Below are the Top 20 UFC Prospects of 2009, #11-#20. This 2-page article begins with the Top 10, for a more enjoyable reading experience for you. To see the Top 10 Prospects, click here. If you want to read #11-#20 first, there is another link at the bottom of this page that takes you to the Top 10 page.
11.) Paulo Thiago
Last year: 2-1
Paulo Thiago started the year off right with a Knockout of the Night and major upset over top ranked Josh Koscheck. The picture above just shows how much power he can posess as he KO’ed Koscheck with a quick, short uppercut. Regardless of that win, Paulo is primarily a grappler. At UFC 100 Paulo came up short on a hard fought decision against another top contender, Jon Fitch, resulting in his first and only loss. In his next fight against a very game newcomer named Jacob Volkmann at UFC 106, Paulo won a unanimous decision in an exciting, action-packed fight where he displayed both his striking and superior grappling. If Paulo can prove his KO over “Kos” wasn’t a fluke in his rematch at UFC 109, the welterweight division might be finding themselves a new top contender. He’s going to have to train even harder for this fight, because this time around Koscheck is likely to be a lot more prepared and hungry for the win.
12.) Gleison Tibau
Last year: 3-1
As one of the largest lightweights in UFC history, Tibau already comes into the Octagon with a definitive size advantage over most opponents, sometimes weighing over 180 pounds at fight time. Gleison has come a long way since debuting in 2006 and losing to Nick Diaz, Joe Stevenson, and Tyson Griffin. He has re-emerged over the last year going 3-1 in 2009. First he beat Rich Clementi at Ultimate Fight Night: Lauzon vs. Stephens by guillotine in the first round, next moving on to a unanimous decision win over Jeremy Stephens at Ultimate Fight Night: Condit vs. Kampmann. Tibau was on a roll until his close split decision loss to the much improved Melvin Guillard at The Ultimate Fighter 9 Finale. His last fight of 2009 against the always tough UFC veteran Josh Neer, who holds wins over Guillard, Stevenson, Mac Danzig, and Din Thomas, Gleison decisively won by tossing Neer around almost at will and dictating the fight. This fight showed that he is still getting better, but also still has work to do on his striking game. He is only 26 years old and trains at a great camp at American Top Team, and looks to be a force in the near future. Unfortunately, since he’s so big, he may eventually wind up in the welterweight division, and that makes it impossible for me to determine how successful his UFC career will be.
13.) Chael Sonnen
Last year: 3-1
As a 2-time National Wrestling Champion, NCAA All-American, and US Olympic Team alternate, Chael Sonnen is not only one of the most accomplished wrestlers in the 185-pound division, but also has a wealth of MMA experience under his belt to go along with. Over the years, Sonnen has had his up and downs, at some points being a top fighter in his weight class, and at other times looking a bit “washed up”. However, 2009 proved to be a successful and revealing year for him. It seems he is training harder and becoming a little more consistent. His impressive victory over previously undefeated WEC Middleweight Champion, Paulo Filho a little over a year ago got him a UFC welcome against another Brazilian Jiu-jitsu phenom, Demian Maia at UFC 95. Unfortunately for Sonnen, Maia’s world class grappling proved to be too much for him as he was submitted in the first round.
Although losing to Maia is nothing to beat yourself up over, Sonnen redeemed himself by beating his next two opponents, Dan Miller and Yushin Okami, at UFC 98 and UFC 104, respectively. His unanimous decision over Dan Miller was one thing, but the absolute domination of the top ranked Yushin Okami was simply amazing. Nobody has dominated Okami that way, not even Rich Franklin. His loss to Maia decreases his rating, however, if his other three performances over the last 13 months are any indication of things to come from Sonnen, the middleweight division could soon have a new #1 contender. We will find out soon enough as he is set to take on #3 contender, Nate Marquardt, at UFC 109.
14.) Carlos Condit
Last year: 1-1
Carlos Condit may not look like a frightening person, but this young prospect fights with so much intensity you would think his opponent killed his mom. As the former 4-time WEC Welterweight Champion, holding a perfect 5-0 record in the organization before the division was scrapped, Condit was brought up to the UFC to debut against a tough rising prospect in Martin Kampmann in what was destined to be an action-packed fight. It turned out to live up to the hype as the fight was back-and-forth all throughout with both fighters having their moments. Carlos gave it his all but came up short according to 2 of the judges as he lost a split decision. His next fight was very similar. At UFN 19 he was set to face UFC newcomer Jake Ellenberger. In this close nail-biting decision Carlos won over 2 of the judges and was awarded the split decision win. Both fights with Kampmann and Ellenberger could have easily gone either way.
Condit looks to have all the tools to be great. At only 25 years old he’s already had 29 fights, never being knocked out, and finishing 23 out of his 24 wins. He may want to look at possibly switching camps, and getting a new training environment. The potential this young prospect has is incredible.
15.) Alan Belcher
Last year: 2-1
Alan Belcher has sort of been and “on and off” type prospect for a couple of years now. Being a little inconsistent in the past, it was apparent Belcher was perhaps not living up to his full potential. However, 2009 was a much better year for the young prospect. Kicking it off was his impressive second round victory over a very hyped Denis Kang by guillotine at UFC 93, winning Submission of the Night in the process. Next was his Fight of the Night over another hyped fighter from overseas, Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 100 where he lost a close split decision in an exciting war by both men. Losing a split decision to someone like Akiyama doesn’t hold a whole lot of water in terms of it being a negative thing. Belcher most definitely made this apparent in his next fight (yet another Fight of the Night) at UFC 107 against the always dangerous Wilson Gouveia in an all-out brawl where Belcher emerged victorious in the first round after finally knocking Gouveia to the canvas to win by a vicious TKO. If Belcher keeps at the sport, he is destined for success. He is only 25 years old and posesses KO power in both his hands and his feet, as well as some ever-improving ground skills.
16.) Ricardo Almeida
Last year: 2-0
Ricardo Almeida is a 3rd degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu under Renzo Gracie. If that isn’t enough he has spent his entire MMA career fighting in big league organizations like the UFC, PRIDE, and Pancrase, and holds 8 notable grappling awards. Almeida has fought in the UFC before but is just now starting to get it together. After losing a split decision to Patrick Cote , Almeida went on to beat Matt Horwich and Kendall Grove both by unanimous decision. He now plans to move down to the welterweight division and he could pose some big problems to the top contenders at 170 if he trains hard. Almeida holds notable victories over Kazuo Misaki, Nate Marquardt, Ryo Chonan, Akira Shoji, and Ikuhisa Minowa.
17.) Mark Bocek
Last year: 3-0
Who? Mark Bocek? Kind of sounds familiar…maybe… – – is that what you’re thinking? If so, I don’t blame you. Bocek is virtually unknown by most fans right now but he has quietly been putting his opponents to sleep one by one over the last year. Bocek has gone 3-0 since last November, winning all of his fights by rear naked choke. His first victim was top notch grappler Alvin Robinson at UFC 91 where Bocek choked him out in the third round. Next on his list was David Bielkheden at UFC 91 where Bielkheden didn’t even make it out of the first round. Joe Brammer didn’t do much better either at the TUF 10 Finale where he too lost in the first round, earning Bocek Submission of the Night.
Bocek trains at American Top Team and is one of Canada’s first Brazilian Jiu-jitsu black belts ever. Expect him to make some noise in the division in the future, but don’t expect him to make much noise in terms of personality or character, as he seems to be a very soft spoken and shy person. Though his BJJ is so technical and fun to watch, he may not need a gimmicky personality to be a fan favorite one day.
18.) Stefan Struve
Last year: 3-1
At just 21 years old and standing 6 feet 11 inches tall, Stefan Struve has some of the best potential in the UFC Heavyweight division. Already having 22 fights under his belt with only 1 decision, Struve is already making a statement and telling the MMA world that he is taking this sport seriously. His UFC debut was unfortunate as he was knocked out by the rising talent Junior Dos Santos in the first round, however, Struve has gone 3-0 since then in his come-from-behind second round rear naked choke victory over Denis Stojnic at UFC 99, a first round Submission of the Night over the previously undefeated Chase Gormley at UFC 104, and finally his most recent win over MMA veteran Paul Buentello at UFC 107 by majority decision – – his first decision ever. Struve has a long career ahead of him and he’s only going to get better. Add in his unusual size and this kid could one day be an unstoppable beast in the UFC Heavyweight division.
19.) Ryan Bader
Weight: Light Heavyweight
Last year: 3-0
Hailing as the TUF 8 winner, this young undefeated prospect looks to have the most potential out of any TUF competitor since the early seasons that featured future champions and contenders Rashad Evans, Forrest Griffin, Diego Sanchez, Josh Koscheck, Kenny Florian, etc. The aforementioned fighters are the cream of the crop when it comes to TUF talent, and Bader may be on his way to joining their ranks as he looks to be following a similar path as Rashad with his dominant wrestling and improving striking. Being 10-0, obviously he didn’t lose this year, despite facing two very tough “welcome fights” against top notch wrestler Carmelo Marrero, and dangerous submission artist Eric Shafer, winning both fights by unanimous decision.
He faces a very tough challenge against a dangerous and experienced Keith Jardine at UFC 110, which should give us a decent idea of where Bader stands in the division and any weaknesses that may be exposed.
20.) Patrick Barry
Last year: 2-1
Although Patrick Barry is a rookie to the sport of MMA, he comes in with some ridiculous striking credentials. Barry is a professional Super Heavyweight Kickboxer with a record of 18-6. He won the National Title in SanShou in 2002, a silver medal at the 2003 Kung-Fu World Championships, and holds 4 other SanShou/Kickboxing world titles. As a rookie, Barry has won all 5 of his fights by (T)KO, and his 1 loss comes by submission. Being a kickboxer for most of his life, Barry is going to have to focus a lot on developing a solid ground game. Over the last year he has gone 2-1 in the UFC. His first win was over Dan Evenson at UFC 92 where he utilized his vicious leg kicks to force Evenson to quit in the first round. At UFC 98 he suffered his first loss by getting submitted by Tim Hague in the first round, and indication that his ground defense needs more work. The UFC made a great decision by matching Barry up with another accomplished kickboxer, Antoni Hardonk, in what was sure to be fireworks. The matchup lived up to the hype as the two put on a strike-fest for two rounds until Barry finally TKO’ed Hardonk. The fight was awarded Fight of the Night and Knockout of the Night, and Barry made a statement to the division that his striking is not to be tested. Barry still has a good 8-10 years of fight left in him if he’s lucky. His success will all depend on how well his ground game develops, because he’s pretty much got the striking aspect in the bag.