The Top Prospects Currently on the UFC Roster
It's a compulsion as old as sport itself. It's more pronounced in other sports, where well-honed recruiting infrastructures will soon feature time-traveling, but it's present in MMA as well. Everyone's always looking for the next big thing.
From the UFC's perspective, the rest of the MMA world is a series of feeder leagues, tributaries of talent flowing down to that fathomless octagonal sea. People with a wider view know better, as Bellator, Europe's Cage Warriors, Asia-based ONE Championship and others are cultivating and showcasing their own talent all the time.
Nevertheless, the UFC has one heck of a strong cherry-picking hand, and it often has the leverage to take what it wants.
With all of that in mind, let's take a look at the top five prospects on the UFC roster.
*While certain hardcore fans may recognize some or all of these names, the goal is to go beyond the obvious and find fighters deep down in the rankings who have yet to make a big mark in their divisions. Although we didn't devise some foolproof algorithm to do this, there are a few general boundaries. If your fave "prospect" is a title contender, for example, he or she is not a prospect. If you have enjoyed more success than another prospect, you will be ranked above the other prospect. You know, common-sense stuff like that.
Listed in no particular order:
- Kai Kara France
- Magomed Ankalaev
- Geoff Neal
- Darko Stosic
5. Petr Yan
Record: 12-1 (4-0 UFC)
Petr Yan is losing purchase on the prospect bubble, but we'll keep him in the mix for now.
Adding to that sensation of prospect transcension is the fact that Yan has appeared on lists like this going back to his days on the Russian circuits.
And hey, Yan may well be past it, but he is the No. 9 bantamweight in the official UFC rankings and set to face No. 7 Jimmie Rivera in June.
Yan is a kickboxer (five knockouts to his name) with good strength and size for a 135-pounder. In his last bout, the 5'7" Russian had five full inches on opponent John Dodson.
Yan's 83 percent takedown defense rate, per UFC statistics, is also a key ingredient. This guy has a future.
4. Aleksandar Rakic
Division: Light heavyweight
Record: 11-1 (3-0 UFC)
While another newcomer, electrifying Brazilian Johnny Walker, is eating up the headlines right now at light heavyweight, he can no longer realistically be called a prospect—but Aleksandar Rakic can.
Walker is No. 12 with a bullet in the 205-pound rankings. Rakic is nowhere to be found.
True, the South American has done more than his fair share of damage and clearly understands what to do when cameras are around, but the hard-handed Rakic is no slouch either.
Rakic's last fight was a December knockout of Devin Clark. If he can overcome a seasoned if fading veteran in Jimi Manuwa when they fight in June—and you may want to expect some striking exchanges in that one—he will be on those rankings in short order.
3. Michel Pereira
Record: 22-9 (2) (1-0 UFC)
Michel Pereira is the newest UFC arrival to appear on this list, and there's really no close second: His debut occurred less than a week ago at UFC Fight Night 152.
Time will tell whether this was the right replacement. All I know is, for right now, the Brazilian is exactly where he needs to be.
Did you see what he did to nine-fight UFC veteran Danny "Hot Chocolate" Roberts? Pereira hit the standard jumping-knee-to-right-hook combo to stop him and that was all she wrote.
Pereira knows more than how to win. He knows how to entertain. That is as big a deal on MMA prospect lists as it is everywhere else.
2. Weili Zhang
Record: 19-1 (3-0 UFC)
When Weili Zhang got past Tecia Torres in March at UFC 235, the fanbase stood up and took notice.
Known originally as a bit of berserker, the Chinese fighter was more methodical, but no less effective, in her approach to Torres.
She's now No. 6 on the strawweight rankings, but that's not exactly the deepest division, so it's a gaudier number than it might seem. Her next opponent will be much more substantial, which could be Zhang's gateway to the upper reaches of the weight class.
1. Kron Gracie
Yes, the son of the immortal Rickson Gracie brings a name and a face that will forever turn heads in combat sports. But this is no mere novelty act.
Kron Gracie tore through the ranks of cult-favorite Japanese promotion Rizin before heading to the UFC, where he debuted in February. His opponent, 20-fight UFC veteran Alex Caceres, looked to have a standup advantage over him.
Gracie threw a a few clumsy shots—none of which were threatening, but it didn't matter. He got a takedown on Caceres and the rest was history. The end came in a shade over two minutes.
Gracie's jiu-jitsu is on another level. Based on his UFC debut and the four contests before it, he's here to take over in the featherweight division; and with that name, he will have every chance of doing so.