The Beaten Path: 10 Best Non-UFC Lightweight Prospects
The lightweight division is likely the most populated and talented division in MMA. That's why you see 155-pounders come and go in the UFC, as well as control most of the seasons of The Ultimate Fighter.
Who are the future champions and contenders in the division? Who are the best up-and-comers that we should keep an eye on?
Well, our role here at The Beaten Path is to provide a guide for the best prospects in the sport. So without further ado, here are the 10 best non-UFC lightweight prospects in MMA.
10. Lowen Tynanes and Marcus Edwards
Record: 5-0 (Tynanes) and 5-2 (Edwards)
Age: 23 (Tynanes) and 24 (Edwards)
Promotion: One FC (Tynanes) and Sparta Combat League (Edwards)
I couldn't decide whom I wanted to kick off the list, as both Lowen Tynanes and Marcus Edwards are young prospects with big upside. So, they will tie for the 10th spot on this list.
Tynanes is one of the up-and-coming talents coming out of Hawaii who are beginning to show up more in this sport. He has been fighting in the Pacific for his entire five-fight career, including two fights with One FC and a fight with the Philippines-based URCC.
Four of his five wins came via knockout or submission, which show that he is a well-rounded individual. Add to the fact that he owns wins over notables Eduard Folayang (doctor stoppage), Vuyisile Colossa (rear-naked choke) and Felipe Enomoto (TKO), and you have a young, future contender.
Edwards is a product of FactoryX Muay Thai, the same gym that hosts Chris Camozzi, Gilbert Smith and Chase Hackett. This gym has prepared him in his seven-fight career thus far, which has seen him step in the cage against Justin Gaethje, Efrain Escudero and Dakota Cochrane.
He has finished all five of his opponents including three brutal knockouts. His biggest fight to date was against Escudero, which ended via a contentious split decision that could have easily gone the way of "Bad Intentions."
9. Ivan Buchinger
Promotion: Cage Warriors
Ivan Buchinger has only been fighting professionally for about five years, but he already has 28 bouts. Slovakia isn't known for churning out MMA fighters, but he is definitely a top-notch export.
Of his four losses, three have come to UFC vets Conor McGregor, Anton Kuivanen and Akira Corassani. Other than those hiccups, he has been unstoppable, especially when the fight hits the mat.
The well-rounded Buchinger is a finisher, putting away 20 of his 24 victims by knockout or submission. He has seen an impressive three-fight winning streak with Cage Warriors that includes an impressive decision over Jason Ball, a slick triangle armbar of Jamal Magomedov and a rarely seen scarf hold armlock of Mick Sinclair.
His next bout will come on New Year's Eve against Stevie Ray for the Cage Warriors Lightweight Championship. A win could elevate him to the major league.
8. Marcin Held
With a name like "The Polish Prodigy of MMA," it's easy to see why he'd be a top prospect of the sport. And Marcin Held is just that, as the 21-year-old has tremendous upside and a bright future.
He is a submission artist who is getting better with every outing. Fighting since the age of 16, he has already beaten some tough talent, including TUF 8 finalist Phillipe Nover, UFC vet Rich Clementi and respected journeyman Ryan Healy.
Held is known for his leglocks, which are extremely dangerous (just as Clementi). However, in his last fight against Healy, he showed off some improved power and striking, as the Pole stopped his adversary in about a minute.
He is also a former Bellator tournament finalist. With all these accomplishments at a young age, Held has a chance to be someone special when he's in his mid-to-late 20s.
7. Clay Collard
Record: 11-4 (1 NC)
Promotion: Showdown Fights
If one prospect has gone virtually unnoticed and under the radar, it has to be Clay Collard. The 20-year-old Utah native has quietly built himself up as a solid prospect in the western regional circuit, which could set him on his way to a great future in the sport.
Collard trains with the Pit Elevated Team in Utah, where Court McGee, Ramsey Nijem and Steven Siler put their respective axes to the grind. That camp has sent Collard on his way, as the striker holds eight wins by way of knockout.
His latest win was one of the better fights of 2013, when he eked out a close decision over UFC vet Justin Buchholz. It was an explosive back-and-forth contest that elevated the status of "Cassius."
He would be perfect for a season of The Ultimate Fighter. Until then, he just needs to keep on winning.
6. Nick Newell
Promotion: World Series of Fighting
So much hype and media surround Nick Newell, not only because he's a one-armed fighter in MMA but also because he is undefeated against some solid opposition.
He is a great wrestler for only possessing one arm. He quickly shoots for the takedown and achieves it with great proficiency.
He is also a dynamo on the mat when it comes to looking for the tapout. Seven of his 10 wins have ended via submission, including armbars, rear-naked chokes, a guillotine choke and heel hook.
Plus, he uses his disability as an advantage from time to time. He can easily throw standing elbows, as he is missing his arm just up to around his elbow.
He was successful in his WSOF debut against TUF veteran Keon Caldwell, but he will have another interesting test when he takes on striker Sabah Fadai in December.
5. Will Brooks
Will Brooks will fight for a lightweight tournament championship this weekend for Bellator, which is Exhibit A as to why he is one of the best prospects in the world.
He is a powerful and athletic wrestler who is still developing his striking at a nice pace. His explosiveness allows him to quickly shoot on opponents and put them on their backs.
His one blemish was a quick knockout loss to Saad Awad, which he corrected in the rematch. He may have come into the first bout too cocky, which led to him getting caught multiple times in a short period.
His track record speaks for itself. He owns wins over Awad, UFC vet Drew Dober, Japanese staple Satoru Kitaoka, John Alessio and Ricardo Tirloni.
A win over Alexander Sarnavskiy for a title shot would be huge for Brooks.
4. Graham Spencer
Record: 10-1 (1 NC)
Promotion: Maximum Fighting Championship
Canada has become a country with lots of talent to keep your eye on. One of those talents who has emerged as a top lightweight prospect is Graham Spencer, a key piece of MFC's 155-pound ranks.
Spencer is a ground fighter who has secured half of his career wins by tapout. He defeated UFC vet Shane Nelson with an aggressive ground attack, but two wins over Mukai Maromo, a poster boy of MFC, has more and more buzz surrounding this kid.
Once he grabs onto a neck, he squeezes for dear life and often times is successful in finishing. The UFC needs to look at him, especially when you think how important the Canadian market is to the world's leading promotion.
3. Carlos Diego Ferreira
Promotion: Legacy FC
Just two years into his MMA adventure, Carlos Diego Ferreira has become a name to remember at 155. He is undefeated and talented and has all the tools to stick around at a high level for a long time.
The jiu-jitsu specialist has quickly shown the MMA world that his brand of ground game is to be reckoned with. In fact, he already owns two keynote wins over UFC veteran Carlo Prater and Strikeforce vet Jorge Patino.
He is smooth on the ground with his passes, transitions and scrambles. Most men who engage in a ground battle with him soon find themselves in over their heads.
After winning the Legacy FC title against Patino, Ferreira is one of the hottest lightweight fighters outside the UFC.
2. Alexander Sarnavskiy
As I wrote this, I debated whether or not Alexander Sarnavskiy is a prospect or not anymore. However, since he is just 24 years old and had his best days ahead of him, I opted to put him in here.
Sarnavskiy is one of the many Russians invading this sport with great success. "Tiger" has been almost unstoppable in his 26-fight, five-year career.
He is well-rounded and gifted. His striking is powerful and technical, while his ground game is just a joy to watch. Just ask Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Ricardo Tirloni, who was the latest victim to tap out to the Russian phenom.
The kid is a finisher too. Of his 25 wins, 21 have come via knockout or submission.
He fights Will Brooks this weekend for the lightweight tournament championship and a title shot. Two of the best prospects in the sport will be competing against each other.
1. Justin Gaethje
Promotion: World Series of Fighting
World Series of Fighting should feel lucky that it has Justin Gaethje under contract. The leg-kicking, face-bashing Arizonian has been perfect as a professional and has proved to be the best lightweight prospect in the sport right now.
In all 10 of his outings, he has dominated, finishing nine of his opponents. With wins over Marcus Edwards, Drew Fickett, JZ Cavalcante, Brian Cobb and Dan Lauzon, there is no doubt Gaethje has the credibility as a future champion and star.
He is likely in line for the WSOF lightweight strap, but as of right now, he doesn't have his next opponent lined up.