As the sport grows in popularity, Mixed Martial Arts has a multitude of new prospects every year. Here I will talk about five must-watch Mixed Martial Arts prospects I think have great potential that you should be watching, as they could be the future of their respective divisions.
1) Leonardo Santos
In the lightweight division, there are a multitude of highly touted prospects working their way to the forefront of the talent-rich category. While there are many prospects that appear to have championship potential, none more than Nova União product Leonardo Santos. A 4th Degree Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) black belt under Wendell Alexander, Santos is a four-time Jiu-Jitsu world champion, cementing himself as a great in the world of BJJ. However, it appears Santos has what it takes to become a top Mixed Martial Artist as well.
In 2002 Leonardo Santos made his Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) debut against established veteran Takanori Gomi, who at the time was undefeated through ten fights. Santos would lose that fight by majority decision. After the loss he continued his BJJ career. However, the Rio de Janeiro native would reemerge in MMA four years later amassing an impressive record of 11-3 before joining The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 2. Undersized for the welterweight tournament, Santos loss in the semifinals to Santiago Ponzinibbio, but Ponzinibbio broke his hand during the contest and Santos took his spot in the finals. Santos would go one to submit William Macário in the finals and become The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil welterweight winner.
Undefeated in six UFC appearances, Leonardo has rattled off four wins in a row including victories over fellow top prospects Kevin Lee and Adriano Martins. At 36 years of age the talented Brazilian may have less time than other prospects in the weightclass, but after a big win at UFC 204 he has his eyes set on a top 15 opponent in his next bout.
2) Mirsad Bektic
With the featherweight division no longer in limbo, there are more opportunities for prospects to rise. The highly touted undefeated prospect Mirsad Bektic is expected to be one of the young fighters that rise to the occasion. Bektic has eleven career victories with four wins under the UFC banner. Born in Bosnia and Herzegovina Bektic’s family moved to Italy when he was three years old to escape the Bosnian War. His family moved once again to Germany before moving to the United States where he has lived since the age of nine. In America he was introduced to Karate which marked the beginning of his martial arts experience.
In 2011 Mirsad Bektić made his professional MMA debut winning in just thirty-one seconds. By December of 2013, the well-rounded competitor compiled a 7-0 record earning himself a shot in the UFC. Now the 25-year-old is the 12th ranked featherweight in the UFC after rattling off four wins in a row. Bektic has a seventy-two percent finish ratio racking up five wins by knockout and three by submission. The confident young fighter doesn’t currently have a fight scheduled. That said, he will likely receive a big step up in competition next. Undefeated and ready to make a run at the featherweight title, it will be intriguing to see his development moving forward.
3) Alexis Dufresne
The women’s featherweight division is grim and mostly littered with talented prospects rather than experienced veterans. One of those prospects are Temecula, California native Alexis Dufresne. After going undefeated in five fights the Team Quest fighter dropped two in a row dropping unanimous decisions to Sarah Moras at TUF 19 Finale and Marion Reneau at UFC 182. Missing weight for both fights she was subsequently released from the UFC. After more than a year away from the sport and giving birth to a baby boy, Dufresne returned to Mixed Martial Arts with a renewed focus.
The new mom has found motivation from her child to fully dedicate herself to get career. The confident 26-year-old competitor admits that she was a little out of her eminent in the UFC, while just as talented, she clearly isn’t a bantamweight and couldn’t make the required weight limit. At Bellator 155 “Sneaky Zebra” made her long-awaited return, but the competition wouldn’t get any easier. The top prospect would take on her toughest test to date in the number two ranked featherweight Marloes Coenen.
At Bellator 155 the 7-1 underdog, Alexis Dufresne, secured the biggest win of her career submitting Marloes Coenen with a Triangle Armbar in the first round. Despite snatching the big win Dufresne did miss weight for her short notice Bellator debut. After a 16-month layoff Dufresne claims she was over 170 pounds when she got the call to replace Julia Budd at Bellator 155. However, it was still a huge win for the young prospect and it is perhaps more impressive that she remains realistic about her place in the division. Knowing she still has a long way to go, Dufresne is willing to give Coenen a chance at redemption or face Arlene Blencowe, who she was originally expected to make her promotional debut against.
4) Israel Adesanya
The middleweight division is full of prospects with championship potential. Perhaps none as much as Israel Adesanya. The Lagos, Nigeria-born Odogbolu native is currently one of the scariest prospects the middleweight division has to offer. Adesanya’s family moved to New Zealand in 2001 when he was 15-years-old where he picked up Muay Thai in Whanganui. He later started his professional kickboxing career at City Kickboxing under Eugene Bareman, where he has developed the vicious striking game we see today.
With a kickboxing record of 50-3-2, the 27-year-old striking specialist is the fourth-ranked middleweight in professional kickboxing. At Glory 34 he defeated Yousri Belgaroui by unanimous to win the Glory middleweight contender tournament. Israel Adesanya also holds a boxing record of 5-1 and an undefeated professional MMA record through nine fights. Living up to his nickname “The Style Bender” has shown the ability to compete in multiple combat sports.
A remarkable 9-0 record in MMA Israel Adesanya has an outstanding 100% knockout ratio. The City Kickboxing product is easily one of the most intriguing prospects in Mixed Martial Arts today. With a level of striking not typically seen in the sport Adesanya brings a lot to the table and with victories over experienced vets Vladimir Katyhin, Dibir Zagirov, and Andrew Flores-Smith including wins over top prospects Kenan Song and Murad Kuramagomedov. It is safe to say Israel Adesanya is a real force to be reckoned with and a phenomenal prospect with huge potential moving forward.
5) Desmond Green
A lightweight and featherweight competitor Desmond Green is in two of the toughest divisions in the world. However, Green has been successful competing in both and is one of the best prospects in Mixed Martial Arts. A 3-time NCAA Division I Qualifier the University of Buffalo wrestler has compiled a 19-5 professional MMA record. In 2012 the Rochester, New York native started his professional MMA career where he compiled a 9-1 record before getting an opportunity to compete under the Bellator banner. Green loss his promotional debut to Fabrício Guerreiro at Bellator 99 but bounced back with a three-fight wins streak before losing to top contender Daniel Weichel at Bellator 119.
“The Predator” was released from the promotion and in 2014 announced he would be competing under the well respected Titan FC. In 2014 and 2015 Green secured impressive wins over vets Miguel Torres, Steven Siler, and Vince Eazelle. However, ended 2015 with a loss to Andre Harrison making him 3-2 under the Titan FC banner. In 2016 Green returned to lightweight where he picked up four victories in four fights more recently securing a decision win over Martin Brown at Titan FC 42. A well-rounded fighter with a slew of skills Green has developed well as a fighter and it will be very interesting to see where he goes as the competition starts to pick up for the 27-year-old wrestling stylist.