Despite the uproar caused in MMA by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the UFC has continued to quietly seek out and sign some of freshest and most exciting talent from around the world.
In this article, we will take a closer look at five of the best new prospects that the UFC has acquired since the start of the year.
1. Manel Kape
MMA Record: 15-4-0
Hailing from the southern African fighting nation of Angola, Manel Kape may well be one of the most destructive fighters on this list. Signed on April 1st, he is also the newest fighter to join the UFC in our top five. However, he is by far the least impressive.
A fiery bantamweight, ‘Prodigy’ gained the majority of his experience in Japan with the RIZIN Fighting Federation whilst training at AKA Thailand alongside equally talented fighters, such as Johnny Walker.
He is first and foremost, a striker with strong Muay Thai fundamentals, which were evidently displayed in his flying body knee stoppage win over Hicham Rachid, at Invictus 1 in 2014. Moving further into his career, we can see that Mabel has also developed a vicious right hook. In 2019 he used this to dispatch of Kai Asakura in a stand and bang victory, where he showed elite level boxing to earn a TKO win.
Despite his incredible abilities on the feet, the fighter in question is no slouch on the ground. He holds five submission victories, all by rear naked choke, and has shown some impressive and relentless ground and pound when he smells a finish.
Another notable win came against retired UFC legend Ian McCall, who holds a majority draw with Demetrius Johnson. His natural aggression and solid, well rounded fundamentals mean that we could well be looking at a future UFC bantamweight star.
“It is with great enthusiasm and joy that I am the new athlete of UFC,” Kape announced on his Facebook page. This was proven when Manel immediately called out big hitter Cody Garbrandt on social media recently.
Keep your eyes peeled, as something tells me that Manel Kape will not be going away any time soon.
2. Mariya Agapova
MMA Record: 8-1-0
Mariya nearly made it into the UFC women's flyweight division as early as July 2019 when she made an appearance on Dana White’s Contender Series. Unfortunately for the young Kazakhstani fighter, it wasn’t to be as she lost a close decision fight to Tracey Cortez.
Now I firmly believe that you can learn a lot about a fighter by assessing how they deal with a loss on the big stage and in Agapova’s case, it was clear to see that the loss only fuelled her desire to reach the big time. Returning to Invicta Fighting Championship, she went on to fight twice more in the year, culminating in a dominant ground and pound victory over Marilla Santos at Invicta FC 37 in Kansas City.
Much of Mariya’s best work is done on the ground; such is the style that Kazakhstan born fighters have become renowned for since the rise of Khabib Nurmagomedov. She shares in his uncanny ability to pass the guard, which was most likely honed at American Top Team, who seem to be very keen on fighters from the country.
Showing great hand control and a steady approach towards back mount, the fighter has also sunk in a couple of rear naked choke wins, which can be seen recently in her September success against Alexa Conners at Invicta Pheonix 2.
Now unlike some sambo and ground focused fighters of the region, her hands do usually set up her takedowns. A sturdy southpaw, she often catches opponents unaware with quick jabs, which allow her to close the distance unnoticed, when landed with the threat of a combination.
Her kicks do leave something to be desired at times however, judging by her recent performances and evident mental strength, we could well be looking at AKA’s first female UFC champion in the years to come.
3. Umar Nurmagomedov
MMA Record: 12-0-0
Speaking of Khabib, let’s take a look at his younger cousin Umar, who is closely cornered and coached by the current UFC lightweight champion throughout the majority of his fights.
Now as the family name suggests, Umar is a spectacularly capable Sambo practitioner who is almost the mirror image of Khabib during his younger years. One key difference in his fighting style however, is his natural ability to kick. The young Nurmagomedov maintains distance well with a combination of leg kicks and front kicks to the guard of his rivals while searching for that highly desired takedown which allows him to do his best work.
A notable fight to watch is his 2019 win over Braian Gonzales in Uzbekhistan. With family present, the undefeated prospect was certain not to make any mistakes in his search for the Gorilla Fighting Championship belt. Leading with the aforementioned kicks, he varied his range well until the time came for an instinctive inside trip take down.
Once on the ground, his heritage was clear to see. Mimicking his cousin’s style perfectly, he moved to side control, knee on belly and then mount. By this point, everyone knew it was over, as the young fighter threw devastating elbows into the forehead of Gonzales, splitting him open. Bloodied and unable to defend, his opponent eventually succumbed to a classic rear naked choke.
If anything, we haven’t yet seen much use of the hands from Umar in an elite level striking sense but don’t let this stop you from following him in the future. If you’re a fan of grappling, Nurmagomedov will not disappoint you.
Welterweight Division…Be warned!
4. Jai Herbert
MMA Record: 10-1-0
Now we move to the men's lightweight division with the newly signed ‘Black Country Banger’. For anyone who doesn’t know, the black country is an area of the U.K., which includes Wolverhampton and the surrounding towns. The U.K. is definitely on the rise in recent years and now boasts fighters such a Tom Breeze and UFC welterweight contender Leon Edwards, whom Herbert calls a friend.
With a stellar record of eight knockouts in his last ten fights, Jai is all about the finish and I doubt very much that we will be seeing any boring fights in the UFC if he’s involved.
Recently scheduled to fight fellow Englishman Marc Dakiese in a cancelled bout as a late replacement for Stevie Ray, it’s clear that the UFC see great potential in the lightweight.
In an interview with Thomas Gerlase for the UFC, Herbert spoke of the confidence the promotion have in him.
“They have a lot of confidence in me and think I’m gonna do big things, which I believe as well. It’s a real confidence boost that they’re putting their faith in me.
“It’s a dogfight in Europe. We’re all trying to get to the top, and one slip-up and you’re back in the queue again. But now I’m in the UFC and I can showcase my skills and show everyone what I’m about.”
A scaffolder by trade as recently as last year, Jai like many prospects was having to hold down a full time job around the grind of martial arts training, but not any more.
Don’t blink when he gets the chance to fight!
5. Philipe Lins
MMA Record: 14-3-0
Last but not least, we have heavyweight Philipe ‘Monstro’ Lins of Brazil. Currently on a four fight win streak and with eight knockouts to his name, Lins may be just what the heavyweight division needs right now.
In Autumn of 2018, after being released by Bellator following a purple patch, he entered the PFL Heavyweight Tournament and boy did he impress. Not only did he walk off into the sunset with the reported $1,000,000 pay-cheque which the organisation is now famed for, he defeated some world class talent along the way. Including Jared Roshalt and Gary Copeland (both by TKO may I add).
During the finale fight with Copeland, Lins wore his opponent down with punishing clinch work and body shots which left the former UFC fighter gassed and unable to defend himself with any skill. The final round came and both fighters looked exhausted. However, Philipe rallied to force a referee stoppage with a barrage of knees from the plum clinch and a succession of heavy armed hooks.
The only thing stopping this fighter from tearing through the heavyweight division may be his age. With promotions uncertain of when fights will resume, it’s hard to say if we will see many bouts involving him but I sure hope we get to see a glimmer of what he can achieve.
After several weeks with no UFC events, the promotion is set to return on May 9th for UFC 249.
Which fighter from our UFC’s Top Five Newest Signings are you most looking forward to seeing inside the Octagon?