2015 Independent Scouting Report

WSOF women's atomweight champion Jessica Aguilar

WSOF women's atomweight champion Jessica AguilarAs 2015 begins there is as usual a whole new crop of fighters to watch out for as they climb the ranks, Therefore its time for the 2015 Independent Scouting Report, a primer of those to watch currently outside the UFC.

For the sake of brevity the top-tier events Bellator and WSOF won’t be covered here as those fighters are already familiar to most readers.  There are many significant promotions in Russia, Japan, and Brazil however those up-and-comers are for the most part isolated and difficult to put in perspective, should be covered in other articles and therefore also won’t be included here.  The largest pool of fighters left are those fighting in events broadcast on TV or in the case of Invicta FC webcast on UFC Fight Pass.  Besides Invicta FC these include Legacy FC (LFC) in TX/OK/LA, Resurrection Fighting Alliance (RFA) mostly in Mountain time zone, Maximum Fighting Championship (MFC) in Canada, and Titan Fighting Championship (TFC) which has recently expanded from Kansas to also include the East Coast.  Not far behind those are the webcast events, the most significant being Cage Fury Fighting Championships (CFFC) and Ring of Combat (ROC) in the NY/NJ market and Tachi Palace Fights (TPF) in CA.  CBS Sports Network announced plans to add Fight Time in FL but that deal starts in February.

The women’s atomweight division is the most isolated being almost solely the province of Invicta FC where Herica Tiburcio holds the title and Michelle Waterson is still the “star”.  The one to watch out for though is Akaya Hamasaki who holds a record of 11-1 with her sole loss being to now-UFC fighter Claudia Gadelha.  Catherine Costigan is also one to keep an eye on but so far her career has been isolated to the UK where she has been fighting in CWFC, as noted above difficult to put in perspective.

Women’s Strawweight has been pretty much picked clean by the UFC.  Beyond a doubt the main one to scout in the division to move up is WSOF champion Jessica Aguilar.  Aguilar not only holds the belt, she holds a win over current UFC champion Carla Esparza and sits on the longest record of any woman in this division at 19-4.  Breakout fighter here would be 10-1-1 Katja Kankaanpaa, the current Invicta champion who is coming off a win over former XFC champion Stephanie Eggink.

Flyweight Sean SantellaFlyweight is where the sport really kicks in.  In CFFC Sidemar Honorio holds the belt while Barb Honchak is the champion in Invicta FC, Damacio Page in LFC, Alexandre Pantoja in RFA, and Matt Rizzo in ROC.  Rizzo defends the belt January 23rd against former ROC and CFFC champion Sean Santella in what looks like one of the best battles this month.  Santella is 13-4 overall but at flyweight is 5-1, his sole loss at this weight being to Nick Honstein in Santella’s first fight after being sidelined with knee surgery.  Rizzo meanwhile is coming off a win and a loss to Jimmy Grant who is also one to watch.  Page meanwhile had a disappointing UFC career at 0-3 at featherweight but at flyweight is undefeated at 3-0.  Of these Santella is arguably the most interesting as his submission-based game is unorthodox in MMA in that he loves to go for leg submissions while his standup has been improving, the real test will be against Rizzo.

BW Anthony GutierrezBantamweight is another “picked clean” division with the only current champions in independent promotions being Jimmie Rivera in CFFC, Luke Sanders in RFA, and Julio Arce in ROC.  Rivera being a Bellator vet is probably the best known, mostly for his fights in Bellator but also for his tendency to go to decisions against opponents he should be able to finish.  15-1 Rivera just won the CFFC title in his 14th consecutive win with a TKO of Anthony Durnell however that TKO broke a whopping 8-fight decision streak spanning four years!  Both Arce and Sanders are undefeated with Sanders being 9-0 training out of MMA Lab while Arce is 6-0 from Team Tiger Schulmann.  A budding name to watch in this division is Boston Salmon who at 3-0 has been getting attention in RFA but needs some more time to prove himself.  Anthony Gutierrez should also be noted here being 5-1 with all his fights in TFC however “Sharkbait” is coming off an upset loss to Walel Watson, a fighter who went 1-3 in the UFC.

ROC FW champion James JenkinsAt featherweight the women’s division end with former Strikeforce champion Cristiane Santos holding the Invicta title with almost no competition.  The men’s division on the other hand takes off.  As mentioned in the Year End Awards Desmond Green has shown the most improvement from his time in Bellator to his capturing the TFC title.  RFA champion Justin Lawrence being a UFC vet should be familiar to readers.  Poppies Martinez holds the TPF title however he is a “protected” local fighter, doesn’t get significant opposition.  CFFC have had several interesting prospects here with Scott Heckman losing the title to Levan Makashvili who lost it to Alexandre Bezerra before regaining the title, keep an eye on all three.  Over at ROC James Jenkins holds the belt with an 8-1 record including three wins in a row while fighting out of Team Serra-Longo making him the most likely to move on.  Without a doubt the most interesting prospect who needs a little more development is 7-0 Sheymon Da Silva Moraes, a standout from Brazil who won his WSOF debut against Gabriel Solorio by split decision.

Lightweight is one of those classes it seems if you win a belt you automatically go to the UFC.  Perhaps the only reason MFC champion Tom Gallicchio hasn’t move on is his injuries that have kept him out of action since last May.  Mehdi Baghdad hasn’t moved on from RFA yet however the 11-3 up-and-comer just won that promotion’s belt in December, a fight that extended the Frenchman’s win streak to 7 in a row.

WW Joe RayJonavin Webb is the top name to watch at welterweight but it appears he has already moved on.  After going 7-0 including taking the CFFC title Webb was set for his biggest challenge in former Bellator champion Lyman Good however that belt defense ended in a “no contest” due to Good’s accidental eye poke rendered Webb unable to continue.  In theory Elijah Harshbarger is still ROC champion however his next bout is in CFFC against Good apparently for Webb’s belt.  Definitely keep an eye out for ATT’s Joe Ray, a little-known (as yet) standout who made it to the semifinals of the BattleGrounds MMA tournament in October.  In that tournament Ray defeated UFC vet Liugi Firoavanti before losing to UFC vet Brock Larson, the Larson loss snapping a 7-fight win streak in his otherwise 12-4 career.  Roan Carneiro ended up winning that tournament and is now back in the UFC.

MW Tim WilliamsThe only middleweight who hasn’t move on yet from independent events is CFFC champion Tim Williams.  Williams’ only loss in his 10-1 career was to UFC vet Dustin Jacoby while since then the “South Jersey Strangler” has gone 3-0 most recently defeating Ron Stallings who himself makes his UFC debut this month.

Light heavyweight is where LFC shone last year with Myron Dennis defeating UFC vet Paul Buentello for the belt then losing it to current champion LFC LHW champion Leonardo LeiteLeonardo Leite.  Dennis showed great footwork against Buentello but sub-par wrestling defense against Leite while Leite next defends the belt against Larry Crowe in February.  Titan FC’s champion Vinny Magalhaes is a UFC and ADCC Worlds vet, should be familiar to readers.

Making the biggest (pardon the pun) comeback of any on this list is CFFC heavyweight champion Plinio Cruz.  Cruz took a huge hit to his record when he lost three in a row from august 2010 through April 2012, the last one in that stretch being his CFFC HW champion Plinio CruzBellator debut against Duane Bastress.  After taking two years off however Cruz debuted in CFFC last April to defeat J.A. Dudley then won the belt with a unanimous decision over Azunna Anyanwu in November, a great career turnaround with the question being does he still have time in his career to make it stick.  There are still other heavyweights outside the UFC as LFC champion Cody East next defends the title against fellow 9-1 record holder Joe Cason in March.  East’s win streak stands at 6 in a row however the win over Vernon Lewis for the LFC belt was his first on the national stage, his previous fights have been mostly in KOTC.

There is never any certainty in who will be the next UFC star or even if a fighter will get in the UFC but these are the best bets, the fighters who have earned their chances.  As 2015 unfolds time will tell.