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 this year at Combat Press.
Let’s examine the welterweight division, a weight class that is loaded with talent.
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.
2012: Gunnar Nelson, Alex Garcia, Kenny Robertson, Chidi Njokuani, Gregor Gracie
2013: Jim Wallhead, Cathal Pendred, Ryan Ford*, Tyler Stinson, Assan Njie
2014: Nicolas Dalby, Ryan Ford*, Eduard Vartanyan*, Gael Grimaud, Ali Arish
2015: Danny Roberts, Max Griffin, Nicolas Dalby, Eduard Vartanyan*, Borys Mankowski*
2016: Belal Muhammad, Alexey Kunchenko, Abubakar Nurmagomedov, Anatoly Tokov*, Khusein Khaliev*
2017: Muslim Salikhov, Alexey Kunchenko, Abubakar Nurmagomedov, Borys Mankowski*, Mukhamed Berkhamov
2018: Sean Brady, Mukhamed Berkhamov*, James Nakashima*, Roberto Soldić*, Alex Lohore
2019: Sean Brady, James Nakashima*, Roberto Soldic*, Magomed Magomedkerimov, Austin Vanderford
Note: Bold denotes fighter was signed by UFC; * denotes fighter ineligible due to two years on list.
Not many welterweights outside the UFC have pushed their stock higher in 2019 than Brazil’s Vinicius de Jesus. The former Bellator undercard talent scored a CES welterweight championship during his 2019 campaign, adding a piece of gold that should make him highly attractive to the UFC brass. He also competed in the Combat Jiu-Jitsu Worlds, though he did not come home with a medal.
Now training in Connecticut at Boxer MMA, the transplant is known for his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt. He has a refined ground game that appears to be his best asset. He has knockout power on the feet, too. In 2019, de Jesus went 3-0 while knocking out Chris Lozano, scoring a convincing decision over fellow prospect Jeremiah Wells, and knocking out Rodolfo Barcellos.
The combination of a respected title belt in his trophy case, high-level BJJ skills and a training camp in a state close to Madison Square Garden helps to up the 29-year-old’s chances of garnering the UFC’s attention. He should grace the UFC roster in 2020, whether via the Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series route or otherwise.
One of the most under-the-radar fighters in this year’s series is Oklahoma’s Matt Dixon, a 24-year-old powerhouse who does not have as much media attention as most of the fighters on the list. He’s undefeated as both an amateur and a pro, and he has quickly risen through the ranks while fighting for the Xtreme Fight Night promotion.
The WCF Tulsa product has been officially fighting since he was 18. He’s still young at 24, but he does have plenty of experience. Most of his background came in boxing and kickboxing, though he started training in MMA around the age of 12. He is a very powerful guy with good striking. Most of his wins have come by way of vicious knockout. He had just one fight in 2019, but he made the most of it by knocking the block off of Braden Smith and defending his Xtreme Fight Night title in the process.
Dixon has continued to fight better and better competition as he’s progressed. However, with as frequently as Bellator heads to Oklahoma and snaps up local competition, the UFC will have to act fast to ink Dixon. He’s clearly a guy the company can build up — he hasn’t even hit his full potential yet — and turn into a company staple.
It was a very important year for Mark Lemminger. In 2019, he jumped out of the shadows and into the line of sight of MMA scouts. The Chosen Few Gym member scored the Final FC welterweight championship in what was viewed as an upset, immediately shooting him into top-prospect status in a surprisingly shallow 170-pound pool.
Lemminger is an absolute physical specimen, possessing impressive physical strength and size for a man fighting at welterweight. At 6-foot-1, he has a great size advantage over most fellow welterweights. He is a very good wrestler with strong takedowns and heavy top position. He has brutal ground-and-pound skills that he uses to end many of his fights. He also has a very tight squeeze when he grabs a submission, making him an all-around threat on the mat.
In 2019, Lemminger scored wins over top prospect Ben Egli and Isaac Steele. This erased the memory of an early 2018 loss, his only one as a pro. The UFC likes to keep its welterweight division loaded, and the 26-year-old Wisconsinite would find success in a crowded 170-pound field. He might never be a contender, but he’d be a great mid-tier guy and possible gatekeeper. This type of fighter can have a good, long career with the UFC.
If Champion Team’s Magomed Magomedkerimov had not been sick in between his PFL tournament bouts, there’s a good chance he would have won his second PFL season, making him a two-time $1 million winner. However, he was unable to take his semifinal match in the tournament. He is still clearly the best welterweight the PFL has had in two seasons.
Since entering the PFL in 2018, Magomedkerimov is 8-0 while scoring finishes in half of his fights. Among his victims are UFC veterans John Howard and Bojan Velickovic (twice), as well as top prospects Ray Cooper III and Chris Curtis (twice). The Russian is an absolute menace, possessing knockout power on the feet and hard-to-handle submission wrestling. When he gets a hold of an opponent’s neck, he squeezes in an attempt to rip their head off. Simply put, he’s dangerous.
It’s likely Magomedkerimov will compete again for the PFL in an attempt to score another million-dollar payday. However, he turns 30 in January. If he wants a shot to prove himself in the UFC, he needs to take a serious look at making the move right now while he’s in his prime. With how dangerous the UFC welterweight division is, it won’t be an easy journey for Magomedkerimov. However, he certainly has the skill to test any UFC roster member.
SBG Ireland is a blossoming gym full of young, hungry European fighters that are ready to break out. One of these fighters is Adam Proctor, a 24-year-old Englishman with a high ceiling. He is already a very talented Fighter with experience in top regional promotions.
Proctor is in contention for the best nickname — “The Love Doctor.” However, he’s more than just a great nickname. He’s an all-around fighter with a good offensive submission game on the mat and constantly improving striking. He fights in big regional promotions such as Cage Warriors and BAMMA, among others. He fought just once in 2019, but it was a convincing decision nod over Olli Santalahti to extend his winning streak to six fights.
Guys who run with Conor McGregor tend to have a leg up when it comes to securing a spot in either the UFC or Bellator. However, Proctor’s upside and skill set should be enough to get him on a UFC card in 2020. The UFC heads to London in the first quarter of 2020, so perhaps that will be Proctor’s chance to shine.