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A look at the top upcoming MMA prospects competing this past week

by Jeremy Wall

A few notes before getting into the top ten prospects competing on indie shows this week.

I’m mainly looking at fighters between the ages of 21 and 34, which are the requirements UFC looks for when signing guys to The Ultimate Fighter. Not that I expect everyone listed to be a candidate for TUF (a lot of the fighters I’ve looked at may not speak English), but that age range gives a general guideline for a fighter’s potential to make the UFC.

I look for guys who only have a couple of losses at most, but there are always exceptions.

I also look for guys who hold titles with major feeder promotions, or who scored wins over UFC veterans.

I ignore guys who have fought for the UFC or Bellator, unless it was on a Bellator prelim. I will consider fighters who were on a season of TUF, but never competed in a fight at an actual UFC event.

The records for a fighter’s opponent are included in parenthesis. These records are not the opponent’s current record, but his or her record at the time of the fight.

Top Ten Prospects – March 20th – 23rd, 2014

Cody East (10-1, 26 years old, 6'3") Legacy Heavyweight Champion
East retained the Legacy Heavyweight title over Brice Ritani-Coe (4-2) at Legacy 40 on March 20th. Considered one of the top American heavyweight prospects, East is now on a seven-fight winning streak. He defeated Vernon Lewis (4-2) to win the vacant Legacy Heavyweight title in October and also holds a win over Nick Rossborough (23-16) in KOTC in 2013. His sole loss was on April 14th, 2013, to indie journeyman Tony Lopez (29-8) via first-round TKO when East tired quickly. East joined Legacy after having contract issues with KOTC. East wrestled at New Mexico State University and is a good boxer with a 2-1 pro boxing record (having recently boxed and lost a fight in January). He’s had criminal problems in the past, though, and was sentenced to three years in prison in 2008 for child abuse and battery (http://www.news-bulletin.com/files/archives/85452-12-20-08.html). Nearly all of his MMA fights have come since his sentencing, though, and it seems that he has cleaned up. With the amount of news stories of violent and criminal behavior among a few UFC fighters over the past year, it may not be in UFC’s best interest to sign East. If he has matured, though, he would be a good addition to a weak heavyweight division. “I have been in contact with the UFC and if I can win this fight in impressive fashion, I hope I can get a deal with the UFC,” East said of his title win back in October.

Zein Saliba (6-0, 26 years old, 6’0”) Australian FC Middleweight Champion
Saliba defeated Daniel Way (4-5) on March 21st to win the vacant Australian FC Middleweight title. Saliba is undefeated and holds wins over Vik Grujic (5-1) and Maui Tuigalama (4-0). Saliba has finished three of six of his opponents and he defeated Way after going five rounds to a unanimous decision victory. Saliba appeared on TUF Nations and was eliminated in the second round when he lost to Elias Theodorou by unanimous decision. Theodorou went on to win the show’s middleweight tournament. Saliba is 2-0 since losing to Theodorou.

Anatoly Tokov (19-1, 25 years old, 5'10") Middleweight
Widely considered one of the top prospects in Russia, Tokov beat Maxim Shvets (9-1) with a choke in the quarterfinals of a loaded middleweight tournament staged by Absolute Championship Berkut on March 21st. It was Tokov’s twelfth win in a row, competing for both ACB and M-1 Global, among other promotions in Eastern Europe. Tokov has finished fifteen of his opponents. His sole loss was to Magomed Magomedkerimov (4-2) via TKO on December 22nd, 2011. Tokov is thought to be light on his feet, although mediocre striker with good power and a good chin. He has one punch knockout power. He’s also competed at welterweight. He went 5-0 in 2014.

Anton Zafir (7-1) Nitro Welterweight Champion
Zafir beat Ryan Heketa (5-1) to retain the Nitro MMA Welterweight title in Australia on March 21st.  Zafir stopped Heketa at 4:12 of the first round. Zafir had won the title by defeating Corey Nelson (16-4-1) last March via five-round unanimous decision in what was considered an upset at the time. Zafir is now on a five-fight winning streak with his sole loss coming by TKO to Alex Volkanovski (2-0) on April 6th, 2013 via TKO. It seems probably Zafir’s next fight will be a rematch with former champion Nelson to prove the first win was not a fluke. ““I got started in MMA about five years ago, when I was over in the states studying and my roommate invited me to go try out a week free trial of this new style which was MMA and since then I was hooked. After that week I didn’t do it till I got back to Australia where I was out one night and this guy told me about a small gym that did it, so I started and haven’t looked back since,” said Zafir in 2014.

Marif Piraev (12-0-1, 23 years old, 5'9") Welterweight
Piraev defeated Kirill Sukhomlinov (19-5) via TKO at 1:51 of the third round for Fight Nights in Russia on March 21st. It was Piraev’s fourth win in a row after going to a majority decision draw with Luiz Ricardo Simon (8-3) for Fight Nights on July 11th, 2014. Piraev has finished ten of his twelve wins and holds victories over Benjamin Brisa (13-0) and Laszlo Soltesz (21-10). Brinsa was signed to the UFC, but was cut before ever fighting due to alleged Neo-Nazi ties. Piraev is nicknamed the “Lion of Dagestan” and is considered another one of the top young prospects in Russia. He has a background in both boxing and sambo and trains with the Fight Nights team along with Ali Bagautinov and Vitaly Minakov. He is known for being aggressive going for submission the ground, but also has weak takedown defense. He’s also considered an excellent striker.

Yoshinori Fukuyama (8-1-1, 5'8") Welterweight
Fukiyama won 165 pound tournament promoted by The Outsiders, the current incarnation of RINGS in Japan. Fukuyama beat Yuta Amifuji (2-0) by unanimous decision in the tournament finals on March 21st. He had previously defeated Shintaro Agatsuma (3-1) in the tournament semi-finals on December 7th. Fukuyama’s win in the tournament final was his second in a row after a majority decision draw against Teppei Hori (13-10-2) on April 6th, 2014. Fukuyama’s only loss has been to Kazuki Nakajima (9-1) via unanimous decision on April 21st, 2013. He has also competed in ZST.

Oleg Borisov (14-1, 32 years old, 5'3") Featherweight
Borisov defeated Beslan Afashagov (5-0) via unanimous decision at Fight Nights in Moscow on March 21st. It was Borisov’s twelfth win in a row. His only career loss came to Timur Valiev (4-1) via unanimous decision for Fight Nights on November 3rd, 2012 where Borisov had a difficult time dealing with Valiev’s reach advantage. He hasn’t lost since, a streak that includes wins over Mikhail Kislica (8-3), Joao Paulo Rodrigues (35-14-2), and Pavel Svoboda (7-2), among others. Borisov started late as a pro fighter, already 32 years old and having only fought for about three years. He has powerful striking and is an excellent ground-and-pound style wrestler. At 5’3”, he is also short for the featherweight division.

Andre Harrison (9-0, 26 years old, 5'8") Featherweight
Harrison defeated Cody Bollinger (17-4) via unanimous decision on straight 30-27 scores at Titan FC 33 on March 20th. The win moves Harrison to nine straight fights undefeated, four of which he has finished. Harrison has fought exclusively for Titan and Ring of Combat, two of the top UFC feeders in the United States. Most of his wins have come against quality opponents, including Aaron Neveu (9-2), Jeff Lentz (9-3-1), Matias Vasquez (10-2), and Ruben Ray (6-4), among others. Harrison is the former Featherweight champion for Ring of Combat. He trains with Bellmore Kickboxing. “I more so just want to develop as a fighter and learn the craft better and be able to put on better shows for the fans and dominate opponents. I’m a lot more comfortable in the cage. I feel like I’m a lot better-rounded than I started. I’m more used to the training and stuff. I definitely feel better now,” Harrison told MMA Weekly prior to the fight.

Mukhamed Kokov (8-0, 5'9") Featherweight
Kokov beat Marce Rojo (8-3) in the quarterfinals of a featherweight tournament started by Absolute Championship Berkut on March 21st. Kokov submitted Rojo with a choke at 4:51 of the first round to move to eight wins undefeated. It was the biggest win of Kokov’s career, although he also won a tournament for Oplot Challenge in September. Seven of Kokov’s eight wins have come by submission and six of those have been submission with a choke. He made his pro debut in January 2013, so he’s still fairly new to MMA. With his record and quick finishes it will be interesting to see how he fares in ACB’s featherweight tournament this year. He has also previously fought at lightweight.

Brett Johns (11-0, 23 years old, 5'7") Titan Bantamweight Champion
Johns defeated Walel Watson (13-7) by submission at 3:06 of the second round to win the vacant Titan FC Bantamweight championship. It was Johns’ debut with Titan, with his most recent fight being last April in Cage Warriors where he defeated James Brum (14-2) to win the vacant Cage Warriors Bantamweight title. With Cage Warriors on hiatus, it would seem that Johns has exited the promotion to cross the Atlantic and compete in the US. He has finished six of his eleven wins and nearly every one of his opponents has been someone with a winning record. “I want guys from America. It was an easy choice. It’s sort of a feeder to the UFC. The fans at home have been brilliant. The States are just bigger and better,” Johns said in regards to signing with Titan. The win over Watson was Johns’ debut stateside. “I’m living off of scraps,” he said. “My mother is helping me. It’s like my fights. I grind it out. I’m getting the job done, though. I’m getting paid to fight. The more you fight, the more you get paid.”