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Top 15 Not in the Top 15

Vinny Craig

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A lot of the time we get caught up on who is ranked, where and why. The fact that the official UFC rankings are dictated by the media is great, and sometimes scary. We often forget about the fighters not in the top 15, fighters who still give cards that extra boost helping them to become better all-around events for us fans. These 15 fighters are the 15 you should be looking out for in 2016. Who knows, maybe these fighters will crack the top 15 of their respective divisions by years end?

Women’s Strawweight

Kailin Curran

In a young and relatively thin division, it’s hard to find a non-ranked fighter that is compelling. The young Hawaiian (just 24 years old) is just 1-2 in the UFC. On the opposite side, her two losses have come in third round finishes in which she looked good for the first two rounds. She recently grabbed her first win by way of a Rear-Naked choke, over Emily Kagan at UFC Fight Night 80, but it is yet unknown if she can continue her success. To her credit, she’s young and athletic in a division with very little stars to its name. Curran came out of her last fight unscathed so we should see her in the early part of 2016.

Women’s Bantamweight

Germain de Randamie

Women’s bantamweight, another division with limited potential outside of the top 15. Despite this, the newly signed Dutch striker is one of the few who could make some waves. In her return to the Bantamweight division, Randamie faced veteran Julie Kedzie at UFC on FOX 8. There she picked up her first Bantamweight win since 2011. After picking up a loss at Fight for the Troops 3, Randamie was out 16 months and returned to action at UFC 185 against Lauren Pacheco. The first round was tough and both fighters looked good, but ultimately Randamie ended the fight in the second round by TKO. At 31, the AKA product has a lot of fight left and could emerge a contender in 2016.

Flyweight

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Ben Nguyen

A viral video surfaced a while ago of a brazen tattooed coated champion being rude and forceful to a polite and clean cut contender at their weigh-in. The video ended with the champ knocked out cold and the polite contender left standing. That contender was Ben Nguyen, an American-born Australian native. He was picked up by the UFC in mid-2015 for a card in Adelaide, where he would prove he belonged with a first round KO with one second to spare. In another Australian card, UFC 193, Nguyen picked a second first round finish with a Rear-Naked choke over Ryan Benoit. The Taekwondo black belt is an exciting fighter who talks the talk and can walk the walk. With so many cards going ‘down under’, Nguyen should have plenty of opportunities to fight in 2016 and make a name in this loose Flyweight division.

Bantamweight

Rob Font

The Bantamweight title changed hands in Boston not too long ago, and Rob Font got another finish on the prelims in his hometown. Font has fought only twice in 18 months, but both have been finishes. A CES vet with six straight wins before joining the UFC, Font is well known in the Northeast and now all over. His exciting style and articulate interviews make him extremely likeable and a guy everyone will know. With a fight in January and needing to make up the time, it will be a busy year for Font in the UFC.

Featherweight

Doo Ho Choi

In one of the UFC’s best divisions, rising stars are created every card. ‘The Korean Superboy’ Doo Ho Choi is not just one of many in these circumstances. Before joining the UFC in late 2014, Choi was in DEEP and ended his time there with five straight KO/TKO wins. He didn’t lose stride in his UFC debut with an 18 second TKO win over Juan Puig. In his native home of South Korea, Choi fought Sam Sicilia on the main card. While it took a little longer, Choi picked up another TKO win in a minute and 33 seconds. That brought his total to 11 straight wins, nine by KO/TKO. The division is quite crowded at the top, but they may have to make room for Choi sooner rather than later

Makwan Amirkhani

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Undefeated in the UFC? Check! Charismatic? Check! Just moved to one of the most notable teams in MMA? Check! If all of those apply, you must be Makwan Amirkhani. The Persian-born fighter became a sensation overnight with his eight-second TKO victory over Andy Ogle at UFC on Fox 14. He proceeded to take the mic from Joe Rogan and showed the world who he was. He would follow up his victory in Sweden with a submission win over Masio Fullen in Germany. In total; two wins and two finishes in a minute and 38 seconds of fight time. He trains with the now Featherweight Champion, Conor McGregor, in Ireland and will fight Mike Wilkinson at UFC London. With his charm and skill, Amirkhani is well worth watching on any given card.

Lightweight

Stevie Ray

In what, to me, is the UFC’s deepest divisions, a ton of non-ranked fighters are must watch this year. We start off with the Scot Stevie Ray who is 3-0 in the UFC. Mainly a European card guy, 2016 should be a busy year with a lot of cards happening over seas from the UFC’s main land. Ray has finishes over Marcin Bandel and Leonardo Mafra along with a decision win over Mickael Lebout at UFC Dublin. At just 25, Ray has already tasted MMA gold with the Cage Warriors Lightweight belt. The young Scot can’t take over Europe with the little Irish dude running around, but he’ll come close in 2016.

Paul Felder

A little over one year ago we saw what some thought might be the knockout of the year when Paul Felder landed a spinning back fist on Danny Castillo. One year later, that guy is 1-2 since then and is coming off of his first ever submission win of his career. After dropping two straight to Edson Barboza and Ross Pearson, a little lighter match up with Daron Cruickshank gave Felder a more even bout. The two scrapped for two rounds, with the rounds likely split going into the third. Felder went all out and eventually got the Rear-Naked choke. With another win under his belt, the ferocious Philadelphia native will look to make a statement in 2016. He should continue to get tougher match ups as he keeps winning fights.

Rashid Magomedov

The Degestan express is here! With big names like Khabib Nurmagomedov and Ali Bagautinov also from the same small area in Russia, the talent is rich in combat sports. Magomedov is no different with four straight UFC wins and 12 straight in his career. While the style may not be all that exciting for finish connoisseurs, it is very effective for winning a fight. Fighting at Lightweight for the first time in his career, the young Dargin seems to be adapting to well to more skilled fighters and a drastic weight cut. One more win, maybe over a ranked opponent, could see ‘Highlander’ in the UFC rankings.

Sage Northcutt

Sage Northcutt

Sage Northcutt

Another train rolling through! All aboard the Northcutt hype train! The young phenom who was first seen on Dana White’s Looking for a Fight, the freakishly gifted Northcutt has made the most oh his chance. He has two wins in under four months of being with the UFC. He has two finishes and is taking the next step in his career with a main card slot on FOX. He’ll face fellow undefeated prospect Andrew Holbrook at UFC on FOX 18 in Newark on January 30. If he continues his pace, Northcutt will be headlining Fight Pass cards in 2016.

Welterweight

Tim Breese

The former BAMMA standout has needed just under two full rounds in the UFC to pick up his two TKO wins. The Englishmen joined the UFC in May with a TKO over Luiz Dutra Jr. in Brazil. The Birmingham-born made his way back to the UK for his last fight with Cathal Pendred at UFC Dublin. After breaking the nose of Pendred, he broke his spirit as well later in the first round for another TKO win. With nine straight career finishes, in a market that needs some excitement, Breese should have no problem finding big fights and looking good. His year starts at UFC London against Keita Nakamura.

Warlley Alves

The former TUF Brazil 3 winner has excelled one weight class down. After beating Marcio Alexandre Jr. in the fianl, Alves went back to his natural weight class of 170. Since that point we have seen three straight wins and the last two coming by way of Guillotine. With wins over Alan Jouban, Nordine Taleb and Colby Covington in his last three, Alves is well on his way for main card slots and bigger names.

Middleweight

Sam Alvey

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In one of the most talent-rich divisions in the UFC, Sam Alvey stands out as one the top of the outsiders looking in. His last fight came in October with a TKO loss to now ranked Derek Brunson in Nashville. A win there would have pushed Alvey into the top 15. Before the loss, ‘Smile’ N’ Sam was on a three-fight KO streak over Dylan Andrews, Cezar Ferreira and Dan Kelly. Sam was expected to fight at UFC Pittsburgh next month, but suffered a broken jaw in training and was pulled from the fight

Light Heavyweight

Tom Lawlor

With many legendary names holding down-ranked positions, Tom Lawlor’s move to 205 will have to see immediate results. He did just that with a KO of top 15 guy Gian Villante at UFC on Fox 16. Lawlor had formerly fought at Light Heavyweight for TUF where he lost in the opening round to eventual winner Ryan Bader. Lawler will face a ranked opponent in Corey Andrews at UFC 196 with a chance to gain his spot among the 205’s top 15

Heavyweight

Ruslan Magomedov

No, you’re not seeing double! Ruslan Magomedov is a Heavyweight while Rashid Magomedov is a Lightweight. Ruslan has impressed as of late in a bogged down Heavyweight division. With nine straight wins in MMA competition, including two over former UFC champs Ricco Rodriguez and Tim Sylvia, Magomedov belongs in the UFC’s best. Three straight UFC wins have put him in bigger and bigger fights as we go. At just 29, and with the Heavyweight division getting older, Magomedov could be at the top at some point in his career. He fights former title challenger Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC Zagreb.

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Announcement

Felice Herrig vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz in the works for UFC 223

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UFC 223 looks to add a variety of intriguing bouts. With Paul Felder vs. Al Iaquinta reportedly set for the unannounced UFC 223 card, the promotion looks to add a high stakes female flyweight match-up. According to MMANYTT.com, sources confirmed a bout between Felice Herrig and Karolina Kowalkiewicz, is in the works for the pay-per-view card.

 

Assuming the match-up does come to be, both women have much to gain from a victory. For Herrig, she currently sits on a four-fight win streak. A streak in which the strawweight contender defeated Kailin Curran, Alexa Grasso, Justine Kish, and Cortney Casey. The MMA veteran, Herrig, began fighting professionally in 2009. As of late, her issues with the marketing machine that is the UFC have intensified.

After demonstrating her technical prowess over Justine Kish at UFC Fight Night 122: Chiesa vs. Lee, Herrig put her emotions on display. She stated at the post-fight media scrum, “Sometimes, I feel like, I’m not young and beautiful enough for the UFC to want to promote me. And it’s sad because I’ve really worked so hard to be here and it’s hard to see these people who’ve not been through what I’ve been through. Who just got into the UFC at the right time. They’re getting all these opportunities and I see how hard I work to get here and it’s just like, it doesn’t matter. I just feel like, ‘I’m not pretty enough and I’m not getting any younger'”.

A frustrated Felice Herrig then spoke to MMAJunkie.com in December. She claimed, “Aside from (former UFC women’s strawweight champ) Joanna (Jedrzejczyk), I’m the only strawweight who’s gone on a four-fight winning streak. That’s a fact. At this point, I want to fight someone in the top 10. It doesn’t really make sense for me to keep fighting girls that are ranked below me. That’s the whole point. If I want to keep working my way up. I fight the most dangerous girls outside the top 10”. The #9 ranked women’s flyweight has a point. In her UFC career, she recorded one loss in six appearances. Yet, she has one co-main event booking, while fighters like Michelle Waterson, booked the main event in her second UFC bout. In Waterson’s third bout, she received a co-main event scheduling. Understandably, Felice Herrig is upset with her situation.

Later in her interview, Herrig brought up Kowalkiewicz as a potential next opponent. “For whatever reason, I really want to fight Karolina. I just think that would be an exciting fight… Stylistically, I really like that fight. She’s ranked above (me), and it may be a good gauge for me,” she stated. Right now, it looks like Herrig is close to getting what she wants.

Kowalkiewicz last fought in her native country of Poland on the UFC Fight Pass card, UFC Fight Night 118: Cowboy vs. Till, in October. The Polish star defeated Jody Esquibel, after losing consecutive contests to former UFC female strawweight champion, Joanna Jedrzejcyk and Claudia Gadelha, respectively.

A win for either makes a good case for the next or an eventual title challenger. Kowalkiewicz holds a victory over current division champion, Rose Namajunas. While a win for Herrig would further establish her impressive win streak and undoubtedly give her the boost in the rankings she deserves.

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Bellator

Douglas Lima found out about change to co-main event at Bellator 192 from the internet

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Bellator 192 fight card has gone through a shake-up over the past week. Bellator president Scott Coker revealed last week that the scheduled welterweight title fight between Rory MacDonald and champion Douglas Lima will now be serving as the co-main event and the heavyweight matchup between Chael Sonnen and Rampage Jackson would instead take top billing. At the time no explanation was made for the change. Monday Douglas Lima was a guest on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani to discuss this change.

“I was little bummed, but it is what it is, it’s business you know. I was pretty excited you know? Being the main event, having Rampage fight as the co-main event, I was happy there. Then I was bummed out that they changed it back to the co-main event. It’s not going to change a thing for me, I’m just focusing on the fight.”

Lima has been notoriously looked over in the eyes of fight fans. A longtime member of Bellator and a two-time champion has not gotten the notice he deserves and hopes to get.

“I found out through the internet, nobody tells me anything, I didn’t know. the same thing happened in New York, I thought my fight would be before the two main events there, but it ended up being the first fight of the night on Pay-Per-View. Hopefully, it doesn’t take anything away from the fight, you know spotlight and stuff.”

Lima is looking to make all the naysayers take notice at Bellator 192 that takes place at The Forum in Inglewood, Califonia on January 20th.

“This is the fight I’ve been waiting for for a long time. To get my name out there, to get people to know who I am. I’ve been delivering a lot of good fights, fights fans like to watch but no attention yet. I’m hoping though that after a win over Rory this week it will really put my name out there and show all these welterweights out there that I am for real.”

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Fight Announcements

Al Iaquinta vs. Paul Felder rescheduled for UFC 223 in April

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MMA fans around the world wept in deep sorrow when Al Iaquinta withdrew from a bout scheduled for UFC 218 against Paul Felder. Weep no more, for Paul Felder faces Al Iaquinta at UFC 223. Rumblings behind the match-up, first reported by FloCombat.com, came Sunday night before MMAFighting.com confirmed the bout scheduled for unannounced pay-per-view card, later in the evening.

 

The original bout fell through due to a severe knee injury to Iaquinta. He spoke to BJ Penn Radio about the injury nearly a week before the December 2nd, PPV event in Detriot. The Long Island real estate agent claimed, “I tore my PCL and my MCL maybe three or four months ago… for me to really put in a full training camp and do what I need to do, I would’ve had to just focus on fighting and physical therapy… it was the kind of thing where all roads led to me not kind of taking a risk and fighting on December 2nd”.

Iaquinta went on to say, “I kind of accepted the fight, but I never signed a bout agreement… I was kind of told I had to give them an answer pretty quick. It was a fight I thought I really wanted. I thought it was a good stylistic match-up for me, so I accepted the fight, and then thinking about it over the course of a day, we realized it probably wasn’t a smart decision for my health, for everything”.

An outspoken lightweight, he is not the first of his kind. Al Iaquinta is no stranger to idly waiting on the sideline for the UFC to make a move. Contract disputes and other bad strokes of luck left the Serra-Longo with three octagon appearances since 2015. The feud between Iaquinta and the promotion comes as a surprise when looking at the credentials of the aforementioned fighter. With an octagon record of 8-2, he earned notoriety as one of the best lightweights in the world. During his time in the UFC, he defeated Kevin Lee, Ross Pearson, Joe Lauzon, Jorge Masvidal, and most recently Diego Sanchez.

His opponent, “The Irish Dragon”, Paul Felder, holds an impressive UFC record of his own. At 7-3, Felder defeated tough competition as well. His record notes wins over Daron Cruickshank, Jason Saggo, Stevie Ray, and Charles Oliveira. Even more impressive than his record, his knockout ratio. At this stage of his career, Felder knockouts 55% of his opponents (10 knockouts in 18 career pro bouts).

Like his opponent Iaquinta, Paul Felder has a separate career outside of fighting. As many should notice, Felder found a role as a color commentator with the promotion he fights for. Following the footsteps in a long line of fighters before him, Felder announced multiple events alongside another new addition to the UFC broadcast team, Brendan Fitzgerald.

PPV card, UFC 223 and its location are not official yet. Despite a lack of an announcement, the event takes place in Brooklyn, New York at the Barclays Centre, according to multiple reports. Currently, the card features no official bouts. Reports state Felice Herrig vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz (per Jim Edwards), and Evan Dunham vs. Mairbek Taisumov (per Farah Hannoun) are both in the works for UFC 223.

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