MMA Sun 2015 Prospect Spotlight – The Bantamweights – #1 – Magomed Bibulatov

The top bantamweight prospect for this year is Russian fighter, Magomed Bibulatov. Bibulatov is 26-years old and is another one of the elite Bibulatovfighters coming out of the Chechnya region of Russia. Bibulatov holds a perfect 8-0 career record. Interestingly, while Magomed has largely fought at bantamweight in his career, the consensus thought is that if and when he signed with the UFC he would make a drop to 125 pounds. He already has a solid resume which includes wins over veterans like Olivier Pastor, Said Nurmagomedov and recent UFC signee Taylor Lapilus.  When I look through my whole list of prospects, Bibulatov would be one of my top (if not THE top) overall.  Magomed has a host of credentials before entering MMA and has been training in various arts since a very young age.

Bibulatov has a fantastic wrestling game.  He “runs the pipe” very well.  He knows how to finish takedowns.  He has one of the best single leg takedowns I have seen. The really is little wasted energy from Magomed.  He is very strong.  In watching video, there were times that I thought he could not land a takedown, but he just powered through and finished (and that against mostly larger opponents).  I think he could rag doll UFC fighters at flyweight.  He a little bit atypical in that he is willing to let a fighter back to his feet pretty quickly after a takedown.  I would suppose there are instances where he could have ground and pounded and help an opponent down, but instead elected to bring the fight back to the feet.  I like his submissions too.  Check out this arm bar finish in his professional debut (3:01-3:08).  Bibulatov is not an easy guy to takedown and put on his back.  When he was on his back, it did not take him long to finish his opponent from the bottom with a slick armbar.

I like Magomed’s striking.  He likes to throw a variety of attacks including spinning back kicks, which he throws often.  He is a multi-time world champion in Kempo.  If I compare his wrestling to someone like Khabib Nurmagomedov’s, I would have to say that his striking looks much better than Khabib’s did when he entered the UFC.  He does not look awkward striking. It is hard to find a glaring hole in his game.  If I was to say anything, I would say he does not seem to have real great punching power, but that could change going down a weight class.  If I was betting, I would bet that Magomed Bibulatov is signed to the UFC soon.  I think he could have a similar trajectory, maybe even better than Ali Bagautinov.

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MMA Sun 2015 Prospect Spotlight – The Bantamweights – #2 – Brett Johns

Number 2 on MMA Sun’s Bantamweight Prospect list for 2015 is former Cage Warriors champion, Brett Johns.  Hailing from Wales, Johns Brett Johnsis an elite prospect.  He is only 22-years old, so we would suspect a really high upside for him.  He already holds a perfect 10-0 professional mark.  Also, Johns recently signed with Titan Fighting Championship and is expected to make his promotional debut in January against a yet to be announced opponent.  Known as “The Pikey”, Johns does not have the most impressive physique, but he certainly is impressive with his fighting.

One of the more impressive aspects of Johns’ game is that he is relentless with takedowns and imposing his will in fights.  His pressure really seems to wear down opponents.  This comes not only because of his superior technique, but also his conditioning, which allows him to keep high pressure for five rounds of fighting.  He even won the Cage Warriors bantamweight title in a one-day tournament in which he fought a total of eight rounds.  Johns is a judo black belt and his overall grappling technique is very solid.  He has solid takedowns that really are highlighted by some nice trips from the clinch position.  He is comfortable is all grappling scenarios.  He has some quick transitions, including some very solid back takes.  Another thing that stands out is his timing.  He is able to time takedowns well and notices when guys are over-extended or off balance.  He is very heavy from the top and does a good job controlling his opponent’s hips.  Johns really just stays glued to guys and that really is what separates him from other prospects.  I would like to see him be more of a finisher.  I think he has finishing ability, it is just a matter of putting that into practice through ground and pound and submissions.

There are still some holes in his striking.  I would like to see him throw more volume at time.  He primarily uses his strikes to get inside and initiate takedowns.  I also would like to see him work on his head movement more.  There were times he took some punches that he should not have taken.  Johns is very tough and has been able to “take” everything thrown at him.  Johns’ striking is improving.  He is gaining confidence each time out there, bur make no mistake, Johns is and always will be a grappler first.  There is a perceived advantage there.  One is he is able to dictate where fights take place.  Two, there is very little room for error when striking with high level opponents.  Third, I feel at his age he can become a more than competent striker.  It seems it is easier to teach a grappler how to strike at a high level than to teach a striker how to grapple at a high level.

Johns is so high on our list because we believe that his age mixed with his current skill set equates a high trajectory in MMA.  There are plenty of areas for him to improve upon, but I believe he is a handful for just about anyone right now.  It will be interesting to see his career development and what happens with him at Titan Fighting  in 2015.

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MMA Sun 2015 Prospect Spotlight – The Bantamweights – #3 – Jonas Bilharinho

Coming in at number 3 on our bantamweight prospect list in Jonas Bilharinho, or more affectionately known as Jonas Speed.  There are jonasspeedsome people that evaluate prospects who would contend Jonas “Speed” should be the top bantamweight prospect. I am not THAT sold on him, but I am a believer. The 24-year old Team Nogueira product does appear to have a high upside.  Jonas has a perfect 5-0 career mark, but as we said in our profile of Mario Israel, one of his wins was extremely controversial.  Nevertheless, Jonas is certainly a guy I would expect to make it to the “big show” soon.  The Jungle Fight bantamweight champion is certainly one of the brightest prospects in Brazil.

Jonas may have the best striking among out bantamweight prospects.  He punches with some power, but his technique really is superb.  He does a great job mixing up his shots and targeting his opponent’s body.  Jonas does a good job staying at range.  One of his best attributes is his height and reach for the weight class.  He seems to have a natural understanding of how to use that reach.  The southpaw, has a brutal left hook and solid body kicks which he lands often.  When he has an opponent hurt he is very dangerous.  Most fighters, when the hurt their opponent, follow them to the ground.  Jonas prefers to step away and bring them back to their feet.

Jonas does not have the world’s best takedown defense, and he might need to solidify that in order to progress against higher level fighters.  He was able to fend off most takedown attempts by Mario Israel.  Israel really have Jonas problems by pressuring him constantly.  His ground game has really not been tested in MMA, although I would expect him to always be improving that under the tutelage of the Nogueira brothers.

I would have thought he would be a good pick for the Ultimate Fighter Brazil, but I am told he was cut early in the audition possess.  I still think Jonas is going to be a high level fighter.  It is hard to make a comparison to Jonas, as there are not many lighter weight guys with his size, speed and striking skill.  He has not been incredibly active in MMA, but I would suspect that could pick up in 2015.

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MMA Sun 2015 Prospect Spotlight – The Bantamweights – #4 – Luis Rafael Laurentino

The number 4 Bantamweight we will feature is Luis Rafael Laurentino. Known by the moniker “Japa”, Luis is another Brazilian LuisJapabantamweight prospect to keep an eye on. The thing that stands out right away about him is his 28-0 career record. I feel I need a disclaimer here. The quality of competition has been very bad. Among those wins is a victory over Claudir Dutkevis, which is a decent name on his resume. Another thing that stands out is that “Japa” is only 22-years old. So, while we might question his quality of opponents, there is no question is being moved along very slowly. Japa is of Japanese decent, but lives and trains in Brazil. He trains with a pretty decent gym in the Astra Fight Team. The lingering question for Luis is how will he fare against better competition. I do not believe it is easy to go 28-0 regardless of the opponent level.

When you look at Luis’ record you can see he is a finisher. He has 19 (sherdog says 18, but this was a submission finish) of his wins from a submission victory. Only three of his wins have gone the distance. Once again, that may be because he is fighting lesser competition, however, you would expect a superior fighter to do what he has done to weaker opponents.  “Japa” is fairly aggressive.  He is willing to do things like pull guard.  I saw him pull guard numerous times in his fights.  I do not know if that shows confidence in his guard game or a lack of confidence in his striking. While such aggression has never caused him to lose a fight, I worry how effective that strategy would be at a very high level.  He also has been known to quickly shoot for a double leg.  His overall takedowns are decent, but not great.  His guard is very active, and he likes to work a rubber guard.  His transitions are fluid and he is often on the hunt for submissions.  (Check out this near armbar finish at 11:15-11:36 mark).  Also, Luis stays very active and keeps pressure on constantly.  Standing, against the cage, in top position and even while on the bottom.  I would like to see him consider position before submission at times, but his style has worked thus far.

Luis seems a bit more reluctant on the feet.  He is aggressive with striking at times and tends to throw wild stuff such as spinning kicks and flying knees.  He throws a lot of kicks which often times he uses to create space.  Japa will need to gain more comfort on his feet.  I think he has the ability to continue to develop his striking.

I think Luis could be Eduardo Dantas type of fighter.  I also think that he has to be on the UFC and Bellator’s radar.  Bellator recently signed a similar fighter and training partner of Luis Rafael’s in Julio Cesar Neves.  I also think TUF Brazil is a possibility.  However, that could be too much too soon for Luis.  Regardless, I think he needs a step up in competition.  I do not believe that the major promotions can look away much longer.  Luis Rafael signed a contract earlier this year with Titan Fighting and could make his U.S. debut in 2015.
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MMA Sun 2015 Prospect Spotlight – The Bantamweights – #5 – Mario Israel

For our number 5 bantamweight prospect in our 2015 Prospect Spotlight, we introduce to you…Mario Israel. Yes, another Brazilian MarioIsraelbantamweight prospect. Israel holds a 9-1 record. I feel it necessary to give a disclaimer on Israel’s record. While he shows one defeat, it needs to be noted that loss was a extremely controversial decision loss to Jonas Speed. I would probably have Israel ranked a bit higher if it were not for his age. He is 30-years old. That does not mean he is old, but it does mean he is probably in his prime right now.  If Israel was 5 years younger he would be in my top-3.

Six of his wins have come via stoppage from strikes.  Israel has a decent all around striking game. Israel has some real knockout power, which he really displayed with a couple brutal left hands landed on Reginaldo Viera. Israel has a good chin, which I wish he would not test so much.  While he has never been KO’d, I have some fears regarding his striking defense.  He takes some hard shots from time to time.  Israel also has some hard kicks that he uses very effectively.  He also spends a lot of time moving forward in his fights.  One of the points of concern is that there were times where he seemed to be lunging in his punches.  Against high level competition he will need to stay on balance.

Israel’s takedowns are not great, but he uses the threat of a takedown to land punches.  He also has the ability to pressure opponents against the cage, which can be very taxing on them.  His takedown defense would need to improve to compete in the UFC, as I believe he would spend a lot of time on his back, where he is not a known threat.

I think Mario Israel is suited to do well in the a major promotion.  Like the other Brazilian bantamweight prospects, TUF Brazil 4 is a serious option for him.  I would imagine that Israel would need a couple more wins to get a UFC call though.  TUF would be the quickest and safest bet for Israel.  He has only fought one time in 2014, so I would like to see him stay active a little bit more.
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MMA Sun 2015 Prospect Spotlight – The Bantamweights – #6 – Renato Carneiro

Coming in at sixth on MMA Sun’s bantamweight Prospect Spotlight is Renato “Moicano” Carneiro. Moicano is a 8-0 fighter who hails from CarneiroBrasilia, Brazil. He is only 24-years old which certainly increases his stock as a prospect. It seems that Carneiro is a guy that has been on my radar for quite some time, but it really might be his time right now. Renato is on the Constrictor Team, which really is a solid team.

One of the things that really stands out about Moicano is that he has fought some very good competition in Brazil. He holds notable wins over Iliarde Santos, Ismael Bonfim, Joao Luiz Nogueira, as well as several other solid bantamweights.  Moicano has a very good jiu jitsu game.  One of the things I would like to see is more urgency to finish fights.  I think he has the ability to be a finisher.  He does have a wide variety of submissions in his arsenal. One of the things that stands out is that he seems to have a good sense of when an opponent is off balance and is able to capitalize with takedowns.  I saw some moments where he looked to have very good takedown defense.  He does well digging for an underhook on his sprawl.  I think he needs to be sure to avoid bottom position, although he is competent off his back with submissions.  While he is a good BJJ player, he is not a guy that people will fear tremendously.

Renato is a tall bantamweight and has at times used his reach well.  I think that he can continue to utilize reach to implement his will in a fight.  His striking is not bad, but it is not elite.  While he is “rangy” he does not appear to be super strong.  However, we would expect some strength to develop with age.    He has spent a lot of his time fighting at featherweight, but is much better suited for bantamweight.  I believe there is a real possibility we see him on the Ultimate Fighter Brazil 4, but probably not as a bantamweight, but rather as a lightweight.  Carneiro is one to keep your eyes on.  Being a part of the Jungle Fight organization in Brazil certainly adds to his appeal.  Moicano is still a work in progress, but I could see him being a bantamweight version of Charles Oliveira.

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MMA Sun 2015 Prospect Spotlight – The Bantamweights – #7 – Toni Tauru

The 7th ranked bantamweight for 2015 is Finnish fighter, Toni Tauru. Toni is 10-1 and the current Cage Warriors bantamweight champion.ToniTauru Toni is on an impressive 10-fight winning streak.  The 29-year old is certainly on the verge of getting the attention of the major MMA promotions.

Tauru is not known to be a striker, but he does use his strikes to get inside and initiate a clinch.  Surprisngly, in his last fight against a solid stiker, Tauru held his own on the feet.  While he will never be an elite striker, one of the issues for him is his confidence.  He alsow ill never be a one-punch power puncher, but does have the ability to mix up some leg kicks and knees in his combinations.  Another positive, is that Tauru has a good reach which he can use to his advantage.  While most would question Tauru’s stand up skills, in his last couple of fights he has actually looked pretty good.

Tauru has a very nice ground game.  His guard is lethal.  He likes to utilize a rubber guard, and is helped in that by his flexibility.  Tauru, gained some fame with his 2013 gogoplata finish over Emil Hartsner. Tauru is super aggressive with submissions.  He will dive for leg locks and he is always attacking from his guard.  He is quite comfortable on the mat. While Tauru’s ground game is impressive, I would worry that he could get out muscled by some bigger bantamweights.  He has very good transitions and really is smart on the ground.  He does not over-extend or make many mistakes.  He keeps tight pressure and solid ground and pound.  But, as previously said, the submission skills are what stand out in his game.  Seven of his ten wins have come by way of submission finish.  So, on the mat he is not only competent, but he looks to finish fights.  He really excels from back mount.  He is lethal from that position.

Unlike some highly touted prospects, Tauru has a pretty solid resume already.  He has a legitimate title in his hands.  He has beaten some very solid names as well.  Without knowing his contract status with Cage Warriors, I would expect Tauru to start gaining more recognition internationally. I would have to think the UFC would love to add a solid fighter from Finland to their roster.

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