16 in ’16: The Bantamweights

The bantamweight division is one of the more exciting divisions in the sport. I have also found that it is also one of the most talent rich. The division is full of young, up and coming prospects.  I believe that this group of 16 bantamweight prospects is a very high level group.  Most of these fighters are not far away from achieving their dream of being in the UFC.  I also believe that some on this list will be future title contenders or maybe even world champions.

  1. Tom Duquesnoy – 13-1 – 23 years old – FranceTom-Duquesnoy

Duquesnoy is far and away the top bantamweight prospect in the world.  Duquesnoy recent made the drop from featherweight. where he would have been the top prospect as well.  The “Fire Kid” holds a 13-1 career record.  He is currently the BAMMA bantamweight champion as well.   Duquesnoy’s lone loss came back in 2013 at the hands of current UFC fighter Makwan Amikhani.  The French fighter is only 23-years old, so he certainly has age on his side.  Duquesnoy has picked up some nice wins over the likes of Brendan Loughnane, Shay Walsh and Teddy Violet.  I had heard rumblings that Duquesnoy was offered a UFC deal not too long ago, but elected to stay in BAMMA because he felt he was not quite ready.  He has good takedown defense and he is often able to dictate where a fight takes place.  His wrestling is not dynamic, but he can hold his own against most fighters.  His top game is strong and he seems to have good positioning.  He does a good job of throwing hard counters and he is very effective when moving forward and being the aggressor.  Most of his fights in the past have been at featherweight, and now that he is down a weight class, I expect the size and strength advantage to be a big factor for Tom.

2. Boston Salmon – 5-0 – 25 years old – USA

Boston Salmon is a fighter that has been on the rise.  He is 25-years old and has a perfect 5-0 career record.  The Boston-Salmonsouthpaw is a very good striker.  He has lightning fast hands and has power in his combinations.  His left hand is an especially dangerous weapon.  He is fun to watch when he really lets go with his hands.  He is able to pick apart opponents.  His striking is really crisp.  Salmon also seems to have good size for the weight class.  I believe he would instantly be one of the more dangerous strikers in the UFC bantamweight division.  While he certainly has some power, he is most successful with volume.  I think Salmon can not only get to the UFC, but I think he can eventually contend.  I had heard rumors that UFC was interested in him already, so I suspect they will snatch him up soon.  He is scheduled to fight  at RFA 43 on September 9th.  Perhaps an impressive performance there will get him a UFC call up.  Regardless, it will not be long until we see Boston Salmon inside the UFC octagon.

3. Brett Johns – 12-0 – 24 years old – Wales

Johns is a 12-0 fighter who hails from Wales.  Known as “The Pikey”, Johns does not have the most impressive BrettJohnsphysique, but he certainly is impressive with his fighting. Johns is just 24-years old, so he is still young enough to continue to develop. 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.  Johns is and always will be a grappler first. The biggest concern for Johns is making weight.  I think given the right discipline and diet, he could make the bantamweight limit with ease.  However, he has had trouble making weight.  In fact, he was stripped of his TitanFC title for missing weight and also had issues at Cage Warriors.  I do not think Johns is far from a big time offer.  He may need to win a fight or two in order to get that offer, however.

4. Go Kashiwazaki – 16-0-2 – 20 years old – Japan

Kashiwazaki is an exciting Japanese prospect.  In fact, he may be the best prospect in Japan right now.  He is just 20-GoKashiwakaziyears old and already has a record of 16-0-2.   Kashiwazaki has fought average competition, but he has shined in those fights.  Kashiwazaki shines on the ground.  He has excellent submissions and is dangerous from any place on the ground.   He seems to have an innate ability to find an opponent’s neck and latch on a choke.  One mistake against Go and it could be over.  His submission ability is equivalent to one punch knockout power.  He actually has very solid ground and pound to go with his submissions.  His stand up is not his strong suit, but I would not say that it is awkward like many grapplers.  He uses a lot of faints and has good movement.  I watched him win one fight by way of head kick, so he does have kicks in the arsenal.  He doesn’t have the best or most powerful takedowns, but if he secures a body lock, he can certainly take anyone down.  I would have some concerns about Kashiwzaki against powerful American wrestlers, but I do think that if he can improve his striking that he can be a bigger threat everywhere.  He is currently fighting for the Japanese promotion Zst, so I am not sure what the likelihood is of him getting an offer from UFC, Bellator or maybe a promotion like One.  However, I think it is time for him to move on to a bigger promotion.  Kashiwazaki is young and could emerge as one of the best fighters in Japan.If UFC plans on continuing to invest in the Asian market, snatching young and talented prospects is a must.

5. Leandro Higo – 17-2  – 27 years old – Brazil

I debated where to put Higo.  He certainly is one of the best bantamweights not in the UFC.  However, he had a Higo2chance in the Ultimate Fighter Brazil that he did not capitalize on.  I still think he could have and should have done better than he did on the show.  Higo has all the skills to do well in the UFC and against higher level competition.  My biggest question for him is about mentality.  I think he has a tendency to make poor decisions, which is what lead to him not being as successful at the Ultimate Fighter.  In terms of talent, he may be the most talented guy on this list.  He could seriously contend for a UFC title.  Let’s not forget he is still just 27-years old.  He has great experience and boasts a 17-2 career record.  Higo has long trained with the Pitbull brothers in Brazil.  Higo is a world class jiu jitsu practitioner.   Not only that, but he has solid kickboxing to go along with his other skills. Higo is a threat anywhere the fight takes place.  He is currently signed to RFA, which seems to be a fast track to the UFC.  The current champion in RFA may not be far from a UFC offer.  I also do not think it is impossible for Bellator to take a look at Higo.  His team has a Bellator connection.  He could fit in very nicely in the Bellator bantamweight division.  I fully expect Higo to be in a major promotion by the end of this year.

6. Petr Yan – 6-1 – 23 years old – Russia

The young Russian prospect is a real name to keep your eye on.  He lost a close decision to Magomed Magomedov, petr_yan-0073_1_0but many feel that the fight should have at least been a draw.  Yan is an exciting fighter who is willing to throw heavy leather.  I believe that he could be a fan favorite in the bantamweight division.  It appears that Yan is skilled everywhere.  He excels on the feet, throwing hard punches.  He is willing to put down his head and throw heavy punches.  Yan has knees and a variety of other strikes in the arsenal and when he puts them all together he is even more dangerous.  He also has solid takedown defense.  When on his back, Yan is active in the guard.  He can certainly finish fights off of his back.  He is very quick from guard to armbar or triangle.  I have seen Yan land some very nice judo throws and hip tosses in his fight, so he is a threat for a takedown.  Another thing that stands out is that Yan is able to control things from the top position very well.  Yan has a very good gas tank and is able to go for five rounds.  There is a lot of talent in Russia, but Yan stands out among those.  Given his age and his current talent, I expect that he will become a top tiered bantamweight.

7. Magomed Magomedov – 13-1 – 24 years old – Russia

Magomedov is another very solid Russian bantamweight.  He actually holds a win over number 6 ranked Petr Yan, Magomed-Tiger-Magomedovbut the fight was super close.  Yan and Magomedov are neck and neck in terms of prospects.  Magomedov is also young at 24-years old.  Magomedov has a very good wrestling game and he is heavy from the position.  Magomdeov has the ability to be relentless with the takedowns and pressure.  He is crafty with his takedowns.  His stand up looks decent as well.  He is willing to throw a variety of kicks, including spinning attacks.  One of the other things that stands out about Magomedov is that he appears to be durable.  Magomedov seems to really do his best work when in grappling exchanges.  I would be surprised if we do not see Magomedov on a big stage sooner rather than later.  He stands out among other prospects at his weight class regardless of nationality.  Magomedov was slated to re-match Yan, but that fight was postponed due to an injury.  “Tiger” will return to action soon.  I believe with one or two more wins that Magomedov will start drawing serious interest from promotions all around the world.  He may elect to stay and fight in Russia until UFC comes calling.

8. Kwan Ho Kwak – 9-0 – 27 years old – South Korea

Kwak has as good of a resume of wins as anyone on this list.  His most recent win was over UFC veteran Alp Ozkilic, KwanKwakKyle Aguon and Trevin Jones.  Kwak is really good at distance.  He has very good leg kicks that he is willing to use in bunches.  He can be a very aggressive fighter.  He throws a variety of techniques including jumping knees, spinning kicks and superman punches that he has been successful with.  He is also able to maintain that aggression over the course of a five round fight.  Kwan does have a little pop in his punches as well.   In January Kwak captured the PXC bantamweight title.  The one weakness that I see in Kwak is his takedown defense.  Kwak is good off of his back, but sometimes he is too willing to give up takedowns.  I worry that he could get bullied and either held down or held against the cage.   I could see both UFC and One bidding for his services.  I think he can be a very good fighter.  He has some room to grow and improve, especially in regards to takedown defense.  However, he is fun to watch and is skilled.

9. DeMarte Pena – 11-0 – 26 years old – South Africa

Pena is a great story.  He fled war in Angola and moved to South Africa.  That adversity not only makes for a great Demartepenastory, but it forged a mental toughness that benefits him in the cage.  Pena is a good grappler who is not afraid to get into grappling exchanges with anyone.  He seems to be quite confident in his wrestling as well.  The current champion of EFC is a also a very good striker.  I would like to see him trust his strikes a little more.  It appears he has some explosion and power in his strikes, but he needs to become a little more confident in throwing them.  Another thing that I noticed about Pena was that he has some speed. His hands and kicks can come very quickly and when he throws combinations he is very dangerous.  Pena has finishing talent, but he for some reason has not consistently finished fights. I believe he needs to be finishing more fights at the regional level.  Pena has been champion in the EFA at both featherweight and bantamweight, so he has shown that he is a cut above the competition.  At bantamweight is big, strong and powerful.  UFC would be smart to sign Pena yesterday.  He is not only a good fighter, but he speaks perfect English and is a marketable fighter.  Pena is scheduled to fight the tough Irshaad Sayed on November 11th in EFC.

10. Soo Chul Kim – 14-5 – 24 years old – South Korea

Soo Chul Kim has had a lot of experience for his age.  He has fought in ONE several times and has competed against soochulkim2some very good fighters including several UFC veterans.  Kim has not lost in his last eight fights, in a series that included bouts against UFC veterans Tuerxun Jumabieke, Marcus Brimage, Issei Tamura, Motonobu Tezuka and Wagner Campos.  I think that his rune in OneFC was hurt by being a little young and inexperienced.  He really seems to have turned a corner in his career.  Kim has very good striking skills.  I was very impressed with his improvement.  He has very strong kicks and knees.  He seems to do a good job targeting the body as well.  Kim can be very aggressive at times as well, which always leaves the potential for exposing himself to his opponent’s counters.  Kim does need to be careful with his striking defense.  He takes too many shots at times.  There are moments where he walks through punches a la Korean Zombie.  I do not believe that the best long term plan for success is to rely on a good chin.  I think that there is a danger in a very good wrestler controlling Kim for three rounds, but he has done a good job recently against very good grapplers.  However, Kim is dangerous when fighters are coming in and in the clinch.  Kim has fought for RIZIN, ONE and RoadFC.  It is possible that he would prefer to stay fighting in Asia.  If that is the case we could see him fight with RIZIN again.  I still think that he could be an asset to the UFC bantamweight division.  He is young and talented.  I expect that he will keep fighting the best available guys and maybe eventually make his way to UFC.

11. Khalid Taha – 9-0 – 23 years old – Germany

Taha is another great prospect fighting out of Germany.  Khalid is of Lebanese origin.  He is a solid grappler and khalidtahaseems to be a real threat for submissions even off of his back.  His guard is very active.  However, most of his fights have been finished by way of strikes.  Khalid’s striking is also very solid.  He has some power in his punches and even has power when moving backwards.  One of the real strengths that he possess is in his ground and pound.  He is able to generate some serious power on his punches from the top position.  He needs to continue to improve he striking and submission defense.  I saw moments where he was nearly caught in submissions.  Taha has not shown too many holes in his game.  The question, though has to be the level of opponents he has faced.  He has done what he is supposed to do against weaker competition.  I believe that before the Taha to the UFC talk can really begin, he needs a real test or two.  From what I have seen, he seems to be on the right trajectory to get to the UFC.  He has a good team around him.  He is young and talented.  The upcoming UFC trip to Hamburg, Germany may be a bit premature for his call-up, but I would not be surprised to see him in the UFC by this time next year.

12. Cody Stamann – 10-1 – 25 years old – USA

Stamann is a bit more under the radar than many of our bantamweight prospect.  However, I feel that he has great stamannpotential in the sport and continues to improve.  At the same time he is building a fairly solid resume that includes a win in his most recent fight over the very tough Farkhad Sharipov.  In honesty, while he may not be the blue chip prospect that some on our list are, I think Cody’s game sets him up very well not just to make it to a major promotion like the UFC, but to find some success there.  He is still a little bit tentative at times standing.  Cody likes to switch stances when on the feet.  He has become a little more willing to exchange in his more recent fights.  When he presses forward and puts pressure on his opponents is when he is at his best.  I do not think he will be the type of guy to stand on the outside and pick someone apart at distance, but he can certainly land power punches and solid combinations as he moves forward.  Stamann does have very good wrestling.  This is probably the best aspect of his game.  He is always a threat to put an opponent on their back.  He also appears to be very physically strong.  Cody has a fight scheduled for this next weekend (8/27), I believe a win puts him more on the radar.  I would not be surprised to see him do a quick stint in an organization like Legacy or RFA before UFC or Bellator comes calling.

13. Ricardo Ramos – 9-1 – 21 years old – Brazil

Ramos is one of our youngest prospects.  As far as prospects are concerned I believe in buying young.  Ramos has theRicardo_Ramos_Talent_MMA.0.0 distinction of being a featured fight on two of the episodes of Dana White Lookin’ For A Fight.  In his first fight, he took a loss to the very tough Manny Vazquez.  His second fight has not aired yet.  However, in that event Ramos scored a very nice win that very well could have earned him a UFC offer.  My guess is that his next fight will be in the UFC.  I think Ramos has the potential to do very well.  I do have some concerns.  I worry that he could get bullied and controlled by bigger, stronger and more experienced fighters.  Ramos is a real submission threat.  He has won six of his nine fights via submission.   He is very quick on the mat and his transitions are very smooth.  Unlike many prospects, Ramos has fought some decent competition.  I am not sure he has competed against UFC-level guys, but he has done very well against some very solid fighters.  While Ramos is primarily a submission guy, his striking can be dangerous.  Another thing that stood out was that Ramos has very good balance.  It is not easy to get Ramos down with a single leg takedown.   When I watch Ramos, I think a decent comparison is Eduardo Dantas.  I like Ramos as a prospect.  I think he needs some time to continue to develop, but he would beat UFC bantamweights right now.

14. Dominic Mazzotta – 10-1 – 29 years old – USA

If Mazzota was a few years younger, he would probably be ranked a little higher on this list.  Remember, this is a Dominic-Mazzotta-Pinnacle-FC-11prospect list.  If Mazzota was to fight some of the above guys, I am convinced he would win some.  Mazzotta has fought some good competition including UFC rising star Cody Garbrandt.  Mazzotta has solid striking and has been able to put opponents away with his head kick on more than one occasion.  Dominic has only been fighting professionally since 2013, so he has not been fighting incredibly long.  Mazzotta also has very good submission skills, he has had success in grappling tournaments.  Training at the Mat Factory, he has proven to be a good all around fighter.  He seems to be a cerebral fighter who knows how to win.  Mazzotta is another one of the sleeper prospects on this list.  He is already UFC capable.  I would think that before too long he will get a chance to prove his skills on a big stage.

15. Adi Alic – 6-1 – 27 years old – USA

There are a lot of fighters who finish their fights, but Alic is a true finisher.  He may have the best finishing instinct ofadialic our bantamweight prospects.  Adi is a guy who likes to fight.  In his few fights he has an impressive highlight reel of finishes.He has a very dangerous stand up game with a variety of strikes.  He lands knees, kicks and solid punches.  Alic has some impressive power in his punches as well.  Alic is not affiliated with American Top Team, which can only help improve his skills.  I have heard nothing but rave reviews from those who know and have seen Alic fight.   While Adi has shown impressive variety in his striking game he has wrestled since he was in the 7th grade.   With a fighter like Adi, you get the complete package.  Alic has very good submissions to go with his dangerous striking.  I think Alic has all the skills right now to find success at a high level.  However, I believe he needs to get his way to a promotion like RFA or Legacy.  If he can win one or two more fights and create some buzz around him, I believe that UFC will have no choice but to take a look at Alic.

16.  Manny Vazquez – 9-2 – 22 years old – USA

Vazquez would have been higher if his last fight was not a loss.  He actually holds a win over our #13 ranked Manny-Vazquez-1bantamweight prospect, Ricardo Ramos.  Vazquez is very young and has the potential to be much better than many others ranked above him.  The recent loss did delay an eventual UFC call-up, but I don’t think that it shut the door.  Vazquez beat Ricardo Ramos in impressive fashion and nearly earned a UFC shot then.  Another interesting tidbit about Vazquez is that he indicated that he could make flyweight.  He is a former Legacy champion.  With Vazquez, he needs to establish consistency.  I do not know if that is a training camp issue that needs to be addressed or a mental one.  Vazquez has very good tools.  He has solid grappling and he appears to know how to finish a fight.  Vazquez has a good jab when he utilizes it.  Manny likes to utilize a lead left hook, which he has found some success with.  He has a tendecy to be a bit wild with his strikes at times, which also makes him vulnerable to his opponent’s strikes.  Vazquez has good control on the canvas.  He is able to maintain position and make good transitions to better positions.  I really like Vazquez’s long term potential, but his place as a prospect hinges upon him being with the right camp and cleaning up some of his weak points.  Given the right coaching and matchmaking, Vazquez could be a major promotion target very soon.

 

 

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