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 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 in the coming 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
2020: Magomed Magomedkerimov*, Vinicius de Jesus, Matt Dixon, Mark Lemminger, Adam Proctor
2021: Benoit Saint Denis, Abdoul Abdouraguimov, Jarrah al-Silawi, Ramazan Kuramagomedov, Amiran Gogoladze
Note: Bold denotes fighter was signed by UFC; * denotes fighter ineligible due to two years on list.
Abdoul Abdouraguimov (13-1, Russia)
For the second year in a row, Russian Abdoul Abdouraguimov has made this list and for good reason. The Russian, who now trains in France, is another grappling heavy animal that is known to dominate his opponents.
Abdouraguimov is a submission wrestler, like many that come from his area of the world. Nine of his wins come by way of submission, as well as one knockout. He has a track record of beating solid, experienced opponents such as Louis Glismann, Jarrah al-Silawi and Viscardi Andrade, the latter of whom is a UFC veteran. Abdouraguimov fought once in 2021, submitting TUF veteran Luciano Contini under the Ares FC banner.
Abdouraguimov is a high-level athlete that has dominating abilities and could likely thrive on the UFC roster. His only career loss comes to a guy he had previously beaten and a guy also on this year’s list in Jarrah al-Silawi. He’s a proven commodity that Dana and co. need to take a look at ASAP.
Jarrah al-Silawi (16-3, Jordan)
For the second straight year, Jordanian bruiser Jarrah al-Silawi makes this list and for good reason. He is a rare talent coming out of the Middle East with the type of skills that look like they will translate at the next level.
Al-Silawi is a good-sized welterweight with a strong overall skill set, but it’s his striking that I am most attracted to. That’s not to say he can’t grapple, as he does have some impressive submission wins to boot. Since his controversial split decision loss to Abdoul Abdouraguimov in 2019, he’s since made up by avenging that loss. His lone win in 2021 saw him finish UFC vet Ismail Naurdiev, and he did so using a bevy of heavy leg kicks.
There is a blossoming demand for MMA in the Middle East given the UFC’s partnership in the United Arab Emirates, so inking some Middle Eastern fighters would be in the UFC’s interest as they continue to market in the area. Al-Silawi not only fits that bill, but he has proven he’s ready for the top level of the sport.
Eldar Eldarov (13-2, Russia)
Another welterweight prospect, another fighter hailing from the Brave CF organization. Eldar Eldarov, a Russian who now trains in Bahrain, is an absolute beast who has the potential to make a good run in the UFC.
Eldarov is a physical specimen. I have no idea how he made 165 pounds in his last bout, let alone 170 on a consistent basis. He’s a champion in the Brave CF organization, which is enough of a credential to get inked by the UFC in the first place. The submission wrestler went 1-0 in 2021, scoring a dominant doctor’s stoppage win over UFC veteran Leonardo Mafra.
Eldarov has multiple wins over UFC veterans and has been dominant in his fights. Welterweight is a shark tank that I think Eldarov can navigate, as his skill level is high.
Handesson Ferreira (17-3-1, Brazil)
Last year, Amiran Gogoladze stormed into the discussion of “top prospects” with a strong 2020. In 2021, he fell to Handesson Ferreira, a PFL vet and fellow prospect who has now entered the discussion of a top welterweight the UFC should sign.
Ferreira competed in the PFL in 2018 and 2019, where he amassed some huge wins while falling twice. He then spent some time away – possibly due to COVID – and reappeared in 2021 to rattle off three huge wins. After a 37-second knockout of Erique Carvalho to start off his year, he came to UAE Warriors for his next two fights. He scored the aforementioned win over Gogoladze before his final win of the year over Themba Gorimbo.
Ferreira looks to have reloaded and is ready to step back up to the big leagues. With wins over the likes of UFC vets Bojan Velickovic, Rick Story and Paul Bradley, as well as an earlier career win over PFL Champ Ray Cooper III, there’s no doubt since rebounding from PFL that Ferreira needs to be fighting at the highest level.
Abubakar Vagaev (17-3, Russia)
Being a champion in one of the big Russian regional promotions is really the stamp of approval one needs to take the next step to the UFC or Bellator. That’s only just one of the reasons why Abubakar Vagaev should be inked by the UFC in 2022. He would spice up the UFC welterweight division.
Vagaev is a dominant submission wrestler with good ground-and-pound. That said, likely the only thing working against him is that he is a decision-heavy fighter. What counter-balances those decisions is a long list of reputable opponents he has beaten. That includes a win over Murad Abdulaev in 2021, who Vagaev had previously fell to in 2018.
With names like Abdulaev, Yasubey Enomoto, Gadzhimurad Khiramagomedov and Fernando Gonzalez on his resume, I think the UFC needs to disregard Vagaev’s decision-heavy career and give him a chance. He has the skill level to compete at the highest level.
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