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The Beaten Path: How Did the Top 25 Prospects Fare in 2013?

Scott HarrisFeatured Columnist IVNovember 16, 2016

The Beaten Path: How Did the Top 25 Prospects Fare in 2013?

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    Vitaly Minakov
    Vitaly MinakovKeith Mills, Sherdog

    Accountability. In the winner-take-all game of slideshow journalism, you are nothing without it.

    Anyone can just make a list of predictions or whatever, but the rubber hits the road when you retrace your steps and you hold yourself to a higher standard. I learned that from Walter Kronkite. And not figuratively, either. Mr. Kronkite was my sixth-grade math teacher. There were a lot of mix-ups.

    I don't believe I have to make any additional arguments. You may recall that some of us here at Bleacher Report cover the MMA fighter prospect scene with our series titled The Beaten Path. You may also recall that I put out a list at the beginning of 2013 identifying the top 25 prospects for the year, across all weight classes.

    We will release our list of top prospects of 2014 beginning next week. But before that, we will now go back and check our work. We're keeping ourselves honest. Who panned out? Which picks were DOA?

    To refresh your memory, no UFC or Bellator tournament fighters were allowed.  Fighters on this list appear in the exact order they appeared on the previous list. The goal here isn't to re-rank the fighters. We're checking in to see how they did. Please enjoy.

25. Ilir Latifi

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    Keith Mills, Sherdog

    Division: Light heavyweight
    Promotion Then: Superior Challenge
    Promotion Now: UFC
    Overall record: 7-3
    Record this year: 0-1

    It didn't take long for Ilir Latifi to make his mark in 2013. The day after April Fool's Day, the UFC announced the Swede would step in for an injured Alexander Gustafsson to face Gegard Mousasi at UFC on Fuel 9, which was scheduled to go down in Stockholm a few days later.

    Though Mousasi cruised to a unanimous decision, UFC brass indicated Latifi would get another shot in the Octagon. That shot will happen in March against Cyrille Diabate in London.

24. Darrion Caldwell

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    Andy Hemingway, Sherdog

    Division: Featherweight
    Promotion Then: Legacy Fighting Championship
    Promotion Now: Bellator
    Overall record: 3-0
    Record this year: 1-0

    The gifted national champion wrestler doesn't have the world's longest MMA paper trail, but his potential was enough for Bellator to snap him up in November. He'll debut for the promotion in 2014.

23. Joe Ellenberger

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    Keith Mills, Sherdog

    Division: Lightweight
    Promotion Then: Victory Fighting Championship
    Promotion Now: UFC
    Overall record: 14-1
    Record this year: 0-0

    Jake's twin brother suffers from a very rare, very serious blood disease that costs $400,000 per year to treat.

    The Joe Ellenberger front has been quiet lately, with no news emerging on his health or any other injuries, signings or upcoming fights. Then the UFC announced this week it had signed him to a four-fight deal. Well then. No fight announcement yet, but the cooler-headed Ellenberger seems destined for good things.

22. Michael Page

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    Keith Mills, Sherdog

    Division: Middleweight
    Promotion Then: Super Fight League
    Promotion Now: Bellator/Super Fight League
    Overall record Record this year: 2-0

    On paper, 2013 was pretty good for "Venom" Page. The intact zero, courtesy of two first-round stoppages, is not surprising, given that the Englishman with the supercharged striking entered the year on a wave of hype and even a few wacky comparisons to a lighter-weight Jon Jones. But dig a little deeper, and his year was a little disappointing.

    First of all, the two fights came within a month of each other, which, while impressive, means 11/12ths of the year were noticeably Pageless. Second, his knockout of Ryan Sanders fired up some conspiracy theorists right after it happened. Third, he pulled out of his second Bellator appearance this fall with an injury.

21. Tyson Nam

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    Dave Mandel, Sherdog

    Division: Bantamweight
    Promotion Then: World Series of Fighting
    Promotion Now: World Series of Fighting
    Overall record: 12-5
    Record this year: 0-1

    Everyone remembers Tyson Nam from wrecking Bellator champ Eduardo Dantas in a non-Bellator, barely on-the-books matchup back in Brazil and the contract complications he had with Bellator. He ended up in World Series of Fighting but lost to Marlon Moraes in March.

20. Chris Beal

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    Dave Mandel, Sherdog

    Division: Bantamweight
    Promotion Then: BAMMA USA
    Promotion Now: ???
    Overall record: 7-0
    Record this year: 0-0

    Chris Beal fought his way onto The Ultimate Fighter cast, but a busted punching hand and a loss to eventual men's season champ Chris Holdsworth ushered him off.

    Beal didn't get one of the final shots on the season finale, and all seems quiet on that front for now. The bantamweight is in a holding pattern.

19. Musa Khamanaev

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    Division: Lightweight
    Promotion Then: M-1
    Promotion Now: M-1
    Overall record: 13-3
    Record this year: 1-0

    Musa Khamanaev was not very active in 2013, but in his lone bout he turned in a convincing unanimous-decision win over Niko Puhakka. In recent bouts, his relentless search for takedowns and ground-and-pound win the day. The UFC may not be in his immediate future (especially given that the UFC and M-1 are not exactly besties on the greatest day), but he's a fun competitor, still young and worth watching.

    He also continues to look like Count Dracula's scruffy son. So that's a nice plus.

18. Mirsad Bektic

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    Keith Mills, Sherdog

    Division: Featherweight
    Promotion Then: Resurrection Fighting Alliance
    Promotion Now: Resurrection Fighting Alliance/Victory Fighting Championship
    Overall record: 7-0
    Record this year:  2-0

    Another year, two more first-round TKOs for Mirsad Bektic. Ho-hum. One has to imagine he's just a busy 2014 away from a big league call-up, as he has been on prospect-watcher radars for some time now.

17. Andre Fili

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    Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Spor

    Division: Featherweight
    Promotion Then: Tachi Palace Fights/West Coast Fighting Championship
    Promotion Now: UFC
    Overall record: 13-1
    Record this year: 2-0

    Andre Fili was preparing for his first-ever fight at welterweight when he got the call. Jeremy Larsen needed a new opponent for UFC 166. Oh, and the fight was at featherweight. Oh, and it's in two weeks. Fili missed weight by two pounds, which isn't that bad considering he had more than 30 pounds to cut. His convincing and highly bloody second-round TKO win wasn't too bad, either.

16. Dhiego Lima

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    Keith Mills, Sherdog

    Division: Welterweight
    Promotion Then: Maximum Fighting Championship
    Promotion Now: Xtreme Fighting Championship
    Overall record: 9-1
    Record this year:  2-0

    The younger brother of Bellator standout Douglas Lima did well in his own right in 2013, picking up two victories including a very close split decision over well-regarded Ricky Rainey at XFC 25. I wouldn't be surprised to see Bellator spring for the other Lima bookend for a future tournament.

15. Bubba Jenkins

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    Keith Mills, Sherdog

    Division: Lightweight
    Promotion Then: Resurrection Fighting Alliance
    Promotion Now: Bellator
    Overall record: 5-1
    Record this year: 2-1

    Maybe the college wrestling phenom's big surprise of 2013 was the fact that he lost. After pulping Mike Barreras in his Bellator debut, he dropped a TKO to lightly regarded LaRue Burley at Bellator 100. That's not what anyone was looking for. Luckily for him, he bounced back with a win in November at Bellator 109.

    Here's guessing that loss was good for him. It's better to lose focus early in a career than later on.

14. Max Nunes

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    Sherdog

    Division: Light heavyweight
    Promotion Then: BAMMA
    Promotion Now: BAMMA
    Overall record: 12-1
    Record this year: 3-1

    The Swede rode a monstrous hype wave into 2013, behind a well-rounded game, an undefeated record and quiet comparisons to countryman Alexander Gustafsson.

    He stayed busy throughout the year, bouncing around to any promotion that had an opening. Maybe the hectic schedule caught up with him, as he dropped his third bout of the year in September to unknown Jason Jones when he got caught in an arm-triangle submission.

13. Sean Strickland

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    Sherdog

    Division: Middleweight
    Promotion Then: King of the Cage
    Promotion Now: King of the Cage
    Overall record: 13-0
    Record this year: 3-0

    The Sean Strickland train rolls on unabated, and he continues to perch at the top of middleweight prospect lists everywhere. In 2013, the heavy-handed wrestler went 3-0, with one knockout, one  TKO and one unanimous decision.

12. Rick Glenn

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    Dave Mandel, Sherdog

    Division: Featherweight
    Promotion Then: Score Fighting Series
    Promotion Now: World Series of Fighting
    Overall record: 14-2
    Record this year: 2-0

    The country boy from Iowa had a nice year, but it could have been a lot better. Rick Glenn, a boxer first and foremost who trains with the vaunted Roufusport camp in Milwaukee, earned a shot at WSOF's inaugural featherweight title. Unfortunately, he had to withdraw at the last minute for personal reasons. Fellow prospect Georgi Karakhanyan went on to win the title over Glenn's replacement, Lance Palmer. 

11. Elvis Mutapcic

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    Jeff Sherwood, Sherdog

    Division: Middleweight
    Promotion Then: Maximum Fighting Championship
    Promotion Now: World Series of Fighting
    Overall record: 13-3
    Record this year: 1-1

    No one on this list had a stranger fighting year than Elvis Mutapcic.

    As he was literally preparing to walk out to the cage to face Jesse Taylor at WSOF 5, an athletic commission official reported seeing Camp Mutapcic with an unidentified medication of some kind and canceled the bout then and there. The bout was rescheduled for WSOF 7, where he lost to Taylor by decision.

10. Doo Ho Choi

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    Dean Marchand, Sherdog

    Division: Featherweight
    Promotion Then: DEEP
    Promotion Now: UFC?
    Overall record: 11-1
    Record this year: 2-1 

    He allegedly signed with the UFC, but there has been no official confirmation. Regardless, "Super Boy" Doo Ho Choi has a bright future. The 22-year-old needs a grappling game, but he has crazy power for a featherweight and a diverse striking game chock full of spinning elbows and flying knees and stuff.

9. Antonio Braga Neto

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    Marcelo Alonso, Sherdog

    Division: Middleweight
    Promotion Then: Various (Brazil)
    Promotion Now: UFC
    Overall record: 9-1-1
    Record this year: 1-0

    It's been a slow burn for the 26-year-old Neto. And not just this year, but all years. 

    He's been a coveted prospect almost his entire career but just can't seem to string anything together. His UFC debut in June was impressive enough that he got Derek Brunson as his next opponent, but an injury sidelined him, and he hasn't been heard from since.

    So it goes with Neto. Want to hear a weird statistic? He's only fought once a year for the past six years.

8. Dileno Lopes

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    Marcelo Alonso, Sherdog

    Division: Flyweight
    Promotion Then: Coliseu Extreme Fight
    Promotion Now: Samurai de Selva/Shooto Brazil
    Overall record: 13-1
    Record this year: 1-1

    Dileno Lopes missed out on the UFC's late-year flyweight signing spree, maybe thanks to that June loss to Adriano Moraes. He rebounded with a win in October but still seems to be bouncing around Brazil. 

7. Alex Garcia

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    Chris Hyde/Getty Images

    Division: Welterweight
    Promotion Then: Slamm
    Promotion Now: UFC
    Overall record: 11-1
    Record this year: 3-0

    Give Alex Garcia the Comeback Prospect of the Year award for 2013.

    In early 2012, a 7-1 record, a cinder-block right hand and a comfortable home at the Tristar Gym had "The Dominican Nightmare" poised on the brink of stardom. Then he tore his ACL and missed almost the entire year, returning in November and winning.

    The next year was a different story. Garcia stormed to a 3-0 record, culminating with a 43-second KO victory in his UFC debut at UFC Fight Night 33. That's what you call a comeback.

6. Takasuke Kume

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    Daniel Herbertson, Sherdog

    Division: Lightweight
    Promotion Then: Road FC
    Promotion Now: Road FC
    Overall record: 15-3
    Record this year: 0-2

    Sometimes in life, we all swing and miss. We all make mistakes in this life. Takasuke Kume was my mistake. My bad, bro.

    The monstrous lightweight lost twice in 2013—both times to Yui Chul Nam, interestingly—and both times were pretty close, plodding affairs. 

    Though he's still at the top of the Road FC heap, the year sapped Kume of any larger momentum. He's a big fish (and I mean a big fish) in a smaller pond until further notice.

5. Brandon Thatch

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    Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

    Division: Welterweight
    Promotion Then: Instinct MMA
    Promotion Now: UFC
    Overall record: 11-1
    Record this year: 3-0

    We could be looking back five years from now and calling 2013 The Year That Brought The Rukus. Like the music song.

    Brandon "Rukus" Thatch announced his presence with a bit of authority when he Muay Thai'd Justin Edwards into next Tuesday in his UFC debut. That took 83 seconds. 

    He only needed 47 additional seconds to get Paulo Thiago, the Brazilian special forces police officer, to tap to strikes in his follow-up fight.

    Rukus brought it. Do you want to fight him next? Because I don't want to fight him next.

4. Josh Hill

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    Sherdog

    Division: Bantamweight
    Promotion Then: Score Fighting Series
    Promotion Now: UFC?
    Overall record: 9-0
    Record this year: 0-0

    Josh Hill had a better year than his record might indicate. You may remember Hill from the TUF 18 house, along with Beal and many others. That's the good news.

    The bad news is that the Canadian grinder lost to Michael Wootten in the elimination round. As with many others who didn't pan out on TUF, Hill appears to be in a state of flux from a fighting perspective. Here's hoping the engaging, rock-solid bantamweight gets his old job back with Score or another regional promotion. 

    In the meantime, uh, yeah—I had him ranked too high.

3. Darrell Montague

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    Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Spor

    Division: Flyweight
    Promotion Then: Vale Tudo Japan
    Promotion Now: UFC
    Overall record: 13-3
    Record this year: 0-1

    Sometimes I get the feeling that Dana White signs a certain fighter so people will stop tweeting him about it. Sometimes that pans out (see McGregor, Conor). Sometimes it doesn't.

    It's probably too early to call Montague a failure in the UFC; losing to John Dodson doesn't qualify you for that. But the bar is high for the formerly scorching-hot prospect, whose theretofore absence from the UFC was so confounding to many observers.

    And the UFC is doing him no favors. First it was Dodson; in March, it will be the resurgent Will Campuzano. Good luck, dude.

2. Jan Blachowicz

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    Piotr Pedziszewski, Sherdog

    Division: Light heavyweight
    Promotion Then: KSW
    Promotion Now: KSW
    Overall record: 17-3
    Record this year: 1-0

    Dang. When KSW gets a hold of you, it doesn't seem to let go all that easily.

    The Polish promotion has provided comfortable longtime homes to plenty of fighters, European and otherwise. Blachowicz is one example. The uber-prospect has been ensconced there for six years and for his entire career since his first pro contest.

    An injury kept the big guy from fighting more than once in 2013, but the KSW champ should be back in action in 2014. Will he ever fight on North American shores? That's an open question.

1. Vitaly Minakov

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    Keith Mills, Sherdog

    Division: Heavyweight
    Promotion Then: Bellator
    Promotion Now: Bellator
    Overall record: 13-0
    Record this year: 3-0

    I told you to run away. But you didn't listen. And now you have to clean up all the bodies.

    Minakov was true to his billing as the next great Russian prospect and heavyweight. It was not easy to live up to, but he did it. And it's telling that the ugliest fight of his year and possibly career (against Ryan Martinez) was still a third-round TKO victory. 

    And yet, it was still ugly, because, waiting until the third round? C'mon, Vitaly. Of his last seven fights—all victories, all knockouts—only two made it out of the first. Only twice in his career has he gone past the second. 

    Unfortunately for all our mortal souls, Minakov got back on track in the Bellator heavyweight title fight against countryman Alexander Volkov. He won that by first-round TKO, and we have a new titleholder. 

    He is still only 28 and 13 fights into his career. Can Bellator find him any decent competition? Will he ever be able to extricate himself from those notoriously constraining Bellator contracts? We shall see. We've already seen his dominance. And you know what? It's frightening.

    Checkmark in my box to close last year's picks. Stay tuned for our list of top prospects in 2014, coming soon!

     

    Scott Harris writes about MMA for Bleacher Report and heads up The Beaten Path, a series of interviews and articles highlighting the top prospects in the sport. For more on prospects and all sorts of other crazy stuff, follow Scott on Twitter

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