Everyone likes the Heavyweights. In MMA, the heavier weight classes seem to be bigger draws than the lighter weight classes. I guess fans just prefer seeing two large men throwing haymakers. I get it. There are more knockouts. However, I do find it a bit odd. It almost goes against logic. The heavyweights are less technical, less athletic and in general in worse physical shape. In boxing, it is a bit different. The lighter weight classes have done quite well. Floyd Mayweather is the king of boxing right now. Meanwhile. Heavyweight boxing is MIA. One of the things I have noticed is that as you go up in weight class, the talent gets thinner. If you look at prospects in the lower weight classes there is an abundance. However, finding light heavyweight and heavyweight prospects is a much greater challenge. So, why is this?
One reason might be simply genetics. There really just are not that many human beings 260 pounds. So it seems logical that there would be more fighters in and around the 170 pound weight class. This aspect is not going to change. However, I do not know if this is the sole reason. Football does not seem to have a difficult time finding offensive linemen or linebackers. There are plenty of large bodied men playing basketball. The truth is that right now MMA is probably not option one for some of these guys. Often we find guys turn to a sport like MMA once their football careers end. By that time they have a good amount of wear on their bodies, no martial arts experience and are not young by any means. We had been told that with the growing popularity if mixed martial arts that some of these big, strong athletes may chose to train mixed martial arts from an early age rather than play football. We have not seen this come to fruition in America.
Also, amongst the heavyweights there is more parity. By that I mean that it does not take much to lose a fight in that division. Heavyweight fighters are bigger, stronger and they hit harder. There is less room for error. One mistake and you could be done. With that said, it appears that we see better technique as we go down in weight class. Guys with inferior technical skills and less experience have done better as heavyweights than someone with similar skills would do in a lighter weight class.
I do not know how much the reasoning matters, but I have a hard time identifying quality heavyweight prospects. What I have found is that many of them are older as well. There are not many 20-year old stud heavyweight prospects. Maybe that is because at that age, they have yet to grow into their bodies, but it does seem the division is older as a whole. I am convinced that the UFC really needs to target some younger heavyweight prospects. They need heavyweights under 30. There just are not many. I have noticed a few trends. The most obvious trend is that the best heavyweight prospects are in Russia and Eastern Europe. It isn’t even close. That is the place that UFC and Bellator need to look to if they want quality heavyweight prospects.
With all of that said, I believe there are a few heavyweight prospects to keep an eye on. Here are 5 heavyweight prospects worth keeping an eye on.
1. Marcin Tybura –
Polish fighter, Marcin Tybura has really emerged as one of the top prospects in the sport regardless of weight class. The 28-year is the top prospect in talent rich Poland. Tybura currently has a 11-0 professional record. I really would think there is a good chance he ends up in UFC sooner than later.
Tybura’s strength is on the ground. He is a Brazilian jiu jitsublack belt who has won the European championships. However, only four of his wins have come by submission. Most of the time he is able to do well because his positioning is so good. He has solid takedowns. He really impressed in his fight with Chaban Ka. He showed solid submission defense and then his good base and positioning allowed him to throw heavy punches to get the finish. His ground and pound is not filled with powerful bombs, but it is effective nonetheless. He has a very solid back mount, which he uses to set up his chokes. His striking is not his strong suit, but he most uses strikes to set up takedowns. I would say that he looks less and less stiff on his feet as his career progresses. I doubt he ever becomes an elite level striker, but I do think he can become competent on his feet. He does appear to be a bit slow in his movement and in his strikes. He also doesn’t have a whole lot of power in his punches or kicks. He appears to be solid in the clinch. I think Tybura has the tools to do really good throughout the European circuit. Tybura, solidified himself with his recent dominant win over well respect veteran Damian Grabowski.
2. Denis Smoldaraev
Smoldarev is a native of Estonia who trains with the Alexander Nevsky club in St. Petersburg, Russia. At only 24-years of age Smoldarev is one of a few young and exciting heavyweight prospects. In Estonia they call him, “Brock Lesnar,” but his fighting style is nothing like Lesnar’s. With a 7-0 career mark, he is sure to start drawing more attention.
The first thing that stood out on Smoldaerv’s game was his powerful kicks. He has some of the hardest kicks out of any of our prospects and he uses them in high volume. He uses very solid leg kicks to wear down his opponents. He has some kickboxing and combat sambo background. He even fought the famed “Baby Fedor” Kiril Sidlinikov in a sambo match. He is a world combat sambo bronze medalist. One of the things that I liked about Smoldarev’s striking was that he frequently goes to the body with his punches. He does not have one punch knockout power, but he is a volume striker who lands with good accuracy. Some may remember that following Smoldarev’s win over Ibragim Ibragimov that he was on the receiving end of a angry headbutt. Smoldarev is huge for any heavyweight, as he is listed at 6’7″. He is a big, strong and powerful heavyweight. He moves pretty well on his feet and his footwork appears to be solid. As big as he is, I have seen a few fights where he was easily taken down. He has always been able to get to his feet, but it is not a good thing for a guy his size to get rag dolled. He has landed some solid takedowns of his own. He landed a very nice throw against Ibragimov. So, he looks much morecomfortable when he is in the top position. He showed a solid side control. He is able to land good ground and pound and has some solid submissions ability as well. His transitions are not as quick as I would like to see, but he is able to transition from side control to mount as needed. He struggles a bit when he is pressured, but when he is the one pressing forward he is hard to handle.
3. Ion Cutelaba –
Cutelaba is one of the most exciting prospects in all of our rankings. He is 20-years old and has shown himself to be an exciting fighter with a very high upside. Some people have even made a comparison to the legend, Fedor Emelianenko. Perhaps such comparisons are a bit premature, but make no mistake Cutelaba is a blue chip prospect in the heavyweight division. Hailing from the nation of Moldova he trains with MMA Sun welterweight prospect Vlad Popovskiy at CSA Moldova. Cutelaba has a 5-1 career record, but his one loss came by way of DQ due to unintentional strikes to the back of the head.
Cutelaba has a judo and a combat sambo background. He is a European Combat Sambo champion. He has solid striking and is very quick on his feet. He moves more like a welterweight than a heavyweight. Cutelaba is very aggressive on his feet and he really throws hard punches. He is also a finisher. He is able to duck punches and land heavy strikes of his own. His head movement is some of the best I have seen. He has very solid takedowns especially from the body lock. Ion appears to be deceptively strong, but I still think that he is undersized for the heavyweight division. He is very dangerous from the top position as well. He is young, so he certainly could fill out some, but I worry that he could get bullied by a larger heavyweight. He has really good balance. In one fight he was able to fend off a single leg takedown by balancing on his other legand it somewhat reminded of B.J. Penn. If I was forced to make a comparison of Cutelaba I think of Diego Sanchez.
4. Ante Delija –
Croatian Ante Delija is thought by some to be the heir apparent to Mirko Cro Cop in Croatian MMA. At 23-years old Delija is a really exciting prospect in Europe. He has a solid 10-2 career record. We would expect Delija to have a very solid upside.
Delija trains out of Croatia’s Gladiator Team along with Maro Perak. Delija has great size at 6’5 and he has surprisingly good movement. Delija has good hands, which he showcased in his win over Ricco Rodriguez. Sometimes when he closes distances he throw wide and looping punches, but he carries some power in his punches. He has shown great improvement. In his really early fights he showed that he could be a bit wild and spastic. He has good takedowns, especially against smaller competition. He appears to have a good instinct for finishing fights. Some of his wins are reminiscent of Cro Cop in Pride as he used kicks to the head of a grounded opponent and hard punches from the top position to finish. He really is dangerous from top position. One area of weakness seems to be his takedown defense. Delija really struggled when put on his back. I like the confidence that Delija fights with. He has a sort of swagger about him that makes him dangerous. Delija really has shown that he can mix things up well. He needs to continue to hone all of his skills in order to establish himself as a serious contender at Heavyweight. His age, current skills and size combined make him a really exciting guy to pay attention to.
5. Denis Goltsov –
Goltsov is 24-years old and may be on the verge of really garnering more attention. On September 19th, he is scheduled to fight Brett Rogers in Russia. A win over Rogers would put him firmly on the map. Goltsov’s record is good, but not stellar at 11-4, but when you consider that is just 24-years old you realize he still has a high upside. One of the impressive things about Goltsov is that he has a wide variety of ways to win a fight. He has wins on his record with head kicks, punches and submissions. Golsov boasts a solid win over Roy Boughton as well. Currently riding a six fight win streak, we would expect Goltsov to be on UFC’s radar already.
Golsov is considered a Master of Sport in both Combat Sambo and Boxing. He is most known for his sambo skills, and has really shown improvement on his feet. It is this base and career trajectory that makes him an interesting prospect. One would still have to wonder if eventually he will try to make the cut to the light heavyweight division.
Just missed this list: Konstantin Erokhin, James Mulheron, Christian Colombo, Michal Wlodarek
Note: Magomed Malikov would certainly be a top 5 prospect, but he is out due to a broken leg. Smealinho Rama is a bright prospect who recent signed with World Series of Fighting.