In search of the next generation of MMA stars, we asked many hardcore MMA writers and reporters to give us names to look out for in the future.
The sport of MMA is a growing sport, and each year you will discover new faces and see new blood toward the top. Some of the greats, such as Jose Aldo, Jon Jones, Robert Whittaker, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Max Holloway, and many more, were beyond unknown at the beginning of there career. With that said there are many more platforms worldwide with more opportunities giving these fighters the notice they deserve. It’s tough to predict the future of MMA, but I gathered some of the most hardcore MMA journalists to give me their three favorite fighters with a pro record of five fights and below.
1. Max Freedman
Writer for Cageside Press
Austin Lingo (5-0)
Dallas’ Lingo is one of the top up-and-coming featherweights in the US. Alongside Fernie Garcia (5-0), Lingo is the latest from the ever-growing pool of talent to come out of Fortis MMA in Dallas. Lingo has three first-round finishes and at only 24, “Lights Out” has the opportunity to develop under one of the best coaches (Sayif Saud) and collection of teammates in the game right now.
Cyril Gane (2-0)
He may only be 2-0, but the TKO Heavyweight Champion certainly doesn’t fight like it. The Frenchman has outstanding, crisp, technical striking and at only 28, is one of the younger heavyweight prospects out there. If Gane can get past 9-0 Raphael Pessoa when they fight, he could be on the fast-track to a top promotion.
Kailan Hill (4-0)
Another competitor in the great LFA promotion, Hill has been flawless in his professional career. The Puerto Rican import has been honing his skills all over some of the top gyms in California with his home base being Blackhouse MMA. With three straight first-round knockouts in under two minutes, Hill’s stint on the regional scene might not last much longer. Middleweights be on notice.
2. Aaron Bronsteter
UFC Reporter/Content Editor/Producer, Talent Relations for TSN Sports.
Joey Davis (4-0)
Most people believe that wrestling is the best base for mixed martial arts supremacy and if that’s the case, look no further than Joey Davis, who boasts a 133-0 amateur wrestling record. He’s the third person to accomplish an undefeated record over a four-year NCAA tenure, the first ever in Division II.
He has made the transition to MMA and is currently 4-0 in Bellator thanks to the help of Antonio McKee, who he has known since childhood along with McKee’s son A.J., another top MMA fighter who has risen from prospect to contender in recent years.
Davis has yet to lose a round in his MMA career and having just turned 25 years of age, the sky’s the limit for this budding prospect.
Kayla Harrison (2-0)
It’s hard to make a top prospects list without including Kayla Harrison. Despite being 28 years of age, which is older than most prospects, it’s the accolades that she has racked up that will make her such a force in mixed martial arts.
Harrison is the first American to win an Olympic gold medal in Judo and she did it twice, winning at both the 2012 and 2016 games. The biggest issue for Harrison’s legitimacy in mixed martial arts is her weight class. She competed in judo at 78 kg (172 lbs.) and competes at lightweight in MMA. Harrison’s ceiling can only be so high when she is competing in a weight class that did not exist in a mainstream professional capacity until her arrival on the scene.
I expect that her career in the PFL will be absolutely dominant and that she will cruise through the upcoming women’s lightweight tournament. That being said, her credentials make her the top female prospect in MMA.
Kyle Snyder (0-0)
I’ll admit it, I’m cheating, but if Kyle Snyder ever decided to transition to mixed martial arts, he would be the most coveted prospect in the sport’s history. Snyder is an Olympic gold medalist, Pan-Am gold medalist and two-time world champion in freestyle wrestling.
He would likely compete at light heavyweight, a division with very few high-caliber wrestlers and I expect that he would dominate from the moment he started.
While he has been somewhat secretive about his MMA future, having just turned 23, he has a lot of time to consider his options. And hey, if I’m going to cheat, let’s add Abdulrashid Sadulaev to this list. He’s openly talked about making the move to MMA following the 2020 Olympics, which isn’t that far away.
3. Shawn Bitter
Isi Fitikefu (5-0)
As Australia is producing talent more each year and more at a higher level, Fitikefu could be the next big thing out of the country. It is hard to tell right now how good Fitikefu is, as he hasn’t fought truly tough competition yet.
He is a solid wrestler who has an aggressive and relentless pace with effective chain wrestling. He has one submission win on his resume, but he relies more on his ground and pound. On the feet, Fitikefu has big power in his hands and his right hand is a loaded gun that puts guys to sleep.
Melissa Martinez (5-0)
While she is very, very early in her career and only 21-years-old, Melissa Martinez is a major prospect in the strawweight division. She is currently signed with Combate Americas, so it’s unknown what her contract situation is. She hasn’t fought solid competition, but hopefully, Combate can keep her active and give her a good test.
Martinez has not shown much on the mat because she wants to be on the feet the entire time. Martinez has great cardio with her constant footwork and effective side-to-side movement. She also has the ability to break an opponent down with her chopping leg kicks. She also displays a quick release with her dangerous head kick that she has won a couple of times with. Martinez puts combinations together with her hands very well and her explosiveness and hand speed are solid. She really looks promising at a young age in her career.
Shamil Abasov (5-0)
Shamil trains with a solid camp out of Russia, Eagles MMA who trains with Movlid Khaibulaev, Akhmet Aliev, and more. Shamil has a background in kickboxing being a world champion.
In only five fights, he’s fought Yuri Gobenko, Yuriy Protzenko, and Charles Andrade who have over 150 fights combined which is a good start for someone early in their career. Abasov has showcased his kickboxing skills, throwing damaging leg kicks and even a head kick knockout. He has also shown solid wrestling with heavy top position. He is definitely someone to watch for.
4. DC Howard
Taylor Johnson (5-0)
A middleweight from San Diego, California, Johnson was featured in the curtain-jerker at January’s LFA 57 and stole the show by thrashing then-undefeated Aaron Chambers. Johnson’s power is palpable and his athleticism will give a lot of people problems. So far, Tombstone has smashed his four LFA opponents in a grand total of five minutes and three seconds. At 5’11”, he might end up at welterweight in the UFC, but I’m not sure there are many regional middleweights who have the blend of tools & skills needed to challenge Johnson before he makes the big show.
Cyril Gane (2-0)
A heavyweight from France, this hulking 6’5″ kickboxer burst out of nowhere to decimate undefeated Canadian top prospect Adam Dyczka in just his second pro MMA fight at TKO 44. On the feet, the man is a monster; Gane’s clinch striking, boxing, and kicking games are equally impressive. We’ve yet to see anyone put Gane on the mat, but in the paper-thin heavyweight ranks, that might not happen for quite some time. The man certainly isn’t afraid of tough fights.
Khamzat Chimaev (4-0)
A middleweight from Sweden, the Allstars Training Center rep trains with an elite squad, and he looked the part in his two recent outings under the Brave CF banner. After cruising past a few entry-level foes, the 24-year-old “Chechen Borz” really raised eyebrows by steamrolling well-regarded American prospect Sidney Wheeler in the Brave 20 main event. He’s shown off good hands, particularly in his finish of Marko Kisic at Brave 18, but Chimaev’s wrestling is his real weapon. He’s good enough at keeping positions secure that he can really attack with ground-and-pound, even against strong wrestlers. That sounds like a recipe for UFC success, in my book.
5. Kristen King
Chantel Coates (1-0)
Smaller weight classes like flyweight are often overlooked, but with prospects like Chantel Coates making some big noise, they really shouldn’t be. Coates made her professional mixed martial arts debut in December 2018 at Invicta FC 33, where she took on fellow debutant Ashlynn Kleinbeck. In less than 30 seconds, Coates was able to viciously knock out her opponent, becoming the owner of the “fastest knockout in Invicta FC history.” Coates did something similar in her amateur career, knocking out Tina Brown in January 2016 in just 24 seconds. What makes Coates one to watch is her speed and aggression. Before you can deliver a punch, Coates is out of the line of fire, looking to deliver some heat of her own. And if she catches you, it could be a long (or short) night.
Kaue Fernandes (5-0)
The name Nova Uniao holds a lot of weight in the mixed martial arts world, which is why it should come as no surprise that Kaue Fernandes is one of (if not) the most exciting prospects to come out of the team in recent memory. The 23-year-old made his professional debut in 2014, but a string of canceled fights left Fernandes on the sidelines for a little bit. When he got back to work, however, Fernandes was dominating all his opponents in Shooto Brazil. Two of his most recent wins happened in under 90 seconds, with one of them earning him the vacant super featherweight title. A man former UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo once called his “successor,” Fernandes is good wherever the fight goes. In the striking department, Fernandes is coming forward with pure aggression, looking to put his opponent out. On the ground, Fernandes will find the smallest opening to capitalize on and snatch up a submission. Fernandes may be young in his career, but with the kind of tools he possesses, it won’t be long before he shows up on the radar of some of the big leagues.
George Tokkos (4-0)
Light heavyweight is a division always in need of new blood. Thankfully, a name like George Tokkos has arrived on the scene and he may cause a lot of problems as his career continues to unfold. Tokkos got his start in Ultimate Challenge MMA, where he defeated all three of his opponents before moving onto KTMMA. At the start of his career, Tokkos was known for his superior ground game. And he still is. Tokkos’ background is in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but he has since expanded to other disciplines that maintain his danger on the ground. Add in his evolving striking and Tokkos is becoming a much more well-rounded fighter every time he steps inside a cage.
6. Nolan King
Cyril Gane (2-0)
France’s Cyril Gane only has two professional fights under his belt. TWO. And he may very well be the best heavyweight prospect in North America. A training partner of Francis “The Predator” Ngannou, Gane hasn’t shown any signs of weakness through two bouts. After wrecking Bobby Sullivan in his pro debut, Gane secured the TKO heavyweight strap with a two-round beatdown of then-undefeated Adam Dyczka. His speed, athleticism, and power matched with superb cardio make him seem indestructible as far as the regional scene is concerned.
Anthony Romero (5-0)
Canada’s Anthony “The Genius” Romero is just that — a really smart fighter. With only two finish over his first five fights, Romero has still impressed due to his technical striking, strong wrestling, and well-rounded abilities. With a few more victories in KOTC, expect to see this man signed to the UFC in an instant.
Mitch Raposo (6-0/Amateur)
Highly regarded as one of the top amateur flyweights in the United States, Massachusetts’ Mitch Raposo should have no issue making the jump to the professional level. Additionally, he should thrive at 135 pounds if he wants to make a UFC push. Surrounding himself with top talent such as Rob Font and Calvin Kattar, the 20-year-old flyweight will have a big 2019.
7. Keith Shillan
Writer for Sherdog, Contributor for FansidedMMA, Co-Host of LoudMouthMMA Podcast Network.
Kayla Harrison (3-0)
So I am probably the only person left on the planet that is willing to admit that they bought into the Ronda Rousey hype. If that is not the case, I am probably the only person willing to say that I still think Rousey could do very well in the UFC today, especially if she makes some proper changes.
So how can you not think Harrison will do well in the MMA? Rousey dominated the UFC women’s bantamweight division, and Harrison is competing in a weaker division at women’s lightweight and hopefully women’s featherweight. Rousey was a bronze medalist in the Olympics in Judo. Harrison is a two-time Olympic champion. To top it off, Harrison is training at arguably the best team in the sport, American Top Team instead of the poor Glendale Fight Club.
Joey Davis (4-0)
Anybody that knows me, knew that I had to pick a wrestler for this list. Davis isn’t just a wrestler, he is a 4X Division II NCAA champion. He is also the first wrestler in D2 history to finish his career with a perfect record. After his decorated wrestling career, the 25-year-old turned to MMA. He quickly compiled a 5-0 amateur record and then signed with Bellator where he already picked up four wins.
The Bodyshop MMA product obviously can wrestle but has shown flashes of his improving striking in his last two bouts. He defeated Ian Butler by spinning back kick to the body and then used his striking to set up his takedown in his last fight a win over Craig Plaskett.
With the track records of wrestlers before him, the sky is the limit for a fighter like Davis.
Cyril Gane (2-0)
It isn’t often a fighter with two wins already has a significant win in their career, but that is the case with Gane. In only his second professional fight, Gane knocked out fellow blue-chip prospect Adam Dyczka. He didn’t just land a single big shot on Dyczka. He brutalized him until Dyczkya couldn’t take anymore.
The Frenchman is a great heavyweight striker, who moves like a welterweight. He darts in and out of range behind a crisp jab and a powerful right hand. He loves to work the body with punches, push kicks, and step in knees. His clinch work is already some of the best in the heavyweight division.
Standing 6’5″ with a massive 83″ reach, Gane is a serious threat to anybody in the heavyweight division.
8. Brandon Sibcy
Hunter Azure (5-0)
Azure is a four-time state wrestling champion hailing from Montana. He amassed an amateur MMA record of 8-1 as a featherweight. In those nine amateur bouts, Azure went to a decision only once. He turned pro in 2017 and moved to The MMA Lab shortly after. Since the move, Azure is a perfect 5-0. While his base is wrestling, Azure likes to set a frenetic pace from the opening bell with his strikes. He has power in his hands and kicks as he showed in his last outing that saw him drop and finish Jaime Hernandez with a body kick in the first round at LFA 59 earlier this year. Now 26-years-old and competing in the bantamweight division, Azure seems primed for a step up to the “big” show in the near future.
Aleksa Camur (4-0)
Camur enjoys video games, skateboarding and knocking his opponents unconscious. The 23-year-old lives in Northern Ohio and trains out of Strong Style Fight Gym where he’s a sparring partner for his teammate and former UFC Heavyweight Champion, Stipe Miocic. He is currently the number one ranked light heavyweight in Ohio and ranked 13th in the Midwest regional scene. Camur made his amateur debut in 2014 and won the fight in just 18 seconds. Over the next two years, he’d extend his ammy record to 4-0 with all four wins coming via KO/TKO. Since turning pro in 2017, Camur has gone 4-0 and has won every fight via KO/TKO. He has shown some functional grappling, but prefers to stay at range and work his boxing. The Ohioan has fluid hands and effectively mixes up his attacks going from the head to the body.
Jesse Kosakowski (3-0)
Jesse is a lifelong martial artist who cites Jeet Kune Do and Catch Wrestling as his bases. He competed in grappling, boxing, and Muay Thai in his youth and through his teens, and is undefeated in the realm of MMA (3-0 professional, 4-0 as an amateur) since switching over in 2016. Kosakowski recently had his biggest outing when he was featured on the prelims of Bellator 216: MVP vs. Daley. In that bout, he took on BJJ black belt Rodolfo Rocha and out-grappled him en route to a second-round victory via submission. You can see the different styles of Kosakowski in his fights. He seamlessly switches between his boxing and karate stances when he looks to land sidekicks on his opponents. Kosakowski has shown nice takedowns and is a very tricky grappler on the mat. He often looks to take the back or work towards side control where he can trap an arm and rain down blows or look for an armlock. Being only 22 and with a plethora of training and experience, it’ll be interesting to see what the future holds for Kosakowski.
9. Rodney James Edgar
Writer for Cageside Press, MMA Soldier, and MMA Latest News
Joey Davis (4-0)
Currently sits at 4-0 in professional MMA. His debut followed an impressive 5-0 amateur record and an unprecedented 133-0 as an NCAA Division II wrestler. He was the first D2 wrestler to finish his career undefeated and the third wrestler overall to accomplish this feat throughout the entire NCAA, including Division I. As a mixed martial artist he has quickly answered many questions about his abilities, particularly his striking, since he comes from a wrestling background. He has proven to be well-rounded and tenacious in the cage so far. Among his four victories, he has two incredibly fast KO finishes, one with punches, the other with a spinning kick to the body. In his other two fights, he went the distance, proving that he is able to fight at the same pace for a full 15 minutes and that he can overcome adversity.
Tywan Claxton (4-0)
Claxton is quietly amassing a nice record in the Bellator Featherweight division, with three out of four wins by stoppage and no losses (as of this writing). Claxton is another Division II All-American to watch, and like Davis, he’s also 4-0 in MMA competition. 2018 was a busy year for Claxton, he fought three times, earning two TKOs and a decision fighting in the Bellator promotion. The organization’s president recently announced a forthcoming 145lb tournament, which is expected to start with 16 competitors vying for championship gold. Although Coker has only hinted at a few specific names to be included in the tournament, certain individuals like AJ Mckee and Aaron Pico are sure to be included. Do not be surprised to see Tywan Claxton get into the mix as well.
Jake Hager (1-0)
Hager, aka WWE’s Jack Swagger, recently made his professional MMA debut, scoring an effortless first-round submission inside the Bellator cage. This sport has never had an abundance of heavyweight talent, so new prospects are always welcome, especially when they possess the drawing power and combat sports resume of Hager. It is very important not to confuse Jack Swagger with other WWE defectors who tried their luck in MMA. For example Phil “CM Punk” Brooks had an awful showing in the UFC and even in victory, Dave Bautista didn’t exactly set the world on fire. The difference is quite simple: Jake Hager has experience in combat sports, whereas those other guys do not.
It does not seem as if Jack Swagger is the second coming of Brock Lesnar, but he’s more like a Bobby Lashley when it comes to WWE superstars turned MMA fighters. In other words, as long as he stays motivated to train and compete inside the cage, he is a force to be reckoned with and may even find himself in (dare I say) title contention in the next 2-3 years. Stranger things have happened.
10. Katrina Mahoney
David Martinez (3-0)
Martinez is a 3-0 lightweight product of Ignite/Gamebred in Queensland, Australia. “The Smiling Assassin” picked up his second professional TKO win last weekend at Coastal Combat 5 over late-replacement Iain Blade. Martinez, 25, is a demonstrated finisher with submissions being his usual MO. He’s a bit of a cheeky pick because although he has just three pro wins, his amateur record is an extensive 9-1-1, of which includes capturing the XFC amateur lightweight title.
Jay Jay Wilson (2-0)
Although just 2-0 (3-1 amateur), Jay Jay Wilson’s two professional fights have been on the global stage for Bellator. While appropriately matched, the 21-year-old Kiwi featherweight, who now resides in San Diego and trains out of Alliance Jiu-Jitsu, excelled in both bouts. Clocking just two and a half minutes of cage time combined, Wilson secured two first-round rear-naked choke finishes. Most astounding, though, is that Wilson made his debut under the most unbearable of circumstances. During his weight cut, he found out his older sister had tragically taken her own life. Somehow he had the fortitude to remain on the card and even come away with the victory.
John Brewin (4-1)
Another Kiwi abroad is 4-1 (3-1 amateur) lightweight John Brewin, who trains out of Bali MMA in Indonesia and fights for Brave CF. While Anas Siraj Mounir may have been too much for him in December, losing a close decision to the 7-1 Moroccan, the 25-year-old had taken out his three opponents prior via knockout. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on his upcoming fight with SBG product Cian Cowley next month at Brave CF 22.
11. Sandi Martin
Writer for Fight Post
Nakia “The Great” Brown (5-0/Amateur)
Brown is a 19-year-old featherweight fighting out of TWebb MMA in Louisiana. He’s got a perfect record of 5-0 and despite being young, he’s dynamic and exciting to watch. His athleticism and skill have really earned him a reputation as the guy to beat in this weight class. His five wins are all finishes, one rear-naked choke and several TKOs in the first round. He’s not looking to give the judges any work to do anytime soon.
Elliot “Be Good” Hebert (2-1/Amateur)
The crowds absolutely go wild for 29-year-old lightweight fighter Elliot “Be Good” Hebert, from the time he dances into the cage to Electric Avenue he has their attention. His first two amateur fights were easy KOs mere seconds into the first round, but his most recent fight at Bayou FC’s Capital City Fight Night was a three-round all-out war that tested him like never before. The fight against Yadier del Valle of Gracie Barra Westchase in Houston was a clear and easy choice for Fight of the Night honors and Hebert proved he can take it just as well as he can dish it out.
Rylan Melancon (2-0/Amateur)
“Smilin” Rylan Melancon at age 19 is already making a name for himself after a highlight-reel KO just seven seconds into his very first fight at Bayou FC’s Fightville 2 event. A bantamweight fighting out of Gladiators Academy in Lafayette under the expert tutelage of Tim Credeur, he’s already 2-0 with a fight confirmed for March 30 for Empire Fighting Championship, where he’ll face his most experienced competition yet.
12. Steve King
Miranda Granger (5-0)
At just 26-years-old and 5-0 in her career, Miranda Granger is without a doubt one to watch. In all five of her professional fights, Granger has finished her opponent. Of those five fights, only one has gone into the second round. She has won by guillotine, rear-naked choke, punches, and an armbar twice. Once the cage doors close, Miranda Granger is vicious and incredibly dangerous. Don’t be surprised to see Miranda Granger in Invicta FC or even the UFC in the coming months. Wherever Granger lands, she is a future title contender!
Alesha Zappitella (5-0)
She might be tiny (4’11) and young (23) but she is ready for the big time. Alesha Zappitella has found a home in Invicta FC, where the atomweight division is very much alive and doing well. There is a plethora of talent on the Invicta roster fighting at 105, and Alesha Zappitella is one of the best. “Half Pint” is a grinder with a scrappy side. She comes to fight every time out and is willing to go to the ground and use her wrestling in order to get a win – much like Tatiana Suarez. Alesha Zappitella should be on everyone’s radar going into 2019 and beyond.
Garry Tonon (3-0)
With only three MMA fights in his career, Garry Tonon has shown exactly why he is a fighter on the rise and is the future. Tonon has shown to be diverse in the way he fights. His ground game is his bread and butter but he can very easily mix it up. In fact, one of his wins has come by ground-and-pound, which happened to be Tonon’s MMA debut. The other two wins were on the ground – as expected. But Garry Tonon isn’t a one-trick pony, he’s incredibly intelligent and will continue to learn MMA. There is no doubt Garry Tonon is part of the future of MMA.
I want to give these brilliant journalists a huge thanks for taking part in this. Please give all of them a follow on Twitter and check out their hard work.