16 in ’16: The Middleweights

Middleweight has long been one of the weaker weight classes of prospects. However, as I assembled this list of 16 middleweight prospects, I found that the weight class is not as prospect starving as many assume. In fact, pound for pound, I would stack these 16 up against any other. Middleweight may not have 40-50 prospects like welterweight and below, but these 16 prospects are very strong.

  1. Ramazan Emeev – 14-3 – 29 years old – Russia

Emeev was born in Azerbaijan, but lives and trains in Dagestan, Russia at the Gorets gym.  He is a very well-roundedemeev fighter who has shown off his skills in multiple arts.  While he seems to have very good grappling ability, he is very impressive in his striking.  He possess really good power.  He is able and willing to use kicks and knees.  He also seems to have good quickness.  His takedown defense is very good as well.  All of this together make him very formidable.  I also think that his particular skill set would translate well against American competition.  His improvements are noticeable from fight to fight. He also seems to know how to finish.  His hands are very heavy as Albert Duraev learned.  Emeev is not really a liability in any one place.  Emeev has an impressive resume.  He holds wins over Mario Miranda, Maiquel Falcao, Luigi Fiorvanti, and Vyacheslav Vasilevsky.  I believe that Emeev is not only the top middleweight prospect, but he may be the top overall middleweight outside the UFC.  Emeev has talked about his interest in fighting in the UFC, so I believe it is a very real possibility once he is contractually able to do so.

   2.  Anatoly Tokov – 24-2 – 27 years old – Russia

Tokov is another Russian with a solid resume.  I believe Tokov, like Emeev has a resume that should be enough to tokovdraw the attention of the major MMA promotions.  Tokov trains at the Alexander Nevsky gym in Stary Oskol, Russia alongside MMA legend Fedor Emelianenko.  Tokov is a combat sambo champion who is well rounded in MMA.  Tokov has power in his hands, but needs to improve his boxing technique.    Tokov has good offensive wrestling as well as good takedown defense.  He seems comfortable in the top position.  He has finished some fights with submissions, but he is not a real submission threat.  He is more likely to use top position and solid control to finish with punches. Tokov is a guy that I think could do well anywhere he lands.  He has fought solid competition in Russia.  He has areas to improve in his game, but he is still young enough to really develop into a top tier mixed martial artist. I had expected Tokov to drop down to welterweight at some point, but that move did not come.  Perhaps he will stick around at 185 pounds.  If Tokov does not show up in UFC or Bellator, it is not unlikely that he could be a featured fighter in Rizin.

   3.  Vladimir Mineev – 7-0 – 26 years old – Russia

Mineev comes in with a solid kickboxing background.  Mineev has a very solid kickboxing resume, which includes vladimir_mineevtitles and accolades throughout the European circuit.  Mineev began his MMA career in the light heavyweight division, but has since dropped down a weight class.  Also, he is looking to drop down one more category.  He has a 176 pound catchweight fight scheduled against Yasubey Enomoto on October 10th.  Mineev already holds a career victory over UFC veter Xavier Foupa-Pokam.  As you might expect from a high level kickboxer, Mineev is dangerous on his feet.  He puts together very good combinations.  On the outside, he is a real problem for anyone.  His kicks are very powerful and he has knockout power in his hands.  I do think that he needs to not be over confident in his striking defense.  There are not many middleweights or welterweights with his striking ability.  I believe that Mineev could still have trouble with high level wrestlers who do not want to get into striking exchanges with Mineev.  His takedown defense is decent, but not great.  All in all, Mineev is a very exciting fighter and seems like just the type of guy UFC would love to get their hands on.  I believe a win over Enomoto in October could get him the UFC call.

   4.  Oskar Piechota – 6-0-1 – 26 years old – Poland

Piechota is an exciting prospect out of Poland.  Oskar is a grappling standout.  He is an elite level grappler that is oskar_piechotafinding success in MMA.  When I watch, Piechota, I am reminded of Gunnar Nelson.  I believe Piechota could actually be better than Gunnar.  He has is a little better athlete and I believe his striking is better suited for MMA.  Piechota is not a dominant wrestler, but he has been effective enough.  His submissions are super high level.  In fact, I do not think that there are many middleweights in the world who would fair well on the mat with Piechota.  He has very quick transitions and can finish a fight very quickly.  He is so confident with his grappling ability, he is willing to pull guard at times.  His striking is not elite, but it is solid.  I believe that his threat on the ground will actually make him more effective in the striking department.  I do worry that there are going to be fighters he will not be able to get to the ground.  If he ends up in a kickboxing contest, he could be in trouble.  Regardless, I believe that Oskar is a guy that UFC or Bellator would love to get their hands on.  I do not think that it is out of the range of possibility that he ends up down a weight class, but even at middleweight, he is one of the top prospects in the sport.

5.  Paulo Costa – 8-0 – 25 years old – Brazil

Paulo “Borrachinha” Costa is the current Jungle Fight Middleweight champion.  He also was a former contestant on paulo-henrique-costa-borrachinhathe Ultimate Fighter Brazil 3.  Costa lost to Marcio Alexandre by split decision.  I believe Costa has improved a lot since his time on the Ultimate Fighter and has solidified himself as one of the better middleweight prospects.  Costa has some of the best boxing of our middleweight prospects.  He really does a good job making use of his jab.  He also has power in his punches.  He also seems to have good speed and accuracy on his punches.  He does mix in his kicks well, including a front kick to keep distance.  In his win over Bruno Assis, he showed some really powerful ground and pound.  Costa is not a submission stylist, but he is able to use his submissions to get finishes. He does have solid takedowns, which appear to be powerful.   Unlike many others in this group of middleweights, Costa is a true middleweight. One of my biggest concerns for Costa is his cardio.  If he can avoid gassing out,  he is a real threat at middleweight.  I believe Costa has an all around game that is well suited for the UFC.

   6.  Vagab Vagabov – 22-0 – 30 years old – Russia

Vagab is a real talent, but he is also a wild card.  Vagabov signed with World Series of Fighting and in his debut he vagabovlooked great.  However, as the ref was trying to stop the fight, Vagabov kept hitting his opponent.  In another fight in 2012, he did the same thing.  I get the sense that Vagabov may have some issues that are not connected to his ability as a fighter.  I also believe that those issues make it less likely that UFC or Bellator would take a chance on him.   I almost excluded him from the list due to his issues.  We will be kind and call him a “lose cannon”.  Strictly speaking of his skills, he has really good striking and it would seem that he has some of the best power in his punches among the middleweight prospects.  The other things that really stood out to me was his striking speed and accuracy.  He has the power of a light heavyweight, but the speed of a lightweight.  His wrestling is good, but sometimes he seems a bit passive.  His takedowns can be powerful at times.  I expect Vagabov to be a feature in Russian MMA, maybe even WSOF or Rizin take a shot on him.

    7.  Artem Frolov – 7-0 – 25 years old – Russia

Frolov is a solid prospect out of Russia who has given glimpses of what he can be.  Frolov has shown that he can haveartem_frolov power in his punches.  His striking has very much improved from his earlier fights to this point.  Frolov does not look incredibly explosive, but has shown himself to effective on the feet.  I believe that he can also get suckered into wild exchanges.  Oddly enough, he has done very well in those exchanges.There were moments on the ground where Frolov looked very solid.  He has some submissions skills to go with his solid grappling ability.  He is sometimes a bit quick to go for a submission without first securing his positioning.  One of the most impressive aspects to Frolov’s game was his ability to end in a favorable position during scramble situations.  However, it does seem like in many of his fights Frolov lands in a bad position at some point.  I would like to see him be a little more concerned about positioning.  Frolov has only been fighting professionally since 2014, so he certainly is a little green in some places.  However, I believe he is one of the brightest prospects at middleweight.

      8.  Pavel Doroftei – 17-3 – 27 years old – Moldova

Pavel is a Moldovan fighter who trains out of London Shootfighters in England.  He holds a notable career victory pavel-doroftei-1over UFC fighter Danny Roberts.  Dorofeti has a combat sambo background.  He has shown some really solid throws and tosses in his MMA career.  Also, I was really impressed watching the submission game of Pavel.  He is a real leglock threat.  Five of his victories have come by way of a leglock submission.  I also noticed his power from the top position on the ground.  He can really pour in on once he achieves a dominant position.  Pavel has decent striking, but where he really stood out was in his strikes in the clinch.  He does a great job with the dirty boxing aspect of MMA.  He also does a good job landing strong knees from inside the clinch.   He has some kickboxing experience as well.  He has shown good kicks and good punches.  However, many of his punches are wild, looping punches.  Doroftei can be a real threat if he can stay active and healthy.  Pavel is another guy that despite having done very well at middleweight, could probably drop down a weightclass if he wanted to.  Regardless of weightclass, I believe he is a guy that will be on a bigger stage sooner rather than later.

   9.  Rob Wilkinson – 9-0 – 24 years old – Australia 

Wilkinson is a middleweight out of Australia to keep an eye on.    Wilkinson has a strong wrestling base.  He does a robwilkinsongood job of applying pressure to his opponents and getting the takedowns.  His submission game is very good.  He is a threat to finish the fight from all positions, even off of his back.  His ground and pound is very good and he makes great use of his elbows from the top position.  He somewhat reminds me of Carlos Condit, although I do not believe his striking is to that level yet.  One of his signature moves is his dangerous elbows that he likes to throw from all positions.   ” Wilkinson is much more comfortable on the ground that he is on his feet.  However, he has actually has decent striking and once he gets more comfortable on his feet, I believe that he will excel even more. Wilkinson is a finisher.  All of his fights have been finished within the distance. Razor” Rob has a tough fight coming up at EuroFC’s debut event against Steven Cnudde. Wilkinson could be the brightest prospect in Australia right now and he he will start to get some international exposure in EuroFC.  I do not believe he is far removed from the UFC making him a contract offer.

  10.  Jack Marshman – 20-5 – 26 years old – Wales

The current Cage Warriors middleweight champion brings and impressive resume to the table.  He holds a notable marshmanwin over former UFC fighter Che Mills.  It seems that Marshman’s best skill set is on his feet in the striking department.  He is not an incredibly technical fighter, but he does have heavy hands.  He willing to get into exchanges and has a knack for finding people’s chin.  One of the concerns I have regarding Marshman’s striking is that in exchanges he leaves his chin up and open.  I believe that he runs a great risk of getting knocked out.   He does at times throw good leg kicks and I would like to see him implement more kicks into his game.  Marshman has been working on his ground game.  He is a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu.  His wrestling is decent, but not excellent. He is an average sized middleweight at best.  I think Marshman has a clear path to the UFC.  Being a Cage Warriors champion certainly helps his cause.  I also believe that being a decent middleweight is an advantage to any with UFC aspirations.  In other words, Marshman is in the right weight class and fighting for the right promotion.

   11.  Max Nunes – 16-3 – 27 years old – Sweden

At 6’4″, Nunes is a very big middleweight.  His size is a huge advantage for him.  Not only is he physically large, but max-nuneshe is very athletic.  He makes good use of his distance, utilizing his jab effectively and also frequently employing leg kicks.  Nunes seems to be at his best when he is in a top position on the ground.  He has shown very solid ground and pound from the top.  He has power from within his opponents guard. His takedowns are also very effective.  In most of his fights he has been able to dictate where the fight takes place.  However, his defensive wrestling is lacking.  He seems to also have a solid submission game.   His athleticism and physical gifts make him an intriguing prospect.  Nunes is training at Allstars Gym in Sweden alongside some great fighters.  He is scheduled to fight on October 22nd.   It seems like Nunes has been on the cusp of a UFC call for a while.  I think he may need to string one or two more wins together.  If UFC makes a return trip to Sweden, I would imagine that Nunes would be on a short list of fighters to sign for that event.

12.  Trevin Giles – 7-0 – 24 years old – USA

Giles is one of our youngest middleweight prospects at just 24-years old.  He is also coming off of an impressive trevin-giles-covervictory at Legacy 59 where he defeated Ike Villanueva.  Not only is Giles young and talented, I believe he is very likely to get signed by the UFC soon.  Giles is a reckless striker with real power in his hands.  Everything he does, he does with power and explosion.  One of the best things about Giles is that he is resilient.  There have been several times where he could have folded, but instead persevered and got the win.  Giles is not in many boring fights and his wide open style can get him into trouble.  One of the other things about Giles is that when he gets top position and starts landing ground and pound, he can be absolutely vicious.  He also has ability to finish fights with submissions, but he is not a submission stylist.  I believe that Giles has the tools to be very good and he already has a few good wins on his resume.  However, he needs to be a bit more cautious in what he does during fights.  I would not be surprised if Giles’ next fight is in the UFC.

   13.  Gerald Meerschaert – 23-8- 28 years old

Meerschaert is a guy that I am kind of surprised has not gotten the big show opportunity yet.  He is one of the most geraldmeerschaertexperienced of our middleweight prospects and has fought against some solid competition.  Meerschaert is just a very solid fighter who is capable of winning fights against high level opposition.  In his 31-fight career, Meerschaert has only gone to a decision two times.  The Roufusport product is a real veteran in terms of experience.  Meerschaert is well rounded in the game.  The southpaw fighter, has solid striking as you might expect from a Duke Roufus trained fighter.  He mixes things up well.  He has a decent ground game that is even more dangerous when he is in the top position.  His wrestling is solid.  His takedowns are very good, especially against the cage.  He has also show that his submissions are good.  One of the issues with Gerald Meerschaert is that he has lost most of the fights against UFC caliber competition.  I do not believe it is an issue of ability as much as it is consistency. I believe that he needs to notch a couple signature wins against bigger named fighters to garner UFC or Bellator’s attention.  He is slated to face Chase Waldon for the RFA middleweight title on October 28th.  A win there would be a huge step in the right direction for Gerald.

   14.   Ian Heinisch – 6-0 – 28 years old – USA

Heinisch is an under the radar type prospect that I believe has a very high ceiling in MMA.  Ian fights out of Factory heinischX Muay Thai alongside Chris Camozzi and Joe Warren.  He is a middleweight, but he fights like a featherweight.  He is constantly pressuring his opponent.  He is aggressive with strikes, initiating the clinch and landing takedowns.  Heinisch has found success landing punches as he moves forward.  I also believe that Heinisch is a solid wrestler.    Heinisch has only been fighting professionally since the start of 2015, so he does not have a ton of professional experience.   Ian is super athletic and that certainly benefits him in the cage.  Heinisch is really good from the top position at maintaining control.  Once he gets on top, he is not easy to get off.  His ground and pound is not consistently devastating, but it is enough to do some damage. There are very few middleweights that can hang with Heinish’s pace.  I think that most of his opponents will be worn down by his tenacity and pace.  I believe he needs to be a little careful in taking damage on his way in.  I think Heinisch could be a guy to really keep an eye on.  I do not see his name often mentioned with the top tiered prospects, but I really think he is not far from being UFC or Bellator ready.

   15. Costello Van Steenis – 7-1 – 24 years old – Netherlands

Fighting out of the Netherlands, Van Steenis is another solid middleweight prospect.  Despite being Dutch, what costellosreally stands out about Van Steenis’ fight game is his submission ability.  Five of his seven victories have come by way of submission.  He has shown himself to be savvy on the mat.  He even has a fairly effective guard.  He has landed submissions from off of his back and he seems quite comfortable in that position.  With that being said, on several occasions Van Steenis was put into a bad position that he should strive with a greater sense of urgency to avoid.  Van Steenis does have some Dutch kickboxing in his style.  He will use techniques like spinning backfists and kicks.  Van Steenis is not primarily a striker, but his striking is not bad and I expect it to continue to improve.  Van Steenis could use some help improving his wrestling.  Some of his takedowns were really not set up well and saw him lunging for his opponents legs.  I believe that if he can gain more effective takedowns that he can be a real force at middleweight.  Perhaps he would be a guy that UFC would look at as they continue to move into Europe.  A few more wins would certainly boost his resume.

   16.  Valery Myasnikov – 10-1-2 – 25 years old – Russia

Myasnikov is another Russian prospect to keep an eye on.  Valery is currently fighting for M-1 and has even fought valery_myasnikov2up a weight class at light heavyweight.  His sole loss came via a loss to then champion, Stephen Puetz.  Several things standout about Myasnikov’s game.  First, he appears to be a big middleweight.  I believe this is to his advantage in many fights.  Also, he has very solid striking.  He has a boxing background.  His punches look to be very crisp at times.  He is not a ground specialist, but he is competent on the ground as well.  He has submissions and sweeps in his arsenal.  When I watch Myasnikov I am reminded of former UFC fighter Fabio Maldonado.  I believe that is the potential he has in the middleweight division.   He needs to improve his submission defense.  While he has never been submitted in a fight, he has had instances in several fights where he was put in a precarious situation.  I do not know if he is UFC-level, but I do think he can get to that point.  Myasnikov is only 25-years old, so he has time to improve.  I think his potential in the middleweight division is very good.

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