MMA Prospect Roundtable 2023: Which Up-and-Comers Are UFC-Ready?

AJ Cunningham LFA
AJ Cunningham, LFA 102 Credit: Legacy Fighting Alliance

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Featherweight, Rudy Gavidia (20-3)

Peru’s Rudy Gavidia has competed solely for Fusion Fighting Championship since 2015, following a five-year hiatus from professional competition. Throughout his 20-bout tenure with the Peruvian promotion, “El Charanguero” has amassed a 19-1 promotional record that includes seven Featherweight Championship victories. His only FFC loss – an interim Featherweight Championship defeat to fellow countryman Martin Mollinedo in 2021 – would be avenged less than one year later.

Currently riding a six-bout win streak, Gavidia holds a 20-3 professional record; his only stoppage loss in a professional bout was almost 14 years ago, on his professional debut. For those new to Rudy Gavidia, his 2017 Interim Featherweight Championship bout with Vicente Vargas is highly recommended, simply for his spectacular finish.

Flyweight, Daniel Barez (16-5)

34-year-old Flyweight Daniel Barez is 10-1 in his last eleven professional bouts. That lone defeat was a split decision loss to UFC Flyweight Carlos Hernandez on Contender Series in 2021, in what was then Barez’s first professional bout in 22 months.

Since Contender Series, the Spaniard is 4-0, winning all four bouts via first-round stoppage (3 KO/TKO, 1 submission); Barez was set towards a Flyweight Championship bout with former UFC athlete Joseph Morales (12-2) at Urijah Faber’s A1 Combat 11, on May 27th. Unfortunately, Morales pulled out.

Featherweight, AJ Cunningham (10-2)

Arkansas’ AJ Cunningham preceded his professional career with an 11-4 amateur record, from which he won 10 bouts via submission.

Training out of Tennessee’s Law School MMA, Cunningham’s five most recent victories are against competition with a combined 25-15 professional record, which includes an Altitude MMA Lightweight Championship victory over than 5-2 Jonathan Jackson. As a professional, the 28-year-old has never been stopped.

In his most recent bout, “The Savage” won a thrilling match-up on his Fury FC promotional debut, against the talented Jason Mullen; a thoroughly entertaining match-up highly recommended for those new to Cunningham.

Having endured unimaginable adversity in his youth, Cunningham is a tremendous success both outside of the sport, and within.

Lightweight, Bolaji Oki (7-1)

An athlete for Valon Team of Brussels, Belgium, 27-year-old Lightweight Bolaji Oki built his 7-1 professional record competing in Belgium and The Netherlands.

His most notable victory came in October of 2022, at Atomic 2, where “The Zulu Warrior” defeated 11-0 Nair Melikyan via unanimous decision. Prior to that bout, Armenian Lightweight Melikyan was set to compete on Contender Series 2022 against Nurullo Aliev, but Visa issues forced his withdrawal. Bolaji’s victory over Melikyan secured the vacant Atomic FC Lightweight Championship, a title he would successfully defend at Atomic 3.

Currently riding a seven-bout win streak, Bolaji is set to compete for the European Beatdown Lightweight Championship on May 26th, 2023, in the main event of European Beatdown 9 in Charleroi, Belgium.

Bantamweight, Bekhzod Usmanov (11-4)

Tajik Bantamweight Bekhzod Usmanov had a sensational final third to 2022, earning back-to-back victories inside just 50 days across consecutive Jorge Masvidal’s iKON Fighting Championship events.

Those unanimous decision victories over Sal Guerriero and Shojin Miki at iKON FC 5 and iKON FC 6 respectively propelled Usmonov towards a Championship opportunity, with Jorge Masvidal announcing a match-up with Joe Penafiel for the inaugural Jorge Masvidal’s iKON FC Bantamweight Championship at a future date.

A 2016 National Russian Combat Sambo Champion, and three-time Muay Thai Champion at Bangla Boxing Stadium in Phuket, Thailand, Usmonov has experienced combat competition in Russia, Thailand, China, Australia, and – of course – the United States.

Now training at the renowned Jackson Wink MMA gym, Usmonov currently holds an 11-4 professional MMA record, and 37-5-1 professional Muay Thai record.