Top European prospects to watch
Khabib Nurmagomedov is the sole representative from Europe among the UFC’s championship elite at the beginning of 2019. Similarly, Gegard Mousasi is the only fighter from the continent that currently holds a Bellator title. However, there are plenty of up-and-comers hailing from the region that are determined to make their mark on the world stage over the next 12 months.
Last year, marked MMA Fighting’s inaugural list of European prospects that appeared to be on the radar of the major promotions. Four featured fighters — Nathaniel Wood, Fabian Edwards, Karl Moore, Richie Smullen — went on to sign on the dotted line with either Bellator or the UFC.
Here are some names to keep an eye on in 2019.
Roman Kopylov is an 8-0-0 middleweight fighting out of Novosibirsk, Russia. He currently holds the Fight Nights Global 185-pound title.
This Russian middleweight prospect rounded out the year by finishing former M-1 Challenge champion, Yasubey Enomoto, with a brutal body shot to defend his middleweight title for the first time. A former hand-to-hand combat champion, he claimed the title earlier in 2018 by forcing Abusupyan Alikhanov to quit on his stool before the fifth round. With a piston-like jab and fight IQ to match, Kopylov would be solid addition to any of the world’s largest promotions in 2019.
Cyril Gane is a 2-0-0 French heavyweight that emerged in 2018 that fights out of the same gym that brought us Francis Ngannou — the MMA Factory in Paris, France.
Coach Fernand Lopez’s camp is producing talent at a prodigious rate and Muay Thai champion turned MMA heavyweight Gane is another example of that. At 6-foot-5 and with devastating knockout power, the 12-0 Muay Thai standout debuted in 2018 with a submission win after signing for Canadian promotion TKO, claiming the promotion’s heavyweight title in the process. He defended the title for the first time with a second-round TKO stoppage of 7-0 up and comer Adam “Kung Fu Panda” Dyczka in September. His second defense is slated for February when he takes on 9-0 Raphael Pessoa.
Magdalena Sormova (6-1-0) is a strawweight fighting out of the Czech Republic.
Sormova was thought to be in with a chance of getting a late call-up for the UFC’s debut voyage to the Czech Republic in February after submitting Ukrainian standout Svetlana Gotsyk to claim the WWFC strawweight title in 2018. The Penta Gym fighter has taken all but one of her wins by way of submission. She earned her most notable win in 2017 with a first-round armbar finish of Cristina Stanciu.
Magdalena Sormova submits Cristina Stanciu in 1R (LFN) pic.twitter.com/5jtqL35oUQ— Jolassanda (@Jolassanda) December 15, 2017
Karl Albrektsson could be the next Scandinavian light heavyweight to make a splash on the world stage.
Although the Swedish 25-year-old suffered defeats in two of his four outings with Rizin — the only losses on his 8-2-0 record—his wins over experienced Russian campaigner, Dmitry Tebekin, and former UFC fighter, Josh Stansbury, under the Superior Challenge banner in 2018 led to widespread calls for his signing. “King” has only gone the distance on two occasions in his ten-fight career and is a protégé of legendary heavyweight Josh Barnett.
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Jack Grant is a 26-year-old English lightweight who boasts a 15-4-0 record.
Grant looks on the cusp of challenging for the Cage Warriors title at the beginning of 2019, despite champion Soren Bak’s claims that the Englishman is not ready for a title shot. Grant is currently on a six-fight winning streak. Most recently he claimed a first-round win over the only man to have beaten Bak, Aleksi Mantykivi. Grant is also an experienced submission grappler, taking a notable win over UFC middleweight Tom Breese in a match last year.
Rustam Kerimov is a 12-0-0 bantamweight fighting out of Makhachkala, Russia.
ACB (now ACA) provided the UFC with one of it’s top bantamweight prospects in Petr Yan in 2018 and the promotion now has another young talent at the top of the bracket that could turn more heads in 2019. The undefeated Kerimov claimed Yan’s vacated title via split decision when he faced Oleg Borisov. He worked his way to the title with three wins in 2017, including a first-round TKO-victory over UFC veteran, Takeya Mizugaki.
Krystian Kaszubowski established himself as a promising welterweight with two victories in as many outings with KSW in 2018, improving his record to 7-0-0.
The Polish welterweight’s debut under the KSW banner saw him hand German prospect Christopher Henze a first-round loss with a vicious display of elbows after transitioning to the crucifix. Kaszubowski finished out his groundbreaking year with another first-round stoppage, this time of Michal Michalski, setting him up for big things in 2019.
Liana Jojua is a 23-year-old bantamweight fighting out of Tibilisi, Georgia, who boasts a record of 7-2-0.
Jojua made the biggest splash of her young career in early 2018 by seeing off fan favorite Marina Mokhnatkina — touted by some pundits as the Russian Ronda Rousey — to claim the inaugural Fight Nights Global title. Although Jojua does not have an assignment for 2019 and has not competed since claiming the title, there seems to be plenty of chatter surrounding her first title defense.
Amir Albazi is an 11-0-0 flyweight who fights out of London, England.
The undefeated Swedish talent only had one outing last year, handing Iuri Bejenari a first-round loss via rear-naked choke at Bellator 200. Bellator’s milestone marquee was his second promotional showing having beaten Jamie Powell via decision in his debut at Bellator 179. Despite two successful trips to the Bellator cage, Albazi remains a free agent as of January 2019.
Soren Bak (12-1-0) is chasing a second Cage Warriors title at featherweight after winning the 155-pound belt in 2018.
“True Viking” has claimed four straight wins since signing for Cage Warriors and has quickly earned a reputation for his wrestling ability. The Dane recently vacated the lightweight title he won against Paddy Pimblett so he can attempt to clinch a second Cage Warriors title, which he believes will make him an undeniable addition to the UFC’s roster.