The Beaten Path: 5 Bantamweight Prospects the UFC Should Sign

Riley Kontek@@BigRIlesMMAFeatured ColumnistMarch 31, 2014

The Beaten Path: 5 Bantamweight Prospects the UFC Should Sign

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    Jeff Chiu

    We left off with the featherweights. It's time for the "Prospects the UFC Should Sign" series to continue—this time with the bantamweights.

    The bantamweight division is a weight class in need of additional bodies that could make it better. The division has some great fighters, but it could use some new guys.

    With that, let's take a look at five bantamweights the UFC should ink.


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    Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Spor

    As this is the third annual installment of the list, it's good to look back and see what fighters were included in the previous years.

    Of the nine men included in this series, two have been picked up by the UFC. Those men are Canadian grappler Josh Hill and Japanese prospect Kyoji Horiguchi.

    Hill was picked up by the UFC and placed on The Ultimate Fighter 18. There, he won his way into the house, but he was eliminated by Michael Wootten in the quarterfinals.

    Horiguchi was picked up late last year and has gone 1-0 in the UFC already. He beat Dustin Pague in his debut, but he will now drop to 125 and face Darrell Montague in the near future.

    As for the rest of the men included in this series, they are listed below with 2012's and 2013's lists.

    Josh HillJosh Hill
    Jimmie RiveraKyoji Horiguchi
    Matt SmithRodolfo Marques
    Yusup SaadulaevGustavo Falciroli
    Nick MamalisJonathan Mackles

Anthony Birchak

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    Record: 11-1

    Last Fight: Submission win vs. Tito Jones

    Maximum Fighting Championship has a good champion in Anthony Birchak. He is a 27-year-old fighter with a bright future that could be in the UFC.

    Birchak is a wrestler with an impressive ground game. Not only does he throw thunderous punches from top position, but he also has a very polished submission game.

    He has finished all but two of his opponents in 11 victories. He even owns a win over current UFC employee Ryan Benoit, showing he can hang with high-level talent.

    If he keeps up with the type of performances he has had, don't be surprised to see this kid bearing the UFC flag. 

Zeilton Rodrigues

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    Record: 12-3

    Last Fight: Knockout win vs. Claudio Rocha

    Everybody always talks about how Team Alpha Lame is the premiere gym for lighter weight fighters. While I somewhat agree, it is Nova Uniao that has been consistently providing the sport with prospects and champions. It holds a great prospect in Zeilton Rodrigues.

    Rodrigues is a long, rangy striker who also possesses a solid ground game. He has a very tight guillotine choke which he resorts to using when given the opportunity.

    He even holds a notable win over World Series of Fighting champ Marlon Moraes. He is currently on a six-fight surge, with all but one of those wins coming by way of finish.

    With all the events the UFC puts on in Brazil, one has to think that Rodrigues could get a call in the near future to be featured on one of those shows.

James Brum

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    Record: 14-2

    Last Fight: Decision win vs. Marat Pekov

    James Brum was a hard sell as a top prospect for me. However, given his recent performances, there is no doubt that the Brit is a UFC-worthy fighter with a bright future.

    Brum is just 26 years old and has only been a pro since 2009. In that time, the grinder has fought 16 times, showing that he is a busy man.

    Most of his wins are hard-fought decisions, where he uses a mixture of technical striking and heavy top position to wear men out. He has been a force in Cage Warriors and currently holds an eight-fight win streak over the likes of Marat Pekov, Olivier Pastor and James Saville.

    The UFC will be in Ireland later this year and looking for local talent to feature on that show. Brum would be an excellent choice for the company to ink and place on that show.

Leandro Higo

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    Record: 13-2

    Last Fight: Submission win vs. Eduardo de Souza Silva

    One of the three Brazilians in this countdown, Leandro Higo seems UFC-bound eventually. This is especially true because he competes for RFA, a seemingly unofficial feeder league to the UFC.

    Higo is only 25 years old and has already competed 15 times professionally. The Team Nogueira product has been decimating guys in that time, choosing his submission prowess to overwhelm a majority of his victims.

    He has a very good guard and has a knack of grabbing guys arms on the ground. One of his choice weapons is the armbar, showing his versatility on either the top or the bottom on the mat.

    There is no doubt in my mind Higo will be a UFC employee at some point. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when.

Thomas de Almeida

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    Record: 16-0

    Last Fight: Knockout win vs. Vinicius Zani

    Thomas de Almeida is 22 years old and is undefeated at 16-0. That should really be all I need to say for you to know the UFC should snag this prospect.

    De Almeida is a Chute Boxe product with an old school feel to his game. He is an aggressive power striker that has stopped all 16 of his opponents and collected gold throughout Brazil.

    He has vicious punching power to go along with his nasty elbow and knees. His muay thai is tight and a threat to end a fight at any point he chooses.

    This kid may be a future champion. He is still young and looks to be one of the best prospects in all of MMA.