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 look at the light-heavyweight division. The UFC has added new talent at the weight class, but it could always use even more new blood.
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.
2012: Jimi Manuwa, Jan Blachowicz, Wagner Prado, Tom DeBlass, Roy Boughton
2013: Jan Blachowicz, Linton Vassell, Angel DeAnda, Moise Rimbon, Carlos Eduardo
2014: Maxim Grishin*,Philipe Lins, Viktor Nemkov, Brandon Ropati, Marcus Vanttinen
2015: Maxim Grishin*,Josh Stansbury, Aleksei Butorin*, Stephan Puetz, Ken Hasegawa
2016: Jiří Procházka*, Ion Cutelaba, Paul Craig, Joachim Christensen, Mikhail Mokhnatkin*,
2017: Jiří Procházka*,Jordan Johnson, Magomed Ankalaev, Mikhail Mokhnatkin*, Tomasz Narkun*
2018: Ivan Shtyrkov*, Batraz Agnaev, Karl Moore, Kyle Noblitt, Rashid Yusupov
2019: Klidson Farias, Roman Dolidze, Tomasz Narkun*, Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov*, Karl Albrektsson
2021: Jailton Junior, Nick Maximov, Armen Petrosyan, Muslim Magomedov*, Nasrudin Nasrudinov
2022: Zac Pauga, Vitor Petrino, Anton Turkalj, Muslim Magomedov*, Bruce Souto
2023: Bruno Lopes, Simeon Powell, Josh Silveira*, Lukasz Sudolski, Oumar Sy
Note: Bold denotes fighter was signed by UFC; * denotes fighter ineligible due to two years on list.
Karl Albrektsson (14-5, Sweden)
Making his second appearance on this list, Sweden’s Karl Albrektsson had been with Bellator for a couple of years, but it appears he is no longer under contract. Because of that, I now think the UFC should strike and get this 30-year-old fighter on their roster, as he has high-level experience and the skills to make it at the top level.
Albrektsson is a solid all-around fighter with good kickboxing and submission wrestling. He put those on display with Bellator, who he fought for since 2019. After losing his first fight in 2023 under the Bellator banner to Grant Neal by split verdict, it appears he was let go, and he made his next appearance for Superior Challenge in Sweden. There, he smashed Ederson Macedo in the first round by TKO, snapping his two-fight Bellator skid. That said, his Bellator tenure saw him score wins over Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov and Viktor Nemkov.
Albrektsson’s only other losses come to top fighters such as Phil Davis, Jiri Prochazka and Valentin Moldavsky, all of whom are world champions or title contenders. There is no shame in that, especially when you look at who he’s beaten. If Bellator has truly let him walk, I think the UFC could definitely strengthen their 205-pound division with this tough, experienced Swede.
Ibragim Chuzigaev (18-5, Russia)
Including a KSW Champion seems like a waste of time, seeing as they rarely head to the UFC due to their contracts. However, with how thin the light heavyweight prospect pool is, and how impressive Ibragim Chuzigaev has been, I will make an exception.
Having not lost since 2017, Chuzigaev is a good submission wrestler who is on the best string of wins in his career. He’s riding a nine-fight winning streak where he’s beaten UFC veterans Mike Rhodes and Alex Garcia. His lone win of 2023 was a submission victory over top undefeated prospect Bodgan Gnidko, netting him the KSW title.
Like I said, I think it’s going to be hard to get him under contract, seeing as he’s under KSW rule. However, with the light heavyweight division in need of extra depth, Chuzigaev marks himself as a guy who can step in and be competitive immediately.
Grigor Matevosyan (12-3, Armenia)
When you think of Armenian MMA fighters, you think of days’ past with names like Karo Parisyan and Manny Gamburyan. While some names have come along since then, like UFC contender Arman Tsarukyan, there have not been many top Armenian fighters to show for. However, top light heavyweight prospect Grigor Matevosyan is definitely one that comes to mind.
Matevosyan is a well-rounded fighter, having good hands and solid wrestling. His ground-and-pound is also solid, which has led to some of his finishes. His only loss since his second pro fight has been against top light heavyweight Muslim Magomedov last year, whom Matevosyan went four rounds with before being finished. That said, he’s won three straight since then. That includes a win over UFC veteran Wagner Prado, as well as his sole 2023 fight, where he beat Stepan Gorshechnikov by TKO.
Matevosyan has a good finish rate and is not boring, which are two things that should catch the eye of the UFC. He also has a ton of quality experience in fighting for ACA over a half dozen times. I think it’s time the UFC gave the 30-year-old Armenian a shot in the UFC.
Jakob Nedoh (8-1, Slovenia)
Slovenia is probably most famous for being the home country of Melania Trump, but it’s not exactly a place where MMA is blossoming. That said, Slovenian Jakob Nedoh is a talented light heavyweight that emerged in the PFL Europe season and looks to have high upside.
Nedoh is a massive six-foot-three-inch light heavyweight that is a bull of a man, possessing insane power and strength. He is a ferocious striker that has put down six opponents via knockout. He actually has two submission wins as well. His lone loss was in his 2014 pro MMA debut. He was 3-0 in 2023 with three knockouts. He impressively knocked out Riccardo Nosiglia in 48 seconds with a jab to start the year. Then, he blasted through Anthony Salamone in 95 seconds to make the season final. There, he outpowered top prospect Simeon Powell to a second-round knockout.
Nedoh is a true blue chipper at 27 years old, especially in a division like light heavyweight, which is constantly in need of talent. With how scary he is on the feet and how powerful a man he is, he’s a guy that I don’t think too many 205-pounders are itching to fight.
Oumar Sy (9-0, France)
France has recently become a hotbed for MMA talent, especially since the legalization of MMA in the country. One of the best prospects at any weight class from that country is Oumar Sy, who should be a guy fighting at the highest level.
Sy is a tall, rangy striker, standing at six-feet-five-inches tall and having very long limbs. He’s a very good striker, and has been working his wrestling and ground game with Bulgarian Top Team. Sy scored victories over two UFC veterans in 2023, choking out Luis Henrique in 100 seconds and knocking out Ildemar Alcantara in 81 seconds.
Sy was just released from his contract by KSW, so he’s a free agent. That is perfect for the UFC, who continues to build up the French portion of their roster and Sy is definitely a fighter who should be targeted.
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