The UFC has a huge talent pool and a ton of potential future champions. This article is intended to breakdown future champions in the lighter weight-classes. So, if you’re a ‘heavyweights only’ fan, this probably won’t be up your ally. But if you love the little guys who come to finish fights and/or dominate their opponents, then this article is for you.
When you hear names like Rory MacDonald, Conor McGregor and Michael McDonald, you hear the names Bruce Buffer could be potentially announcing as the new faces and champs of the UFC. With guys like GSP, Anthony Pettis, Jose Aldo, Dominick Cruz/Renan Barao and Demetrious Johnson being gate keepers for the lighter weight-classes, it’s only a matter of time before the torch gets passed along.
Matt Hughes passed it to GSP and Urijah Faber passed to Aldo (more like Mike Brown) in the WEC and Barao in the UFC. It’s only a matter of time before those same champions pass it themselves. What happens after that, that’s the big question?
There are so many different companies outside the UFC with huge talent just lurking in the shadows, waiting to be discovered. The MFC, WSOF, all the way to the number two company, Bellator.
All these organizations have immense talent just waiting to one day get their shot in the UFC. Some fighters might not even be on their radar yet. That’s what I’m here for, to let the mma world know what the future holds. This is my list of the top 10 potential champions that haven’t made it to the UFC…yet.
10. Andrey Koreshkov 13-1
The Russian just came off his first and only loss to Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren, and he is only 22 years old. He beat back-to-back ex-champions to earn his shot against Askren. He lost via TKO in the 4th round after being undefeated for 3 years since his debut.
He fights at lightweight and welterweight. Once he finds a comfortable weight-class and works on his ground game, he will be a complete mma fighter and a total wrecking machine. His striking is top notch and he has the potential to be a champ one day. When you look at fighters like Anthony Pettis who work on all aspects of mma, they become very deadly and feared.
Koreshkov has all the potential to fall in this category one day. I don’t think his ground game and wrestling is as bad as everyone thinks. I mean, he lost to Ben Askren. His wrestling is on another level than most. Koreshkov has good takedown defense, but until he trains with a guy like Askren to help teach him the little things, he will always be swimming in the kiddy pool.
9. Darrell Montague 13-2
The former Tachi Palace flyweight champion is a name you should expect to hear in the future, and is listed as the #1 ranked Flyweight prospect in the MMA Prospects Report of 2013. He will make his UFC debut against John Dodson at UFC 166.
He hasn’t fought yet, hence why he made the list. His only losses in his career were to UFC fighters Robbie Peralta in 2009 and when he lost his title in 2011 to Ian McCall.
He hasn’t lost since losing his title. In fact, he has 3 finishes in his last four fights, with a split decision win over Mamoru Yamaguchi. Montague is another fighter who will be feared, once he polishes up his ground game. His kickboxing is on another level, and it’s only a matter of time before he gets his revenge on McCall, and finally holds UFC gold.
8. Bibiano Fernandes 14-3
The only reason he is so low on the list is because of his management issues. I hope this won’t become another “Fedor” case where the fighter thinks he is better than the best mma company around. Bibiano is the first and former DREAM Featherweight Champion and current DREAM Bantamweight Champion.
He is also currently ranked as the #5 Bantamweight in the world by MMA Weekly. He has been on the UFC’s radar for some time and in my opinion, should already be fighting inside the octagon.
He was linked to be in negotiations with the UFC, but instead he signed with ONE FC. He hasn’t lost since 2010 where he lost his Dream featherweight title to Hiroyuki Takaya. His other two losses were back-to-back early in his career to Urijah Faber and Norifumi Yamamoto.
From there he has really honed in on his craft and has proved he has what it takes to be the face of the bantamweight division if he ever decides to drop all the politics. Ranked so high, I would love to see him against another top 10 guy some time very soon.
7. Anthony Birchak 10-1
If you don’t know this name, you will soon. Birchak is an Arizona native and one of the top bantamweight prospects outside the UFC. Birchak has fought for the WFF (World Fighting Federation), RITC (Rage in the Cage), Coalition of Combat, and Bellator.
He currently fights for Maximux Fighting Championship (MFC). His next fight will put him on everyone’s radar who haven’t noticed him yet. He will fight for the MFC’s inaugural bantamweight championship against veteran Tito Jones in October. If you don’t know who Birchak is, go watch MFC 37.
Birchak has spectacular wrestling, a nasty ground game, killer cardio, and his striking just keeps getting better and better. This is a guy whose only enemy is himself. Only he can beat himself, and his mental game is on another level, so good luck trying to break him. Give it a year or so and you will see Birchak showcasing his skills inside the octagon and one day holding that 135 strap.
I personally can’t wait for the day he fights a Michael McDonald or a Dominick Cruz and joins the higher echelon of the mma world. If he isn’t on your radar, put him on it. You won’t regret jumping on the wagon before the seats are full.
6. Eduardo Dantas 15-3
Someone that I see getting there before Birchak, is the current Bellator bantamweight champion and Nova Uniao protégé, Eduardo Dantas. Dantas did lose to Tyson Nam outside Bellator, but is still undefeated under the organizations banner. His ground game is top shelf and his striking just gets more crisp with every fight.
With wins over Wilson Reis (Ko), Ed West, Alexis Vila, Zach Makovsky, and his recent knock out of teammate Marcos Galvão, “Dudu” looks to be well polished and ready for top UFC competition. Dantas is currently ranked as the #8 bantamweight by Sherdog. The bantamweight division is ready for a guy like Dantas, but I could also see him dropping down to flyweight and winning a title there as well.
5. Marlon Moraes 11-4-1
When I think of a guy that should be in the UFC right now, and could beat a guy like Dantas, it’s Marlon Moraes. Now, he is not higher on my list than Dantas because he has beat Tyson Nam and Dantas hasn’t. It’s because Moraes doesn’t need a title to carry himself like a champion.
I have personally talked to him and he is one of the most humble fighters and family men out there right now. When he talks, he talks like he is already a champion, and not in a cocky aspect, just confident. Moraes knows he will be a future champ one day. He knows all his hard work and determination has already paid off in the future, he just waits until the day he holds up the UFC strap.
Moraes could be in the UFC right now, but he respects the WSOF (World Series of Fighting) for helping him along his journey. He will more than likely sign another deal with them after his contract is up. He made his WSOF debut against former WEC champion Miguel Torres and defeated him via split decision.
This was a step up for Moraes and he delivered on the hype. With his first round knock out of Tyson Nam and his unanimous victory over Brandon Hempleman, it’s only a matter of time before the UFC tries to steal the top prospect away from the WSOF, and who could blame them.
4. Sergio Pettis 8-0
Will we have two Pettis’ as UFC champs one day? My money is on yes. Sergio Pettis is the current RFA (Resurrection Fighting Alliance) flyweight champion, the top Roufus flyweight prospect, and has only been pro since 2011. “The Phenom” is so high on this list due to the fact he is only 19, has already accomplished so much, and has done it all without riding his brother’s coattails.
His older brother has admitted to helping him with his game, but also admitted that his brother is his own person and not a shadow dweller. When fans saw Sergio knock out his first opponent via head kick in the first round in his pro debut, we all thought that another “Anthony Pettis” was on the rise.
After watching multiple fights, we all realize that this is a whole different Pettis, which is scary in it’s own right. Still very stylish, scary with impeccable speed and dangerous everywhere, but also adds his own flair. If he is as good as we all expect, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him holding multiple titles in the UFC one day.
He is still young and has a bright future in front of him. I see “The Phenom” and “Showtime” being the new brother faces of the UFC in the future, which is good for the organization. Sorry Diaz brothers, but we need positive brother role models as the faces of the UFC, and one day we will have them, Pettis style.
3. Michael Chandler 12-0
If there is anyone who can challenge Anthony Pettis for the UFC lightweight title, it’s the undefeated power house known as Michael Chandler. Chandler is a very dangerous wrestler with scary power in his hands. He is the current Bellator lightweight champion after dethroning Eddie Alvarez in 2011 in the Fight of the Year.
Since then, he has won 3 in row beating Akihiro Gono, Rick Hawn, and David Rickels. Chandler is on the UFC’s radar and will be put to the true test come Belltor’s first PPV in November when he gives Alvarez the rematch everyone has been waiting for. If Chandler can dominate Eddie and prove that he is the top guy in Bellator, then I wouldn’t be surprised if the UFC tries to sink their teeth into him quickly.
Chandler has all the tools to be a UFC champ, and I don’t think it’s too soon to speculate that one day, it will become a reality. The top 5 ranked lightweight (by Sherdog) will be top 10 in the UFC sooner than later, and could even grab gold at 145 one day.
2. Pat Curran 19-4
The current Bellator featherweight champion has been on a huge run ever since dropping down a weight-class. He has only been finished once in all 4 of his losses, and his only Bellator loss was a unanimous decision loss to Eddie Alvarez for the Bellator lightweight championship. His size was a problem for lightweight, but it’s not at 145 lbs.
He is on a 6 fight run, holding wins over Marlon Sandro, Joe Warren (for the title), Patricio Freire and Shahbulat Shamhalaev. Curran will be defending his title at the November PPV against Daniel Straus, and I believe if he beats Straus, that there is no one left for him in Bellator.
It’s time to get him in there against the Chad Mendes‘ and Jose Aldo‘s in the UFC. Curran has all the tools to play spoiler to either of those guys and I wouldn’t be surprised if you see Curran and Conor McGregor fighting for the UFC featherweight title in the future.
1. Ben Askren 12-0
The man has the mouth, the wrestling, and all the skills to be the best in the world one day. Once he improves his power and striking, he will be a force to be reckoned with. The undefeated Bellator welterweight champion not only has all the skills to dominate a fight, but also has all the confidence in the world that he could out wrestle GSP to this day.
I still would like to see him against a top grappler like Jake Shields or Demain Maia first, to see how he would react to a guy with a similar skill set. I still think Askren’s collegiate and Olympic wrestling skills can outpoint almost anyone at 170. But what happens when he gets in there with a good wrestler like Johny Hendricks who has big power in his hands? Only time will tell.
Once Askren beats a guy who is just as good as him on the ground, I think fans will finally start giving him the respect he deserves. Mark my words, Askren will be the future UFC welterweight champion one day. When, is the big question.
I just hope the Bellator/UFC politics don’t keep one of the best welterweight prospects out of the title hunt for longer than he needs to be. Askren will be the future Chael Sonnen of his division with his mouth and his dominate wrestling. The only difference will be, that he will actually capture UFC gold some day.