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*
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.
Vinicius de Jesus (9-2, Brazil)
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.
Matt Dixon (8-0, United States)
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.
Mark Lemminger (10-1, United States)
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
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
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.
Magomed Magomedkerimov (26-5, Russia)
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.
Adam Proctor (11-1, England)
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.
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