Magomedrasul Khasbulaev – 21-5 (6 KOs, 12 submissions, 3 decisions), 27 years old, featherweight
“Frodo” is arguably one of the fighters most deserving of a title shot in all of MMA, and if the rumours are to be believed, the Russian standout could just get his chance soon.
Already a Bellator season eight tournament winner, only visa issues and MMA politics have stopped Khasbulaev from a big name bout already. However, with a continuing win streak he is surely just one or two victories away from getting a title shot.
With his last loss having come as a middleweight and having fought for the majority of his career as a welterweight, Magomedrasul Khasbulaev has become a real monster of a featherweight. Currently on a rampage through Bellator’s stacked featherweight division, the two time world Sambo champion has simply worked his way into title contention with his high pressure style. Physically huge for a featherweight, Khasbulaev also has a lot of top level experience that should mean he is more than ready for the elite level.
Should he come up against champion Daniel Strauss, “Frodo” would be a very live underdog at worst. A grappling expert, capable of stopping any opponent with all kinds of submissions, by the end of 2014, even without a title, “Frodo” could be considered one of the best featherweights in the world.
Ali Bagautinov – 12-2 (5 KOs, 4 submissions, 3 decisions), 28 years old, flyweight
In a fairly shallow division, Bagautinov could find himself contesting for the holy grail of MMA – a UFC title – as soon as this summer, should he win his upcoming fight against fellow contender John Lineker.
Currently flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson has already beaten those ranked 1-4 in the division, leaving the winner of Lineker (ranked 5th) and Baugatinov (ranked 7th) as the obvious choice for the next shot. And although it is a 50/50 bout, Baugatinov has all the skills to win not just this fight, but any fight against any flyweight on earth.
A former Sambo champion, training out of the famed Jackson Academy, Bagautinov has the nickname of “Puncher King”, such is his hand power. However, the standard of Bagautinov’s grappling is also at a level where he could be considered one of the best flyweight wrestlers today.
Although Bagautinov’s chase for a title shot may not take long, beating the champion Johnson is a different proposition altogether. But with the division still fairly small – when in comparison to say the lightweight division – Bagautinov could be around the top end of this division for a long time and it could start in 2014.
Hector Lombard – 33-1-4 (19 KOs, 7 submissions, 7 decisions), 35 years old, welterweight
For years regarded as one of the best middleweights on earth, it would probably not be too harsh to say that Hector Lombard was somewhat exposed in the UFC.
At middleweight Lombard found trouble closing the distance against bigger, rangier men. He also found his strength and Olympic level judo was negated against the strength of UFC middleweight, most of who are fighters that cut from around the 200lb mark to make 185.
Still noting the potential the Cuban has, the UFC asked him to step down to welterweight. Although a tough weight cut for the heavyset Lombard, the division is probably more suited to his 5ft-9in frame. After he viciously KO’d Nate Marquardt on his welterweight debut, Lombard even stated he does not see himself losing in his new division.
At welterweight, Lombard should not have the issues he had at middleweight. At the same time, UFC’s welterweight division is wide open right now.
Lombard’s style – basically sprawl and brawl –matches up well with most of the other top UFC welterweights (think Robbie Lawler, Johny Hendricks, Jake Ellenberger, Nick Diaz) and with his undoubted power, Lombard has a real chance to string together a run of wins that could see him as a title contender come the end of 2014.
Holly Holm – 6-0 (5 KOs, 1 UD), 32 years old, bantamweight
Quite literally one of the greatest female fighters of all time already, Holly Holm is a former 18 time, three weight world champion boxer. Now having seemingly made a fulltime transition into MMA, Holm has started out on a path which could just see her become known as one of the best fighters ever, male or female.
Around 2011, with a decade of world class boxing experience behind her, Holm decided to experiment in MMA and the experiment was successful. However, despite showing a natural talent for MMA (Holm also having participated in kick-boxing bouts sporting a 2-1 record), there was still things for her to achieve in boxing.
Last year though, Holm went on a four fight rampage, winning three via vicious KO during that streak. Such a competitor, Holm even managed to fit in a 10 round boxing bout (which she won obviously) in 2013.
This year Holm has stated she will stick with MMA, training with the famed JacksonAcademy. With the hype surrounding her slowly building and pushing her towards what would be the biggest women’s fight ever, against pound-for-pound number one, Ronda Rousey. If Holm has a 2014 half as good as her 2013, the fight against Rousey – which Ronda has already said she is interested in – will be on the lips of all of MMA.
Tyrone Spong – 2-0 (1 KO, 1 decision), 28 years old, light-heavyweight
It is always exciting when a highly decorated athlete from another combat sport decides to make the transition to MMA. However, the transition is not always smooth, as the fanfare that comes with these athletes can often see them rushed into a level of MMA they are not yet ready for.
The likes of Brock Lesnar, Roger Gracie and Mark Hunt are prime examples of world class competitors that simply stepped up too early to the elite level of MMA and thus probably suffered a loss or two earlier than they could have.
Tyrone Spong does not have appeared to have made this mistake.
Although only 2-0 with two MMA fights in two years, Spong has spent most of that time training alongside the elite members of the Blackzillian MMA camp. Having taken time to help the likes of Rashad Evans, Anthony Johnson and Alistair Overeem to prepare for big fights, Spong’s MMA game cannot help but have improved in this time. At the same time, Spong has also trained with Floyd Mayweather Sr, which could have only enhanced his already devastating striking ability. No one can doubt that Spong has the ability to knockout any fighter at 205, but whether he has the all round game to succeed in MMA is something the fight world is waiting to find out.
Now, having just signed a multi-fight deal with World Series of Fighting, Spong will be pushed into making big strides this year in MMA. Spong has already stated he believes he is destined to end up in the UFC, so this year will have a big say in that dream of his.