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 stays alive another year here at Combat Press.
Let’s examine the middleweight division, a weight class that has been filling up with talent. It’s been a roller-coaster ride in terms of title changes and growth in this weight class.
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 in the coming year.
2012: Uriah Hall, Tom Watson, Elvis Mutapcic, Jake Rosholt, Chaun Sims
2013: Sean Strickland, Marcos Rogerio, Elvis Mutapcic, Michal Materla, Wes Swofford
2014: Ramazan Emeev, Scott Askham, Vyacheslav Vasilevsky*, Ben Reiter, Max Nunes
2015: Jack Hermansson, Alberto Uda, Vyacheslav Vasilevsky*, Anatoly Tokov*, Igor Svirid
2016: Ramazan Emeev, Khalil Rountree, Alberto Uda, Phil Hawes, Aleksei Butorin*
2017: Trevin Giles, Oskar Piechota, Rob Wilkinson, Rafael Lovato Jr., Mattia Schiavolin
2018: Albert Duraev*, Vladimir Mineev*, Mike Shipman, Artem Frolov, Damian Janikowski
2019: Roman Kopylov, Shamil Gamzatov, Puna Soriano, Bruno Silva, Albert Duraev*
Note: Bold denotes fighter was signed by UFC; * denotes fighter ineligible due to two years on list.
Salamu Abdurakhmanov (12-1, Russia)
For the second straight year, the top Russian middleweight makes this list. He did not have a fight in 2020, but Abdurakhmanov needs an opportunity to fight at the next level.
A nasty submission wrestler, Abdurakhmanov is known for absolutely swarming his opponent. He hasn’t lost since 2015. Since his lone setback, he has gone on to decision UFC veteran Delson Heleno, best the previously undefeated Shamil Abdulaev, choke out Bellator vet Brett Cooper, and submit fellow top Russian Valery Myasnikov. The victory over Myasnikov was his most recent, and it’s also arguably the biggest scalp in his trophy case.
Given that he’s currently a champion of a Chechen organization, Abdurakhmanov could be a hard acquisition for the UFC. However, he is ready for the world’s largest MMA promotion right now. He could be a guy that works his way into the top 15 pretty quickly. He’s that tough of a fighter.
Joshua Fremd (6-1, USA)
The year 2020 was a good one for Fremd. It has put him into a position to enter a top MMA promotion. The 26-year-old FactoryX Muay Thai representative has blasted through the competition and shown great improvement in his overall game.
Fremd did not fight in 2019, so he had fallen off the radar of MMA scouts. However, he came back in 2020 and scored two big victories. First, he knocked out Lamar Gosey with a beautiful combination of knees and punches. Then, he added a knockout of Dana White’s Contender Series alum Antonio Jones. These victories serve as proof that Fremd is ready for a step up in competition.
Fremd would seemingly be a perfect fit for the upcoming season of The Ultimate Fighter. However, he could also trot into the UFC and compete right away.
Aaron Jeffrey (9-2, Canada)
Jeffrey had an opportunity at a UFC contract in 2019. Unfortunately for the Canadian, he came up short. However, he has used that loss as motivation while re-establishing himself as a middleweight prospect to watch. He’s now a top 185-pounder outside of the UFC.
Jeffrey is a physically imposing and athletic fighter with great striking and good counter-wrestling. He’s won three straight since his Contender Series loss. The wins have come in the form of knockouts over Dennis Olson, Bruno Assis and Andre Petroski. The Petroski fight was a main event for the Legacy Fighting Alliance. His only two career losses have come to top UFC fighters Brendan Allen and Sean Brady.
Jeffrey has the skills and style to thrive in the UFC. He’s already proven he can rebound from a tough loss with a lot on the line. Given that he’s topped an LFA card in victorious fashion, he’s likely at or near the top of the list of middleweights the UFC will sign next.
Abus Magomedov (24-4-1, Russia)
This spot was to be reserved for Cezary Kęsik, but the previously undefeated Pole is no longer undefeated. In his place, then, stands the man that choked him out. The Russian-German middleweight was already a solid prospect, but his win over Kęsik definitely puts him on the UFC’s radar.
Magomedov, who stands 6-foot-2, is a lanky striker who has proven in his last two fights that he also has a strong ground game. He fights long and has solid power in his hands, which has been on display in numerous fights. He was in the 2018 Professional Fighters League season final in the middleweight division after a strong run through the regular season. However, he was knocked out cold by Louis Taylor in that bout, thereby denying him the $1 million check.
With only one loss since 2016 and dominant performances left and right against respected veterans, it’s puzzling why Magomedov isn’t in the UFC already. However, putting away a top prospect like Kęsik should be more than enough proof that he belongs.
Alex Pereira (3-1, Brazil)
Pereira is a world-champion kickboxer and a pound-for-pound top striker. The 33-year-old is also a top prospect in the sport of MMA. He’s only taken four pro MMA fights to date, so he’s yet to break free of the prospect label. However, he seems primed to do so after the performance he delivered in 2020.
The GLORY champ had not competed in an MMA fight since 2016, but he headlined LFA 95 in November. He took on Thomas Powell in the main event and scorched Powell in just over four minutes of the first round. Pereira’s ground game is still a concern, but his kickboxing is so good that he’s always one shot away from ending a fight.
Pereira owns a kickboxing victory over current UFC middleweight kingpin Israel Adesanya, which is a huge accomplishment to boast as he embarks on his MMA campaign. It’s a way to market him into big fights quickly if he were to go to the UFC. Pereira is definitely a showcase fighter that the company would have to keep away from certain opponents if it wants to get him near Adesanya. The backstory between Pereira and Adesanya could easily sell that match-up if it were to materialize.
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