Every champion in MMA history started out somewhere.
For those who make it to the highest stage, the journey begins long before they strap on UFC or Bellator gloves. Modern-era fighters progress through the regional ranks with hopes of accomplishing the highest accolades. Many will try, few will succeed.
This month, five fighters on the verge of achieving major promotion notoriety – one for the second time – return to the cage for what could be their stepping stone fight. There are dozens of fighters close to making the jump in the coming weeks, but these five are particularly exemplary.
A second-generation mixed martial artist could obtain LFA champ champ status – and a subsequent major promotional phone call shortly thereafter.
A Pitbull Brothers protege continues to build on his experience as he travels across the ocean to battle for a South African title.
An undefeated Canadian fighter hopes to make up for lost time, and a lost Dana White’s Contender Series opportunity, with her first LFA title win.
One of the highest-touted flyweight prospects in the world hopes to continue his domination as he tears through the CFFC scene.
An under-the-radar Titan FC champion thinks a sixth-straight victory could propel him into the ranks of the UFC.
Background: For some families, martial arts runs are a bloodline pastime. For [autotag]Josh Silveira[/autotag], his family’s lineage in MMA is perhaps a little more prominent. His father, Conan Silveira, is a former UFC fighter and one of the top coaches at world-renowned gym American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Fla. Since he was born, Josh Silveira has spent time on the mats of the gym around some of the baddest men and women on the planet. Being born into a highly-connected MMA family has had its advantages, though perhaps not as many as some people may think. Focused on the marathon, not the race, Silveira has slowly ascended up the regional ladder. In April, he won his first LFA main event in 41 seconds and kept his 100 percent finishing rate and undefeated record alive. In September, he competed up a weight class and earned the LFA light heavyweight title. Friday, he’ll look to become a two-weight champion for the promotion.
The Skinny: Despite his dad’s notoriety in the sport, Silveira has had to work for everything he’s gotten. There’s no babying or preferential treatment. In fact, there’s been a lot of the opposite. But at the end of the day, Silveira has surrounded himself with the right people to craft a solid perspective. He’s worried more about becoming the best fighter possible than rushing for a UFC contract. He’s also competed at light heavyweight rather than middleweight to rid unnecessary weight-cutting in the early stages of his career. When it comes time for him to drop, Silveira will be used to fighting bigger opponents, which will be surely advantageous. He’s a finisher. He has the back story. He’s built the skills. He has one LFA title – and is on the verge of capturing a second. It’s only a matter of time until the Silveira’s become one of MMA’s few father-son combinations to have competed for a major promotion.
In his own words: “There’s only dreams to be chased and just things to get done in my book. If anything, my dad and I, we work and you don’t see this much with a lot of son and father combos. You always see it in the movies where they kind of are hazardous for each other. He understands where I’m at. He knows I’m a human and there’s no pressure, none of that stuff. If anything, we’re starting something together, you know?
“… The goal is to go whenever I’m accepted, whether it’s UFC, Bellator, PFL or any other great shows that will appear. The goal is to have a (long) career. The goal is to win, to be champion wherever I go and far, far, far most the goal is I want to take care of my people around me with using fighting. Fighting is small part of my life, a small part compared to a full life. When I’m like a grandfather and I have grandkids and things like that, fighting’s not that big when you compare it to your whole life. So for me, I just want to open doors with this thing where I could expand my knowledge, expand my lifestyle, expand good things for everybody.“
“… How I’ve seen things, how things first work the past four to five years are these big shows are relentless man. If you don’t come ready and you’re not ready to to to perform at an optimal level of performance and up to what they think is well for them, it’s harder to make it back into those shows once you get kicked out one time or fired or whatever the case is. So for me, I want to get that experience. I’m about to get a five-round experience, you know, and then from there, we take a step-by-step.”
Weight class: Featherweight
Birthplace: Itaja, Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil
Next Fight: Dec. 4 vs. August Kayambala (5-2) at EFC 91 in Johannesburg, South Africa (EFC TV)
Background: Inspired movie stars Bruce Lee and Claude Van Damm, [autotag]Reinaldo Ekson[/autotag] has long thought it’s his destiny to fight. Backyard recreations of movie fight scenes turned into a delve in capoeira. When his master moved away, Ekson ditched the sport for soccer. When a muay thai gym opened in town, Ekson joined and was reunited with his passion for practicing combat sports. His father initially would not let him compete, but the two agreed that would change when Ekson turned 18. After an 11-2 start to his muay thai career, Ekson transitioned to MMA.
The Skinny: Ekson is experienced, especially for a fighter 32 years old. Through his journeys across the globe, Ekson has had ups and downs but has come out better from all of them. Under the tutelage of the Pitbull Brothers, Ekson has crafted himself into a polished and well-rounded fighter, who would be a tough outing for featherweights in the UFC and Bellator today. If he goes into enemy territory and wins Saturday, I think a major promotion could come knocking. Heck, he already has a solid connection with Bellator, when you consider Patricio and Patricky’s championship lineages.
In his own words: “I’ve been hardened by life. I’ve had many difficulties in life, there were times I starved, had nothing to eat. I started working at 11 years old. All the experiences I went through up to here gave me a very strong mind. Nothing shakes me and my conviction in a better future and that I can be a champion in a major promotion. Just a couple weeks ago I was sparring after an entire night of working as an Uber driver and teaching a personal martial arts class in the morning. I’ve improved so much since I joined the Pitbull Brothers gym, I know I’ll be many times better when I’m able to dedicate entirely to being a fighter.”
“… Many times I caught myself thinking ‘it could be me (in the UFC), I’d finish this guy, I’d beat that one guy easily, I’m better than these guys and so on. I know once I’m there I’ll climb the rankings in a short time. … I certainly hope (this win gets me a call-up). On my last fight, I beat a guy everyone was writing would sign with the UFC. People were already writing me off, and I finished him in 92 seconds. I’m ready for this next step in my career and all I need is one opportunity to change my life and my family’s.”
This interview was conducted using a Portuguese interpreter.
Image via Iridium Sports Agency
Weight class: Flyweight
Birthplace: Squamish, British Columbia, Canada
Next Fight: Dec. 10 vs. Mayra Cantuaria (9-3-1) at LFA 120 in Prior Lake, Minn. (UFC Fight Pass)
Background: Growing up in Squamish, British Columbia [autotag]Jamey-Lyn Horth[/autotag] played any and all sports she could get her hands on. Through a friend and future UFC fighter Cole Smith, Horth found MMA as a way of cross-training for her collegiate softball career. Smith and his brother, Kasey, told Horth once she entered the gym, she’d have a difficult time getting herself to leave. They were right.
The Skinny: It’s four fights into her professional career and Horth has already established herself as one of the top women in Canadian mixed martial arts today. However, she’s been unable to prove how she stacks up against international talent as of late. The Battlefield Fight League champion was supposed to compete against Chelsea Hackett on Dana White’s Contender Series in November 2020. However, COVID-19-induced travel issues threw a wrench in the plans. Horth is already clearly on the UFC radar and winning an LFA title could push her over the top and into the promotion’s roster pool – where she belongs.
In his own words: “Knowing that the (DWCS) opportunity was right there, for me… I had to make a choice. Either I was all-in or all-out. That opportunity to be in the Contender Series was right there. I would never want to live the rest of my life being ‘What if?’ when I know that I belong and I have that offer there. I’m in their eyesight. I’ve spent this past year training a lot and really dove right deep into that. I’ve pretty much put all my eggs in this basket and I’m going to give it a full shot.”
“… I’m not a super cocky type of person, so I’m very hard on myself when it comes to these things. I’ve done a lot of research and watching fights to size myself up. My coaching staff and I are always watching the 125-pound division. I recently just made a move over to a new striking coach and he’s pretty confident in me, which is awesome. I know he can see us in the top 10, so it’s pretty cool to have that support backing. … It’ll only be a matter of time to show and see what I can put on that division.”
Image via Cage Fury Fighting Championships (CFFC)
Background: Phumi Nkuta’s love for mixed martial arts came only after his love for professional wrestling. As a child, Nkuta and his brother would watch their favorite athletes take each other on in the squared circle. In his teenage years, Nkuta found Ken Shamrock while flipping the channels. Shamrock wasn’t wrestling, no. He was fighting, really fighting – and that intrigued Nkuta. When he saw the belt wrapped around Tito Ortiz’s waist, Nkuta envisaged a new life goal. How he ended up at Serra Longo MMA is by chance. A flyer in the mail for Hofstra University changed his life trajectory. Rather than go to Tristar to pursue MMA, his mother pointed him in the direction of college – where he stumbled upon one of the world’s fast-rising gyms.
The Skinny: Nkuta is a main training partner of UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling, whom he lives with, as well as bantamweight contender Merab Dvalishvili. Although he’s only three fights into his professional career, Nkuta has already captured a major promotional title. He’s shown he’s capable of putting forth 20 solid minutes of fighting. It seems like the only thing holding Nkuta back is “experience.” While he has plenty in the gym as he’s been training for years, bumping himself up to 5-0 should boost him into an acceptable experience range for the UFC. Be it even the bare minimum experience level we’ve seen the promotion sign, Nkuta’s skills are definitely worthy of a UFC deal.
In his own words: “(In March), I called out Tim Elliott. I called Deiveson Figueiredo. I believe I also called out Kai Kara-France, man. At the end of the day, I don’t care what my record says. I know I’m one of the best in the world. I know that those guys couldn’t go through the same training that I go through. I know that those guys couldn’t spar the same way with Aljo and Merab that I can. As far as I’m concerned, I know that I’m only (4-0) but there’s a reason why I’m the CFFC flyweight champion of the world.”
“… Say what you will about my record. Say anything about me that you can statistically but at the end of the day, man, I’m one of the best. I prove it in the room. Ray Longo and Matt Serra also believe I’m one of the best in the world. … The only thing Mick Maynard needs to do is give me the call. The same goes for Dana White.”
Weight class: Welterweight
Next Fight: Dec. 19 vs. Marcus Edwards (13-5) at Titan FC 73 in Miami (UFC Fight Pass)
Background: After high school wrestling, [autotag]Dilano Taylor[/autotag] fell into MMA thanks to the suggestion of a grandfather of one of his teammates. At that time, Taylor had no job, but school was his focus. He vowed to begin training once he graduated – and that’s what he did. With no wrestling scholarship, Taylor entered the working world. To keep himself sane and feed his need for athletic competition, he joined American Top Team Fort Lauderdale. Four months into his training, Taylor took – and won – a fight on three days’ notice. The rest is history.
The Skinny: Throughout his professional career, Taylor has taken on the toughest of challenges – because they’re all that have been available. Taylor attributes the lack of opponents raising their hands to the quick spread of word of mouth on the South Florida MMA scene. Once it became known his talent level, no one cared about the low amount of fights on his record. This is a gift and a curse. Taylor has faced skilled opposition but has passed with flying colors. The current Titan FC welterweight champion, Taylor should get the UFC or Bellator call after his first title defense.
In his own words: “I feel like my character, overall, is what people are going to look out for. First, they’re going to enjoy the fighting style, plus I like to mix it up. I really like to go out there and do a little bit of everything. I like to go out there and surprise people a lot. I feel like my character and goofiness overall, though, are what people will resonate with the most.”
“… A UFC call will come with a win, 10 million percent. Ten million percent. … They’d be getting the postman, who is going to deliver. I’m going to deliver a show every single time. Just wait on it. I’ll back it up. I’ll back that claim up.”
Fighters worth watching who didn’t crack the list, yet are on the verge of something big:
[autotag]Richard Palencia[/autotag] (9-0) – Friday vs. Allan Begoso (6-0-1) at LFA119 in Phoenix (UFC Fight Pass)
[autotag]Allan Begoso[/autotag] (6-0-1) – Friday vs. Richard Palencia (9-0) at LFA119 in Phoenix (UFC Fight Pass)
[autotag]Jared Revel[/autotag] (11-2) – Friday vs. Josh Silveira (6-0) at LFA119 in Phoenix (UFC Fight Pass)
[autotag]Sandra Lavado[/autotag] (9-2) – Saturday vs. Sherlyn Sanchez (0-1) at FFC 48 in Mexico City
[autotag]Rodrigo Vera[/autotag] (11-1-1) – Saturday vs. Abimael Sagrero (0-0) at FFC 48 in Mexico City
[autotag]Jack Jenkins[/autotag] (7-2) – Sunday vs. Jason Petropolous (4-4) at Rouge MMA 1 in Kensington, Victoria, Australia
[autotag]George Hardwick[/autotag] (8-1) – Dec. 10 vs. Mehdi Ben Lakhdhar (5-0-1) at Cage Warriors 131 in London (UFC Fight Pass)
[autotag]Djati Melan[/autotag] (7-0) – Dec. 10 vs. Matthew Bonner (10-6-1) at Cage Warriors 131 in London (UFC Fight Pass)
[autotag]Matthew Bonner[/autotag] (10-6-1) – Dec. 10 vs. Djati Melan (7-0) at Cage Warriors 131 in London (UFC Fight Pass)
[autotag]Mayra Cantuaria[/autotag] (9-3-1) – Dec. 10 vs. Jamey-Lyn Horth (4-0) at LFA120 in Prior Lake, Minn. (UFC Fight Pass)
[autotag]Mayra Cantuaria[/autotag] (9-3-1) – Dec. 10 vs. Jamey-Lyn Horth (4-0) at LFA120 in Prior Lake, Minn. (UFC Fight Pass)
[autotag]Mike Figlak[/autotag] (6-0) – Dec. 11 vs. Stevie McIntosh (7-2) at Cage Warriors 132 in London (UFC Fight Pass)
[autotag]Sam Creasey[/autotag] (15-3) – Dec. 11 vs. Luke Shanks (8-3) at Cage Warriors 132 in London (UFC Fight Pass)
[autotag]Abdou Abdouragimov[/autotag] (12-1) – Dec. 11 vs. Allan Begoso (6-0-1) at ARES FC 2 in Paris
[autotag]Taylor Lapilus[/autotag] (12-1) – Dec. 11 vs. Wilson Reis (24-11) at ARES FC 2 in Paris
[autotag]Marcelo Marques[/autotag] (6-0) – Dec. 12 vs. Edson Souza (5-0) at Brazilian Fight Series 4 in San Bernando do Campo, Sao Paulo, Brazil
[autotag]Edson Souza[/autotag] (5-0) – Dec. 12 vs. Marcelo Marques (6-0) at Brazilian Fight Series 4 in San Bernando do Campo, Sao Paulo, Brazil
[autotag]Maike Linhares[/autotag] (15-3) – Dec. 12 vs. Michel Lima (17-3) at Brazilian Fight Series 4 in San Bernando do Campo, Sao Paulo, Brazil
[autotag]Michel Lima[/autotag] (17-3) – Dec. 12 vs. Maike Linhares (15-3) at Brazilian Fight Series 4 in San Bernando do Campo, Sao Paulo, Brazil
[autotag]Dean Barry[/autotag] (3-1) – Dec. 17 vs. Hugo Prada (8-4) at Titan FC 73 in Miami (UFC Fight Pass)
[autotag]Alberto Montes[/autotag] (5-0) – Dec. 17 vs. Joel Silva (15-9) at Titan FC 73 in Miami (UFC Fight Pass)
[autotag]Brandt Dewsbery[/autotag] (15-3-1) – Dec. 17 vs. KB Bhullar (9-3) at Unified MMA 42 in Enoch, Alberta, Canada (UFC Fight Pass)
[autotag]Graham Park[/autotag] (8-2) – Dec. 17 vs. Mariusz Ksiazkiewicz (9-3) at Unified MMA 42 in Enoch, Alberta, Canada (UFC Fight Pass)