santos with 6 seconds left in their fight.

Following the loss, Santos ran off 7 straight wins from 2009-2011, including victories over respected Brazilians Diego Braga and Igor Fernandes. Santos’ 2010 win over Fernandes was considered to be Fight of the Year in Brazil by many in the Brazilian MMA media.

Santos was supposedly on the verge of signing with the UFC heading into his 2011 fight with WEC veteran Carlo Prater. Unfortunately for Santos, he struggled to combat Prater’s strength and grappling advantage, and was finally forced to tap out in Round 2. Prater would go on to sign with the UFC 3 months later, while Santos was sent back to the regional circuit.

The loss to Prater caused some soul searching as Santos finally realized that in order for him to compete with top-level competition he would have to cut the necessary weight in order to counteract the size and strength of his opposition. Since Santos cut down to Featherweight, he has gone 6-0 with 5 finishes.

Camp/ Country:

Santos trains out of Brazilian Top Team (BTT) and is considered one of their prized pupils. Head coach Murilo Bustamante and many of Brazil’s top stars such as Anderson Silva, Junior dos Santos, and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira have all made positive comments regarding Santos’ fighting style and potential.

BTT has lost its fair share of talent over the years, including Rousimar Palhares just a few months ago. BTT is still one of the better camps in Brazil and has contacts with the UFC and Bellator, but Bustamante has recently made some critical comments about the UFC following the release of Pedro Nobre.

Career Forecast

Gleristone Santos looks like a phenom on film, but his loss to Prater, seemed to put a pause on some of his hype.

Yet, while analyzing Santos’ overall record, it soon became shocking how Santos has not been signed by the UFC or Bellator at this point in time. His lone 3 losses are all to respectable competition, and one of those losses was in the Finals of a 4-man, 1-night tournament. Why those losses have held him back from fighting on the big stage is extremely questionable.

Santos not only brings it with his fighting style, but he seems to be quite the entertainer as well, with his backflips off the cage, and carefully designed hair art. He comes from a good camp and has already been praised by the best fighter in the sport, Anderson Silva. One would have thought that Santos would have received an opportunity to compete on TUF Brazil 1, but it could be possible that BTT did not want multiple teammates competing on the show, considering that Santos’ teammate Pedro Nobre had made it past the casting call.

Santos is an explosive striker with good kicks and power in his right hand. Santos reminds me a bit of current UFC Bantamweight Yuri Alcantara, although Alcantara is 8 years older. They both are finishers, equally dangerous as strikers or submission artists. They struggle at times against bigger grapplers that can hold them down, but overall, they are exciting, dangerous fighters.

Based off that comparison, and the fact that Santos has 27 fights under his belt while still being just 24 years old, he could prove to be a future top contender in the UFC.


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Video 1: Santos Highlight

Video 2: Santos Highlights 2

Other Links

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ToninhoFuria‎
Sherdog Profile: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Gleristone-Santos-35842

Featherweight Division

#37 MMA Prospect: Tom Niinimaki



Tom Niinimaki was one of the big reasons I did not put an age limit on the MMA Prospects Report. Niinimaki is about to turn 31 years old next month, and hopefully it will be the lucky year in which he is finally given an opportunity in either the UFC or Bellator.

Niinimaki began his MMA career way back in 2002. Fighting in front of his hometown fans, Niinimaki won his first 2 fights impressively. Niinimaki’s undefeated record soon came to an end though as he lost to future UFC veteran Per Eklund. Niinimaki would lose his next fight as well before bouncing back with 7 straight wins, all coming via finish.

Niinimaki would take a significant step up in competition as he faced a quartet of Bendy Casimir, Danny Batten, Hatsu Hioki, and Tristan Yunker in 2005-2006. The results were less stellar as he he went 0-3-1 overall, effectively ending Niinimaki’s hopes as a top-flight fighter. The only saving grace was that Niinimaki was still just 23 years old at the time. Niinimaki would fight once more in 2007 before walking away from the sport citing burnout.

Over 2 1/2 years later, a promoter approached “Stoneface,” asking him if he was interested in making a comeback. Niinimaki had still been competing in grappling tournaments during his hiatus and after some pondering decided to make his return to the cage in 2010. Niinimaki showed few signs of ring rust, and with a refueled desire for fighting, he quickly ran off 5 consecutive wins in 2010, including a decision victory over recent Bellator signee Sergej Grecicho.

Tom would briefly step outside of the cage as he decided to compete in the European Championships, where he won gold in submission wrestling. Niinimaki returned to MMA in late 2011, where he defeated Johnny Frachey to extend his winning streak to 7. Tom finally made a breakthrough in gaining some stateside exposure as he began training at Blackzilians, while also earning a fight in Titan Fighting Championships against TUF 14 alumni Brian Pearman. Niinimaki methodically picked Pearman apart for 2 rounds before submitting him via rear-naked choke. Unfortunately, Niinimaki would head back to Europe without a promise for another fight stateside.

Niinimaki’s dominance on the European scene brought him some local acclaim, but he also began to find it extremely difficult to find fights. Luckily, the Finnish promotion, Cage, has provided Tom a home to showcase his skills. Following a swift submission win in 2012, Niinimaki got the step up in competition he was looking for as he faced off against WEC and Bellator veteran Chase Beebe. Outside of a couple Beebe submission attempts, Niinimaki used his entire repertoire of skills to thoroughly dominate the former WEC champion for 3 rounds to earn the unanimous decision victory.

Camp/ Country:

Niinimaki fights out of FinnFighters Gym, where he is basically their only marquee fighter. He has ventured over to the Blackzilians camp as of late, which is a better sign for him in both the level of his training partners and the possible contacts the gym has with the UFC and other larger promotions in the USA like World Series of Fighting. Finland is not completely off the map as far as representation around the MMA world is concerned. Anton Kuivanen recently fought in the UFC as did Marcus Vanttinen in Bellator.

Career Forecast

So, the biggest question surrounding Niinimaki’s prospect status is can he step up against elite-level talent. He did just claim victory over proven veteran Chase Beebe, but people have to remember that Beebe usually fights at 135 lbs., and the obvious strength advantage helped Niinimaki considerably. For Niinimaki to truly be successful at the UFC level he has to find a bigger camp that can take him to the next level. He tested the waters with the Blackzilians in 2012, and would be wise to continue exploring these types of options if he wants to build a career stateside.

Do I think Niinimaki can be a Top 10 Featherweight in the UFC? Unfortunately, no. I hope he proves me wrong one day, but from what I’ve seen of Niinimaki and other European based wrestlers and grapplers, they usually hit a wall once they sign with the UFC. Don’t get me wrong, Niinimaki is extremely talented, and he is rock solid in all areas, but that is the part that actually concerns me. He is so well-rounded that nothing actually calls out to me saying, “elite.” His submission wrestling is excellent, but I’m not sure it is on par with the best grapplers in the UFC. Part of me thinks a better option for Niinimaki may be Bellator. He could probably string together some wins there and we have seen how well a guy like Daniel Straus has done in their Featherweight Division.

Overall, Niinimaki is in the prime of his career and he deserves an opportunity to fight on a bigger stage. He is unquestionably the top European Featherweight prospect in the world today. Niinimaki is going to have to hope that the UFC comes back to Europe soon, where he would have a higher probability of getting signed. The UFC’s Featherweight Division is absolutely stacked right now, but if they were to sign Niinimaki, I think he could hold his own and not be kicked to the curb after 2-3 fights.


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Video 1: Niinimaki vs. Chase Beebe (2013)

Video 2: Niinimaki Highlight Video

Other Links

Twitter: None
Sherdog Profile: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Tom-Niinimaki-5639

Featherweight Division

#38 MMA Prospect: Goiti Yamauchi



Goiti Yamauchi is one of our youngest fighters featured on the MMA Prospects Report 2013. At just 20 years old, Yamauchi has already been fighting in the sport for 5 years. He started in the amateur ranks in 2008 at just 15 years old. After building a 7-0 record, Yamauchi turned pro in late 2010.

Yamauchi submitted his first 5 opponent before suffering his first and only career loss to fellow prospect Rodrigo Cavalheiro. Less than a month later, Yamauchi was back in the cage, and seemed to be more dangerous than ever, submitting his next 5 opponents in the 1st round.

Yamauchi stepped up his competition level as he faced off against journeymen Jose Ivanildo and Jurandir Sardinha. Yamauchi would win both fights via decision before moving on to compete in Smash Fight’s 4-man, 1-night Grand Prix tournament. Yamauchi needed only 6 minutes and 32 seconds, to submit his way to victory, impressively defeating prospects Diego Marlon and Sergio Silva.

Yamauchi was rumored to have been signed by Bellator shortly after his last fight, but he has yet to show up on their official roster page, nor has he been scheduled for a fight.

Camp/ Country:

Yamauchi’s camp leaves a lot to be desired at this point in time. Currently, he trains alongside his cousin under the tutelage of his uncle. His cousin fights at Flyweight and has a career record of just 4-5 overall. Though I have my doubts about the long-term viability of Yamauchi’s training environment, I try to remind myself that UFC star Lyoto Machida trained under very similar circumstances earlier in his career.

Once Yamauchi begins to face stiffer competition, he will likely have to make some adjustments to his current training situation. He has likely never received the training necessary to combat an elite level wrestler.

Yamauchi was born in Japan to Brazilian parents, who were of Japanese and German heritage. His family eventually returned back to Brazil, settling roots in Curitiba, Brazil.

Career Forecast

Goiti Yamauchi could be a future prodigy in the making. With a combined professional and amateur record of 21-1, all amassed before he turned 21 years of age is extremely impressive. His last 4 fights have been against fairly talented Brazilian competition, so his stock has definitely gone up considering his ability to face stiffer opposition.

Yamauchi still has some very visible holes in his game. He routinely leaves his hands down while striking. Though he uses his jab and kicks to create distance, he has left himself wide open for a big puncher to take advantage.

Yamauchi has avoided getting knocked out because he uses an extremely effective gameplan of pressuring his opponents and using his size to control the clinch wars. He uses trips and throws to get his opponents to the ground, and then it is usually game over. Yamauchi uses his long frame much like Shinya Aoki. His favorite submission looks to be the armbar, though most of his recent wins have come via rear-naked choke.

Yamauchi’s size, age, and experience make him a very appealing prospect to watch. In one respect, should he sign with the UFC or Bellator, he may be thrown to the wolves too early and end up like Charles Oliveira, Nazareno Malegarie, or Fabricio Guerreiro. All 3 of those fighters came into the UFC or Bellator with a decent amount of hype and possessed slick ground games, but they have all came up short when facing top-level competition. At this point in time, Yamauchi’s lack of an elite training environment has him facing an uphill battle when eventually competing in a big promotion.




Video 1: Yamauchi Highlights

Video 2: Yamauchi vs. Sergio Silva (2013)

Other Links

Twitter: None
Sherdog Profile: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Goiti-Yamauchi-48629

Heavyweight Division

#39 MMA Prospect: Guram Gugenishvili



Guram Gugenisvili was supposed to be the next big thing at Heavyweight. He was once the #1 ranked Heavyweight prospect by Leland Roling and Smoogy back in 2011, but it all came crashing down for Guram as injuries and back-to-back losses have crippled his once promising career.

Guram was born in Georgia, which is a sovereign state located in Eurasia. Guram grew up mostly playing soccer, but soon found the sport of mixed martial arts and began training, finding specific success in Sambo. Guram eventually went on to make his MMA debut in 2009, though he said he has a couple of fights not listed by most American MMA databases.

Guram went 5-0 in 2009, submitting his first 4 opponents in the opening round. Guram was exlusively fighting for the M-1 promotion by late 2009 and quikcly rose through the ranks as one of the top Heavyweights in Eastern Europe. Guram went on to capture the M-1 Western European Championship in 2010 before soon winning M-1’s Heavyweight Championship by submitting Kenny Garner.

Guram started to gain some attention stateside as M-1 had scored a broadcast deal with Showtime due to their partnership with Strikeforce. Guram successfully defended his title against Maxim Grishin in 2011 and was set to make his USA debut, but injuries forced Guram out of two separate fights and ultimately kept him sidelined for over a year.

Guram returned in 2012, but he still looked to be struggling with issues as he lost his M-1 Heavyweight title to Kenny Garner. Guram looked to get his revenge just 5 months later, but Garner was once again able to finish Guram via TKO. Guram has not fought since December of 2012.

Camp/ Country:

Guram used to train out of MakFight in the Ukraine, though his current training situation is unknown. He once trained at Xtreme Couture in 2011 and has also been listed as training at M-1 Georgia and the Aris Sports Club. Guram’s training environment in Georgia and the Ukraine has not produced a ton of international talent. The only other semi known fighter to train at MakFight was David Tkeshelasvili who is only 8-6 overall.

Guram’s affiliation with M-1 is unknown at this point. They put a lot of time, money, and effort promoting Guram over the years and it doubtful that they would have released him from his contract despite not competing for nearly a year.

Career Forecast

Guram has lost nearly all of the hype that once surrounded his promising career. A loss to Kenny Garner isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it was the way he lost that was reason for concern. Guram seemed to never recover from his year off recovering from various arm injuries.

Guram is lackadaisical at times and has struggled with quicker fighters. Guram, despite looking in good physical shape lacks elite athleticism. He is very methodical and can be a standing target when he is not able to get his fights to the ground. His striking technique is lacking as well. After the 1st round, Guram gets extremely sloppy with his technique and does not look anywhere near ready to challenge UFC competition. He does not defend leg kicks well and is a bit stiff with his overall movement.

There is hope though. Prior to his injuries, Guram was a beast on the ground. He has excellent size at 6’5 and over 250 lbs. He was a former bodybuilder, so he’s strong and has a good base to work from. When he is in top position, he’s very effective and is well-versed at finishing his fights via submission. When he is not fighting fatigue, Guram does have some decent knees from the clinch, a stiff left jab, and some power in his right hand.

Guram just turned 27 years old. If he were in his 30’s, he probably wouldn’t have made my Top 10, but because he still has time to bounce back and reclaim his top prospect status, I could not dismiss his potential. There are still concerns, mainly attributed to his health and training environment. Guram needs to be in peak condition to compete amongst Eastern Europe’s top heavyweights.

The opportunity is there for Guram to be the top Heavyweight outside of the UFC. His wrestling and ground game could prove difficult weapons for most of M-1’s heavyweight roster including #5 Heavyweight prospect Magomed Malikov. There are more questions than answers revolving Guram’s current status, but hopefully he has been busy working feverishly on his conditioning, striking, and takedown defense.

Based off Guram’s last 2 fights, he does not belong in the UFC. Yet, if he returns healthy with better cardio and an improved killer instinct, big things could be ahead for Guram. He will likely never be a Top 10 contender due to his lack of speed and striking, but he could become a solid grinder, comparing similarly to a lesser skilled Josh Barnett.


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Video 1: Gugenishvili vs. Maxim Grishin (2011)

Video 2: Gugenishvili Highlights

Other Links

Twitter: None
Sherdog Profile: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Guram-Gugenishvili-53100

Heavyweight Division

#40 MMA Prospect: Magomed Malikov



Magomed Malikov was born in a small village located in the Dagestan region. There were no official sports clubs or facilities where he grew up and did not even discover the sport until his first year in college. He immediately immersed himself in athletics, training in boxing and wrestling where he became a champion in hand-to-hand combat. He served a brief stint in the army from 2005-2006 and soon ventured over to MMA in 2007. Malikov only ended up training for about 6 months as he took a 2 year hiatus due to what he described as “personal reasons.”

Upon his return in 2009, Malikov joined up with the newly formed Highlander team. Just one year later he went on to make his MMA debut in a 4-man, 1-night tournament. Malikov punched his way through the tournament, finishing both opponents via KO/TKO. He quickly stepped up his competition level, defeating veteran Dmitry Poberezhets via 1st round TKO before falling to Light Heavyweight prospect Baga Agaev.

Malikov went without a fight for over 6 months, but soon accepted a spot in another 4-man, 1-night tournament. Malikov was considered an underdog coming in, but after finishing Bellator veteran Alexey Oleinik, he quickly started to earn respect as one of Russia’s top Heavyweight prospects. Malikov went on to win the tournament, and ultimately signed with the M-1 promotion just a few months later.

M-1 was desperately searching for a last minute replacement to fight PRIDE veteran Aleksander Emelianenko. Malikov shocked all those in attendance by knocking out the feared striker in just 23 seconds. M-1 quickly looked to propel Malikov towards a title shot against their American interim champion Kenny Garner. Malikov looked to strike early and often, but Garner relied heavily on his takedowns and eventually tired down Malikov enough to finish him in the 3rd round.

Malikov’s title bid ended in embarrassing fashion as Malikov simply did not have the wrestling or conditioning needed to unseat Garner. After taking nearly a year off, Malikov looked to step back into the cage as a participant in M-1’s upcoming Heavyweight tournament. Malikov was set to face Jeff Monson in the opening rounds, but Monson was forced off the card due to injury. In stepped, Nikita Krylov, but he was soon pulled from the event after signing with the UFC. Malikov would have to wait another 2 months before getting to finally face off against well-traveled veteran Jeff Monson. Malikov opened up a cut on Monson early, and despite once again struggling to stay on his feet, he was awarded the victory due to doctor stoppage.

Camp/ Country:

Malikov trains out of the Highlander Gym, which is home to other M-1 stars Rashid Magomedov and Magomed Sultanakhmedov. The camp is mostly known for its striking and has yet to send one of their fighters stateside to either the UFC or Bellator, though most of their top fighters have found homes at various Eastern European promotions.

Career Forecast

Magomed Malikov is about as heavy handed as they come in the Heavyweight division. He swings with reckless abandon and more times than not his opponent is likely to be falling towards the canvas. Malikov’s striking power is not to be disputed. What does come into question is Malikov’s overall skill level and his lack of elite size.

Malikov is a bowling ball of power. He in some ways reminds me of Igor Vovchanchyn and Fedor Emelianenko. Both possessed rare knockout power despite not looking like a well-chiseled athlete. What Malikov has is functional strength, and he is able to channel all of that into his punches. He has a vicious right hand and usually attacks with huge hooks and uppercuts. Malikov has shown a decent ability to scramble back to his feet, but more often than not, he has struggled to stay upright against decently skilled grapplers.

Malikov has a ton of holes in his overall game. I would venture to say that Malikov’s striking defense, conditioning, grappling, and takedown defense are probably the worst of any Top 10 prospect I profiled throughout this process. Malikov’s striking defense is atrocious. He regularly drops his hands and shows little footwork or head movement. Malikov’s conditioning goes out the window after the 1st round. He is still capable of knocking you out, but he is just a sitting target that lumbers around looking for the homerun shot. Against most UFC Heavyweights that simply won’t fly, though Soa Palelei vs. Nikita Krylov sort of spoiled that perception. His ground game is serviceable. He usually relies on his power to muscle out of submissions, but he’s usually helpless from his back.

Malikov is a bear of a fighter, but he likely needs to consider a move down to Light Heavyweight if he ever wants to reach his true potential in the sport. Watching his fights with Garner and Monson, it’s a shame watching all of that potential being wasted away because of Malikov’s conditioning and lack of size.

There are a ton of reasons, why Malikov will not make it in the UFC. Yet, I still keep coming back to his raw KO power. It truly is a feat to see and after watching Mark Hunt resurrect his career with a similar skill set, there is some hope that Malikov can round out his overall game and be a future force. Malikov is not a polished prospect by any means, but he has the power to go in and finish any Heavyweight in the world today.

Finish victories over Aleksander Emelianenko, Jeff Monson, and Alexey Oleinik have likely earned Malikov at least a look from the UFC or Bellator. Due to Malikov’s association with M-1, he probably won’t be leaving them any time soon, but if he does eventually sign with the UFC or Bellator, he could have an immediate impact. In Bellator, outside of Vitaly Minakov, I could easily foresee Malikov coming in and wrecking shop. In the UFC, it would likely be a stiffer challenge due to most of their roster having the grappling skills to take Malikov off of his feet. Nonetheless, if any heavyweight, regardless of promotion, chose to stand and trade with Magomed Malikov, my bet would be that Malikov would be the last man standing.


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Video 1: Malikov vs. Aleskander Emelianenko (2011)

Video 2: Malikov vs. Jeff Monson (2013)

Other Links

Twitter: None
Sherdog Profile: http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Magomed-Malikov-75611

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