5. Jimi Manuwa
Hometown: Morden, England
Camp: Keddles Gym
The only fighter on the list without a significant MMA background, Jimi Manuwa is making huge waves in England as a brutal boxer with one punch knockout power in both hands, and an overhelming striker in the clinch. Manuwa came into MMA after a weightlifting accident, tearing his pectoral muscle after attempting to bench over 400lbs. This physical strength, however, is obvious in his fights, as he manhandles his opponents from the Muay Thai and Single Collar Clinches, and delivers powerful punches and knees from in close.
Manuwa's biggest strength is by far his left hook, which has knocked several UKMMA fighters out cold. He can throw it as a counter or a lead with equally devastating effect. Stylistically, he is very similar to a post-PRIDE Rampage Jackson, but with the added benefit of a devastating clinch game, which he showed off most impressively in his biggest challenge to date in formerly undefeated kickboxer Valentino Petrescu.
Defensively, on the feet Manuwa keeps his hands down, but has a good understanding of range, and will immediately pick them up to block as the opponent closes the distance. As his opponent closes, he's also shown a good ability to counter, although he is better at inflicting damage when he is leading and especially when he gets inside.
Jimi's weakness is his grappling, although he's raised his takedown defense to respectable levels, he will still have to improve on both his offensive and defensive grappling abilities on the mat, Jimi has not faced a powerful wrestler so this easily could be his Achilles heel, furthermore his conditioning and reaction to adversity remain big question marks, potentially heading into the UFC in 2011.
With a good camp and hard work in improving his grappling ability and conditioning, Jimi's has the tools to be a superstar in the UFC. His exciting and brutally violent style as well as being English will make him easily one of the most popular Light Heavyweights in the UFC. He has top 10 potential with proper matchmaking and improvement in his weaknesses.
4. Marcos Rogerio de Lima
Hometown: Sao Paulo, Brazil
Camp: Barbosa MMA
Style: Muay Thai
Background: Professional Muay Thai – Record: 70-6-0
Marcos “Pezao” is one of the most exciting prospects in the sport regardless of weight class. Coming into the sport with rare credentials, an elite Muay Thai background, his furious and aggressive style reminds of a prime Wanderlei Silva. He charges at opponents with reckless abondon with brutal body, leg and head kicks, front kicks, punches and knees. His defense on the feet mainly consists of him daring his opponent to have the courage to hit him, as he pummels him with heavy kicks and punches.
In terms of the mental game, Pezao is one of the few fighters with an elite killer instinct He genuinely seems to wish to inflict as much punishment as possible. With a heavy right hand, and dynamic kicks, he can certainly achieve his goals rather easily. He has not shown the propensity to grapple offensively, though you will see him hit the floor in an effort to finish a downed opponent, an area in which he is top-notch. Rogerio de Lima attempts all sorts of crazy attacks on a hurt opponent, included soccer kicks to the body, and flying stomps.
Pezao’s weakness, obviously coming from a Muay Thai base is his grappling. Although he hasn’t shown a ton of offensive skills on the ground, he trains with grappling star Marcos Barbosa, and was able to survive Paulo Filho on the ground. As of now he takes a Melvin Guillard-esque approach to grappling, stand and strike, defend takedowns, and when you are taken down, wall walk up to your feet. He is also special in one area, punishing takedown attempts, especially against the fence, where he’ll look to rain down elbows to the head of the would-be-takedown artist. Like Thiago Alves, he also shows an explosive sprawl, but will need to improve technically to avoid the shots of some of the elite wrestlers at 205.
Showing a huge interest in joining the UFC, Pezao is one the most exciting prospects coming up in the sport. Striking fans will love him, and even the harshest of MMA critics could not call him “boring”. He’s already way ahead of the curve in striking, and with a strong development in grappling under Marcos Barbosa, he has the tools to be a future top 5, elite fighter in MMA.
3: Alexander Gustafsson
Hometown: Stockholm, Sweden
Camp: Stockholm Shoot
Background: Amateur Boxing
Alexander Gustafsson is one of the brightest European prospects in the sport. Standing at a massive 6’5, he is one of the largest 205lb fighters in the division and a ferocious brawler. Already holding wins over the likes of Cyrille Diabate and James Te-Huna, Gustafsson should be ready to make his mark on the UFC’s 205lb division as a serious title contender.
Stemming from an Amateur Boxing background that had Gustafsson in the gym at a mere 10 years old, Alexander has the style of a fearless slugger. He shows a very rare ability in MMA to “take one to give one”, an exchange he will almost always win due to his granite chin and crushing power. Even the likes of kickboxing world champion Cyrille Diabate could not hold off Gustafsson’s pressure and heavy blows. So far in his young career, anyone who attempts to trade with Gustafsson has failed, and failed brutally.
One of the most promising aspects of Alexander’s career is his continued development in grappling. He notably shocked world-class wrestler Phil Davis by stopping one of his infamous double legs before eventually succumbing and being submitted. He needs to work on his technical skills and leverage in the clinch, however, as he’s been tossed from the clinch and sometimes his own throws have nearly left him on the bottom. His guard makes use of his long limbs and is an attacking guard, and he looks to get back to his feet where he can dominate. On top, he’s proving to be a potentially special fighter, with heavy ground and pound and long limbs that aid in sinking in chokes. Despite having no submission wins before entering the UFC, he’s recently picked up two in a row, in impressive fashion
Gustafsson is proving to be by far the greatest fighter in Sweden, at such a young age, if his rate of development should hold true, there is no reason that he could not prove to be one of the best fighters in the world. He should soon crack the top 10, and could potentially make his way to a UFC title shot down the road.
2: Roger Gracie
Hometown: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Style: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Background: Multiple-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Champion
Roger Gracie is considered by many to be the greatest Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner of all time. His technical mastery of the sport’s fundamentals has carried him to unprecedented heights. Roger has taken his grappling acumen to Mixed Martial Arts, where he’s already racked of a flurry of impressive wins in a mere 4 fights.
Roger’s MMA game is all about setting up the takedown and getting the fight vertical, where he drowns his opponent. Roger systematically works to mount and from there simply looks to set up an armbar or mounted choke, or maintains control of a rolling opponent and sinks in a rear naked choke. If you are looking for flashy Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu a la Dustin Hazelett or Shinya Aoki, Roger is not your man; Roger’s style is simple, efficient and brutally effective.
While Roger has almost no flaws on the mat, his stand up and wrestling abilities are still developing. Against Randleman, an extremely stout wrestler, he was able to get the fight on the ground by outstriking Randleman, aptly using his long limbs and reach to pepper him with jabs, and locked in a Thai clinch and rocked Randleman with a knee. Nearly all of Gracie’s strikes are used to control range, throwing mainly jabs, push kicks, and leg kicks. He pays attention defensively, and makes sure to stay out of range to avoid punches. His takedowns have also proven to be surprisingly proficient, as against tough wrestler Trevor Prangley he was able to use technical body locks and trips to take him to the ground where the fight ended quickly.
The criticism of Roger is his dedication to Mixed Martial Arts. Still a prominent Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitor, many feel that Roger is not focusing enough on his MMA career to truly be an elite fighter. Going into the Kevin Randleman fight, Gracie stated he was training 80% Gi grappling, which is certainly a questionable training routine for a mixed martial artist. However, recently Roger seemed to increase his training as he prepared for a consensus top 25 205lber in Trevor Prangley, training with UFC WW Champ Georges St-Pierre to practice his ability to set up takedowns with strikes. Right now Roger sits in a bit of contract limbo with Strikeforce, so what he will do in his MMA career is a bit unclear.
Even with these questions, Roger’s strength of competition in his meager experience with the sport suggests his future in the sport is a bright one. His incredible raw skill set can only improve with dedicated MMA training and many feel the grappling wizard is only scratching the surface of his true abilities in the sport. Assuming he re-ups with Strikeforce, Roger has the potential to capture gold and bring back credibility to the fallen Gracie legacy.
1: Phil Davis
Hometown: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Camp: Alliance MMA
Style: Wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Background: NCAA Division 1 Champion Wrestler – Penn State, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu No-Gi Champion – Blue Belt.
No surprises here, as the number one 205lb prospect is widely considered the top overall prospect in the sport. Mixing world-class athleticism with an incredible work ethic and IQ, Phil Davis is taking the MMA world by storm. Still yet to be tested in the cage, Davis is a prototype All-American wrestler who has developed a submission game that is uncommon for wrestling converts. He soon faces his biggest test in his career against MMA legend, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
Davis takes the wrestling approach of taking down opponents with power double-legs, especially against the fence. In the clinch, Davis’ power and technique is nearly impossible to match, and it often becomes a matter of time before he plants his opponent on the mat. So far in his career, shooting in from long range a la Georges St.Pierre and Rashad Evans is not one of his strong points, so he appears to need to close the distance before putting his opponent on the mat, where he is very good and improving every time he steps into the octagon. It also remains to be seen how Davis changes levels, as so far he is not needed to, simply due to none of his opponent being able to prevent his power double.
On the mat, Davis has an incredible base, and has absolutely stifling top control. His opponents have thus far been helpless on the ground, as he looks to set up submissions and drop some ground and pound. As of right now, in contrast to fellow wrestler Jon Jones, he appears much better at the former rather than the latter, although he is capable of dropping heavy knees from side mount and back control. Davis is especially adept at hitting Kimuras, a move he has practiced and executed innovative variations to.
One of Davis’ most impressive traits is his takedown defense. Despite facing several wrestlers thus far in his career, he has easily defended every takedown attempt thrown at him. A combination of superior balance and superior upper body strength and technique allows him to easily repel incoming shots and clinch throws. In the clinch, he never takes a break and is constantly looking to pummel under to attain double underhooks where he will look to drop down for a double leg takedown.
Striking-wise, Davis is improving, but it remains his biggest weakness. Although he has power in his strikes, his body type may not be suitable for striking, and he remains very stiff and robotic when delivering strikes. Although he has expressed interest in learning the finer nuances of striking, it doesn’t appear that he will develop into a great striker any time soon, although he can develop into a competent one, especially defensively.
Phil Davis appears to be on a meteoric rise to the top of the division, he’s hungry, smart, and extremely athletic and skilled. Despite this, in such a stacked division as 205lbs, and with other high level prospects and contenders challenging him, his path to 205lb dominance remains foggy, however it is a safe bet that at the very least, Davis should be a top 3, perennial title contender at Light Heavyweight.
Alexandre “Xande” Ribeiro
Hometown: Manaus, Brazil
Camp: University of Jiu Jitsu
Style: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Background: 2 Time Absolute World Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Champion
Setting a return date at March of 2011, Xande Ribeiro is a world-class ground specialist whose career is hampered by inactivity and injuries. With a recent knee injury that has kept him out of both BJJ and MMA competition, the clock is ticking on Xande to make an impression and develop properly in the sport.
When Xande last fought, he showed his adept grappling acumen, however he struggled to finish when on the ground, and had an even harder time getting it there. His wrestling and takedown ability needs to improve dramatically to be a major player in the division.
What Xande has shown, is an impressive ability to strike with power and strike comfortably. Xande in his two fights looked like the more comfortable man on the feet, and had a fearless aggression that is almost unheard of from BJJ converts. He stopped both of his opponents on the feet, which is a good sign for his prospects in the sport, especially if his wrestling remains sub-par. If he could develop into a Nick Diaz type of fighter, who beats fighters standing and forces opponents into his world class guard, he could be a special fighter in Mixed Martial Arts.
Although serious questions remain about Xande’s health and commitment to the sport, he has shown potential in his striking game, and has a ground game that will be better than nearly all of his rivals could even hope to be. With a few years of serious training, he could be a major player in Japan’s MMA circuit, or even make a splash on the American circuit as a potential top 10 organizational fighter.
Hometown: Provo, Utah
Camp: Drysdale Jiu-Jitsu
Style: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Background: World Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Champion – 94 kilograms
One of America’s crown jewels of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Drysdale has sadly been relegated to long-shot status because of a brain aneurysm that has put his status in the sport in doubt. As of now, Drysdale has been competing against experienced fighters on the Canadian circuit while he struggles to gain clearance to fight in America.
So far in Drysdale’s career, he has shown his ground wizardry in the form of two impressive, lightning quick submission victories. His wrestling remains a bit spotty, but in his second fight, he showed his ability to score a submission and/or sweep just seconds after pulling guard. He is extremely dangerous anywhere on the mat, and has a work ethic to improve the holes in his game.
With his prospects of a career in America in doubt, Drysdale by default may never enter the limelight as a Mixed Martial Artist. However it is likely that he could squeeze a deal with DREAM and have a very respectable career in Japan, even possibly a future DREAM Light Heavyweight Grand Prix finalist.
Hometown: Riga, Latvia
Camp: Xtreme Couture Toronto
Style: Wrestling, Judo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Background: Canadian Junior National Judo Champion, Judo Black Belt, Two-time Canadian Junior National Freestyle Wrestling Champion, Canadian Junior National Greco-Roman Wrestling Champion, ADCC North American Trials Champion.
Misha Cirkunov should change his name to King Midas, because in his extensive grappling career, it appears that everything he touches figuratively turns to gold. With one of the most diverse and extensive grappling backgrounds for any prospect in MMA regardless of weight, Misha looks to make a major impact in the sport
In his application of his many talents into MMA, Misha takes the approach of a prototype power grappler, with explosive takedowns and heavy ground and pound. Positionally, Misha is a dominant fighter, and he regularly secures dominant positions easily, and swiftly. An explosive athlete, Misha overwhelms his opponent as soon as the bell rings and looks to devastate his opponent with fast and powerful ground and pound. While Misha is also technically sound in his trips and throws within the clinch, his athleticism allows his preferred style of slams and blast double leg takedowns.
The one clear weakness that he has is his conditioning. Misha exerts a lot of energy with his explosive style and may not have the cardio to support it. In his fight with the very tough Roy Broughton, he started well, and faded and eventually completely gassed and was submitted in the second round. Misha has proven himself to be a very dedicated, hard worker so whether or not these issues can be corrected with hard work, or if these issues are more biologically remains to be seen. Misha has since rebounded from the loss, but all of his wins have been under a minute, so many question marks still remain about his overall game.
Misha will need to take an appropriate step up in competition in the near future. He obviously has holes that need to be filled, but his raw ability and athleticism spell a bright future in the sport. If he can correct them and continue to develop as a Mixed Martial Artist, Misha could be a dominant, top 5 Light Heavyweight in the distant future.