Welcome to year eight of the annual “Prospects the UFC Should Sign” series, in which we’ll examine five MMA prospects per division the UFC should sign this year.
This series started during my time as a writer for Bleacher Report, continued through my tenures at Today’s Knockout and FanSided and now it continues again this year at Combat Press.
Let’s examine the flyweight division, a weight class that will potentially be eradicated from the UFC after the company traded longtime former champion Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson to ONE Championship. Despite the signs of its imminent demise, we will still look at the best prospects the division has to offer, even if they eventually land in the UFC’s bantamweight division instead.
In picking these prospects, I’ll try my hardest to stay away from fighters who are currently in top organizations, such as Bellator or the Professional Fighters League, but a couple may pop up. In the past, I’ve had some great picks on the list and some that haven’t worked out. Below are the previous year’s selections, followed by the five men the UFC should offer roster spots to this year.
2013: Sergio Pettis, Josh Sampo, Alptekin Ozkilic, Darrell Montague, Sean Santella*
2014: Henry Cejudo, Alexandre Pantoja, Pietro Menga*, Sean Santella*, Czar Sklavos
2015: Alexandre Pantoja, Hiromasa Ogikubo, Pietro Menga*, Nildo Nascimento, Allan Nascimento
2016: Hiromasa Ogikubo, Adam Antolin, Bruno Menezes*, Nick Urso, Rany Saadeh
2017: Jarred Brooks, Deiveson Alcantara, Bruno Menezes*, Askar Askarov*, Yuki Motoya
2018: Jonathan Martinez, Askar Askarov*, Yoni Sherbatov, Riley Dutro, Sid Bice
Note: Bold denotes fighter was signed by UFC; * denotes fighter ineligible due to two years on list.
The Brave CF flyweight championship would have been a great title for Alkhasov to hold, but unfortunately he lost his chance due to issues on the scale. Regardless of that mess-up, Alkhasov is one of the best flyweights not in the UFC at this time, and he continues to prove it every time he steps in the cage.
Like most of his countryman, Alkhasov is a very skilled ground fighter. He is explosive on the takedown and heavy from top position. He’s suffocating, which helps him to dominate guys, but he could be more efficient in finishing fights. He was 2-0 in 2018. He started the year off by beating respected journeyman Sean Santella. He followed up with an impressive win over Marcel Adur in a fight where he would have won the title if not for the aforementioned weight issues.
The UFC’s likely dissolution of the flyweight division does not mean that Alkhasov shouldn’t be considered. He could fight at bantamweight and be highly successful. He has struggled to get down to 125 pounds, which means 135 might just be his future home. UFC bantamweights better take notice.
When it comes to Palestinian talent in MMA, we are slowly starting to see more and more fighters come up. One of those guys is Askar, a 24-year-old blue-chipper fighting out of the Midwest Training Center in suburban Chicago. The youngster has already impressed in nine pro fights, not having lost a single one of those contests.
Askar is an aggressive fighter, always getting in his opponent’s face to throw big shots on the feet and to put them against the cage for a beating. He doesn’t mind taking a shot to hand out one of his own. He’s a very tough fighter in that regard. He went 3-0 in 2018, which includes a bantamweight championship win under the Hoosier FC banner over veteran Dennis Dombrow and a Legacy Fighting Alliance victory over veteran Derrick Mandell. It was a much-needed step up in competition for Askar, who had previously fought low-level, inexperienced talent.
All things considered, especially with the aforementioned ousting of the UFC’s flyweight division, we must consider that Askar has fought at bantamweight as recently as a couple months ago. He has won his fights at 135 pounds, so he’s a proven fighter at that weight class, as well as in the flyweight division. Either way, the young fighter should be on the UFC’s radar this year.
If there was a flyweight that had a better 2018 outside the UFC than Kenney, please point him out. The Rise Combat Sports fighter shook off a 2017 loss to The Ultimate Fighter alum Adam Antolin to score three wins in 2018. This makes him a top flyweight prospect that should be in the UFC’s crosshairs.
The 27-year-old Kenney is a very well-rounded fighter, possessing collegiate level wrestling to go with solid striking ability. He’s a very good, explosive athlete. Kenney has developed quickly into a complete martial artist, which has made him dangerous. After going 1-1 on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series in 2017, he went back to the drawing board and signed with the LFA. He fought for the promotion three times in 2018, scoring decision wins over Kendrick Latchman, UFC vet Roman Salazar and Brandon Royval en route to the LFA flyweight championship.
Kenney has fought at 135 pounds before, so there’s no doubt he could also add depth to that division. The combination of championship status and Contender Series appearances surely hasKenney toward the top of the list of guys the UFC could target going forward.
A way to really make a name for yourself in MMA is to beat somebody who has already made a name for himself. Silva, of the Pitbull Brothers team in Brazil, has done this and quickly became one of the best flyweight prospects the sport has to offer.
A submission ace, the 5-foot-7 Silva scored seven wins by way of tapout. This includes his most recent fight against former TUF contestant Yoni Sherbatov, who is highly regarded as a flyweight talent. It was even more Impressive seeing as how the submission was a flying triangle armbar — a highlight reel, no doubt. Silva has not lost since 2013. The more experience he accumulates, the better we see him. It’s been a slow rise to prospect status, but patience looks to be paying off for “Felipinho.”
Silva is scheduled to compete for Absolute Championship Akhmat (formerly Berkut) in a fight that many will have their eyes on. He will take on undefeated Russian Mansur Khatuev, who is looking to make a name off Silva. Another impressive finish could push Silva to the UFC, but he’ll have to find a way out of his current contract first.
A Fight Nights Global flyweight champion who has fought some strong opposition, Zhumagulov has quickly established himself as one of the best Kazakh fighters in mixed martial arts. The 30-year-old represents a little-known gym, but he has thrived in the Russian MMA scene to push himself into consideration as one of the top flyweight prospects in the world.
When Zhumagulov has stepped up in competition, his finishing rate has dropped. However, he has looked very good in his last three fights. Zhumagulov has scored wins over top regional flyweights Tagir Ulanbekov, Tyson Nam and Shaj Haque. His striking is his biggest weapon, but his ground game isn’t bad. He needs to be more consistent — he’s taken losses to some mediocre talent — but he has hit his stride in more recent fights.
Fight Nights Global has long been a tunnel from the Russian regional scene to the UFC. If the UFC really does away with its flyweight division, then Zhumagulov would have no problem stepping up to bantamweight to throw down.