The BBC MMA Show podcast recently asked former UFC contender Dan Hardy and fight journalist Nick Peet to name the MMA talent they believe will burst onto the scene in 2018.
While some of the names may be new to you, Dan and Nick’s ones-to-watch list is packed with hard-hitters and knockout artists, so don’t be surprised if a few of these names pop up on your MMA radar at some point this year.
“Top of the list for me has to be Nathaniel Wood,” says Dan Hardy. “He’s the current bantamweight Cage Warriors champion and he looks incredible.”
Wood, who hails from Morden in South London has a 12-win record with just three losses to his name and has fought in both BAMMA and Bellator promotions.
“He’s got the chat. He’s got the swagger. He’s obviously got the skills and his last fight at Cage Warriors 86 was just wild.”
“It’s only a matter of time before Nathaniel Wood gets his opportunity and people really understand his capabilities. He’s my first pick because I feel he’ll be one of the quickest to crack the international market.”
Liverpool’s MMA lightweight Tim Barnett was described by fellow scouser Nick Peet as someone who’s “fully dedicated to the sport.”
“This guy’s a fully-blown vegan” Nick said, putting Barnett among the likes of other vegan fighters such as Nate Diaz and Alex Caceres. “He lives a very clean lifestyle."
Barnett has a 100% win ratio in his professional career with five wins from five, and although Nick doesn’t think we’ll see him in the UFC in 2018, he still thinks the Liverpudlian is worth keeping a close eye on.
“If he’s ever on a BAMMA show near to you, I urge you to get out and see him because this guy is going to be a superstar.”
“A heavily muscled, heavily tattooed Viking” - that’s how Dan Hardy describes Norwegian fighter Kenneth Bergh.
The 6ft 2in Bergh is one of many Norwegian fighters making an impact on the world of MMA, and joins UFC’s Emil Meek as one of the hot prospects coming out of Norway.
“There’s just a wave coming from that side of the world at the moment and I do feel like Kenneth Bergh is a big part of that,” Hardy says. “They’re just starting to scrape the surface of their capabilities.”
Bergh is unbeaten in his professional career, racking up six victories, and has won most of his fights by submission with guillotine chokes.
“Domestic fight fans will be aware of this guy because his record is a highlight reel”, says Nick.
Not as invincible as other fighters on this list, but Nick reckons Davis, 25, is on the right path to becoming a great in the sport.
“He actually lost his last fight – he’s got a 9-2 record – but I’ve been tipping this guy for a while and the fact that he’s just suffered his first defeat, means he’s fighting the right opponents - so it’s not a loss, it’s a learn.”
“He’s definitely a kid I can see coming in on late notice for a UFC fight on the back of 2018.”
Nick predicts Liverpool’s Molly McCann will make quite the mark in 2018.
“Molly’s making waves for herself. Cage Warriors is coming back to Liverpool in February and I think she’s headlining that in a world title fight.”
Nicknamed ‘Meatball’, McCann has a 6-1 record and has been known to spar and work pads with some of Liverpool’s best boxers.
“She’s in the women's flyweight division which means opportunity knocks pretty quickly. I think if she can win that Cage Warriors world title, it won’t be long before the UFC come calling.”
“The thing that stood out to me is how similar he is to Mirko Cro Cop,” says Dan Hardy. “Funnily enough, his nickname is Robocop.”
Croatia’s Mirko Filipovic AKA Mirko Cro Cop, is a former UFC heavyweight, widely recognised as one of the best fighters to come out of the Balkans - hence the comparisons with upcoming Bosnian fighter Roberto Soldic.
“Soldic is a mirror image of Cro Cop but a far more finely-tuned and well-conditioned athlete in my opinion.”
Hardy describes the 22-year-old as “a big, powerful welterweight” and draws another comparison to current UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley.
“I just think that he’s going to be the kind of guy you see in the UFC playing that Tyron Woodley game a bit, waiting and waiting and setting people up for that big knockout.”
“He’s on a seven-fight win streak at the moment and without a doubt, one to watch.”
Born in Lagos, Nigeria but fighting out of New Zealand, Adesanya is a fighter Nick thinks will step into the UFC octagon soon.
The middleweight fighter boasts an impressive 11-0 record and with a nickname such as ‘The Style Bender,’ we don’t know what they’re waiting for.
“He’s beaten guys that have actually been signed by the UFC now. This guy is sensational to watch. An absolute finisher. Israel Adesanya – coming to the UFC soon.”
Originally published 26 January 2018.