MMA Sun 2015 Prospect Spotlight – The Flyweights – #1 – Kairat Akhmetov

Hailing from the nation of Kazakhstan, Kairat Akhmetov is our top flyweight prospect. Kairat is a 27-years old fighter with as good of a KairatAkresume to get into the UFC as anyone. His record is 20-0. Yes, twenty wins against zero defeats. Granted, the competition has not consistently been elite, but anyone that racks up a 20-0 record deserves some attention. Through watching video, I found that the hype is warranted. The best name on his resume is Japanses fighter Tatsuya Watanabe.  It may be a bit of a reach to label him the number one prospect on the basis of his record alone.  However, not many of our prospects have as solid of a signature win as Kairat.  Also, I am quite confident that he is on the verge of a UFC offer.  I believe he is one fight away from that deal.

One impressice nugget in Kairat’s 20-0 record is that 17 of those wins have come by a finish of some type.  Thirteen of which have been submission finishes.  Kairat is a outstanding wrestler.  He is a three time Kazakh national Greco-Roman champion.  To put that in a little more perspcetive, Kazakhstan is one of the world’s strongest wrestling countries.  In his fights he does not mess around on the feet for long.  He has been able to do the same thing in most of his fight…take his opponent down, land some ground and pound, control  the positioning and hunt for a submission.  I am not sure what level grapplers he is dominating, but he takes opponents down hard and with ease.  I am really impressed with his control on top.  He will need to improve some however as competition gets better.  It seemed that some of the mistakes that he made against weak guys could be capitalized upon by elite competition.

His striking is really somewhat of a mystery.  I saw glimpses of him throwing haymakers and some wild strikes, but I would guess that in order to hang with elite strikers he would need to do some work.  However, I did find that he was some type of Tae Kwon Do background.

Kairat has trained many different places around the world, primarily with Alash Pride, but he has also trained at Jackson’s MMA in New Mexico and well as Phuket Top Team.  This certainly is seen as a positive for him.  Kairat even won a jiu jitsu tournament during his time in New Mexico.  It is only a matter of time until he gets his chance to prove himself in the UFC.  The rumor is that he is fighting on November 23rd, and with a win is UFC bound.
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MMA Sun 2015 Prospect Spotlight – The Flyweights – #2 – Rany Saadeh

MMA Sun’s number 3 flyweight prospect for 2015 in Rany Saadeh. The 21-year old German product is a name to remember for sure. SaadehRanySaadeh is 7-1 with his sole loss coming at the hands of 2014’s number 3 flyweight prospect, Pietro Menga. Saadeh joins a plethora of very young flyweight talent on this list. Currently signed under the BAMMA banner, Saadeh has hopes of being the top flyweight in talent laden Europe.  He is already the BAMMA flyweight champion, but will likely continue to progress.

Saadeh has fought some pretty solid competition in his young career and his more than held his own.  Saadeh has very solid striking.  His boxing is crisp.   He has some finishing ability in his hands as well.  Three of his six wins have come by way of strikes.  He has good combinations as well.  He does not just throw punches, but seeks to land combinations that he often ends with hard leg kicks.  Perhaps the best aspect of Saadeh’s striking is his footwork.  A lot of really good fighters have really poor footwork, but Saadeh has good movement.  He moves in and out and side to side.  He does not just move straight forward either.  One thing I really liked about Saadeh’s striking game is when he uses his knees.  He landed a brutal knee to Danny Missin’s liver to finish him at BAMMA 13.  Saadeh’s striking is really fun to watch.

On the ground, he stays active from a top position.  He does a good job with striking form inside his opponent’s guard by mixing up strikes to the body and the head.  He is also able to control the positioning on the ground.  He has the ability to dominate fights in multiple places.  it would appear that the most vulnerable place for Rany is on his back.  He will need to make sure that he can consistently defend takedowns or get back to his feet.  His lone loss was a submission loss, so he will constantly need to improve his submission defense.

Given his age and current skills, Saadeh’s potential is limitless.  We are talking about a guy that could be a future world champion of a major promotion.  The UFC stated that they are looking to return to Germany in 2015 and I have a hard time seeing them not taking a close look at this young flyweight for that event.  Saadeh is half German, but also half Palestinian, which certainly increases his appeal.  Look for this youngster not just to make it to the UFC, but to make an instant impact.

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TitanFC Signs Four More Fighters

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Titan Fighting Championship continues to add to its already stacked roster with the additions of four newcomers.  UFC veterans Alex Soto and Wagner Prado, bantamweight prospect Brett Johns and welterweight up and comer Belal Muhammad are the most recent signing by Titan.
                Wagner Prado was widely considered one of the top light heavyweight prospects in the world when he entered into the UFC.   After rough stretch in the promotion he was released. Prado, the 26-year old Brazilian, returned to his winning ways with a TKO victory in Brazil this past September.  Prado hopes to mount a title run in Titan Fighting Championship and to prove to the world he is an elite level fighter.  The Muay Thai stylist is a solid addition to the Titan roster.
         Alex Soto (pictured) is also a UFC veteran.  He holds an impressive 7-2 career record which includes a win over The Ultimate Fighter:alexsoto Latin America cast member Enrique Briones.  The 30-year old bantamweight will make his Titan debut in early 2015.   Soto has competed against some of the best bantamweight in the world such as Michael McDonald and Francisco Rivera.
Brett Johns is one of the brightest prospects in the world.  There are many who herald him as a potential world champion.  The 22-year old native of Wales boasts a perfect 10-0 career record.  Johns is a former Cage Warriors champion, who will make his North American debut with TitanFC.
Belal Muhammad is a promising welterweight prospect who has a strong wrestling and boxing base.  Belal goes by the moniker “Remember the Name”, which is fits well with his goals in the sport.  Muhammad is certainly one to watch in the Titan welterweight division.  Muhammad boasts a 6-0 career record that includes a win on a Bellator card this past March.
Titan Fighting has quickly assembled one of the strongest roster in all of MMA which includes a mix of UFC veterans, blue chip prospects and solid journeymen.  TitanFC 32 will take place on December 19th and will air on CBS Sports.  That card will feature a pair of championship fights including a heavyweight fight between John Madsen and Dave “Pee Wee” Herman.  In addition, a featherweight title fight featuring Steven Siler and Des Green. Tickets are available through TicketMaster.

 

MMA Sun 2015 Prospect Spotlight – The Flyweights – #3 – Kurban Gadzhiev

The number 3 flyweight prospect for 2015 is Dagestani natice Kurban Gadzhiev.  Kurban is just 21-years old, so he is one of the guys to reallyKurban keep an eye on coming out of the talent rich region of Dagestan.  He also holds a perfect 9-0 record.  He is a Russian and world combat sambo champion who could be one of the brightest prospects in the sport.  The K-Dojo fighter has a great team surrounding him that should help his progression in the sport.

Kurban utilizes a lot of kicks and really is willing to target his opponent’s legs.  This under-used tactic sets him apart somewhat.  So many fighters coming up through the ranks have awkward looking kicks and strikes, but Kurban has solid strikes that have power behind them.  I really believe that he will need to diversify his striking.  If he were to enter the UFC, he would be at a similar place as Khabib Nurmagomedov when he debuted in the UFC skillwise.

I was really impressed with his grappling.  Like so many of the Russian fighters, Gadzhiev has good takedowns.  He does a great job getting inside and securing a clinch or body lock.  Once on the mat he appears to have very good transitions and positioning.  He has the ability to dominate on the ground.  He is physically very strong.  He has a nice double leg takedown as well.  Once he takes his opponent’s back he knows how to finish a fight.

Kurban has fought many times as a bantamweight and done very well.  We believe he is perfectly suited for the flyweight division and could be a legit contender in a few years.

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MMA Sun 2015 Prospect Spotlight – The Flyweights – #4 – Matheus Nicolau

Our number four ranked flyweight this year is Matheus Nicolau.  Matheus is a 21-year old Brazilian who has shown tons of upside.  He ismatheusnicolau-mma-div
Nova Uniao trained fighter, who really looks like a Nova Uniao fighter.  He has a solid 10-1 career record so far. His lone loss was to Pedro Nobre, who he fought when he was 19 years old.  In that fight, he looked pretty good for a while, however he got sucked into some wild exchanges of which Nicolau took the most damage in.  I think the reality is that Nobre was a bit much for Nicolau at that point in time.  I would say, I do not think he was vastly outmatched.  Nicolau could very well become one of Brazil’s top flyweights very soon.

Age is always a big factor in how we rank prospects.  At 21-years old, Nicolau is projected to have more time to improve.  He is already a very good fighter, who could probably compete within the UFC.   Those near him have made some bold comparisons to Jose Aldo.  Nicolau even comes from a soccer background like Aldo.  Andre Pederneiras speaks very highly of Niciolau, which is very telling to me.

He has decent, but not great takedown defense.  Although, there is a noticeable improvement in his takedown defense from fight to fight.  He also have a very good guard.  He is active off of his back and can use his guard to threaten as well as defensively.   Like many of the Nova Uniao guys, he has very good Jiu Jitsu, but he is not a submission stylist or specialist.  He tends to win his fights int he striking department.  He has shown that he has knockout power, even one punch knockout power.

Matheus certainly has plenty of room to improve.  I would like to see him get hit less.  I also think he could have trouble with an elite level wrestler.  The problem is that there is not much more he can do in Brazil.  High level prospects struggle to find willing opponents in Brazil.  Matheus is still young.  He needs experience in the cage.  I would assume that it will not be long and someone like UFC will pick him up.

 

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MMA Sun 2015 Prospect Spotlight – The Flyweights – #5 – Ryo Hatta

Coming in at number 5 among our flyweights in another Japanese product in Ryo Hatta.  Hatta has fought his career in the Zst promotion in Japan.  He has looked Hatta1extremely good in his eight fight career so far.  There are many in Japan that have high expectations from Hatta.  At just 23-years old, we believe Hatta is the best long term prospect among his Japanese counterparts.

Hatta has shown a very dangerous submission game.  In fact, seven of his eight wins have come by way of submission.  Although he technically holds the rank of purple bell in Jiu Jitsu, he has shown himself to be a very crafty submission specialist.  He has even grappled with elite black belts like Bruno Malfacine.  While he really stood little chance against an elite grappler like Malfacine, he did show that he is pretty savvy on the mat.

We believe he certainly needs to be tested more, but his most recent win, in August against veteran Tatsuya Watanabe is a very nice name added to his resume.  In that fight he went to the fifth round, which tested his cardio.  He was able to beat Watanbe by way of armbar.  Hatta is dangerous from every place on the ground.  On his resume he has armbars, triangle choke, a guillotine and even a leg scissor choke.  From the limited video I have seen on Hatta, he has had no trouble getting fights to the ground.  That could change when he fights elite wrestlers.  However, putting him on his back could be dangerous for anyone.

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To Retire or Not Retire…That is the Question

Very few fighters seem to know when to retire. There is something in their make up. Something about their competitiveness that makes it difficult to walk away. They are fighters. Few have options outside of fighting. Most need the money. Most want to prove they can still fight at a high level. We can name many icons who did not walk away well. Not long ago, Brian Stann retired. He could have still fought, made money and won fights. However, he knew it was time. He knew that damage would be irreversible. Few can do that. We look at several fighters who should start to think more about retirement and give the cases for and against walking away from their professional fighting careers.

  • Dan Henderson

The case for retirement:  Dan hendoHenderson is a legend of legends.  He will go down as one of the greatest American mixed martial artists of all time. The two division PRIDE champion has a amazing resume.  Hendo has seemed to defy father time.  The biggest reason for retirement for him is his age.  Henderson is 44 years old.  He has stayed competitive with the elite of the elite in the UFC, but it may be time to step away.  Perhaps time has finally caught up with him.  He has lost 4 of his last 5.   He has spoken of his next fight being at middleweight, which win or lose could be his last stand.  No one wants to see the once iron chinned, Henderson start getting viciously knocked out.  I see no point in him continuing to fight.  He has little left to prove.  He should be financially set.

The case against retirement:  Yes, Henderson has lost 4 of his last 5 fights, but he lost to Lyoto Machida, Vitor Belfort, Rashad Evans and Daniel Cormier.  There are countless other elite fighters that would lose 4 of 5 going through that gauntlet.  I will add that only one of those losses came by way of TKO.  Its not like Henderson has a ledger of being knocked out in his career.

What will he do?  He will fight again for sure.

  • Shogun Ruamauricio-shogun-rua

The case for retirement:  Perhaps as loud of cries for anyone’s retirement has been the ones for Shogun. His quick KO loss to Ovince St. Preux makes the case for retirement strong.  Shogun has been in some great battles in his career.  Those battles are bound to add up.  Honestly, he has little left to prove.  He is an all-time great.  He won the UFC light heavyweight title as well as a PRIDE tournament championship.  The concern for Shogun is his long term health.  His chin isn’t what it used to be, and I do not know how many times we want to see him knocked unconscious.  Add to that the several knee injuries throughout his career.  His body has paid the price for his sport.  On top of the health concerns for Shogun, I am not sure he is still competitive.   I am not sure he is even a top 15 light heavyweight in the world any more.  I have heard that his family and especially his brother want him to retire, but he refuses.  I have also heard that he has some questionable associates and really does not train like he should.  It shows.  Shogun is a shell of his former self.

The case against retirement: Shogun is 32, not 42.  Yes, he has lost some fights recently, but I might suggest that things are not as bad as people are making them out to be.  He got caught in the last fight with St. Preux.  It happens to other fighters all the time.   Since losing his title to Jon Jones, Shogun is 3-5.  A closer look at that record shows us that he lost a narrow decision to Dan Henderson, got caught early by Chael Sonnen in a choke, and fought a lackluster fight to a decision with Alexander Gustafsson.  Gustafsson is probably the number 2 light heavyweight in the world and Shogun stayed 5 rounds with him.  My point is that Shogun is not at Chuck Liddell levels of getting KO’d by everything.

What will he do?  He is coaching TUF Brazil 4 opposite Anderson Silva.  He has hinted at a move to 185.  He will fight again.

  • Frank MirUFC 119 Weigh-in

The case FOR retirement: Mir is 35 years old.  He has lost four fights in a row.  Is he just in a slump?  Or is he done hanging with the best heavyweights in the world?  Mir is another guy that has taken a lot of damage in his career.  Brock Lesnar probably forever damaged Mir.  Seven times in Mir’s career he has been stopped by TKO.  That is a lot.  If you also add to that the affect that his horrible motorcycle accident had on his body you have to be concerned about his long term health.  Mir like many others has little to prove.  He is a former UFC champion.  He has some of the greatest moments in heavyweight history.  He has a family.  He has the ability to teach after fighting.  Why fight again?  I am not sure what fights make sense for him right now.  Ok, he could fight once more, but if he loses, the UFC probably is forced to cut him.  Keep your dignity, Frank.

The case against retirement: Mir claims to be reinvented.  He is a guy who still has some interesting fight opportunities.  He is also always dangerous with his submissions.  It isn’t like Mir is getting KO’d every time out there.  His chin has held up.

What will he do?  Probably give it one more.

  • Roy Nelsonroynelson

The case FOR retirement: We don’t usually talk about Roy Nelson in the conversation of those who need to hang it up.  However, Roy is 38 years old.  He has lost 3 of his last 4 and shown signs of a weakening chin.  Nelson has relied on his iron chin.  He has been in some serious brawls and taken some serious damage.  Perhaps he could fight some more, but why?  I would tell him to quit before the damage is done.  He isn’t going to beat the best in the UFC’s heavyweight division and he risks doing further damage to his brain.  Big Country should just retire, then he can eat what he wants and train when (and where) he wants.

The case against retirement: I love Big Country.  He has a sort of cult following.  There is still big money to be made.  A couple more fights.  A fight of the night or KO of the night bonus could really be nice for Roy.

What will he do?  He will fight again.

  • Antonio Rodrigo NogueiraBigNog

The case FOR retirement: Big Nog is one of the best heavyweight of all time.  Scratch that, he is one of the best mixed martial artists of all time.  He is also one of the best human beings of all time.  He is a legend.  People in the MMA world look up to him like no other.  Has there ever been a tougher fighter than Biog Nog?  He at one time almost seemed impossible to KO.   Yes, he could still win fights (maybe), but why?  He has won UFC and PRIDE titles.  He has a thriving MMA gym.  Nogueira has taking a licking in his career.  It shows.  He is 38, but looks like he is 48.  He has had knee surgeries, shoulder, elbow and countless other injuries.  Dude, its time to step away.

The case against retirement: *crickets*

What will he do?  Probably fight once more.

  • Antonio Rogerio Nogueira

The case FOR retirement:  He is 38 years old and injured more than any fighter in UFC history.  I refuse to make a “pull out” joke about how many fights Little Nog has withdrawn from.  Like so many of the others on this list, the combination of his age and cumulative damage throughout his career is reason to hang ‘em up.  I hate to see Little Nog become prospect fodder.

The case against retirement:  The case isn’t quite as bad with him as it is with his brother.  Save the Anthony Johnson fight, it had been a while since he was KO’d.  So he has only been KO’s twice since 2007 (Anthony Johnson and Sokoudjou).  Although the fight stunk, he did beat Rashad Evans in 2013.  There are still winnable fights for him in the UFC.

What will he do?  He will fight again.

  • Alisair Overeem

The case FOR retirement:  He is 34 years old and he has lost 3 of his last 4.  All those loses have come by KO, some pretty spectacular.  Overeem has 51 professional MMA fights on his record.  He also has many kickboxing fights on his record too.  He has a great resume to hang his hat on.  He is a former Strikeforce and DREAM champion.  He is a former K-1 champion.  Sure, the UFC title would be nice, but it isn’t happening.  I have serious questions about his chin now.

The case against retirement: I still think Overeem is fun to watch, or at least the though of what Overeem could/should be is fun to watch.  He has made big steps to improve.  He has moved to Jackson’s gym in New Mexico.  He may have a few years left in the tank.  Career revival is not impossible.

What will he do?  He is fighting Stefan Struve in December (who maybe should consider retirement himself)

  • Anderson Silva

The case FOR  retirement: Anderson is the GOAT.  But that GOAT is 39 years old.  Perhaps age finally caught up to him.  He has take relatively little damage in his career, but the KO loss followed by the broken leg to Chris Weidman may tell me its time for him to step away.  My question for Anderson is…why?  Talk about having nothing to prove.   The recovery from that leg injury maybe is a bigger question to me than his chin.

The case against retirement: Anderson got clipped by Weidman and then a freak injury gave him two losses in the UFC.  That does not mean he is done.  I think we could explain away both losses.  Anderson is a fighter.  He is a competitor.  He wants to end on a good note.  He just re-signed with UFC for 15 fights.  Granted, no one expects him to fight 15 more times.  There are still fights for him.

What will he do?  He fights Nick Diaz next, then coaches TUF Brazil 4.

  • Vitor Belfort

The case FOR retirement:  Post-TRT Vitor will be slower, older, and more hittable.

The case against retirement: We do not know that post-TRT Vitor will be worse than pre-TRT Vitor.  His record does nothing to convince me he needs to retire.

What will he do?  He fights Weidman for the middleweight title

  • Cung Le

The case FOR retirement:  Cung Le is 42 years old.  He is coming off a drug test failure (sort of).  He is a former champion with little to prove.  He has acting options which seem to be priority number one.  It is not good for fighting at this level to be a hobby.

The case against retirement:  He hasn’t taken the damage of a lot of the guys on this list.  He was beat by Bisping, but that doesn’t mean he should retire.  With UFC’s entrance into the Asian market there is money to be made for Cung Le.  There are exciting fights for him still.  I am up for just watching him fight a few interesting fights.

What will he do?  My guess is: he fights once more.

  • Michael Bisping

The case FOR retirement:  He is not far from 36 years old.  He has shown signs of not being what he once was.  The middleweight division is better and stronger than ever and he is going to be swallowed up in it.  It is doubtful that he ever moves past being a gatekeeper in the division.  Yes, he can still beat a lot of UFC middleweights, but what is the point?  Maybe for money?

The case against retirement:  Bisping has rarely not been competitive in a fight.  He has a good resume.  He is a fan draw.  He can headline events still.  He can beat most guys outside of the top 10.

What will he do?  Little doubt he fights again

A few others who should consider hanging them up: Mark Munoz, Takanori Gomi and Josh Barnett

So many current fights should probably think about retirement, but one big issue is the money.  Maybe not for these guys, but for lower level guys who haven’t been at the top of the world.  Guys like Charlie Brennerman.  I would love to see UFC and other MMA organizations develop some type of fighter pension or retirement fund.  Maybe putting away a certain amount for each fighter per fight.  Maybe ensuring career opportunities post-fighting.  Whatever the case, we need to make sure that the driving force behind staying in fighting is not future financial uncertainty (this is not just a MMA issue, it happens in NFL everyday).

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