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 Northeastern and Midwestern fighters from the United States you should keep an eye on next year.
Fighters in the Northeastern United States
Paul Capaldo (5-0, Bantamweight)
New Jersey – Paul Capaldo is the first returner on our list. He’s a future bantamweight star and is now on a 10-fight win streak, going undefeated as an amateur as well. Capaldo had a fight cancelled earlier in the year, but was able to get a fight in August. Winning that fight via unanimous decision, the young fighter continues to gain valuable cage time. 2021 should be a big year for the young prospect.
Bassil Hafez (6-2-1, Welterweight)
Pennsylvania – Bassil Hafez had one hell of a year, ending it off by capturing CFFC gold against an highly touted undefeated Canadian prospect. And he finished him in the first round. Going 2-0 in 2020, Hafez caught our eye and should be one to watch in the coming year.
Mitch Raposo (5-0, Bantamweight)
Massachusetts – Mitch Raposo went 3-0 in 2019 in his rookie year. He makes his return to our list with a hot start into 2020, going 2-0 and having another fight cancelled. Raposo won both of his fights this year by decision. This allowed him to showcase his overall game a bit more, and gain some cage time. He is 22 years old, and is undefeated as a professional and amateur. Combined, Raposo is on an 11-fight win streak, so look for him to continue that in 2021.
Criszaida Adames (3-0, Flyweight)
New Jersey – When you look at undefeated fighters with under 5 fights, Criszaida Adames is a standout in her division without a doubt. Making her CFFC debut in her lone fight this year, Adames secured a second-round rear naked choke to extend her win steak to 7-straight. As a newcomer on our list, Adames is absolutely one to watch in 2021.
Fabio Cherant (6-1, Light Heavyweight)
Massachusetts – Fabio “Water Buffalo” Cherant ended 2019 with a bitter taste in his mouth after a loss on Contender Series. But in 2020, he was back to form finishing the year 2-0. Cherant has a submission game on a level rarely seen at the heavier weight classes. All but one of his wins come by way of submission. His lone decision win came in his most recent fight, where he also missed the light heavyweight limit, weighing in at 209 lbs. Cherant was able to show that his striking has vastly improved in that fight though, and will look to continue building momentum in 2021.
Erin Blanchfield (6-1, Flyweight)
New York – Erin “Cold Blooded” Blanchfield is another returner on our list who should be getting a call-up soon. She is UFC ready — going 2-0 in 2020 and she has fought opponents that are currently in the UFC, with her only loss being a split decision to Tracy Cortez. Unfortunately for Blanchfield, her Invicta FC title fight was scrapped due to her opponent testing positive for COVID. Once she’s able to get active again, I’m sure she’ll be the next Invicta athlete to get the call after winning the belt. It would be a surprise if she is not in the UFC before the end of 2021.
Jay Perrin (9-4, Bantamweight)
Massachusetts – Returning to our list, Jay Perrin had high hopes for 2020 after his appearance on Contender Series in 2019. He was off to a good start with a unanimous decision win in January, but had a fight cancelled in April and has not fought since. Perrin had some momentum building up, and he might be able to pick up where he left off come the new year. After a slow 2020, one or two wins could land him in the UFC or on the upcoming The Ultimate Fighter reboot.
Fighters in the midwestern United States
David Onama (6-0, Featherweight)
Missouri – The only thing that David Onama does is win. He is 6-0 as a pro, and 16-0 overall. As a pro, Onama has finished all but one of his opponents and will likely increase that number in 2021. There is a healthy mix of submissions and KOs, with 3 finishes coming in the first round. While 2020 had many fighters sidelined, Onama went 3-0 finishing each opponent. Standing at 5’11”, he looks like a problem just waiting to be unleashed on the featherweight division. Hard to believe he’s just getting on our radar…
Mo Miller, (5-0, Bantamweight)
Ohio – The “Mo Show” did not let 2020 derail his career. After debuting in 2019, Mo Miller finished every opponent in 2020 as he went 3-0. He has shown superior wrestling, which really does not justly explain his dominance. Miller won his last fight via KO slam. Miller displayed elite UFC-level grappling, and it does not really seem fair to his opponents. 2021 is lining up to be a big year for the LFA standout and we’re excited to watch it happen.
Kenny Cross (12-3, Lightweight)
Michigan – Kenny “The Boss” Cross returns to our list as impressive as ever. His personality and his charisma promote his fights organically, which caught our eye last year. Cross went through so much adversity leading up to his Contender Series bout this year and still managed to get the win. He had to cut weight twice, and went through opponent changes to beat an undefeated fighter. He did not earn the contract after being the company man and accepting all fights that came his way, going 3-0 in 2020. “The Boss” seems to have a promising future as the #1 seed in the XFC lightweight tournament so keep an eye on that in early 2021.
Mikey England (3-0, Welterweight)
Missouri – Turning pro in 2020 paid off well for Mikey England who went 3-0 this year under the FAC banner. A welterweight to watch in 2021, England brings a fun style to the cage, along with a personality that catches your attention. If he continues to stay this active, a fight on Season 5 of Contender Series is within reach.
Carlos Hernandez (6-1, Flyweight)
Illinois – Carlos Hernandez has won 6 in a row since losing his pro debut. In 2020 he went 2-0, finishing one of those fights by rear-naked-choke. This should not be a surprise for his fans as it is one of his favorite ways to finish fights. Look out for this flyweight prospect in 2021 as he continues to fight under the LFA banner and build his record.
Garrett Armfield (5-1, Bantamweight)
Christian Rodriguez (4-0, Featherweight)
Wisconsin – Another new fighter to the list, Christian Rodriguez is young, fighting at 22 years old. The Roufusport product recently made his pro debut in 2019 and he did not allow the circumstances of 2020 slow down his career. Rodriguez fought twice, winning both fights. He also had some fights that fell through as well. This young prospect has finished every one of his professional fights, and he is only scratching the surface.
Daniel Argueta (5-0, Featherweight)
Illinois – Daniel “The Determined” Argueta lost his first fight as an amateur. Since then, he has won 8 in a row. Argueta has 4 first-round finishes as a pro, and won his most recent fight by unanimous decision at LFA 90. It seems like Argueta is determined to choke his opponents, as he has 3 wins by rear-naked-choke in the first round. Definitely look out for this featherweight prospect in 2021.