The lightweight division has always been heralded as the top division in terms of talent. We see this among the prospects. There are always plenty of up and coming fighters in the 155 pound division. We could probably list ten to fifteen elite lightweight prospects. However, there are three that stand out to me. These three fighters have the potential not just to make it to the UFC, but to be among the elite in the UFC.
1. Mansour Barnaoui.
The French fighter is just 22-years old, but has managed to put together an impressive resume that is certainly piquing the interest of the top MMA promotions in the world. Holding a career mark of 11-2, his lone losses have come at the hands of current UFC fighter Kevin Lee and and highly touted Islam Makhachev. In his last two fights he finished UFC veterans Curt Warburton and Colin Fletcher en route to the BAMMA lightweight title. He has championship belts in both France and England. Yes, he is young, but this skateboarding enthusiast is perhaps one of the best prospects in MMA. While Mansour did not begin training wrestling of BJJ at infancy, he began training in aspects of the sport at 15, which means his MMA base is MMA. Mansour has shown a very solid all around game. His striking is really good, and he throws a solid flying knee with accuracy. He has shown a willingness to stand and trade, and when he does he really seems to get the best of the exchanges. He has good power in his punches. He has also shown good submissions ability. Seven of his eleven wins have come via submission. I would expect the UFC to target someone like Barnaoui very soon. UFC has shown desire to break into mainland Europe, and Mansour may be the best prospect in Western Europe. This is a guy that if you watch, you will become a fan of. I think the UFC would make a mistake not signing this guy sooner rather than later. Right now, Barnaoui is on the shelf following shoulder surgery and a neck injury. He is looking to return in early 2015. I think he is one win away from UFC offering.
2. Lowen Tynanes
Hawaiian based fighter, Lowen Tynanes really has a solid resume.. Lowen has a 5-0 record, which may not tell the whole story. Many fighters with only 5 wins have only faced weak competition. However, Lowen has wins over very credible foes such as Felipe Enomoto, Eduard Folayang, and Vuyisile Colossa. Not only that, but he finished all three of those opponents. This exciting prospect has a promising future. The current King of the Cage and URCC Lightweight champion, Lowen, comes from a boxing background. He also has a wrestling background. He is a 2 time Hawaii state champ and 2 time High School All American. His wrestling is also top notch. He is really able to dictate where a fight takes place. Lowen’s overall ground work, transitions, ground and pound, back attack, etc, is some of the best we have seen. He is seamless. At just 24-years old, Lowen may be the lightweight prospect with the most upside. I think there is a really good chance that he transitions to a major promotion sooner rather than later. He has obliterated all the guys put before him and he really needs tougher competition. After an extended contractual dispute with King of the Cage, Tynanes has mended fences with KOTC and is scheduled to return October 2.
3. Islam Makhachev
Keep an eye on Dagestan, Russia product, Islam Makhachev. With a 11-0 career mark, Islam has an impressive record that includes wins over MMA Sun prospects Magomed Bekbolatov and Mansour Barnaoui. The reality is that many of the guys that emerge as blue chip prospects have very few notable wins…Makhachev has some solid wins. That is a big deal. In addition, Makhachev is only 23-years old making him one of the best prospects in Russia. Makhachev is a Russian combat Sambo champion. A sparring partner of Khabib Nurmagomedov, Islam reminds of Khabib to a degree. He has very good grappling control. Ihave some questions about his size at lightweight. He is about 5’7″. He may be better suited for the featherweight division, but given his age, he may grow into the lightweight division. It is quite possible that Makhachev is the best of the Russian lightweight prospects. Given his age and current skill set he really could do very well. He very well could be the next Russian to find big time success in the UFC. Some rumors have circulated about him signing with World Series of Fighting. Regardless, I think he will be a name more American fans will hear about.
Also watch out for: Musa Khamanaev and Gregor Gillespie