Mixed Martial Arts is often called the fastest growing sport in the world, and because of this rapid growth it becomes difficult to keep an eye on every top prospect that emerges. Here I will highlight five must watch prospects that have championship potential. I will attempt to give you some insight on great talent you may not have seen, and a reason to make sure you watch them.
The Gracie family has quite a few good prospects currently transitioning to MMA, but none are as highly touted as Kron Gracie. The first degree Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt earned his initial black belt at the age of 19 and is one of the best jiu-jitsu practitioners in the world today. Now making the transition to Mixed Martial Arts the Rio de Janeiro, Brazil native has already made a big impact in RIZIN Fighting Federation and will be looking to continue his impressive run through the organization.
Kron Gracie’s father and jiu-jitsu trainer Rickson Gracie was a highly successful MMA fighter himself, retiring undefeated after eleven fights. The youngest son of Rickson, a small Kron Gracie can be seen playing jiu-jitsu with his father in the documentary “Choke”. Now boasting an undefeated 4-0 record, Kron Gracie has already made a huge statement picking up a submission victory over 48-fight veteran and former top 15 UFC featherweight Tatsuya Kawajiri at RIZIN FF Grand Prix: Final Round event on December 31st, 2016.
The accomplished Jiu-jitsu practitioner is one of the few who successfully uses a “back to the basics” style of BJJ and thus far he has transitioned it well to MMA. As far as striking goes Kron Gracie has made many small improvements training at Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in Pleasant Hill, California with a multitude of top MMA fighters. However, he is a far cry from a great striker. Kron Gracie typically uses low kicks and dirty boxing until he has an opening to take the fight to the mat by takedown or by pulling guard. The 28-year-old competed at 180 pounds in jiu-jitsu competition and has quite a size advantage competing against most featherweights.
Canada’s “Mean” Hakeem Dawodu is one of the most talented featherweight prospects in Mixed Martial Arts today. The Calgary, Alberta striking specialist didn’t get into kickboxing because it was his passion. Unlike most, Dawodu started kickboxing as a form of anger management to avoid juvenile detention stays. The decision to go with kickboxing over anger management classes was a good one as he went on to a successful 60+ fight career in that discipline. Now making the transition to MMA, Dawodu holds a pro record of 6-0-1 and has scored all six of his victories by knockout.
The Champion’s Creed Martial Arts affiliated fighter has plus athleticism and has a ton of potential. He is calm under fire, likely from his kickboxing experience. Dawodu has fast and powerful hands that are a tool to feared by his opponents. The striking specialist mostly uses his hands on the outside but he has great kicking technique as well. Dawodu uses an offensive clinch game throwing knees and elbows at every opening, which makes him a very tough fighter to deal with at close quarters.
Dawodu started his career under the World Series of Fighting banner and is on the verge of going from top prospect to top contender. At WSOF 32 Dawodu avenged the one anomaly on his record by defeating Marat Magomedov with a second round knockout. Dawodu is an extremely fast and powerful striker with natural athletic ability that makes him a tall task in the featherweight division. At WSOF 35 the 25-year-old faces 44-fight veteran Steven Siler in a bout that will see him take on the most accomplished competitor of his young career.
One of Bellator’s best prospects, “The Ilimanator” Ilima-Lei Macfarlane boasts an undefeated 5-0 record with four of those victories coming under the Bellator banner. The Honolulu, Hawaii-born fighter made a statement in her last two outings defeating fellow prospects Rebecca Ruth and Emily Ducote in impressive fashion. The Team Hurricane Awesome rep has done well to impress thus far in her career and after passing her two biggests test she is expected to face off with another opponent near the top of Bellator’s 125 pound division next.
While she originally gained fame for a viral KO in her pro debut, Macfarlane is actually a grappling specialist with solid submission skills and top control. The flyweight prospect still has much to work on despite her outstanding run. However, she has many tools at her disposal which makes her a tough fighter to gameplan for. Her trips from the clinch are remarkable and her relentless submission attempts make for an exciting battle once the fight hits the mat. Against an aggressive fighter like Rebecca Ruth she showed the ability to ward off pressure with her excellent timing, which gave her the ability to get into the clinch and take the fight to the mat.
At the time of this writing Ilima-Lei Macfarlane doesn’t have her first fight of 2017 scheduled and it’s just a matter of time before Bellator makes an announcement about the young prospect’s next bout.
The highly anticipated UFC debut of Tom Duquesnoy is upon us as he recently signed with the organization. The French bantamweight is highly touted by many, with some expecting him to make a quick run at the UFC bantamweight title. While few live up to this kind of hype, the 23-year-old French fighter definitely has the tools to do so. At 13-1 Duquesnoy has defeated some of the absolute best bantamweight fighters outside of the UFC, with his only loss coming in just his fifth professional fight to UFC featherweight Makwan Amirkhani.
Since that loss he’s gone on an eleven-fight win streak that saw him secure the BAMMA bantamweight championship and earned him his upcoming shot in the UFC. Don’t let his looks fool you – the “Fire Kid” is the real deal. He can do it all. He has an aggressive and powerful striking style that overwhelms his opponents. His ground game is excellent as he uses great scrambles and submissions attempts to gain an advantageous position. His clinch work is devastating and ground and pound is just as vicious. Always looking for the finish, Duquesnoy has an ultra impressive 79% finish ratio through fourteen victories.
— caposa (@Grabaka_Hitman) December 7, 2016
It won’t be long until we start to find out if Tom Duquesnoy can live up to the heavy hype surrounding him. The blue chip prospect makes his UFC debut against Patrick Williams on the stacked UFC on FOX 24 card that takes place on April 15 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. For now, check out Duqesnoy’s 2016 regional knockout of the year contender from BAMMA 25, when he took out Shay Walsh with a ridiculous standing elbow.
Despite being very early in his Mixed Martial Arts career, Bellator’s Ed Ruth already looks like he has the making of a top prospect in the middleweight division. Ruth is a three-time Division 1 Wrestling Champion, four-time All American, and a four-time Big Ten Champion. At 26 years of age Ed Ruth made his MMA debut against Dustin Collins-Miles at Bellator 163 with a first round TKO and followed it up with another first round knockout over Emanuele Palombi at Bellator 168.
The dominant wrestler is one of the best pure athletes to transition to MMA. His explosive takedowns are a thing of beauty, his top control is excellent, and he pushes a relentless pace that not many can handle. Ruth has yet to face any real competition, but you can tell he has a great deal of potential to be a future title contender. His decision to train at Jackson Wink MMA is a great one as he will be able to test his skills and learn with the best fighters in the world. He currently holds a blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and continues to develop his striking game as well. At the time of this writing Ed Ruth does not have a fight scheduled, but it will be interesting to see his development and how he is booked moving forward.