Flyweight, Erin Blanchfield (5-1): 21-year-old Erin Blanchfield is one of the most promising flyweight prospects on the regional scene. The young Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace, who trains under the Renzo Gracie Academy banner, is 5-1 in her MMA career. That lone loss? A split-decision to current UFC standout Tracy Cortez last year in Invicta FC. As expected, Blanchfield’s jiu-jitsu is her defining quality – she even won the flyweight Eddie Bravo Invitational (EBI) tournament back in 2017 when she was just 18. Her dramatically improving striking, however, is what turns Blanchfield into a complete fighter and can’t-miss prospect. Blanchfield went viral in February with a stunning head-kick knockout in her last bout, a win over Victoria Leonardo. Now, Blanchfield will return to action at Invicta FC 41 in the show’s co-main event against Bellator veteran Stephanie Geltmacher. With a win, Blanchfield could be a perfect candidate for the Dana White Contenders Series, or, given the unforgiving grind of the UFC’s schedule even amid conditions that limit the number of available fighters, a direct fight offer from the UFC.
Lightweight, Mateusz Gamrot (15-0, 1 NC): Poland’s Mateusz Gamrot might just be the best-kept secret in mixed martial arts. The lightweight division has long been considered one of the sport’s marquee attractions, with a level of depth and skill few divisions can match at present. One name that has long flown under the radar in the talent-stacked lightweight division is Mateusz Gamrot. The 29-year-old currently serves as the two-weight (featherweight and lightweight) champion of top Polish organization KSW. He has amassed an undefeated record of 15-0, 1 NC while scoring five knockouts and three submissions. A talented wrestler with an underrated submission game, Gamrot has beaten the likes of UFC veteran (and now KSW interim lightweight champion) Norman Parke, standout ROAD FC champion Mansour Barnaoui – a prospect to watch in his own right, and crafty jiu-jitsu player Kleber Koike Erbst, among others. The Pole has also ventured into submission grappling, even facing ONE Championship and jiu-jitsu star Garry Tonon at the ADCC championships, widely considered to be the sport’s ultimate proving ground. Gamrot is currently slated to return to KSW after an extended layoff to face Parke in a title unification that also serves as the pair’s trilogy fight. Should Gamrot win, a step up to the UFC seems all too deserved.
Lightweight, Alexandr Shabliy (19-3): It feels really weird to refer to Alexandr Shabliy as a prospect, but given that the standout Russian striker is under 30 years old with less than 30 professional fights, he fits the bill of this project. Shabliy is one of the finest examples of must-see talent going unseen in mixed martial arts; if he were fighting stateside, he might be one of the most fan-friendly competitors in the sport. Currently competing for Russian promotion ACA in its lightweight division, Shabliy has made a name for himself as a methodical, yet dynamic, contender. The 19-3 pro has ten knockouts and seven submissions and is currently riding a four-fight winning streak that includes the likes of UFC veteran Adriano Martins and Bellator vet Gleristone Santos. While Shabliy’s lone fight with one of the elite ACA lightweights – former champion Eduard Vartanyan, worthy of admission to this list in his own right – resulted in a loss, it provided fans with one of the most entertaining and technically advanced three-round fights in recent memory. Shabliy is already UFC material, and there are infinitely fun matchups to make for him in the lightweight division. Put simply, Alexandr Shabliy is your favorite fighter… you just don’t know it yet.
Featherweight, Mads Burnell (13-3): Picking Mads Burnell as a prospect for the UFC to sign feels like cheating, but it’s the right call. Burnell, 26, has already been under UFC contract, fighting three times for the promotion from 2017-2018. The featherweight is a strong 13-3 in his career, with two of his three losses coming during his UFC tenure. Those losses? A lightweight loss to Brazilian tank Michel Prazeres – now a 26-3 welterweight standout – and Arnold Allen, one of the sport’s most successful, promising prospects. Burnell has bounced back in a big way since his (in my opinion, premature) UFC departure, scoring four straight wins and becoming a divisional champion in the United Kingdom’s Cage Warriors promotion. Of those four, three came by way of submission, two of which were Japanese neckties! Burnell has sported significantly improved striking, bringing his game to a new, better level. It’s time for the UFC to bring the Denmark native back to the Octagon, perhaps at Yas Island against an equally exciting featherweight up-and-comer.
Welterweight, Khamzat Chimaev (6-1): When evaluating a prospect, characteristics such as finishing ability, well-roundedness, and the individual skill set of an athlete stand out as immediate markers of a potentially high ceiling. Khamzat Chimaev, currently the top contender in Bahraini promotion BRAVE CF’s welterweight division, checks all of those boxes. Chimaev, a native of Sweden, has a perfect 6-0 record in his professional MMA career. Of those six victories, all six have come by way of finish – Chimaev sports four knockouts and two submissions to his name, most of which occur quite quickly into his fights. Chimaev is on the verge of a title shot against BRAVE’s welterweight champion, Jarrah Hussein Al-Silwali; the fight was scheduled to take place on a show that was canceled due to COVID-19. It remains to be seen what is next for Chimaev, but one thing is for sure: Chimaev is the real deal. Given that Chimaev recently signed with Ali Abdelaziz and the prolific Dominance MMA as his managerial team, it’s possible that we see Chimaev in the UFC sooner rather than later.