The Great Divide: Which three unranked fighters have the best shot of being 2019’s Breakthrough Fighter of the Year?

UFC 210 Photos

The Great Divide is a reoccurring function right here at MMA Preventing through which our personal Shaun Al-Shatti and Chuck Mindenhall debate a subject in the world of MMA — whether or not it’s information, a struggle, a loopy factor anyone did, a loopy factor someone didn’t do, or some ethical dilemma threatening the very basis of the sport — and check out to determine a decision. We’d love so that you can take part the dialogue in the feedback under.

Half one and half two of The Great Divide’s 2019 preview collection handled the oncoming title image. This week, in our last installment of this three-part preview collection, our two heroes put their heads collectively and marvel: Which three present unranked fighters have the best probability of rising as 2019’s Breakthrough Fighter of the Yr?

Al-Shatti: Right here we’re, my good friend. On the eve of Henry Cejudo and T.J. Dillashaw’s ESPN takeover, I can assume of no higher method to have fun the launch of the 2019 combined martial arts calendar than by wrapping a pleasant little bow upon our 2019 preview collection.

So, Chuck, we’ve already prognosticated for the champs, we’ve already drafted a group of prime contenders. Now? Let’s cap issues off by gazing a bit additional south down the rankings. Who will probably be the subsequent ’17 Ngannou or ’18 Adesanya? Who might be the subsequent younger blood to blow up from anonymity and seize the hearts and minds of the MMA world by profitable 2019’s Breakthrough Fighter of the Yr award?

This can be a robust one, in all probability the hardest slate of predictions we’ve needed to make, just by advantage of what we’re coping with right here. As a result of actually, we’re dealing in unknowns. It takes a particular, indescribable mixture of elements — talent, charisma, and greater than just a little luck — to execute the sort of meteoric run that may rocket a prospect from obscurity to the verge of superstardom in only a 12-month span. However hey, we’ve each been round the block a number of occasions — I feel we’re up for the problem. And since I’m a complete degenerate and may’t assist myself, there’s just one actual strategy to remedy this: One final fantasy draft!

Similar guidelines as earlier than. Three rounds, snake-draft fashion. For anybody confused, meaning Staff A makes the decide No. 1, then Staff B will get the second and third picks, then it goes again to Group A for choices 4 and 5, then Group B rounds issues out with their ultimate decide. The objective at present is to select the three-fighter roster probably to finish up carrying 2019’s Breakthrough Fighter of the Yr as soon as December rolls round. In the spirit of previous winners like Cody Garbrandt, Francis Ngannou, and Israel Adesanya, solely unranked fighters can be found to be picked. I’ll be a gracious host and grant you the No. 1 decide, since I had it final time.

Sound good?

And with that, let’s get this celebration began.

They name you The Man In The Hat, however how good is your gauge on the prospect scene? It’s time to seek out out. Group Mindenhall is formally on the clock!

With the first choice of the 2019 prospect draft…Staff Mindenhall selects…at light-weight… Gregor Gillespie!

UFC 210 Photos

Esther Lin, MMA Preventing

Mindenhall: Gillespie hasn’t misplaced but in the UFC, and has completed the final 4 fighters he’s confronted. That’s a rattling good begin to his UFC profession. Granted, the final man he beat, Vinc Pichel, isn’t precisely a world-beater (the truth is, he seems to be like a cross between Freddie Mercury and Danny Segura, which isn’t all that ominous), however he was a very good gauge to see how far “The Gift” Gillespie has come. Gillespie dominated the motion from the opening horn, and submitted Pichel in the second spherical.

The factor is, he’s appeared good in each single battle up to now. That 21-second knockout of Andrew Holbrook at UFC 210 was like watching one of the previous stadiums implode. It was step in, left hook to drop him, one other huge left as soon as Holbrook was on the floor, and three free-swinging hammerfists — growth, over. He doesn’t waste so much of time. He was fishing the Finger Lakes for a strong week after that, pulling in pike the measurement of your arms, Shaun. Fishing is his ardour; however preventing is available in a really shut second. He’s rattling good at each.

Clearly we’ll know much more after he fights Yancy Medeiros this weekend in Brooklyn — however provided that Gillespie is getting a reasonably sizable bump up in competitors, and that the struggle is occurring on the first extremely seen first card of 2019, he has an opportunity to make his transfer. I can foresee Gillespie drawing a top-10 identify if he makes a press release towards Medeiros, and positioning himself for an enormous spot at Madison Sq. Backyard late in the yr. He has good arms, and his wrestling is there when he needs it, however what I like is he’s a sensible fighter. He simply is aware of what he’s up towards every time, and is aware of what he has to do.

You realize what’s extra? He’s a sort of kooky allure. A fishing fanatic by day, he can inform you the cause to throw a chartreuse casting spoon forward of an Eppinger Daredevle in the similar breath as he can clarify how you can throw a lead proper and to comply with up with that lethal left. With that sort of character, he can constructed a cult following shortly. All he must do is win, and to date he’s confirmed he is aware of how to try this.

Al-Shatti: You sonuva…

Gillespie was presupposed to be mine. Mine, damnit! Effing hell. Strong decide there, Chuck. Respect. I gained’t lie, you’ve obtained me all scrambled up proper now.

Okay, let’s re-calibrate right here. With the prime identify on my huge board gone, I do know which path I’m wanting with these subsequent two picks.

With the second decide in the 2019 prospect draft…Workforce Al-Shatti selects…at welterweight… Vicente Luque!

Esther Lin, MMA Preventing

I’m all about the BSA technique with my first decide right here (Best State of affairs Obtainable), as a result of except for the random no one who comes from God-knows-where to all of a sudden begin blowing the doorways off people — one thing that’s principally unimaginable to foretell — there are three components that contribute heaviest for me when calling my shot for breakthrough fighter of the yr: 1) Expertise, 2) Alternative, Three) Outdoors Elements.

And for me, Luque completely checks all of these packing containers.

Let’s begin with expertise. The 27-year-old New Jersey native has come an extended, great distance from the neophyte who first debuted on The Final Fighter in 2015. By now it’s apparent he’s figured issues out, having fine-tuned his explosive hanging repertoire and shored up his defensive wrestling — and the outcomes have been spectacular. Simply take a look at this résumé since his UFC debut: 7-1 with seven stoppages. Of these seven stoppages, three have been submissions inside two rounds and 4 have been violent first-round knockouts. (Critically, we’re speaking about authentic, violent-ass knockouts. No TKOs on this record. Hell, it took like three minutes for poor Jalin Turner to rise up off the mat at UFC 229. Dude is not any joke.) Luque’s power of schedule can also be shocking strong: Decisive finishes over tremendous robust, borderline top-20 names like Niko Worth, Belal Muhammad, and Chad Laprise. And his solely loss over that span is a slender choice to Leon Edwards (definitely nothing to sneeze at, and a setback he clearly discovered from).

All of this leads completely into my second issue: Alternative.

To be a Breakthrough Fighter winner, you typically have to battle Three-Four occasions over the course of a calendar yr. And Luque is prime place to do exactly that.

He’s already booked for a Feb. 17 dance date towards one other borderline top-15 welterweight in Bryan Barberena. One final win there and Luque will doubtless be thrown into the shark tank at 170 kilos — which brings me to ingredient No. Three for this draft-winning recipe: Outdoors Elements. Now this one could also be a tad inside baseball, however the managerial facet of the recreation is a vital but not often mentioned issue with regards to UFC alternative. In the case of Luque, his supervisor is Ali Abdelaziz. I don’t have to inform you that issues have been understanding fairly nicely for Abdelaziz’s shoppers recently. He’s the actual sort of supervisor whose working relationship with the UFC might make the distinction in terms of securing scarce alternatives in a single the sport’s most talent-rich divisions.

Altogether, Luque is immaculately set as much as have an enormous 2019 marketing campaign, and since of that, he’s the No. 1 decide of Group Al-Shatti.

Staff Al-Shatti is again on the clock…third choice of the 2019 prospect draft…the decide is in… Sabina Mazo!


You realize every thing I simply stated about my BSA technique? Yeah, I’m throwing all of that out of the window for this decide.

I don’t care.

Sure, Sabina Mazo simply obtained signed by the UFC. Sure, she might not have a high-powered supervisor. And sure, she might not even have a struggle booked.

However expertise? Oh lord, does she have that.

If Mazo’s identify sounds vaguely acquainted to you however you’ll be able to’t fairly put your finger on why, you’re in all probability already conscious of the 21-year-old “Columbian Queen” with out even realizing it: Mazo authored two of the extra ridiculous ladies’s head kick knockouts in 2017 en path to turning into LFA’s flyweight champion. Now, with an undefeated 6-Zero document intact, Mazo is ostensibly slated to make her Octagon debut someday in the first quarter of 2019.

Contemplating the wide-open and risky nature of the UFC’s ladies’s flyweight division, plus the relative hype that’s gathered round Mazo and the teenager’s aptitude for the dramatic, it’s not a lot of a stretch to assume that one or two good UFC wins might rocket Mazo into top-10 rivalry with a quickness. So positive, Chuck, this a decide based mostly extra on pure expertise than anything, however I be ok with it. With Mazo and Luque aboard Workforce Al-Shatti, the constructing blocks to a profitable squad are already in place.

Mindenhall: With the fourth decide…Staff Mindenhall selects… Geoff Neal!

And with the fifth… Brock Lesnar!

Esther Lin, MMA Preventing

I do know, I do know. Lesnar? Breaking by way of? What? Extra on that in a second. Let’s keep on with Neal for a minute, a cat who works as a full-time waiter in the Dallas space when he’s not punching anyone’s lights out. I used to be in his hometown when he flattened Frank Camacho with that head kick at UFC 228, and that was an eye-opener for me. There was a lot to like watching him set that deadly strike up after narrowly lacking on it in the opening spherical.

Having talked to him and members of his camp throughout struggle week, I feel he has the demeanor and the expertise to do some injury this yr. The pattern measurement is fairly small up to now, however he’s been spectacular every day trip in the UFC. A TKO of Chase Waldon on Dana White’s Tuesday Night time Contender Collection; a rear-naked choke of Brian Camozzi in the direction of the starting of final yr; then that detonation of Camacho’s head in Texas. Can he make it 4 in a row towards Belal Muhammad? If he does, he can start to smell that top-15 area and find yourself making a reputation for himself by Thanksgiving.

What I notably like is that Neal’s very levelheaded. He is aware of it’s a troublesome trek to the prime — and that it’s unbelievable he’ll ever get there — however he doesn’t delude himself into believing he can’t get there, both. Actually, he doesn’t strike me as a man who’s all that intimidated by whoever the UFC presents him to battle. A man who’s up for the problem, and has the variety of closing energy he does? That’s a man who must be on individuals’s radar.

Brock Lesnar

Esther Lin, MMA Preventing

As for Lesnar, right here’s the factor — he hasn’t formally gained a battle since 2010. The lone victory he’s had since then, towards Mark Hunt at UFC 200, was transformed right into a “no contest” when it was discovered he’d popped for PEDs. He’s 41 years previous, and he nonetheless dedicated to his professional wrestling profession. He lives in rural Canada, and is grumpy AF. The place does that depart him? As a punch line in most MMA circles.

Nonetheless, we low cost the proven fact that Lesnar was the heavyweight champion at one level, and that he held a share in the UFC document for consecutive title defenses (2) earlier than Stipe Miocic got here alongside and eventually beat it. We all know he can struggle. And we all know the individuals most interested by preventing him — Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones — can be large favorites to win.

However, I can’t assist however assume…what if he will get that struggle with Cormier, and one way or the other wins…whether or not it’s by by accident falling on DC, or maybe by bull-rushing him proper by means of the hyperlinks? What occurs if Lesnar then turns round and defends the heavyweight title at the finish of the yr? He did have that diverticulitis, you recognize, which sapped him of energy again when he was dropping in the UFC.

These are extremely stupefying “what ifs,” I understand. However he’s at present not ranked, that a lot is reality. I can assure you that, Shaun. He’s undoubtedly not ranked. And he if he comes again, it’ll be a struggle of extreme magnitude, solely the highest of stakes, thus paving the method for him to interrupt on again by way of with one massive upset. Is that this an extended shot? The full-length of the courtroom, my man, and it’s veering left. Nonetheless, you by no means know.

Al-Shatti: Wow. Simply wow. You finished modified the guidelines on me, Chuck. That Lesnar decide… I need to admit, that was a shrewd transfer.

You painted the corners with a curveball there, however I’m a grizzled veteran of this fantasy drafting recreation — I can regulate on the fly. And by abandoning our prospect standards, you’ve opened the door for me to nab what could possibly be the steal of the draft with my final decide.

And for the sixth and ultimate decide of the 2019 prospect draft…Staff Al-Shatti selects…oh my…no…it’s not…YES… IT’S BEN ASKREN!

Ben Askren

ONE Championship

Ha. Oh sure.

Chuck, let’s be trustworthy right here — and I feel you’d agree — 2019 is shaping as much as be Funky’s yr. Hell, with Tyron Woodley speaking a few potential transfer to middleweight, there’s an opportunity Ben Askren is wrapped in UFC gold by December. How about that?!

What a turnaround for the man who was as soon as persona non grata in UFC circles. From the outhouse to the penthouse — the phrase has by no means match higher. Out of the blue Funky Ben is Dana White’s favourite new toy, and with a March 2nd date already in place towards Robbie Lawler at UFC 235, mixed with Askren’s clear want to make up for misplaced time, there’s a really sensible timeline on the market the place this man serves as the final spoiler in 2019. Not solely does he speak the sort of massive recreation that lends itself to big-time UFC matchmaking, however his type — at the least up thus far in his profession — has been so dominant that he’s barely ever been touched. Clearly that would and certain will change as Askren works his means up the ladder, however even nonetheless, “Funky” has the potential to personal the 170-pound dialog in 2019.

I used to be initially debating between Nasrat Haqparast, Kron Gracie, and the returning Sean O’Malley. However getting a worth decide like this with the remaining choice of the draft? Sure please.


Whose group is extra more likely to function the 2019 Breakthrough Fighter of the Yr?

  • 23%

    Gregor Gillipsie + Geoff Neal + Brock Lesnar

    (13 votes)

  • 76%

    Vicente Luque + Sabina Mazo + Ben Askren

    (42 votes)

55 votes complete

Vote Now

In previous editions of The Great Divide, Shaun Al-Shatti and Chuck Mindenhall debated UFC 230’s essential occasion, Tyron Woodley’s UFC 228 dilemma, Daniel Cormier’s potential retirement battle, the winner of the DJ-for-Askren commerce, the ill-fated Bellator 214 vs. UFC 233 duel, and the possibilities for a serious UFC 232 upset. Be a part of the debate in the feedback under!