The Beaten Path: Top 10 Bantamweight Prospects Outside UFC, TUF 18
Cage Warriors bantamweight champ Brett Johns is one of the sport's top prospects at 135 pounds. (Photo credit: Huw Fairclough/Sherdog)
As you may have heard, the 18th season of The Ultimate Fighter, currently airing on a television set near you, features both male and female bantamweight competitors. And that makes sense. At MMA's top levels, the 135-pound division is a tad thin.
No disrespect to Eddie Wineland, but when you've got a guy who is 2-2 in his last four contests fighting for the interim title, you might just be a thin division.
What about those outside the TUF-sphere, though? There's plenty of talent out there, and we here at The Beaten Path intend to help you sniff it out.
We're counting down the top 10 non-UFC bantamweight prospects, and we're not including any of the fighters who appeared on TUF this season. And purely for the sake of simplicity, we're focusing on men only in this particular list.
We're actually doing one of these for each weight class. Feel free to peruse the flyweight list if you wish to catch up.
10. Michinori Tanaka
Promotion: Pacific Xtreme Combat
Michinori Tanaka has a strong judo base and glue-trap top control that makes him appear to fight much heavier than his division might suggest. However, he's far from a lay-and-pray artist, to which five submission wins can attest. He neutralized hard-hitting Crisanto Pitpitunge in May to win the PXC title.
9. Matt Hobar
Matt Hobar (top) defeats Angel Huerta at Legacy Fighting Championship 21 in July. (Photo credit: Robert Lopez/Sherdog)
Promotion: Legacy Fighting Championship
Matt Hobar showed very strong jiu-jitsu to submit Angel Huerta in July. Hobar is a grappler by nature and has a wrestling base, not to mention a physical style that's hard for many bantamweights to handle. It certainly appeared difficult for Huerta, who succumbed in the first round at Legacy FC 21. The win netted Hobar the promotion's bantamweight belt.
8. Kyoji Horiguchi
Promotion: UFC/Vale Tudo Japan
Yes, yes—I know he's in the UFC. As of just last Friday, Kyoji Horiguchi was penciled in to make his Octagon debut at UFC 166 in October against Dustin Pague.
I'll make an executive decision and rule that he's still technically eligible for this list.
It would be a shame not to mention a young buck as talented as Horiguchi, a striker with very heavy hands. UFC veteran Ian Loveland is one of his more recent victims. Check out his handiwork in the video.
7. Thomas de Almeida
Promotion: Legacy Fighting Championship/Bison Fighting Championship
The only thing that changes is the day. Thomas de Almeida has 13 pro fights and 13 wins by first-round stoppage (nine knockout, four submission).
The Brazilian is trying his best to challenge himself—he's already 3-0 in 2013 with another one scheduled for October—but no one seems equal to the task. Can another promotion step in and help him out already? If he can defeat some name competition, he stands to rocket up this and plenty of other lists.
6. Aljamain Sterling
Promotion: Cage Fury Fighting Championships
Aljamain Sterling is still in the sport's regional circuits, but that means you have plenty of time to familiarize yourself with the college wrestler who has fully dominated all comers since entering pro MMA in 2011.
Sterling's rise to the top was interrupted in 2012 when he had surgery for a torn labrum. He hasn't returned to action since. Watching this season of TUF from home must be excruciating for the New York-based fighter. However, once he resumes action, there's no reason to think he won't pick up on his meteoric rise right where he left off.
5. Brett Johns
Brett Johns became the Cage Warriors bantamweight champ on Saturday. (Photo credit: Huw Fairclough/Sherdog)
Promotion: Cage Warriors
Cage Warriors has its share of bantamweight talent, but young Welshman Brett Johns planted his flag squarely on the topmost point of the pile when he took two decision wins in one evening to capture the promotion's bantamweight tournament and vacant championship belt on Saturday night at Cage Warriors 59.
His wrestling base sets him apart from most European fighters, but it's that gas tank that might come in the handiest. At the end of the night, he looked pretty darn fresh for a guy who just went eight rounds. I guess 15 extra pounds of gold has a lightening effect. After that effort on Saturday, Johns is No. 5 with a bullet.
4. Rafael Silva
Photo credit: MMAJunkie.com
Rafael Silva has toiled in the MMA hinterlands for more than eight years now. When he got his shot under the bright lights at Bellator 97, he made the most of it, submitting Rodrigo Lima in the semifinals of the promotion's most recent bantamweight tourney.
3. Pedro Munhoz
Promotion: Resurrection Fighting Alliance
Pedro Munhoz found martial arts when he was six, and hasn't looked back. Most recently, the submissions expert defeated veteran Jeff Curran to become the RFA bantamweight champ.
Interestingly, the Black House-trained Munhoz is now a free agent, as his fight with Curran was his last on his existing RFA contract.
2. Marlon Moraes
Marlon Moraes (left) defeated Brandon Hempleman at WSOF 4.
Promotion: World Series of Fighting
Marlon Moraes might be the most dangerous striker in the entire division. The violent young Brazilian is on a five-fight win streak, including a perfect 3-0 mark in WSOF that includes wins over Miguel Torres and Tyson Nam.
He'll face another top prospect (who just barely failed to make this list) in Carson Beebe at WSOF 6 in October.
1. Bibiano Fernandes
Promotion: ONE Fighting Championship/DREAM
Bibiano Fernandes might be the best fighter not in the UFC—in any division. The lightning-fast interim ONE FC champ, who trains with Demetrious Johnson and others at AMC Pankration, hasn't lost in nearly three years.
He'll try to unify the belt when he faces Soo Chul Kim at ONE FC 11 in October. If he wins, Fernandes, who is also the DREAM bantamweight champ, has said he would move up to featherweight to face fellow promotional champ Shinya Aoki.
Finally, a real superfight!
The Beaten Path is a regular series interviewing and highlighting top MMA prospects. For more stuff about prospects and MMA and what not, follow Scott Harris on Twitter.