A couple of days ago ESPN released their second annual top 25 MMA fighters under the age of 25, with UFC prospects largely dominating. With last years top two- A.J McKee and Sean O’Malley too old to be considered this time around, Australia’s Jimmy Crute took top spot, with Edmen Shahbazyan and Song Yadong rounding out the top three.
This got the cogs turning and led me to think about some of the premier British prospects looking to make their mark in the sport. Upon embarking on a slightly smaller British version for this article two things became abundantly clear:
Firstly there was a frustratingly large amount of top Brits who’ve just turned 25 and thus were ineligible (Jack Shore, Mason Jones, Paddy Pimblett and Luke Shanks to name but a few). Secondly if a fighters age isn’t on Tapology/Sherdog prepare for a long hard journey that inevitably ends in disappointment as you find out x fighter turned 25 two months ago.
Here’s our top ten British fighters under the age of 25.
10. James Hendin (5-0)
Another hot prospect competing in the Cage Warriors featherweight division, Durham’s James Hendin has looked better and better each time he has stepped foot in the cage. Turning professional in 2018 Hendin hasn’t been afraid to put his ‘0’ on the line even this early into his professional career, and already owns an impressive ledger with wins over the likes of solid British talents Kingsley Crawford (5-2), Jordan Barton (6-1-1) and Kris Edwards (13-12). A step up in is his next outing will offer a better picture of where ‘The Honeybadger’ is at, but he certainly seems to have a bright future in the sport.
9. Luke Trainer (4-0)
Standing at 6′ 6” tall with an 84.5” reach Luke Trainer has all the physical attributes to enjoy a successful career in the light heavyweight division, this coupled with his elite mindset and technical ability makes Trainer a serious prospect to look out for. The 24 year old turned pro in 2019, racing to 2-0 before entering John Kavanagh’s Euro Fight Night, an eight man tournament that saw the winner rewarded with a lucrative six figure contract. The then 23 year old won the tournament, winning decisions in the first two rounds before submitting Maciej Sosnowski in the final, thus earning a contract with Bellator. He made his debut in September 2020 at Bellator’s Euro Series 8, stopping Alex O’Toole via ground and pound in the first round. Trained by former UFC veteran Brad Pickett at Titan Fighter, away from the sport Trainer lives in a foster facility with his parents where he takes care of vulnerable children.
8. Justin Burlinson (5-0)
After watching fellow North East fighter Ross Pearson rise to prominence after winning TUF 9 in 2009, Sunderland’s Justin Burlinson was inspired to take up MMA and what a decision it was. The 23 year old ended a stellar amateur career that saw him win seventeen of eighteen contests by turning professional in 2017, and since then the welterweight has gone 5-0 in the pro ranks, with all his wins finishing early (2 KO’s and three submissions). Signing a multi-fight deal with Bellator in 2019, Burlinson finished both Maciek Gierszewski and Wendle Lewis in the first round in his Freshman year with the company. A step up in competition had been planned for Burlinson’s next bout, with undefeated Welshman Bobby Pallett expected to offer him a stern test at Bellator 247, only for the Sunderland man to fail a Covid-19 test and have to withdraw. With time very much on his side, he will certainly be looking to put a frustrating year of inactivity behind him when he finally returns after a near 18 month layoff.
7. Jordan Vucenic (6-1)
Corby’s Jordan ‘The Epidemic’ Vucenic proved his title credentials last time out with a close but clear decision win over former title contender Steve Aimable. Aimable’s been mixing with elite company as of late, dropping decision losses to former Cage Warriors featherweight champion Mads Burnell and current title challenger Perry Goodwin, so Vucenic’s win puts him in good company. Aside from the Aimable win the 24 year old also holds wins over current Brave CF featherweight contender Shoaib Yousaf and previously undefeated Spanish prospect Rachid Haz. His only professional loss came at the hands of the more experienced current Bellator contender Luke Ord in 2018. Next for Vucenic is a tough featherweight clash with undefeated Irishman Paul Hughes, with the winner more than likely going on to challenge for CW gold next.
6. Paul Hughes (6-0)
23 year old Paul Hughes has burst onto the scene with a host of finish victories that have seen the Derry native go 3-0 in the Cage Warriors cage. Eye catching finishes of Stephen O’Neill, Mateusz Makarowski and Kalifa Seydi in 2019 have been followed up with further finishes of Youri Panada (highlight reel head kick KO) and a career best win over Aidan Stephen last time out. The undefeated Irishman is now set to face fellow hot prospect Jordan Vucenic at Cage Warriors 119, with the winner more than likely being next in line for the currently vacant CW featherweight title (set to be contested between Morgan Charriere and Perry Goodwin at CW 119). Hughes has a well rounded game and is not just comfortable wherever the fight goes, but is actively dangerous in any sphere of the game, don’t be surprised to see Hughes making the step up to one of the major promotions in the near future.
5. Sam Patterson (6-1-1)
Perhaps one of the lesser known fighters on this list, Sam Patterson is someone you should definitely be taking seriously fighting over in the Middle East with Brave CF. The 24 year old highlighted his potential in his last outing, stopping former UFC veteran Felipe Silva in the first round with a thunderous right hand, making it six without defeat for ‘The Future’. Patterson was scouted by Brave CF after just one professional fight, and after losing his promotional debut to fellow Brit Hardeep Rai, was allowed to gain some more experience on smaller shows before returning in 2019. Since returning he has gone 2-0-1 for Brave, with his other notable win coming against Conor McGregor protégé Cian Cowley. The lightweight stands at 6′ 4” and could find his cancelled bout with John Brewin rescheduled with the potential for the winner to challenge Amin Ayoub for the lightweight title.
4. Jake Hadley (6-0)
One of the top flyweight prospects in all of Europe, ‘White Kong’ has the chance to prove exactly that when he challenges current flyweight champion Luke Shanks for the Cage Warriors belt at CW 117 next month. The 24 year old shocked the bookies last April, when the then unknown Englishman travelled to South Africa to upset and dominate EFC Worldwide flyweight champion Nkazimulo Zulu. He was then offered a fight at Bellator 227 against Irishman Blaine O’Driscoll in his home country, upsetting the odds again to submit the 28 year old in the third round after a back and fourth affair. Making his Cage Warriors debut in September, Hadley finished Shajidul Haque to earn a shot at Shanks’ belt, and the grappling specialist already has his eyes on the divisions elite in the UFC with full confidence he’ll be mixing it with them in years to come.
3. Cory McKenna (6-1)
Cory ‘Poppins’ McKenna has enjoyed a brilliant breakthrough year, ending a long layoff and having her hand raised in bouts on Dana White’s Contender Series and the UFC. The Welsh 21 year old had her first five fights for Cage Warriors, going 4-1 while gaining invaluable experience of fighting for a major European promotion. While the strength of her prior opponents was brought into question heading into her bout with Vanessa Demopoulos, after she dominated the vastly more experienced former LFA strawweight champion to earn a UFC contract, few of these questions remained. Three months later she made her UFC debut against fellow 21 year old prospect Kay Hansen, becoming not only the first Welsh woman to fight for the sports premier promotion, but after claiming a tight decision win, made history as the first Welsh woman to win in the famed octagon. Big things lie ahead for the Cwmbran fighter.
2. Muhammad Mokaev (3-0)
While Mokaev may not have beaten anyone professionally of any note so far, it is what he achieved in the amateur ranks that mark the 20 year old out as being a future champion. A two time Junior IMMAF World Champion and two time European IMMAF champion, Mokaev turned over with an unbeaten 23-0 amateur record, comprising of five TKO/KO’s, three submissions and fifteen decisions. Born in Dagestan but moving to England at a young age where he is now based, their is certainly shades of Khabib Nurmagomedov about the young bantamweight. ‘The Punisher’ turned pro this summer, inking a multi-fight deal with Brave CF and he’s already began tearing a hole through the regional bantamweight division. While bigger challenges undoubtedly lie ahead, Mokaev is one of the biggest prospects in all of the sport.
1. James Gallagher (11-1)
James Gallagher is beginning to transition from a popular prospect with a big fan base to a legitimate title contender. The rebuild since his sole career loss to Ricky Bandejas has seen ‘The Strabanimal’ improve fight on fight and he now finally looks ready to meaningfully step up his competition next year. Originally seen as a mini Conor McGregor, Gallagher has begun breaking out from the Notourious’ shadow, selling out arenas in Dublin and along with Michael Page acting as Bellator’s biggest stars in Europe. While comparisons with McGregor are welcomed outside the cage, in it there are very few similarities, with the 24 year old being a masterful Jiu-Jitsu practitioner while also growing the all round skills required in modern MMA competition. A star outside the cage, an elite prospect in it, James Gallagher, seemingly the air to McGregor’s throne, has the world at his feet.