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 start with the heavyweight division. The UFC has added new talent at this weight class, but it needs more fighters on the roster to add depth to the division. It’s still one of the toughest classes to fill, but there is good talent available.
In picking these prospects, I’ll try my hardest to stay away from fighters who are currently in top organizations, such as ONE Championship 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.
Note: Bold denotes fighter was signed by UFC; * denotes fighter ineligible due to two years on list.
Hugo Cunha (8-1, Brazil)
Kicking off the series this year is Brazilian heavyweight Hugo Cunha, who graces this list for the second time. Cunha is the LFA heavyweight champion, which he achieved in 2023 to help boost him up the prospect rankings even further.
Cunha is a bit of a different type of Brazilian fighter in that he has a strong wrestling background, which many Brazilian fighters don’t. With that, he has a strong submission and ground-striking arsenal as well, which is how he likes to end his fights. After a 15-month layoff, Cunha returned this year to go 2-0. He scored a knockout win over Fernando Batista before capturing the LFA title with an arm-triangle choke win over Contender Series veteran Eduardo Neves.
Cunha’s only career loss was a close split decision under the ONE banner. He’s now 30 years old, which means it’s time to strike while the iron is hot. Having LFA gold around his waist will certainly help him potentially score that UFC contract.
Kirill Kornilov (15-1-1, Russia)
Making his second appearance on this list series, Russia’s Kirill Kornilov represents one of two heavyweight representing Sech Pro on this heavyweight list. Kornilov has long proven he’s a high-level heavyweight that has been UFC ready for a while.
Kornilov is a fearsome striker with excellent kickboxing abilities. He throws very heavy hands and strong kicks, including his low kicks. His only career loss is to now-UFC roster member Shamil Gaziev, which was a split decision loss in 2022. In 2023, Kornilov fought just once, but bested 30-fight veteran and respected Russian Salimgerey Rasulov under the ACA banner.
With career wins over UFC veterans such as Wagner Prado, Ednaldo Oliveira, Sultan Murtazaliev and Luis Henrique, Kornilov is long overdue to get his UFC shot. He’s running out of heavyweights on the regional circuit to run through at this point.
Aleksandr Maslov (11-1, Russia)
A veteran of these yearly lists, and the other Sech Pro heavyweight this year, Aleksandr Maslov makes his return after a 2022 that lacked activity. However, Maslov came back strong in 2023 and remains one of the best heavyweight prospects in the world.
A tank of a man, Maslov is a 250-plus-pound heavyweight with good athleticism for his size. The power striker is a knockout artist who can put your lights out on the feet, or he can ground-and-pound you into oblivion. He started out his 2023 campaign with a strong unanimous decision victory over Dmitriy Andryushko. He capped the year at 2-0 with a third-round knockout of Arash Sadeghi in a fight that he was likely down on the scorecards. That showed his persistence and ability to stay dangerous late in the fight.
The heavyweight division is always one of the scarcest divisions to find talent. Obviously, Russia has some of the better heavyweight regional talent, and Maslov is proof of that. The UFC loves knockout artists like Maslov, so the company should very much consider bringing him in.
Alexander Soldatkin (14-4, Russia)
I rarely, if ever, include a fighter coming off a loss on these prospect lists, but in the case of Alexander Soldatkin, I will make an exception. The German-based Russian fighter was screwed out of a win on the Dana White’s Contender Series and deserved much better given the circumstances.
Soldatkin is a good striker with solid wrestling chops to boot. He tips the scales around the 245-pound mark, making him a good-sized heavyweight. His record includes wins over Contender Series vet Edivan Santos and former heavyweight prospect Roggers Souza. He opened 2023 with a TKO win over Benjamin Sehic before he made the Contender Series. On the Contender Series, he was being held against the cage for a good portion of his fight with Mario Piazzon, before landing a knee in the third round that was deemed illegal in a controversial ending to the fight. Most, including Dana White, thought the knee was illegal, and it cost Soldatkin a UFC opportunity. Soldatkin ended his 2023 winning a kickboxing match for the RCC promotion.
The UFC is always in need of talented heavyweights, and Soldatkin is one of those guys. Just check the tapes. Despite coming off that disqualification loss, he should be a guy they greatly consider bringing to the roster. He may need to get one win before the UFC comes calling, though.
Anton Vyazigin (16-4, Russia)
Rounding out the heavyweight list this year is the fourth Russian on this list Anton Vyazigin. The Russian regional scene fighter has been highly successful while consistently fighting difficult opponents, showing that he is ready to test himself in the UFC.
Vyazigin is a big heavyweight who tips the scales at the heavyweight limit and stands at six-feet-five-inches tall. He is a tall, powerful striker who has ended a good number of his bouts my knockout. He returned to the cage in 2023 after not taking a fight since Dec. 2020. In that return bout, he bested former ACA Heavyweight Champion Tony Johnson Jr, showing that Vyazigin is still a heavyweight to be reckoned with.
UFC veterans Josh Copeland and Wagner Prado are among the victims on Vyazigin’s resume, as well as power striker Geronimo dos Santos. All of those are proof that Vyazigin is a fighter that has the skills to compete with higher-level opponents. It’s time to get the “Cherepovets Giant” rostered.
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