Bet UK 2019 MMA Prospects
The Bet UK MMA writer and former MMA journalist picks 5 2019 MMA prospects.
The elite MMA organisations operating in the second tier of mixed martial arts is a hotbed for emerging fight talent. These second tier shows are where current MMA superstars and UFC champions earned their stripes. The dog rounds of smaller MMA shows is a rite of passage for most professional fighters. It's where top talent is cherry-picked by the bigger shows.
Those who remember the WEC will recall that it was one of the top feeder promotions for the elite levels of the UFC. It produced some of the best fighters to fight under the UFC banner, Donald Cerrone, Jose Aldo, Chad Mendes, Urijah Faber, Brian Stann and many more. These fighters went on to win titles, dominate weight divisions and break records.
MMA has evolved over the years and the elite talent pool is as a rich as it's ever been. But still, we must look down to these second tier promotions to scout our next crop of quality fighters.
Before the shift in MMA quality, the smaller shows would hang their hats on drawing the big name fighters for one last fight or even coax big names out of retirement. These days regional promotions are building up grassroots talent and making them household names. It's much more attractive for fighters to enter a promotion, which is seen as a training ground for the UFC.
The fighters below are talents to watch in 2019, there's so many to choose from but here's 6 top prospects with a special mention and prediction.
This guy has been on every prospect list for the last 5 years and he's still here because I believe 2019 is going to be the year he breaks through. Whether this is title fights in Bellator or a move to the UFC. The 22-year-old has won all four Bellator fights by first round KO, delivering killer body shots and an immense pace. He's had Olympic wrestling trials, he's the former Golden Glove Champion and he's a wrestling world champion. His pedigree is unheard of in MMA circles. Fighting under the Bellator banner he's got a quality platform to build a career. The problem is, if he's to be world renowned he needs to be in the UFC where he can reach a worldwide audience. It's going to be a huge year for Pico. I'm sure will be fast-tracked towards a title.
A highly-touted prospect from New Jersey, he's the Fury Fighting Championships (CFFC) bantamweight champion. He's successfully defended his title but his biggest scalp came at Bellator 204 when he finished SBG protégé and Conor McGregor teammate James Gallagher in the first round via KO. The New Jersey native has only lost 1 fight in 12 and boasts an all-round MMA skillset. He's spent his entire MMA apprenticeship under UFC-vet Nick Catone where he's also trained with killers like Frankie Edgar and Edson Barboza. Another Bellator appearance and the UFC could come calling. He's also expressed interest in competing in the UFC development league, Dana White's Contender Series.
'The Moroccan Devil' is a featherweight prospect that fights for Legacy Fight Alliance, a promotion based in Texas with CEO Ed Soars at the helm. Soars is the manager of many top MMA fighters such as Anderson Silva. Zalal has had 3 fights and finished all inside the distance. He was also expected to fight on Dana White's Contender Series but that fell through. He's clearly caught the eye of many mainstream MMA scouts and he's still only 22. He's part of a stable of fighters including Chris Gutierrez of the UFC and former UFC fighter Steven Siler. A very confident personality he's said that he will get to the UFC no matter what.
This monster is a welterweight from Slovenia who trains at American Top Team. He's had 10 fights and finished all but 1 inside the distance. Training with top MMA pedigree at the Coconut Creek gym means that he's sparring and dealing with the best of the best everyday. He's fought most of his fight for the Titan FC promotion. Having tasted MMA gold in previous organisations, the Eastern European is certainly one to watch in 2019. The UFC are always looking to expand into new markets and Eastern Europe is an emerging one that's got a rich fighting history.
Sabatello is making all the right moves. He's embedded at American Top Team, a Florida gym that holds a stable of UFC champions and some of the most renowned coaches on the planet. I would say American wrestling is the best base for any young mixed martial artist looking to make it big. Sabatello is a three-time NCAA Champions qualifier as well as Big Ten Championships placewinner. He wrestled for Purdue University, Illinois. The prospective bantamweight is 2-0 at 25-years-old and will be looking for a big year in 2019.
Future UFC Champion
The Long Island native is undefeated and the former Ring of Combat lightweight champion. He has some of the best collegiate wrestling accolades in the game, he's a four time NCAA All-American and 2007 national champion. He was the first true freshman All-American in school history with the highest winning percentage. He's had 4 fights under the elite lights of the UFC and he's delivered four impressive finishes of good opponents. He fights Yancy Medeiros at UFC Fight Night, you can see where we think he stacks up in the UFC Fight Night 143 Tips and Betting Guide. 'The Gift' is a big fish in a lightweight talent pool, where some of the best fighters in the world play. Conor McGregor, Khabib, Al Iaquinta, Kevin Lee to name a few. Given Gillespie's wrestling pedigree he can take anyone in the division down, his stand up is excellent and with a low centre of gravity he sinks his hips into hooks, which have dropped many opponents. The hot grueling mats of US college wrestling requires a level of conditioning and blue collar toughness that very few have. The UFC is a marketing machine so if he can get on the mic and make a statement or two I would have him tipped to fight for the gold in the next two years.
If you are betting on MMA this year, gamble responsibly and please remember that when the fun stops, stop. All players must be 18+.