With Ultimate Fighting Championship being the first major sport to come back since the outbreak of Coronavirus, I think now’s the best time to look at some new rising stars who could become title holders in the coming years.

Words By Will Vo

Manel Kape:

Image Credit: Bloody Elbow

On 30 March 2020, AKA Thailand released a photograph of Manel Kape holding a UFC contract. With that, the former Rizin bantamweight champion was ready to face the best of either the ultra-competitive bantamweight division or the flyweight division, which has finally found its king in Deiveson Figueiredo.

As of writing this, Kape has a 15-4 record and is on a three-fight, all knockout win streak: including his second-round finish of Kai Asakura which won him the vacant title and avenged his 2018 split decision defeat. Looking at his record, he has only one victory by decision, a testament to his finishing instinct; the versatility of which is evident through his nine knockout wins and five submissions. There are some question marks, however. 

Firstly, in Rizin he fought in a ring, as opposed to the cage that he will be competing in at UFC. The key difference here is the fact that a ring allows a fighter to more effectively cut off their opponent, due to the corners and ropes. This would benefit a power puncher like Kape, who can unload when his opponent is in the corner. Secondly, Kape wears shoes in Rizin, which allows more grip, akin to that of a pure boxer. Transitioning into the UFC will mean Kape has to fight barefoot; and whilst the difference is marginal, at the highest level, marginal differences can be crucial.

Image Credit: MMA Weekly

Stylistically, the man nicknamed “Prodigio” is an athletically gifted stand-up artist, boasting good boxing and very heavy hands. Looking at how he matches up with individual fighters is difficult as we don’t know which division he will fight in; however, there were rumours of a bantamweight debut so we can look at how he would fit in there.

It seems his power gives him a chance against anyone. However the 135lb division is somewhat of a shark tank right now, and they’re certainly wouldn’t be any easy fights. Should Kape crack the top 15 (which I think he will), he would be entering a group of fighters that could potentially capitalise on any defensive grappling deficiencies Kape may have. However, there would also be opportunities for success, as the likes of Rob Font and Song Yadong would most likely fight the Angolan on the feet, which is his bread and butter.

So, why is he one to watch?

Firstly, he is a former world champion who is willing to test himself in a new division, with a new ruleset, in a new promotion, and that is admirable.

Secondly, Kape possesses a charismatic personality; and his trash talk, self-confidence and pre-fight antics will add a level of excitement to his fights that won’t be found everywhere else. Finally, and most importantly, Kape’s style is explosive and exciting. His power and desire to throw heavy shots makes every fight a must-see, and against the most skilled fighters that the UFC has to offer, it’s a recipe for some incredible action.

Jiri Prochazka:

Image Credit: UFC

Owner of a 9-fight knockout streak, former Rizin Champion “Denisa” proved that his skills translate from the ring, and into the UFC’s famous Octagon, with a second-round finish of perennial top 10 Volkan Oezdemir.

Volkan was riding high after back to back victories over Ilir Latifi and hot prospect Alexsandar Rakic, as well as a controversial split decision defeat to Dominick Reyeswhen he stepped into the octagon on Fight Island to take on Prochazka. After an eventful first round, in which Jiri’s hands-down, reflex oriented style led to a couple of scares; it took less than a minute of round two for the Czech light heavyweight to put an end to Oezdemir.

Now, why is he one to watch in the future? Firstly, it is important to look at the skillset Prochazka provides. He is a rangy striker, with heavy hands and quick reflexes; and this alone would stylistically stand him in good stead against the stand-up heavy light-heavyweight division.

Looking at his fellow top ten competitors, Prochazka looks like he can be a real problem for absolutely anyone in the division, particularly due to his cardio. As was highlighted in his fight in Japan against newly crowned Bellator champion and Fedor Emelianenko protege Vadim Nemkov, who’s exhaustion following their ten (yes ten) minute round prevented him from getting off his stool.

A potential fight for Prochazka could be against either Aleksandar Rakic or Anthony Smith; and I believe that stylistically, Prochazka matches up well against both. Firstly, Rakic fights mostly from the outside, using his 6’5 frame to set up big high kicks. Rakic is still inexperienced at 12-2, and therefore, there is a lot we don’t know about him, but trying to beat Prochazka from the outside is a recipe for disaster, especially if he can’t find the kind of shot, he used to put away Jimi Manuwa. 

Image Credit: Asian MMA

Anthony Smith showed a change in style against Glover Teixeira, and became a pure volume striker; at least for the first one and a half rounds. He then showed everyone why he wasn’t a volume striker previously, because he gassed out and allowed a 40-year-old Glover Teixeira to take two 10-8 rounds, and then stop Smith in the 5th, at least two rounds past the point that Smith had anything left to offer. There are multiple things to look at in terms of this potential match up. 

Firstly, it is difficult to pick anyone against Prochazka if they have noticeable stamina issues. Secondly, following the Teixeira fight, there have to be questions raised over the damage, both psychologically and physically, done to Smith. Against someone with the pure power of Prochazka, any vulnerability has to be noted, and a situation where Smith charges in and gets knocked out is certainly not out of the question. Overall, there is an entirely feasible chance that Jiri captures the Light heavyweight belt, in the not too distant future.

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