It was a challenging year for MMA with the global pandemic putting a halt to sports for the beginning of 2020.
But COVID couldn’t stop some promoters from putting on multiple shows a month once lockdowns eased. Last year, we featured 60 fighters on our list and 21 of them got the call-up to one of the big leagues, 5 others got a shot on Contender Series and either lost or didn’t get the contract, and 9 were unable to stay active due to the circumstances.
With fighters starting to train at a younger age, many college wrestlers making their transition to MMA, and regional promotions back in full swing getting exposure through UFC Fight Pass, 2021 is poised to be one of the better years for the regional scene. We know the talent pool is deeper than ever before and though we have a few returners, The Scrap staff decided to put together their annual list of regional prospects to watch from all over the world. Below is a list of International fighters you should keep an eye on next year.
Aaron Jeffery (9-2, Middleweight)
Canada – The first-ever Canadian Contender Series contestant fights out of Niagara Top Team. With a record now of 9-2, Aaron Jeffery is 3-0 since his Contender Series loss to Brendan Allen, and went 2-0 in 2020. He has also finished all of those fights, solidifying himself as the #2 ranked middleweight in Canada, and #8 in the US. We have seen fighters get second, and even third chances on Contender Series. As a returner on our list, one would think that Jeffery might fit that description if he does not get a call up before The Ultimate Fighter 29 starts. After a LFA main event win, 2021 is lining up to be the year for Jeffery.
Muhammad Mokaev (4-0, Bantamweight)
Russia – Muhammad Mokaev is Dagestan’s upcoming prospect who fights out of Manchester, England. New to our list but not MMA media, the 20-year-old has been one to watch for some time now, going 23-0 as an amateur before making his pro debut this year. Getting four fights in during the pandemic under the Brave FC banner, the sky is the limit for this young savage. Watch out for Mokaev in 2021, he’s already setting things up to have another successful, busy year.
Tobias Harila (8-1, Lightweight)
Sweden – A newcomer on our list, Tobias “Bad Intention” Harila is ranked #5 for Nordic Pro Lightweights, and is also ranked #3 at featherweight. Harila fought 3 times in 2020, winning in each contest. The KO specialist saw the judges score cards for the first time as a professional in his most recent fight, winning in a split decision. Most of Harila’s fights end before the first round does though. In 2021, Harila will look to continue displaying just how bad his intentions are.
Ian Garry (5-0, Welterweight)
Ireland – Ian Garry had a great 2019 with Cage Warriors, and continued that in 2020. “The Future” is now 5-0 since 2019 after making his pro debut. Garry went 2-0 this year and finished both fights by KO/TKO, making him a returner on our list. Garry even called out his path to victory before delivering in his most recent fight, which sounds like another Irish fighter who used to fight in Cage Warriors. The future is definitely bright for “The Future”.
Zack Powell (4-0, Lightweight)
Canada – New to the list of Canadian prospects is Quebec’s Zack “Pow Pow” Powell. One of few Canadian’s to remain active this year, Powell was able to stay perfect and fight twice, making his United States debut for Strike Hard Promotions in the main event. His last time out, he fought a game competitor in Yami Oduwole (5-2). If that doesn’t show you how hungry this 23-year-old is to make an impression on the regional level, I don’t know what will. Most shy away from these challenge, Powell does not — making him one to watch win 2021.
Carlos Matos (8-0, Welterweight)
Dominican Republic – Carlos “El Matador” Matos has shown the ability to choke his opponents out. With 6 submission victories on his resume, all have come by some sort of choke. His lone win in 2020 came by rear-naked-choke, which seems to be his favorite way to win. Matos is the #1 ranked Caribbean Welterweight, as well as the #2 ranked Caribbean Middleweight. He has shown that he is ready to take on new challenges, and competition, so 2021 looks to be a promising year.
Julia Polastri (8-2, Strawweight)
Brazil – Curently ranked #2 for Brazilian women P4P, Julia Polastri seems to be ready for the next step up in competition. She used her lone performance in 2020 to showcase her submission skills for the first time as a pro. She is also currently on a 6-fight win streak. The Muay Thai specialist has shown a more rounded skillset now with 4 wins coming finishes and 4 via decision leaving her as one to watch in 2021.
Dustin Joynson (6-0-0-1, Heavyweight)
Canada – The 6’5″ prospect made his return to the regional scene after a year lay-off following a disappointing Contender Series debut in 2019. Dustin Joynson was able to get the job done against an experienced Carl Seumanutafa at CFFC 87. Now with the ring rust off and going the distance his first time back, keep an eye on Joynson. He has potential to make a run in the sport with the division needing prospects, especially a heavyweight coming out of Canada.
Agy Sardari (13-2 Lightweight)
Netherlands – A newcomer to our list, Agy Sardari was able to fight three times during the pandemic, capturing the vacant Cage Warriors lightweight title at CW 118. Fighting for two different promotions and going 3-0 in a calendar year is impressive for the young 27-year-old. One has to think that a UFC call-up is right around the corner. Either way, he’s definitely one to watch heading into the new year.
Yasmine Jauregui (5-0, Strawweight)
Mexico – Yasmine Jauregui fought in November after having a fight fall through in February. The result was another doctor stoppage win, her fourth finish in 5 professional fights. New to our list, Jauregui is currently ranked #7 in the U.S. women’s pound for pound regional rankings, and is ranked #5 in Latin America. Her last 2 fights have been against quality veterans, and Jauregui has not missed a beat.
Roberto Soldić (18-3, Middleweight)
Croatia – Roberto Soldić returns to our list now with more than 20 fights on his resume at age 25. “Robocop” had a fight scheduled in March that was cancelled, but was able to get a fight in November before the years end. He made sure to make the most of the opportunity as he finished his opponent in the first round. Ranked the #1 middleweight in UK/Ireland, Poland, and Europe Eastern for an entire year, Soldić deserves a shot at the UFC. Even more so now that Dricus Du Plessis made his UFC debut this year. There were a few European middleweights that really made a splash on Contender Series and in the UFC in 2020, “Robocop” hopes to continue that trend early in 2021.
Zviad Lazishvili (12-0, Bantamweight)
Georgia – Zviad Lazishvili has moved to the U.S. to commit to MMA full-time, and now trains in Washington D.C. The Georgian-born fighter showcases his strong wrestling base, often overwhelming his opponent. So much that Lazishvili has 9 wins via submission on his resume. His grappling is elite, even against UFC caliber fighters. Lazishvili won his lone fight in 2020, against an undefeated opponent, and Ultimate Fighter veteran to claim the LFA bantamweight championship. And he did so in dominant fashion. 2021 should be good to Lazishvili, maybe a call up is right around the corner.
Daniel Zellhuber (10-0, Lightweight)
Mexico – The 21-year-old lightweight prospect, Daniel Zellhuber makes our prospects list for the first time this year. Going 2-0 under the LUX and iKON MMA banners, “Golden Boy” seems to be a very exciting prospect too keep an eye on next year. With only two decisions on his record, you know his fights are exciting. Mexico, hop on the hype train now…
Anthony Romero (9-0, Lightweight)
Canada – Anthony “The Genius” Romero returns on our list this year, now a 23-year-old lightweight with a lot of promise. With 17 consecutive wins dating back to his amateur record, Romero has shown that he knows how to win fights. The Niagara Top Team athlete actually got a shot on Contender Series in 2020, winning in a decision in what was considered one of the most impressive performances of the season. The fight did not earn him a contract though, leaving many fans/viewers confused. Romero did go 3-0 in 2020, but found some areas to work on heading into 2021. The call to the UFC should not be far, because the end result is that Romero wins fights. He has the talent to compete at the UFC level, and he should be on the roster before the end of 2021.
Leandro Gomes (6-1, Bantamweight)
Brazil – Leandro “Pequeno Hulk” Gomes went 2-0 this year under the LFA banner, one win coming from a short notice opportunity. Gomes has shown a well-rounded game, and his record shows this too. He has 6 wins, 2 coming from submission, 2 from KO/TKO, and his 2 wins in 2020 coming by way of decision. With his only loss coming from a split decision, Gomes seems ready to make the jump to the UFC in 2021.
Michal Figlak (4-0, Lightweight)
England – Michal Figlak had a fight fall through in the beginning of the year, but was still able to go 2-0. New to our list, he caught our attention by winning both of his fights in 2020 by KO/TKO. He now has 3 KO finishes out of 4 fights in his pro career. The Poland-born fighter continues to show that his opponents cannot withstand his onslaught for 3 rounds. If he continues this pace in 2021, he may be looking at an opportunity at the UFC or Contender Series before the end of the year.
Rafa Garcia (12-0, Lightweight)
Mexico – Rafa “Gifted” Garcia is a returner from our list last year. He fought early in 2020 before COVID forced shut downs. Garcia is now on an 12-fight win streak, and ranked #1 in Mexico, Arizona, and the US Southwest. He is also #5 in the US for regional lightweights. “Gifted” has continued to look elite, fighting for Combate and is showing he is a UFC-caliber fighter. Hopefully he has more opportunities in 2021 to showcase his talent.
Alex Martinez (7-0, Lightweight)
Paraguay – Fighting out of Canada, Alex Martinez was able to get one fight in before the year ended for iKON MMA. After a year layoff, the lightweight prospect secured the first-round submission win against a game opponent. Ending the year 4th ranked of 47 active Western CA pro lightweights, Martinez is one to watch come 2021.
Jack Cartwright (9-0, Bantamweight)
England – Jack Cartwright went 2-0 in 2020 defending his title for Cage Warriors. I think he is starting to get used to hearing “and still”. After two title defenses, Cartwright should be just a phone call away from the UFC. Earlier in 2020, Cartwright saw his fight reach the score cards for the first time as he won a unanimous decision. In his second fight, he returned to his typical self with a first round finish, totaling 8 first round finishes as a pro. 2021 should be a good year for Cartwright.
Lupita Godinez (5-0, Strawweight)
Canada – Another returner on our list, Lupita “Loopy” Godinez fights out of Titan MMA in British Columbia. She is ranked the #1 Canadian woman P4P fighter in the country. Her one fight in 2020 was a big one, winning the LFA strawweight championship against a tough Vanessa Demopoulos. Winning this against a fighter who was just recently on Contender series shifts the focus to Godinez now. The Mexican-born fighter from Canada will definitely be seeing a rise in stock as 2021 turns the corner.
Jake Hadley (7-0, Flyweight)
England – New to our list, Jake “White Kong” Hadley went 2-0 this year and finished 2020 about as strong as you can. Hadley beat Luke Shanks in a unanimous decision to become the new Cage Warriors flyweight champion. Hadley stands at 5’7″ and has a good frame at 125lbs. With 5 finishes on his record, this new champion is ready for the next step, and the next level of competition.
Steve Jones (8-1, Welterweight)
Honduras – Originally from Honduras and now fighting out of Texas, Steve Jones makes his debut on our prospect list. Going 3-0 in MMA and 1-0 in Boxing this year, “The Average Jones” made his mark under the LFA banner and did not stop there. Fighting for three different MMA promotions in 2020, with his workmate, his 2021 is lining up to be an exciting one. Keep an eye on Jones, his fights tend to go to decision, but they are never boring.
Mehdi Ben Lakhdhar (5-0-1, Lightweight)
France – “Iron” lost a fight in April when COVID forced shutdowns, but was able to get a fight in for Cage Warriors before the end of 2020. Mehdi Ben Lakhdhar has 3 first-round finishes on his record, all coming by KO/TKO. He has just one draw, however, Ben Lakhdhar is still undefeated and may be part of a new wave of French fighters we see with MMA now legal in France.
Yohan Lainesse (5-0, Middleweight)
Canada – One of the most exciting middleweight prospects to watch hails from Canada. Yohan Lainesse was able to fight twice this year, winning both by crazy highlight-reel knockouts under the CFFC banner. As a newcomer on our list this year, we’re here to tell you to start tuning in now before Yohan’s hype train gets full.
Will Currie (5-0, Middleweight)
England – Will Currie shows great poise in the cage, he seems to be in total control when he fights. A newcomer to our list, “Drago” is now 10-0 as a pro and amateur. He’s a young fighter that has plenty of talent, and plenty of time to further develop his skills. His opponents are now keen to his submission skills, but he’s dominant even if he cannot find the finish.
Mike Malott (6-1-1, Welterweight)
Canada – The 29-year-old Canadian prospect now trains others at Team Alpha Male before deciding to come back and make a run himself. Now 1-0 in 2020 after a 3 year layoff, the rejuvenated Mike Malott scored a huge submission win over a highly-touted undefeated prospect in Solomon Renfro right before the year ended. After a win like that, “The Main Attraction” will be one to keep an eye on in 2021.