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MMA Prospect Watch: UK Edition

After many years of punching below its weight in the sport of mixed martial arts, the UK has now established itself as a hotbed for talent at the highest levels. UK MMA prospects such as Tom Aspinall, Nathaniel Wood, and Arnold Allen have taken the MMA world by storm in recent years, and there’s a long pipeline of talent following in their footsteps. We’ve profiled some of the most promising prospects of the sport that are destined to reach new heights in the coming years.

The extraordinary expansion of mixed martial arts’ popularity across the globe in recent years has seen new and exciting developments in the sport, with MMA continuously pushing into new frontiers of mainstream popularity. Every year there are new waves of talent making their mark on leading promotions such as the UFC, Bellator, ONE Championship, and the Professional Fighters League (PFL).

The UK has a long history of producing fighting talent, so it’s almost surprising that it wasn’t until 2016 that a UFC title landed on British shores. However, in tune with the sports increasing mainstream popularity across the country, the depth of UK talent has deepened considerably in recent years, and, given this trend, rosters across all major promotions are now brimming with UK talent.

In 2021, it now seems inevitable that more championship titles, in the UFC and elsewhere, will soon follow. If you’re looking for a heads up on the next up-and-coming fighter that could bring fighting honours to your country, then Overtime Heroics has you covered. We’re profiling some of the top fighting MMA prospects from the UK that we believe have the potential to become household names in the coming years.

Fighters covered will range from title holders, top-level contenders, and rising MMA prospects outside of the UFC. This list is by no means exhaustive and, of course, there are many other fighters who deserve to be included. We’d love to hear your thoughts on who we’ve missed!

UK MMA Prospects To Watch

Jake ‘White Kong’ Hadley (7-0)
Fearless MMA
Last fought for: Cage Warriors
Age: 24

Jake Hadley is the latest talent to emerge from Birmingham’s fastest rising MMA gym, Fearless MMA, which has produced stars such as Leon Edwards and Fabian Edwards in recent years. Although just 24, Hadley’s 7-0 pro record has already seen him capture both the Cage Warriors and EFC flyweight championship belts.

Hadley is a complete fighter, securing victories via multiple submissions and TKOs in his seven-fight professional career. His last fight was in December 2020, capturing the title via a dominant decision victory over Luke Shanks. Hadley has been dominant under the Cage Warriors’ banner and has indicated he may return to action in June 2021.

A contract with a major organisation seems certain in the near future, and Hadley is confident that he can continue his success. “I’m the new breed of fighter with a high fight IQ and nobody’s got a chance of touching me here in Europe,” he told GiveMeSport in February 2021.

@MMAStatsGuy says: Jake Hadley is ranked #2 among UK flyweights (via Tapology). At just 24 years of age, his future in the sport is bright.

Leah ‘The Curse’ McCourt (4-1)
SBG Charlestown
Last fought for: Bellator
Age: 28

Northern Ireland’s Leah McCourt has been a favourite of UK and Irish fans for several years but reached new heights in her most recent fight; a high profile Bellator main event clash with Judith Ruis in early 2020.

The 28-year-old SBG Charlestown standout recovered from her pro debut loss under Cage Warriors, relocating to Dublin to train with Owen Roddy – the striking coach well known to fight fans for his role in the success of Ireland’s Straight Blast Gym. The move has reaped its rewards, and “The Curse” has now won four straight fights (3-0 Bellator), and is now one of, if not the single, brightest MMA prospect on the landscape of UK women’s MMA.

With names such as Brent Primus and Kiefer Crosbie fighting on her undercard, McCourt has had much more mainstream success than most fighters that could be considered an MMA prospect. However, with McCourt’s hopes set firmly on a bout with Bellator’s featherweight champion and MMA icon, Cris Cyborg, the 28-year-old is on the brink of reaching new heights in the coming years. She has recently signed a new deal with Bellator, and while it’s uncertain when exactly McCourt will return to the cage, she suggested it could be “soon” in a cryptic tweet in February 2021.

@MMAStatsGuy says: Leah McCourt is an accomplished grappler, holding a black belt in Judo and a brown belt in BJJ. She’s also won the 2016 IMMAF World Championship. Proficient!

Paddy ‘The Baddy’ Pimblett (15-3)
Next Generation UK (15-3)
Last fought for: Cage Warriors
Age: 26

A highly-touted MMA prospect for several years, you’d be forgiven for forgetting that former Cage Warriors featherweight champion Paddy Pimblett is just 26-years of age. “The Baddy” has amassed an impressive 15 professional wins over high-profile names, such as UFC fighter Julian Erosa, and with his most recent via first-round KO of Ireland’s Decky Dalton. Paddy’s all-action style and penchant for dynamic finishes have made him one of the UK’s most exciting fighters outside of the two biggest promotions.

After high expectations that he would kickstart a well-deserved UFC run in 2017, “The Baddy” endured two disappointing losses to Nad Narimani and Soren Bak. Pimblett returned to winning ways in March 2020, however, and has more recently indicated he is open to signing for the world’s biggest MMA promotion.

Although Pimblett has been on the frontier of UK MMA for many years, he nonetheless remains an exciting MMA prospect for the future. Fighting out of Liverpool, Pimblett is set to take on Italy’s Davide Martinez in March 2021, in a fight that would put him in line for a run at the top.

@MMAStatsGuy says: Paddy’s 15 professional wins have an average fight time of just six minutes and 17 seconds.

Chris ‘The Problem’ Duncan (7-0)
MXP Fitness
Last fought for: Bellator
Age: 27

Scotland’s Chris Duncan joined Bellator in 2019 and has amassed a 3-0 record for the promotion. His most recent victory, a tough challenge from Guinea-Bissau’s Iamik Furtado, saw Chris showcase beautiful striking combinations to achieve one of the most impressive finishes of his career.

The former shepherd turned pro in 2018 and hasn’t wasted any time with an undefeated record and seven successive finishes. He’s spent time with American Top Team (ATT) in the US and plans to return in the future, travel restrictions permitting.

Speaking in February on his future, Duncan said “I’d like to get four or five more fights under my belt, attack that top ten and start challenging for belts” (via a Q&A on his Youtube channel).

Duncan confirmed this to Overtime Heroics, saying that he’s looking to fight as soon as possible and plans to stay busy going forward. Although his focus remains on delivering “as many fights as possible and highlight-reel knockouts” he called for a fight with fellow Bellator fighter Kiefer Crosbie as his next opponent.

Having made short work of all challenges he has faced to date inside the cage, a step up in competition and profile in the form of Crosbie, a big name from Ireland’s famous Straight Blast Gym, could be the breakthrough fight that ‘The Problem’ needs at this stage of his career.

Whether in the form of Crosbie or another Bellator fighter, Duncan is on a fast-track trajectory to achieve big things in the coming years.

@MMAStatsGuys says: Chris “The Problem” Duncan, who has amassed a 100% finishing rate in his pro career, used to be a shepherd in Perthshire, central Scotland.

Luke ‘The Gent’ Trainer (4-0)
Titan Fighter
Last fought for: Bellator
Age: 25

Luke Trainer has made waves recently on the MMA landscape due to his impressive performances and ultra-positive attitude, which struck a chord with fans in his post-fight interview, and found viral fame.

Following his promotional debut, Trainer told reporters that his eyes were set firmly on championship gold, but he wasn’t prepared to rush his development: “I’m not about to call out Phil Davis, Ryan Bader, or Vadim Nemkov. I need a few more fights to show Bellator I’m good to go for the belt. The belt is my goal – to be world champion is my one and only goal in the sport, so anything to get me there, I’m going to take it.”

In addition to his positive outlook, the towering 6”6 Londoner appears to have the skills and attributes to rise through the ranks of the Bellator light heavyweight division. He recently signed with one of the biggest agencies in MMA, Paradigm Sports, and with the recently signed 2021 television deal between Bellator and the BBC, we may see a big promotional push for UK fighters. Having turned 24 in February 2021, expectations are high that Trainer can progress quickly from exciting prospect status to established contender in the coming years.

@MMAStatsGuys says: The Gent’s promotional debut was the joint-quickest finish on the card at just one minute and 22 seconds. Quick work!

Jack Cartwright (9-0)
SBG Manchester
Last fought for: Cage Warriors
Age: 26

Cage Warriors Bantamweight Champion Jack Cartwright is unquestionably one of the UK’s most exciting MMA prospects, with his most recent first-round submission win extending his professional record to 9-0.

Cartwright is just the latest in a line of fighting talent from Greater Manchester and the combination of his specialised skillset and fight experience at just 26 years of age makes him one of the UK’s most exciting MMA prospects. The bantamweight’s wrestling credentials are uncommon amongst UK fighters, while three of nine pro victories via first-round TKO demonstrates that Cartwright is a complete martial artist.

His latest victory came in September 2020 via a first-round submission.

While a contract with a major organisation is almost overdue – Cartwright could arguably debut in the UFC or Bellator against a ranked opponent – it seems inevitable that Jack will be in a strong position to make a run at the highest levels of the game in the not-too-distant future.

@MMAStatsGuy says: Eight of Jack’s nine victories have come via finish. Despite five submission wins, he’s never used the same submission twice. Versatile.

Charlotte McIntyre (1-0)
Great Britain Top Team
Last fought for: Bellator
Age: 25

Charlotte McIntyre grew up in New Zealand, but after discovering a love of Mixed Martial Arts in the UK, decided to stay in the country to pursue a career in the sport. Under the tutelage of British MMA pioneer Brad Pickett under Great Britain Top Team, McIntyre quickly made a name for herself on the amateur scene, becoming Cage Warriors Academy South East bantamweight and featherweight champion.

After just four years of training, she made her pro debut on one of the biggest stages possible, Bellator’s November 2019 London event, winning via an impressive TKO.

Speaking on her future following her impressive pro debut victory, McIntyre was bullish. “Onwards and upwards,” she said. “I’ve never turned down a fight.”

At 27 years of age, she is approaching her athletic prime and is in a strong position to tackle Bellator’s featherweight division. She told Overtime Heroics that she’s hoping to be an active competitor for Bellator when she returns. When asked about big fights down the line, McIntyre called for another fighter on this list: “After a couple of fights, Leah McCourt would be a good matchup,” she said. The prospect of these two meeting in the cage is certainly an exciting one for UK fans to look forward to.

@MMAStatsGuy says: Charlotte is the latest in a string of talent from Brad Pickett’s Great British Top Team in Hertfordshire. GBBT is certainly a team to keep an eye on.

Dan Collins (4-0)
South Coast MMA
Last fought for: UEA Warriors
Age: 31

Lightweight fighter Dan Collins was one of only a handful of British MMA prospects that was able to fight during a turbulent year for the sport in 2020, but the East Sussex local was able to secure the biggest win of his career against a highly rated opponent by travelling internationally for the UAE Warriors promotion.

Collins made his professional debut in 2019 and has quickly achieved an impressive 4-0 record, finishing all four opponents.

His background in striking is complimented by a strong ground game, which has featured heavily in his recent professional wins. In his latest outing, he overcame the hometown favourite Mohammad Yahya at UAE Warriors 14 with a second-round D’Arce choke submission finish.

Collins is certainly a prospect to watch in the future. The profile of UAE Warriors’ has risen substantially in 2020, helped by the arrival of the UFC’s so-called ‘Fight Island’ on the shores of the United Arab Emirates.

Speaking on his future to Overtime Heroics, Collins said that his ambitions for the future are to “stay active, get some wins, and get paid.”

“If I keep winning then people will have to take notice and I can get onto one of the major shows,” he said.

Collins is happy with UAE Warriors and has a title shot in his crosshairs. “In my last fight out there I finished a good fighter who had fought for Bellator a couple of times and who they were grooming for a title shot, so I definitely want a big fight next and don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t be fighting for the title,” he said.                  

With two wins already under the promotion, the English MMA prospect has proven that he should have some major fights lined up in the not-too-distant future.

@MMAStatsGuy says In his pro career, Dan is yet to see the third round. His four fights have ended via TKO, KO, KO, and submission. Lethal. 

Brendan Loughnane (19-3)
Manchester Predators
Last fought for: Professional Fighters League (PFL)
Age: 31

Brendan Loughnane is more firmly established amongst the top UK MMA athletes than many of the MMA prospects on this list, but despite his impressive record, Loughnane has missed out on the recognition that his hard-fought career deserves. He entered The Ultimate Fighter reality TV show at the age of just 22, losing to eventual winner Norman Parke in the semi-finals, and has been knocking on the door of the UFC’s featherweight division ever since.

Despite seeming certain to make a well-earned UFC run after a dominant 2019 victory on Dana White’s Contender Series – a proving ground for the UFC hopefuls – he was surprisingly denied another shot in the promotion.

Loughnane has quickly made a name for himself in the Professional Fighters League (PFL) and is the sole UK representative in the prestigious eight-man tournament taking place in 2021. With a chance to take on the PFL featherweight division this year, including highly-rated champion Lance Palmer, he’s certainly an MMA prospect that UK fans should be watching this year.

“I’m going to achieve great things in MMA. That comes with a price and it’s a price I’m willing to pay,” he told BBC Sport in 2019. Loughnane will fight Brazil’s Sheymon Moraes (11-4) in April 2021.

@MMAStatsGuy says: Brendan has fought, on average, 2.5 times per year since his amateur debut, which he won via first-round TKO. Young veteran

Looking Ahead

2020 was a tough year for fighters across the world and has caused brief intermissions for the careers of many up-and-coming talents. There is hope that 2021 will bring clearer skies on the horizon, and, with this optimism in mind, the UK MMA landscape has never looked brighter in terms of its pool of talent.

However long it takes for a regular competition schedule to return to the country, there is certainly plenty to be excited about.

Follow me on Twitter @MMAStatsGuy for data-driven MMA analysis, breaking news, and general discussion. Also, make sure to follow @OT_Heroics for all of your sporting needs. Don’t forget @OTHeroicMMA for all things MMA.

Featured Image Credit to Embed from Getty Images

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