UFC Prospect Watch: December Edition

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The UFC Prospect Watch is back for December and there are a boatload of up and coming fighters hitting the Octagon. They has five cards this month with the Ultimate Fighter finale getting things started tonight. The UFC flyweight championship will be on the line when Demetrious Johnson takes on the winner of the tournament Tim Elliot.

Several competitors on tonight’s card were featured during TUF’s previous season with Claudia Gadelha and Joanna Jedrzejczyk as the coaches, including the winners, who are listed on the prospect watch for December.

The UFC then heads back to New York for UFC Fight Night in Albany, before heading to Toronto for UFC 206. The next card will be December 17 in Sacramento, before the UFC finishes off 2016 with a great card for UFC 207 in Las Vegas.

Here is a look at the best 10 prospects hitting the Octagon in December, with a few honorable mentions to note.

Honorable Mention

Ion Cutelaba (12-2-0), 1-1 in UFC vs. Jared Cannonier (8-1-0), 1-1 in UFC

This is an interesting fight for both guys. Cutelaba is the younger fighter with time on his side, while Cannonier is hoping to build off his first round knockout finish in April, which earned him a Performance of the Night bonus. Both fighters have shown all-around skill in the UFC, and will hope to avoid their second loss in the Octagon. Cutelaba is a raw talent with solid punching power, but Cannonier has the technique and experience to weather the storm. Needless to say, the importance of this fight for bother fighters should make it an exciting bout.

Joshua Stansbury (8-3-0), 1-0 in UFC vs. Devin Clark (6-1-0), 0-1 in UFC

In another classic case of old vs. young, Stansbury and Clark are in the same situation as Cutelaba and Cannonier. Stansbury was a competitor on the previous season of TUF, and came out with his first UFC win at the finale. Clark, on the other hand, did not have similar success in his UFC debut. Undefeated at the time, Clark lost via first round knockout against Alex Nicholson. For both fighters, a win in this bout means a huge step up in competition for their next fight. While Stansbury will be 2-0, Clark could notch his first UFC victory and can look forward to much tougher competition in his next bout. May the best man win.

Saparbak Safarov (8-0-0), 0-0 in UFC

Fighting as a replacement in Albany, Safarov will have everything to gain when he fights Gian Villante. He has been fighting in Russia, but has only fought twice since 2012. He made a name for himself with M-1 Global back in 2011, but will have a chance at a UFC career with an exciting bout against Villante. Safarov is a finisher, and should put on quite a show with absolutely nothing to lose against a UFC veteran.

Shane Burgos (7-0-0), 0-0 in UFC

In a similar situation as Safarov, Burgos will be making his debut in Albany against Tiago Trator, a well-respected fighter with a 2-1 UFC record. Burgos has finished all of his fights outside the UFC, and is coming off two straight first round TKO finishes with the CFFC promotion. He has solid versatility, and could pose some serious problems for the hungry Trator.

Matt Schnell (10-2-0), 0-0 in UFC

Schnell was one of the more impressive competitors on this season of TUF. With a cast full of champions, he stood out as one of the best candidates to come out on top. Losing to Elliot in the semi-final fight, Schnell has all the potential in the world to make a splash in the UFC. He fought his toughest competition yet and trains out of American Top Team, giving him a plethora of knowledge and motivation heading into his next fight. Taking on solid prospect Rob Font, Schnell could make a name for himself with an impressive finish.

Justine Kish (5-0-0), 1-0 in UFC

With Joanna destroying everyone in the strawweight division, there is plenty of room to add new talent. Kish is an adopted Russian-American who has dedicated her life to mixed martial arts. Training since childhood, Kish has climbed the ranks at 115 pounds and looks to continue her streak in the UFC. She beat Nina Ansaroff via unanimous decision in January, and will look for a finish against Ashley Yoder. She was unable to compete on TUF due to an injury, but her experience on the show would have helped her grow.

Top 10

#10 – Tatiana Suarez (5-0-0), 1-0 in UFC

The winner of the previous season of TUF for the women’s strawweight division, Suarez is another great addition to the 115-pound division. She is a decorated wrestler since high school, and demonstrated her versatility against Amanda Cooper in the final. A thyroid cancer survivor, Suarez has all the makings of a great UFC fighter, but will need to take on the 15th ranked strawweight in Julianna Lima to continue her rise. If she wins, expect Suarez to jump in the UFC strawweight ranks.

#9 – Josh Emmett (10-0-0), 1-0 in UFC

Emmett won a close split decision against Jon Tuck in his debut, and will take on Scott Holtzman in two weeks. He is a local fighter from Sacramento who will enjoy fighting in front of his hometown crowd. The 31-year old is certainly hoping for a win to avoid a lengthier climb in the lightweight division. The talent continues to grow at 155, which makes it even harder for fighters to get noticed. If he pulls off an impressive victory, there is a good chance he sees a top dog in his next fight.

#8 – Alex Morono (12-3-0), 1-0 in UFC

Another split decision debut win, Morono is starting to hit his prime at the right time. Despite being only 26 years old, Morono has been fighting pro since 2010 and is now riding a six-fight win streak. His claim to fame was winning the Legacy FC welterweight championship, and his overall experience will come in handy when he takes on the veteran James Moontasri.

#7 – Frankie Perez (10-2-0), 1-1 UFC

Perez has not been able to fight in the UFC since August 2015, but his overall ability made him one of the best fighters on Rousey’s TUF squad. She selected him first for her team, but Perez did not have much success on the show. However, in his UFC debut, Perez took on the highly-touted Johnny Case, and lose via third round knockout. Eight months later, Perez fought Sam Stout and destroyed him in the first round for his first Performance of the Night bonus. He has the opportunity to play spoiler, as he takes on one of the best young fighters in the UFC in Mike Diakiese.

#6 – Henrique da Silva (12-0-0), 2-0 in UFC

Da Silva has been very impressive in his first two bouts. He finished Jonathan Wilson via knockout in his UFC debut, and earned his first Performance of the Night bonus after his submission win over Joachim Christensen. In a dwindling light heavyweight division, da Silva is a fresh face who could make a splash fairly quickly. He is taking on Paul Craig in Sacramento, and another finish should get him a ranked opponent in his next bout.

#5 – Randy Brown (8-1-0), 2-1 in UFC

Brown was one of the prospects who appeared on Dana White’s “Lookin’ for a Fight”, but suffered a setback after he lost to Michael Graves via submission in the third round. Even though it was his first career loss, Brown came back strong in his next fight, winning by third round submission against Erick Montano. Brown has amazing length for the welterweight division, but he will need to get better and utilizing it at the UFC level. At just 26 years old, Brown has plenty of talent and the drive to go with it. We should see him in the rankings down the line.

#4 – Brandon Moreno (12-3-0), 1-0 in UFC

Moreno has already gained plenty of notoriety after his performance on TUF. He has ruthless aggression and can take an absolute beating. His fights are always exciting, and he earned a Performance of the Night bonus in his first round submission win over Louis Smolka. At just 22 years old, Moreno is an elite grappler who has plenty of time to improve his overall striking. There should be plenty of fireworks in his next fight when he takes on Ryan Benoit, another game-bread fighter who is ready to bang.

#3 – Rob Font (12-2-0), 2-1 in UFC

Font is close to being off this list, and a win against Lineker would have guaranteed that. However, Font pushed the heavy-handed Brazilian to three rounds, where he lost via unanimous decision. Prior to his first UFC loss, Font was undefeated in 11 straight fights, and was 2-0 in the UFC. He finished George Roop via first round knockout in his UFC debut and earned his first Performance of the Night bonus, and followed that up with a second round knockout of Joey Gomez. Needless to say, Font is a high-end fighter ready for ranked opponents, but he will need to find some consistency before that happens.

#2 – Ryan Hall (5-1-0), 1-0 in UFC

One of the most decorated grapplers of the younger fighters in the UFC, Hall was the soft-spoken winner of the infamous TUF which paired Conor McGregor and Urijah Faber as coaches. He has not fought in a year, but hopefully the time away has improved his striking, which would make him one of the most dangerous prospects in the UFC. He is set to take on UFC veteran Gray Maynard. It should be an interesting matchup given Maynard’s old school wrestling style. If Hall has worked on his stand up, there may not be a better chin to test his new-found skills.

#1 – Marc Diakiese (10-0-0), 1-0 in UFC

This may be a bias opinion, as he was ranked without a fight in the UFC last time, but this kid is the real deal. The confidence, versatility, and overall skill is all there. He was a well-known fighter in the United Kingdom, and won his UFC debut in the second round via TKO. He has an incredible fight reel, and his name has continued to grow as a prime prospect for the UFC.

Diakiese is set to fight Perez next week, and should continue his rise in the UFC lightweight division with another impressive victory.

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My love for MMA, writing, and journalism as a whole, brought me to MMASucka in June of 2013. Jeremy has been a great mentor while covering this sport, and also bestowed the honour of covering UFC 165 at the Air Canada Centre. I graduated from the University of Waterloo in 2012 with a B.A. in Political Science. and have pursued a role in the online sports journalism community ever since.

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