16 in ’16: The Welterweights

The welterweight division is MMA is a very deep division.  It is one of the largest divisions in the UFC and it is one of the most talent right in term of up and coming fighters.  In an attempt to narrow down to 16 fighters for this particular list, some very good prospects were left off.  Some of the prospects that did not make the list are better prospects than some listed in other weight classes.

  1. Abubakar Nurmagomedov – 12-1 – 26 years old – Russia

Abubakar is a cousin to UFC lightweight contender Khabib Nurmagomedov.  He fights exactly how you would expect abunurmya Dagestani fighter to fight.  He is tough and gritty.  I do not know if his wrestling is to the level of Khabib’s but he is very effective with his wrestling.  His pressure can be absolutely overwhelming at times. He also seems to do very well in scrambles.  He is very heavy from the top position and seems to have a good base that keeps him from being easily reversed.  There are not many people that will out grapple Abubakar.  He stays active with his ground and pound, but it is not dynamic.   He did win his last fight with some ground and pound, but I don’t think his power will ever be jaw dropping, but I believe he can be effective by being relentless on the mat.  I believe where he is most vulnerable is at distance with his strikes.  Honestly, his striking is not bad, but he does not typically engage in striking exchanges.  Most of his striking is to set up a takedown or clinch situation.  Nurmagomdov has fought decent competition, but really will get a step up when he faces UFC veteran John Howard on October 7th.  While Abubakar is locked up with WSOF for the time, I would consider a win over John Howard to be his signature win.  When he becomes a free agent, I expect UFC and Bellator to be legit players for his services.

2.  Logan Storley – 4-0 – 24 years old – USA

Storley is the closest thing to a sure thing as there is among these prospects.  Storley is an elite wrestler.  He is a storleynational champion wrestler out of Minnesota University.  He is currently training MMA at Power MMA in Gilbert, Arizona with the likes of Ryan Bader and C.B. Dolloway.  There is very little to critique about Storley’s wrestling.  His takedown ability is as good as it gets in MMA.  He can do it all in the wrestling department.  He has shown himself to be a beat when in top position.  So far in his career he has shown some very solid ground and pound.  We haven’t needed to see much in terms of striking although he does appear to have a very solid overhand right.  Storley will be able to win fights against better strikers because of his ability to control where the fight takes place.  The trajectory is high for Storley.  I expect him to be in the UFC by this time next year.  I also imagine that the more time that passes, the more he will add to his game.  He is scheduled to fight again in RFA on October 28th.

3.  Borys Mankowski – 18-5-1 – 26 years old – Poland

Mankowski is one of the more experienced of our prospects, boasting 24 total mixed martial arts fights.  Among his mankowskieighteen careen wins are several very solid victories over Mohsen Bahari, Aslambek Saidov and a draw with UFC fighter Peter Sobotta.  I really like Mańkowski’s progression.  He is very experienced at a fairly high level and he is still just 26-years old.  Mankowski can at times be an aggressive striker.  He likes to move forward constantly.  One of the things that stands out about his striking game is his powerful kicks.  Mańkowski is not primarily striker and he has not typically used his strikes to finish fights, but he does have a much improved striking game.  He has shown glimpses of some power, and I believe he has the potential to have really good striking.  His movement is good and I like that he has become a solid counter puncher.  Sometimes he throws punches to wide and over-extends himself. He is a threat on the mat with submissions. Seven of his victories have come by way of submission and he has done that in a variety of ways.  As a result, we know he has a wide array of submission skills in his arsenal.  He is a threat from top position and from off of his back.  Opponents have to be careful inside his guard.  A question with Makowski is his consistency.   Mankowski currently is fighting for KSW in Poland, where he is likely well paid for his work.  I am not sure if we cab expect him to jump to the UFC, but if he was, I think he would have a successful run among the world’s best welterweights.

4.  Alexei Kunchenko – 14-0 – 32 years old – Russia

Kunchenko’s only hangup is his age.  If he was 5 years younger, he would be one of the top prospects in the sport. alexei-kunchenko Even at 32-years old, I believe that he has to be considered one of the best welterweight prospects in the game.  The current M-1 welterweight champion has been an an impressive run.  Kunchenko really shined in his title fight against Murad Abdulaev in M-1.  Kunchenko has good power in his punches.  He seems to know how to finish his opponents.  Not only does he have good punches, but he has very dangerous kicks.  Alexei has shown to have a very good chin.  Abdulaev really tested his chin, his heart and his will in their fight.  I believe that Kunchenko could run into some trouble against a high level wrestler.  He at times seems too willing to give up takedowns.  Obviously, his lack of takedown defense has not cost him a fight, but it certainly could cause him troubles.  Kunchenko’s mix of power in his hands, smooth combinations, solid kicks and an iron chin make him a dangerous opponent for anyone.  I fully expect that when his contract is completed with M-1 that he will make a run in the UFC or Bellator.

   5.  Mukhamed Berkhamov – 9-0 – 22 years old – Russia

Berkhamov has looked impressive in his nine fight professional career.  He has shown a really good all around skillsmuhamed_berhamov set.  In his most recent victory, he demonstrated power in his hands as he knocked out his opponent. The southpaw fighter, has crisp technique on his feet.  He also employs solid leg kicks on a regular basis.  One of the better aspects of his striking is his ability to slip punches and land counters.  His ability to avoid taking damage is not a common thing among young fighters. While I really like Berkhamov’s striking skills, he has shined on the mat.  Most of his wins have come by way of submission.  Berkhamov’s wrestling is solid, but he is not the typical Russain wrestler.  Its seems that his best takedowns come due to his good timing.  In some of his fights his takedowns are quite emphatic.  Mukhamed is not a physically imposing figure, but he does a good job from top control and seems to be a real handful when he is on top.  He is a real submission threat as well.  Six of his wins have come by way of submission.  His has really good chokes and is even dangerous off of his back, from his guard.   After watching footage of Berkhamov, I am convinced that he can be a high level fighter.  He is perhaps the best of the Russian welterweight prospects in terms of age combined with skill.

   6.  Muslim Salikhov – 9-1 – 32 years old – Russia

Salikhov has a storied fight background.  He is a Sanshou (wushu sanda) world champion.  He was a top notch muslimsalikhovwushu sanda competitor.  As you might expect, Salikhov has very good striking skills.  His striking is very diverse.  He has some power in his punches and at 170 pounds is a real danger on the feet to anyone.  Salikhov’s base brings some similarities to former UFC figher, Cung Le.  While not as explosive with his kicks as Le, Salikhov certainly has a wide arsenal of attacks.   He is dangerous moving forward as well as backwards.   In the past Salikhov has trained with the Phuket Top Team, expanding his mixed amrtial arts game.  His takedowns are very solid, but they look more like sanshou takedowns than pure wrestling takedowns.  I have a few concerns with Salikhov.  First, I would have some concern over his ability to defend submissions.  I am certain he is improving that aspect of his game, but that would seem to be area where he would be most vulnerable.  I would also wonder how he would do on his back.  The main concern is his age.  I still think Salikhov has a lot to offer, but he is no spring chicken.  That being said, his incredible standup game makes him a threat to anyone.  I would love to see Salikhov get his shot in a bigger promotion.  However, out of the guys on this list, he may be a long shot to head to a North American promotion.

    7.  Yaroslav Amosov – 17-0 – 23 years old – Ukraine

Amosov comes to MMA with a combat sambo base.  He is a highly regarded prospect training out of Ukraine. yaroslavamosov Amosov is a good sized welterweight with lots of upside.  He is just 23-years old and already holds an impressive 17-9 career mark.  He has fought a few decent fighters, but I believe before he moves on, he will need to fight some more experienced fighters.  I like Amosov’s striking overall.  He is very well rounded and his finished fights with strikes and with his submissions.  His striking game is fairly diverse.  He has good punches and seems to make good use of his length and size.  He has shown good power in his hands.  For example, he landed a beautiful right hand to knockout Diego Gonzalez.  He also has a good kicking game.  I believe that he needs to be a bit more aggressive in throwing combinations and landing in volume, but overall he is very solid on his feet.  I like Amosov’s movement on his feet.  When he is confident in his abilities, his striking goes to another level.  When a fighter goes 17-0, they cannot be ignored for long.  I believe that UFC or Bellator will have to pay closer attention if Amosov keeps winning fights.  When watching Amosov fight, I am reminded in many ways of current UFC fighter Tom Breese.

   8.  Walter Gahadza – 16-0 – 28 years old – UK

Born in Zimbabwe, Africa, Walter trained as a sprinter before making the transition to mixed martial arts. walter-gahadzaNicknamed “The Sniper”, Gahadza is one of the most promising prospects in England right now.  Gahadza has a good ground game which is seen by his five wins via submission.  He also has a good overall grappling game.  He has decent takedowns, especially from the clinch.  His top control is very solid.  One thing that stood out was his knees from the clinch position.  He is big and strong for the weight class.  He also seems to hit very hard.  His game could really be defined as explosive.  It is our observation that on pure athleticism and natural talent that Gahadza could go very far.  It also seems that Gahadza’s greatest challenge is going to be a mental one.  I think that the talent and natural ability is all there for Gahadza, the question is can he stay active?  If he can fight a few times in the next year, I believe he will be courted by many of the major MMA promotions.  I especially think he gains some extra promotional value with UFC holding events in the UK and throughout Europe.

 

   9.  Handesson Ferreira – 9-0 – 28 years old – Brazil

The 28-year old Brazilian prospect trains out of Kimura Nova Uniao gym.  Nicknamed “Boy Doido” or “Crazy Boy” handessorferHandesson certainly fights like that at times.  He has a tendency to get himself into wild exchanges.  Thankfully, his chin has withstood and his power has prevailed.  One thing that stands out about his striking ability is that he does a good job throwing hard kicks, especially to the body.  He switches between orthodox and southpaw and appears to have power in both hands.  Once he gets his opponent hurt, he is a real finisher.  He needs to be careful in those moments, because at times he can get over-aggressive.  I really like his game at distance.  He fights long and does a good job picking people apart.  He also has good movement that at times can be a bit awkward.  When on the ground he still primarily looks to finish with strikes.  He even knocked Paulo Surian out on his knees inside the guard.  Opponents may elect to take him down, but the risk is ending up underneath him and his heavy punches.  I still have some concerns that an legit wrestler could control and neutralize him on the ground.  He has shown submission ability.  He is actually a very good jiu jitsu practitioner with finishing ability off of his back.  Handesson is one of the best prospects in all of Brazil.  I would not be shocked to see the Jungle Fight champion in the UFC very soon.

10. Sharaf Davlatmurodov – 9-0-1 – 24 years old – Russia

Davlatmurodov comes onto this list with one of the biggest wins of all the prospects.  He has a nice victory over UFC-sharaf_davlatmuradovveteran Benny Alloway.  Sharaf has solid standup skills and a muay thai base.  Sharaf has spent a good deal of time training in Thailand.  You can tell in his movement on his feet that he is comfortable there.  He has good kicks.  Sharaf has very hard kicks that are done with good technique.  In fact, it was a body kick which finished Alloway this past July. Davlatmurodov is exciting to watch on his feet.  He has the ability to pick opponents apart at range.  Sharaf needs to improve his takedown defense.  He is not bad on the ground, but a solid wrestler can take him down and try to control him.  He also needs to work on his ability to use the cage to get to his feet.  Another advantage is that Sharaf is a fairly good sized welterweight.  I think he can use that to his advantage.  Sharaf has some work to do on his wrestling and ground game, but he could hang with some of the best in the world in a kickboxing contest.  I believe he could also beat several UFC welterweights right now.  I would love for someone like Sharaf to get a chance on this big stage.  I think if the UFC signed him, he could become a fan favorite.

11.  James Nakashima – 5-0 – 27 years old – USA

Nakashima fights out of the MMA Lab with Benson Henderson.  Nakashima has good boxing.  He fights out of the jamesnakashimasouthpaw stance.  He is not a long fighter, but he does a good job getting inside and doing damage.  He throws powerful overhand punches.  He seems to have good accuracy with his punches.  He is not a volume kicker, but he does use his low kicks in combinations.  Many of Nakashima’s punches look to carry power, but he has not been a finisher to date.  I wonder if that is not size related.  I do worry a little about the possibility of Nakashima getting overpowered at welterweight by some of the division’s bigger fighters.  However, he has seemed to hold his own against decent competition.  He is strong in the clinch position and does not get bullied around against the cage.  Nakashima has shown some good takedown skills as you might expect, given his training partners.  He is a former division I wrestler out of Nebraska.  He somewhat looks like and reminds me of his teammate, Luke Sanders.  Nakashima would be a guy that we most likely will see in either Bellator or UFC sooner rather than later.  I think he belongs against high level competition and it is only a matter of time until he gets his chance.

 12.  Ottman Azaitar – 7-0 – 27 years old  – Germany

Ottman is one of the more exciting fighters on this list.  The Turkish fighter, who lives and trains in Germany is a realottman_azaitar finisher.  Only one of his fights has ever left the first round.  Ottman probably has the best power punches out of anyone on this list.  He is a real threat because of that to any opponent he may face.   Ottman has good footwork and good movement in and out.  I believe he does need to be careful rushing in because he tends to leave his chin up.  He has shown that he is not only a dynamic striker, but he is also powerful in his takedowns at times.  Everything he does he does with power.  He does tend to overextend on his punches a bit making hum vulnerable to the takedowns. Ottman has actually shown some submission abilities, but he certainly does not look like a submission ace.  I think that Azaitar could be a solid addition to the UFC.  He is exciting and powerful.  I believe that if he continues to improve and tighten his defense he could be a real player in the welterweight division.

   13.   Aigun Akhemedov – 17-2 – 28 years old – Russia

Aigun is a gritty Russian fighter who has consistently found ways to win.  He is not the most impressive prospect in aigunakhemedovany aspect of his game, but he has demonstrated that he is a winner.  He is a bit unorthodox with some of his strikes.  He tends to throw wild, looping punches and he is not an especially powerful puncher.  He has looked really solid at times from the top position, landing ground and pound from the guard.  Aigun has fought several times at middleweight, which may be fine on the regional circuit in Russia, but I believe that he needs to stick to 170 pounds.  Aigun has decent wrestling and grappling skills, but he is not the dynamic wrestler that some of the Russian prospects are.  He also tends to not be the most exciting fighter because of his tendency to clinch or hold top position.  Aigun is not far from ready for a big show opportunity.  He holds a career win over UFC fighter Gasan Umaltov.  He had at one time been rumored to sign with Titan Fighting, but that never materialized. Aigun already has a solid resume that could soon draw the attention of North American promoters.  I believe he is one signature win away from that opportunity.

   14.  Albert Tadevosyan – 7-0-1 – 24 years old – Armenia

Tadevosyan is another exciting welterweight prospect to keep an eye on. He is a guy that is rapidly improving in all albert-tadevosyanaspects of his MMA game and is nearing UFC caliber.  In fact, he own a TKO victory over former UFC fighter Dennis Hallman.  There are some very solid aspects to his striking game.  He has very good kicks and some of them are quite flashy at times.  His boxing is continuing to improve as well.  Albert fought early in his career as a lightweight, so he is not the biggest welterweight.  He tends to like to attempt judo throws from the clinch position, which has the potential to leave his back open for the taking.  In his fight against Hallman he showed really good submission defense, as he was put into a dangerous position.  He also showed that once he gained top position that he has solid ground and pound.  He has the ability to finish with punches and elbows from inside the guard.   Tadevosyan has trained primarily under Jeff Hougland in Washington.  His striking defense and wrestling defense could certainly use some help.  I have some worries of how he would stack up against a big punches, especially at welterweight.  All in all, Tadevosyan is a solid fighter who could find his way to the UFC or Bellator soon.

15.  Brian Camozzi – 7-2 – 25 years old – USA

The brother of UFC fighter, Chris Camozzi is another prospect to keep an eye on in the loaded welterweight division.briancamozzi  Brian is the reigining RFA welterweight champion and may not be far removed from being called up to the UFC.  One of the best aspects of Camozzi’s game is his knees from the clinch.  Camozzi seems very strong for the welterweight division and his powerful knees in the clinch are a real difference maker.  Another thing that stands out for Camozzi is that he has very good submissions.  He is able to finish fights with chokes and appears to have a very good awareness of potential submissions.   He has solid striking, but does not seem to have one punch knockout power in his hands.  I believe that out of all the fighters on this list, Camozzi could be the most likely to have his next fight in the UFC.  Camozzi has potential to be even better than his brother, who has had a solid UFC stint.  Camozzi is worth keeping an eye on.

16.  Bruno Lopes – 6-0 – 23 years old – Brazil

Bruno is a great young prospect out of Brazil.  He currently is fighting for the Jungle Fight promotion where he has brunolopesshined so far.  Bruno, the former Jungle Fight champion,  is a very well rounded fighter.  He has very solid striking.  One of the more impressive things I noted about his striking was how well he does moving his head off center line and avoiding counter strikes.  He shows a diverse striking game which includes kicks and knees.  He does a good job landing hard punches and combinations.  He also has show very good submission skills.   In his two submission victories he showed a knack for being able to finish fights well.   Bruno could be one of the dark horses on this list to not only make it to the UFC, but to do well.  He has fought some solid competition in Brazil, but has not been tested like some other prospects have.  Also, he has not fought in a little over a year.  I believe that he needs to stay more active if we are to see him jump to the UFC or another major promotion.  Regardless, Lopes is one of the best prospects in the division and surely has a bright future in the sport.

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