Discover more from Stacked Landing
Top 3 MMA Prospects in 2023
The best MMA prospects around the globe to look out for in 2023. Emphasis on young/high-ceiling, to get the most bang for your mental buck. Ranging from ranked UFC fighters to regional standouts.
Top MMA Prospects in 2023
As Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) continues to grow in popularity, the global level of competition rises with it. UFC Fight Pass has made it easier than ever to see the increase in quality in real-time. Promotions seeing YouTube as an asset rather than a hindrance contributes to more of them uploading full fights. Tapology has been consistently filled out and double-checked for over 10 years, leading to an expansive database of results and stats. The plethora of resources means scouting out and analyzing top prospects has never been easier, and has never been of such high quality in terms of fighter and ability to research. This is the first in a series of 3 posts going over prospects in 2023.
Top 3 MMA Prospects In 2023
“King,” George Hardwick, currently fights in Cage Warriors, the premier UK MMA Organization. As a result, he has faced Contender Series (DWCS) level fighters in back to back fights. Hardwick currently fights at Lightweight (155) and previously competed at Welterweight (170) before going all-in on climbing MMA rankings. The improvement has been very apparent, and Hardwick is 7-0 during COVID. His last two opponents were Chris Bungard and Kyle Driscoll, with Driscoll actually competing on DWCS and Bungard being a fun-striker fit for it. In both fights, Hardwick approached them like Floyd does when he boxes. He found a lot of success mixing stances and entries, with a defensive focus, to see how his opponent likes to respond. This allows him to give up the first couple min of the round, to make more use of the remaining time. While many fighters as diverse as him on the feet struggle with grappling, Hardwick trains with competition level no-gi grapplers and has a great BJJ Head Coach in Peter Irving. As a result, Hardwick’s grappling is very methodical and choked out several welterweights despite being undersized and very raw. His last 3 fights all showed him using his Muay Thai experience to either turn his opponent over against the fence, or separate immediately. For instance, many fighters secure a body lock or over-hooks and then try to work in under-hooks. Hardwick immediately goes to under hooks or Thai clinch, many UFC fighters haven’t removed that level of fat from their grappling. In addition to being a technical standout with a high fight IQ and an ability to listen, Hardwick is a weird guy that loves MMA. I think that is a huge factor to him having continued success, and aligns his qualities more with a GSP than a Conor McGregor. The UFC returns to London in March, and Hardwick announced this week he is in a fight camp planned around a March fight-date. Mark your calendars for “King,” George Hardwick’s UFC debut and climb.
Open-Source Notes For Nerds
Future of MMA in terms of skill-set, early start practicing in MIXED martial arts, and training out of a well-rounded gym in England. The latter is a sign of the times as well, since the UK previously struggled to have one well-rounded gym 8 years ago, and now has several. He has shown slick grappling, diverse striking, and an ability to improve fight to fight. The Cage Warriors promotion is a good pipeline to the UFC, and Hardwick could be the next guy to come out like a rocket. Genuinely strange with tunnel-vision on MMA is a huge positive as well, less likely to fall for the glitz and glam.
Marketable - Another UK star. Very well-spoken, and approaches the game like a science. Traits of a GSP more than Conor McGregor. Good for sustainability. Has a brother that’s media savvy to help usher along.
Diverse - Finishes on feet and on ground. Genetic freak, but shows high fight IQ and technical improvements as well. Diverse in ways you can’t teach.
Rapidly Improving - A major factor in why I’m so confident in this pick. Even if development rushed once in UFC, can continue to improve technically. Gym is also full of active pros, can get high-level experience between fights.
Mixes his stances well. Bit of a wide mma stance to start, goes between that and Muay Thai stance depending on how attacking
Zero fat when grappling. Doesn’t clinch and then look for under hooks, underhooks and pivots. Crucial for cleaner breaks.
Built lead through active jab and a couple short hooks getting through. Once Bungard started shelling up, Hardwick teed off on legs.
Leaves gap when he shells up, bad habit from boxing gloves.
Once shelling up and worried about legs, left body open to killer shot.
Gnarly body shot for finish: https://imgur.com/a/wJNIFJh
Another prospect with a lot of upsides. An American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) stand-out I’ve seen train.
Driscoll tried showing off his stand-up ability in this fight, allowing Hardwick to get more fight-time on the feet.
Hardwick controls the first few minutes with ease, using his key strategy of mixing up stances and entries to get a variety of reads.
The last two minutes of the round, Driscoll finds a good line for the straight left a few times, one of which pops Hardwick’s paper nose.
In the last ten seconds Driscoll responds to Hardwick’s adjustment of closing the center line, by going wide and landing a hook flush on Hardwick’s cheek.
Rounds 2 and 3 are more of the same, with Hardwick switching levels of where he’s striking constantly while Driscoll starts to headhunt. The body straights in particular begin to have Driscoll breathing heavy in between rounds.
Round 4 Hardwick comes out very bloody from his paper-thin skin and nose, but overall much more fresh and well-ahead in damage.
Fast and accurate leg kicks with guard up. Doesn’t get sloppy with them, even in the later rounds.
Mixes levels for strikes constantly. Doesn’t have to be told, it’s hard-wired at this point.
Uses fight-time to expand skill-set rather than try to first round finish everyone. Pays dividends.
Downloads information as fight goes on, like Floyd Mayweather. Small leads compound and become giant leads quickly.
By nature of being defensive and trying to develop reads, but still pushing forward, he takes damage. Nothing too clean or worrisome, but has paper-thin skin and a nose that pops instantly.
March UFC Debut, hopefully against an easier win. Possibly a Latin fighter to see how he responds to the fight-style. He's been tested against American and UK talent, none of which fought too aggressively. Hopefully gets brought up like Jack Della Maddalena and can develop, rather than Paddy Pimblett and immediately have spotlight. While John Makdessi would be my favorite 2nd opponent in UFC, there are very exciting but very difficukt fights in Bobby Green, Nasrat Haqparast, and Matt Frevola.
(More gifs on this one, found a faster workflow)
The British Flyweight savage has all the makings of a star in the cage and out. Ditcheva was a British Muay Thai champion before transitioning to MMA full time in 2021. She's currently signed to PFL and has a contract with them through the end of 2023. While that means she won't debut for the UFC next year, PFL is building a division around Ditcheva. The fights in PFL should deliver highlights, and with a proper training schedule, allow her to work on things like grappling and wrestling. If you don't have to train hyper-specific for an opponent, you can work on your own skill set. Manchester Top Team is her main camp, but has trained at American Top Team her last two PFL fights and has shown rapid improvement as a result. Whether in the UK or in the US, both camps have a load of young promising talent to train with. Ditcheva has elite striking for the division, even counting the UFC roster. Ditcheva is one of the best prospects outside of the UFC, and PFL could give her a big push with Kayla Harrison missing the big moment. Ideally Ditcheva stays active, gets some extended fight-time (2-3 rounds), and produces some more highlights to a ESPN audience to build her following. Currently a top 50 Flyweight, likely to move into top 30 and secure UFC contract for 2024.
Open-Source Notes For Nerds
Long, Strong, and Smart. Long history of striking, British Muay Thay champion, uses it well to confuse opponent. Ex: Active and high lead leg that can push or come up high. Froze opponents early in career with it. Uses her clinch experience and wide shoulders to get helpful positions right away. Rather than sticking to the opponent and working to underhooks in a grappling chain, she starts the clinch with a hook in or a leg pivoting out. Already thinking one or two steps ahead even in weak areas. Trained at American Top Team for her last fight, showing she's willing to leave her home-country to fulfill her maximum potential. Hopefully, PFL signs a lot of strawweights and flyweights to create a one-year tournament for the flyweight title.
Age: 24 (1998-07-11)
Camp: Manchester Top Team, American Top Team when in US
Incorporated more active stance switching, rather than muay thai or MMA stance switches. The ability to do either is useful, both makes it even harder to read as the opponent.
An efffective strategy against a long and precise fighter like Ditcheva is to rush to close space. Ditcheva tags Corogenes on the way in and times the step to turn her over against the cage.
Ditcheva showed good awareness when against the cage as well by working for an underhook in the proper manner, and then using it right away
The finish itself was a combination of her clinch awareness, striking diversity, and killer instinct. After feeling her clinch tendencies, Ditcheva lands the back to back body knees. Once Corogenes has to keep hands down to cover body, it was a wrap.
And another angle. Feints hands up after landing the hard body knee, responds to flinch with straight, expects her to continue backing away and chunks a low kick, then as Corogenes limps on the leg that got kicked and circles out, eats the follow up rocket-straight on the chin.
Even though a decision win, excelled the whole fight at staying within her strengths. At range sniping, or in Muay Thai clinch.
Cristina came from a camp with more grappling experience, but Ditcheva out-clinched and out-grappled her.
Started each round strong, which gives her a lead in damage and control within 10 seconds of the round. Combined with discipline and fight IQ, it can really frustrate fighters.
Ditcheva showed a good natural feel on the ground for scrambles. Followed good fundamentals like tripod to stabilize and always keep a wide base. Allowed her to punish aggressive reversals Cristina attempted
Nasty straight right. The punch has been a strong suit throughout her career, and getting opponents focused on their legs, body, and clinch defense frequently leaves the window for the straight open.
Stance changes. In addition to switching between Orthodox and Southpaw, she is frequently mixing in the traditional square up Muay Thai stance with her more MMA-centric side stance.
Reflexively active in clinch. Some strikers really look awkward in clinches or try to stall with a body lock. Ditcheva and her team and have done a great job in her last two fights, having her initiate clinches in better spots and immediately pivot off of the cage once she touches it.
Violent. It is unarguably a positive to seem to have a genuine enjoyment of receiving and inflicting pain. Her post-fights aren't crying with regret to make rent, she's proud and screaming because she's accomplishing what she wants to accomplish.
Does not chase. Even though she likes being active and doesn’t lack killer instinct, she showed good discipline in the Cristina fight. She was landing with ease and never got antsy, resulting in her cruising to decision rather than risking lead.
Physically developing each fight. Coming into her fully mature body and growing wider rather than taller. Her last PFL fight shape compared to her UAE 28 appearance is noticeable. Nothing suspicious, just looks like someone taking diet and weights seriously.
Dominates PFL in 2023. Some signings like Ivana Petrovic, Ckaire Guthrie, Desiree Yanez, and Rin Nakai could fill out a 125 pound tournament that features international talent. Otherwise, PFL likely hand-picks opponents for her to strike with like they have so far. With continued training at ATT or other elite MMA gyms, she will have an excellent year for her overall career trajectory. Build skills, get cage time, face diverse opponents, and work on overall skills in fight camps rather than overly specific like you have to at the elite level. Unlike Kayla Harrison, who has no division for her to fight in, Dakota Ditcheva fights at Flyweight and could easily mature into Bantamweight giving her two divisions of talent to matchup with.
Eastern Russia Grappling Machine. While he has not faced the level of competition to guarantee UFC success, he has excelled at his strengths of cardio and grappling against opponents that also excel there. With good gameplans, Magomedov can drown most of the Light Heavyweight division when you get to fighters like Jung and Roberson. Likely to go from regional fighter to UFC debut, possibly even ranked by the end of 2023. Magomedov’s biggest strength is persistence. Not in an iron chin manner, but constantly grabbing and wearing on you. When he is in range of taking hard shots, he is either wide-stanced to lean back, or has both hands up in a more traditional shell. The combination of him wearing on the opponent, and the opponent tiring themself out when firing back, leads to rounds 3 and later looking nothing like rounds 1 and 2. Deceptively quick as well, which shows during his leg kicks. The slow movement is to preserve, not due to a lack of ability. Magomedov trains out of Academy MMA, one of the best fight camps in Russia.
Elite Grappling even Amongst Great Grapplers - Magomedov outgrappled both of his most recent opponents even in the best grappling organization outside of the UFC. He does not aggressively go after finishes, but has a good sense of when his cardio surpasses his opponent and pushes a little harder.
Proven History From Region: Mahkchala region is essentially an elite training zone. As a result, Magomedov has been in combat sports his whole life and is very accustomed to the lifestyle. He trains with some of the best fighters in that region, and has fought the best talent from nearby regions. Nothing as WOW-factor as Ankalaev on way up, but thoroughly dominating competition not used to being on the receiving end.
Light Heavyweight Blows - The 205lb division is in a weird spot. Glover, Smith, Jan, Krylov, Oezdemir, and Dom Reyes might all be out of the UFC in 2-3 years. That leaves a lot of open spots in the top 15, and I currently favor Magomedov over several of the other contenders on the border of being ranked such as Da Un Jung and Dustin Jacoby.
After a minute of trading leg kicks slightly out of range, Magomedov breaks the cycle with tight strikes. Even if fights are not barn-burners, hes does not stall.
On top of having solid fundamentals, Magomedov has some unique tactics like standing wrist control
Even as Olenichev does the right thing and turns away from cage and spins out, Magomedov times the spin and pins Olenichev into the cage
Used the thai clinch to not only control, but to chain into takedowns.
Willing to try to push lead with increased striking volume and position changes. Had not followed up with a double once in the fight prior. Leads to him getting in deep.
Matevosyan is usually the more active fighter blending fight styles, but Magomedov outclasses him.
Magomedov has an active lead hand and has recently done a good job sticking a jab and then moving
While most of the fight was Magomedov smothering Matevosyan in the clinch, there was also damage being done and chain grappling when positions stalled. Such as firing short hooks to open up defense until the weight shifts for a takedown.
After two rounds of landing nothing flush and being unable to remain separated for any prolonged amount of time, Matevosyan went for high-risk techniques and Magomedov punished them.
George Hardwick an improving product of truly mixing martial arts. Dakota Ditcheva is learning fast while continuing to push her striking advantage over most of the division. Muslim Magomedov has shown to have an endless gas tank and extreme discipline, the recipe for a top-15 Light Heavyweight. Remember the names, because in a few years they will all be UFC regulars.