Top 25 MMA Prospects for 2013

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterJanuary 11, 2013

Top 25 MMA Prospects for 2013

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    We've counted down the best fights, best fighters, best events, best promotions, best tweets, best concessions and best action figures of 2012. Time for 2013.

    Plenty to look forward to this year in MMA, as always. It is a form of entertainment, after all. But let us now venture off the beaten path of pay-per-views and Ronda Rousey. Let us now identify the top 25 prospects of 2013.

    A few ground rules: no UFC fighters included. Bellator et al used only sparingly. I'm trying to find true prospects with a real chance to break into the big time. For simplicity's sake and because I know next to nothing about women's MMA, this list includes men only. Full fight videos included for each fighter.

    Now, to be clear, I'm not MMA Mel Kiper. Don't want to be. I don't travel the world scouring the Lutefisk Fighting League and Ultimate Cambodia for the young man with the left knee like the mighty thunderbolt. 

    But you know what I do do? I watch a lot of fights. I also have Internet access. I'm also a sucker for the next big thing. I once selected Tatum Bell with my second-round fantasy football pick.

    That didn't pan out the way I'd hoped. Hopefully this will be better. Oh, and one more thing: I'm holding myself accountable on these. I'll monitor their progress and gauge my accuracy. Pulitzer committee: I'll await your call. 

25. Ilir Latifi

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    Division: Heavyweight
    Promotion: Superior Challenge
    Record: 8-2 (1)
    Age: 29
    Country: Sweden 

    European grappling champion Ilir Latifi won three times in 2012, including against one of my faves, King of the Cage champ Tony "Kryptonite" Lopez.

24. Darrion Caldwell

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    Division: Featherweight
    Promotion: Legacy Fighting Championship
    Record: 2-0
    Age: 25
    Country: USA

    Darrion Caldwell is still new to MMA, but no stranger to the combative arts. He's a lifelong wrestler who won a national title at N.C. State.

    As far as the pros, he's in a good spot for that, out in Arizona with Ryan Bader and C.B. Dollaway and others of Caldwell's ilk. Here's a college highlight reel.  

23. Joe Ellenberger

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    Division: Lightweight
    Promotion: Victory Fighting Championship
    Record: 14-1
    Age: 27
    Country: USA

    Yep. He's Jake's twin. But he fights at 155 pounds and has an even better nickname: "Excalibur." So yeah.

    His career was temporarily sidetracked when it was discovered Joe had a very rare disease. But he's back on the train now and beating just about everyone in sight.

22. Michael Page

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    Division: Welterweight
    Promotion: Super Fight League
    Record: 3-0 
    Age: 25
    Country: England

    This dude is nuts. Three pro fights, three first-round stoppages. Here he is doing it big for his first fight in India. His striking is positively Jones-esque.

21. Tyson Nam

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    Division: Bantamweight
    Promotion: World Series of Fighting
    Record: 12-4
    Age: 29
    Country: USA

    Tyson Nam's finally set to fight again Jan. 26 after another one of those crazy Bellator situations. Meanwhile, Nam's doing some good coasting on that Eduardo Dantas knockout. Hey, let's watch it again!

20. Chris Beal

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    Division: Bantamweight
    Promotion: BAMMA USA
    Record: 6-0
    Age: 27
    Country: USA

    The only thing "The Real Deal" Chris Beal did this year was win four times. His base is boxing, and he trains with Tony Ferguson and others at Ventura, Calif.'s Knuckleheadz gym.

    He's lightning quick, he throws fast, he lands hard and he can take a punch. Maybe the gas tank and the ground game could use some work, though. And to top it all off, he's got a pretty compelling back story.

18. Mirsad Bektic

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    Division: Featherweight
    Promotion: Resurrection Fighting Alliance
    Record: 5-0
    Age: 21
    Country: USA

    Mirsad Bektic can barely buy a beer, but he has a lot of buzz. He's fast, deceptively powerful and clearly has an always-be-closing philosophy. 

17. Andre Fili

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    Division: Featherweight
    Promotion: Tachi Palace Fights
    Record: 11-1
    Age: 22
    Country: USA

    Andre "Touchy" Fili hasn't really been challenged in a while. Not unless you count his training sessions, which he conducts at Team Alpha Male. He also has some crazy hair. That hair will get you places.

    With Tachi Palace Fights in limbo, I'm not entirely sure what Fili's situation is right now. I'm sure he'll surface somewhere.

16. Dhiego Lima

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    Division: Welterweight
    Promotion: Maximum Fighting Championship
    Record: 7-1
    Age: 22
    Country: USA

    Dhiego Lima is every bit as talented as his older brother, Bellator standout Douglas. If anything, Dhiego is more polished in the standup phase. 

15. Bubba Jenkins

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    Division: Lightweight
    Promotion: Resurrection Fighting Alliance
    Record: 3-0
    Age: 24
    Country: USA

    Bubba's nickname is "The Unicorn Crusher." And see, I thought it was "Bubba."

    Like Caldwell farther down this list, Jenkins is a national champion wrestler who's just crushing people. Bubba's title came while attending the hotbed that is Arizona State University. It also has a good tradition of moving their wrestlers into MMA.

    Ah, that was great. But no, Bubba's really good. He's great on the ground and he's crazy aggressive, going not for takedowns but slams, and not for control but for taps.  

14. Max Nunes

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    Division: Light heavyweight
    Promotion: BAMMA
    Record: 9-0
    Age: 23
    Country: Sweden

    Two Swedes on the list so far. That's pretty good. I wonder if it has anything to do with an Alexander Gustafsson-fueled popularity explosion there.

    Interestingly, that's just the guy to whom people compare Max "Power" Nunes (although Nunes is a lot more of a ground guy). And how about that nickname? Does anyone still watch The Simpsons, or am I just old and that reference is no longer useful?  

13. Sean Strickland

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    Division: Middleweight
    Promotion: King of the Cage
    Record: 10-0
    Age: 20
    Country: USA

    Strickland has shown some good skills so far, especially on the ground. That's probably why he's the reigning KOTC champ.

    Sometimes you can see him thinking in there, though. A few more fights should get him to a more natural spot; he'll probably pick up a signature win somewhere in there, too.  

12. Rick Glenn

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    Division: Featherweight
    Promotion: Score Fighting Series 
    Record: 12-2
    Age: 23
    Country: USA

    Already at 23, Rick Glenn has been a pro for six years and trains with Erik Koch, Anthony Pettis and the whole gang at Roufusport. He fights really well from range and is a skilled wrestler.

    He also seems like a focused but grounded guy who's sincere about a desire to move to the UFC. If he can extend his 10-fight unbeaten streak, he'll probably be stateside sooner rather than later.

11. Elvis Mutapcic

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    Division: Middleweight
    Promotion: Maximum Fighting Championship
    Record: 12-2
    Age: 26
    Country: USA by way of Bosnia and Herzegovina 

    In October, Elvis Mutapcic faced The Ultimate Fighter veteran Joseph Henle for the MFC middleweight belt. That one ended when Mutapcic crushed Henle's ACL with a single leg kick. Can you crush ligaments? Damn right you can. Go ahead, check it out, it's horrible!

    He'll try to make it two TUFs in a row when he faces "Smilin'" Sam Alvey in February.

10. Doo Ho Choi

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    Division: Featherweight
    Promotion: Deep
    Record: 9-1
    Age: 21
    Country: South Korea

    So you want some more depth and power in the lighter weight divisions, do you? Try some Doo Ho Choi on for size. Don't let the fact that he looks like he's 12 years old fool you. 

    The razor-sharp "Super Boy" has three straight wins by T/KO. One of them was a flying knee. This one took one punch.

9. Antonio Braga Neto

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    Division: Middleweight
    Promotion: IDK...somewhere in Brazil
    Record: 8-1
    Age: 25
    Country: Brazil

    Antonio Braga Neto has been spinning his wheels on prospect lists for a while now. That'll happen when you've only fought twice in the last two years.

    But you get to stick around when those wins come against current Bellator standout Maiquel Falcao and UFC vet Brock Larson. Both by submission, by the way. 

8. Dileno Lopes

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    Division: Flyweight
    Promotion: Coliseu Extreme Fight
    Record: 11-0
    Age: IDK
    Country: Brazil

    Another year, another three Ws for Dileno Lopes. He trains at Nova Uniao and employs that classic jiu-jitsu-covered Muay Thai that so many Brazilian fighters use to such effective, eh, effect.

    Lopes is primarily a submission finisher, but unlike some jiu-jitsu specialists, Lopes can get you horizontal with the takedown or a precision strike. 

7. Alex Garcia

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    Division: Welterweight
    Promotion: Slamm
    Record: 8-1
    Age: 25
    Country: Canada by way of Dominican Republic

    Alex Garcia rebounded from a loss to current UFC signee Seth Baczynski with a win. Then he tore his ACL. Then he rebounded from that with a win.

    Garcia still has the size, the skills, the disposition and the killer instinct to make it in the show. And he still trains at Tristar. Barring another unforeseen setback, it seems like a matter not of if but when for this guy.  

6. Takasuke Kume

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    Division: Lightweight
    Promotion: Road Fighting Championship
    Record: 15-1
    Age: 27
    Country: Japan

    A big, hard-driving submission grappler who trains with Hatsu Hioki. UFC veteran Shane Nelson is probably the biggest name on his hit list.

5. Brandon Thatch

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    Division: Welterweight
    Promotion: Instinct MMA
    Record: 8-1
    Age: 27
    Country: USA

    Brandon Thatch is just nasty. The Mohawked Muay Thai machine uses a 6'2" frame to just go in there and knock heads off.

    He hasn't lost—or been out of the first round—in four years now. (His one loss came in his second pro fight.) Time to give this man a step up in competition. 

4. Josh Hill

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    Division: Bantamweight
    Promotion: Score Fighting Series
    Record: 9-0
    Age: 26
    Country: Canada

    Ah, yes. Josh "The Gentleman" Hill. Or it might be "Gentleman" Josh. Either way, he really proved himself last August when he wrestled his way to a win over a highly regarded fighter in John "Haggis Basher" Fraser. 

    Looks to me like he could be a good addition to the UFC's thin bantamweight roster.

3. Darrell Montague

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    Division: Flyweight
    Promotion: Vale Tudo Japan
    Record: 12-2
    Age: 25
    Country: USA

    Darrell Montague might be the best fighter in the world never to sniff a major MMA promotion. He's beaten current UFC flyweight Ulysses Gomez and, on Christmas Eve, Japanese legend Mamoru Yamaguchi.

    He brings a lot of attack points in the standup phase and is comfortable on the ground. But above all, the thing with Montague is that he knows he's great.

    Watch him splay out Taylor McCorriston here with a pinpoint counter straight left. And by the way, how about a hand for the criminally underrated Javier Vazquez, who did the color commentary for Tachi Palace Fights?

    Man, that guy's good. If TPF does indeed go under, someone should snap him up.

2. Jan Blachowicz

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    Division: Light heavyweight
    Promotion: KSW
    Record: 16-3
    Age: 29
    Country: Poland

    Jan Blachowicz is on here in part because I'm tired of writing about fellow KSW glitteratum Mamed Khalidov, who apparently is OK with dying in Casablanca. (Plus he's 32 now.)

    OK, rant over. Blachowicz earned this spot on his own merits, anyway. The reigning KSW light heavyweight champion's current four-fight win streak includes UFC veterans Houston Alexander and Mario Miranda, as well as an avenging of his most recent loss, a 2011 TKO loss to Rameu Thierry Sokoudjou.  

1. Vitaly Minakov

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    Division: Heavyweight
    Promotion: Bellator
    Record: 10-0
    Age: 27
    Country: Russia

    Run. Run away!

    Vitaly Minakov is coming. He works and trains in the states now. He's on our very shores!

    I decided that if I don't make direct eye contact with the television while he's fighting on it, I'll probably be safe. But that's no guarantee when the guy on the screen is a four-time world sambo champion who knocks people out with the same motion I use to throw balled-up paper into the trash can.

    In November, Minakov announced his presence in Bellator with some authority, flattening some carbon blob less than 30 seconds into the second round.

    Before that, he downed two UFC veterans in a row in Eddie Sanchez and Fabiano Scherner. Not impressed with those names? Neither was Minakov; he knocked them both cold in the first round.

    That doesn't make them special, though. There is nothing special about their destruction. Minakov has only been out of the first round twice. 

    And he does it all with that classically Russian, just-rolled-out-of-bed look on his face. Gotta buy cheese, gotta shovel show, gotta break this other human, gotta call my mother, gotta wash the car. Another day, another dollar. 

    Follow Scott Harris on Twitter.

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