With well-established UK star Darren Till, the heavy-handed Heavyweight from Manchester Tom Aspinall, and the debut of Liverpool’s top prospect Paddy Pimblett on this weekend’s card, you could be forgiven for thinking that this event was taking place in Great Britain.
In truth, this event WAS initially meant to be in London, which would have made it the first card since March 2019 to emanate from the shores of the island Kingdom, as well as the first international event not on Fight Island to take place since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Unfortunately, it was not to be, and COVID has once more caused a card to be rescheduled.
Now, it will take place at the Apex facility in Las Vegas, with no less than six UK fighters will be looking to further establish themselves in the increasingly-international hierarchy of the UFC.
With so much UK MMA talent on display this weekend, and after displaying a keen eye for future potential with our pre-UFC interview with Pimblett earlier in the year, as well as our Five Australian UFC Prospects in 2021 article, the Run It Back boys have decided to peer into the crystal ball once more and try and decern which currently unsigned UK talent could be the next to be offered a UFC contract.
Pro Record: 8-1
Achievements: Golden Ticket FP Featherweight Champion, Cage Warriors Featherweight Champion
Of the 12 Cage Warriors Featherweight Champions, 50% have been signed to compete in the UFC.
The names of the signees will be familiar to hardcore fans (Jim Alers, Mads Burnell and Nad Narimani), as well as even those who have never before watched a UFC fight (Conor McGregor).
With such a strong pedigree before him, the unfortunately nicknamed ‘The Epidemic’ will likely be on a shortlist for Sean Shelby and the UFC’s talent scouts just for having the belt on his shoulder.
Pair that with an 8-1 record and a habit of delivering the first losses to formerly undefeated opponents and you have a recipe for a UFC contract.
Prediction Vucenic was scheduled to defend his title for the first time against the man he took it from, Morgan Charriere.
The rematch with the Frenchman fell through in June and will likely be rebooked for some time late this year.
With a string of split decision victories of late, Vucenic will likely need a decisive victory over Charriere and at least one additional opponent before he gets the call up to the UFC in late 2022.
Pro Record: 7-0
Achievements: EFC Worldwide Flyweight Champion, Cage Warriors Flyweight Champion
Training out of Fearless MMA – the initial home of Leon Edwards – Jake Hadley has started his young career off with a bang; 7 fights, 7 wins and 5 finishes.
In his most recent outing, Hadley took the belt in dominating fashion from Luke Shanks, including scoring a 50-42 on one judge’s scorecard. Hadley was due to compete on Dana White’s Contender Series later this month, however his opponent withdrew from the bout.
Whether a replacement will be found is uncertain at this time, though with such a dynamic and well-rounded game like the one Hadley brings to the table (and in a division in need of names as Flyweight), it won’t be long before we see him in the Octagon.
Prediction With no date yet rescheduled for his Contender Series debut, and Jake Hadley actively ruminating about a move to Bantamweight, I think it’s likely we see Hadley once more in the Cage Warriors cage before we see a move to the UFC.
Much like Australian prospect Steve Erceg, flitting between Flyweight and Bantamweight could allow Hadley to fill in a last-minute spot in multiple divisions, something that is very attractive to the UFC brass.
I see one more fight in Cage Warriors before the end of the year and a UFC bout on the cards Q1/Q2 2022.
Pro Record: 6-0
Achievements: 6-0 Pro Record with 6 finishes, 16-1 Amateur Record with 14 finishes
With a perfect pro-record, 100% finish rate and a 9 second KO on his ledger, it’s no surprise the 24-year-old from Sunderland is making waves and is primed to appear on the upcoming season of Dana White’s Contender Series in November.
Burlinson brings speed, power and accuracy together on the feet with a dangerous ground game normally enforced on opponents as they try and escape his hands.
Finding such well-rounded talent is rare enough, but the composure of Burlinson under the bright lights of both Bellator and co-main eventing Cage Warriors events at the age of 24 makes him very special indeed.
Prediction On the Dana White Contender Series, you not only need to win, you need to impress.
Thankfully for Burlinson, winning impressively is about all he does.
With his Contender Series opponent set to be the vicious and creative striker out of Canada Yohan Lainesse, expect a barnburner of a battle that will see the victor almost guaranteed a contract.
Pro Record: 7-0
Achievements: Ultimate Fight League Lightweight Champion, 7-0 Pro Record, 7 finishes and 3-0 in Bellator MMA
Currently in the midst of a 14-fight streak dating back to his amateur fighting days, the lone Scot on our list is busy making waves by finishing everyone in his path.
Duncan – who has also been scouted to appear on Dana White’s Contender Series in September against tough Albanian prospect Manuel Gaxhja – initially plied his trade as a shepherd in Gleann Lìomhann, but found much success and acclaim once he traded the crook for the cage.
Duncan is no stranger to pushing through adversity either – his very first amateur bout took place a day after the passing of his mother, a burden that Duncan carried into the cage to help deliver the sub-minute victory to get his career started.
Prediction Making moves into the UFC’s deepest division isn’t going to be easy for anyone, but Duncan has the attitude and drive to get it there.
Both Duncan and Gaxhja have styles built to please fans, so hopefully enough of a show can be put on by ‘The Problem’ to secure the contract. At 28, Duncan is beginning his peak and should hopefully be able to spend the better part of it under the bright lights of the UFC.
Pro Record: 10-0
Achievements: Cage Warriors Bantamweight Champion
Undefeated throughout the length of his professional and amateur MMA career, and with 5 straight under the prestigious Cage Warriors banner, the number one question most people ask when it comes to Jack Cartwright and the UFC isn’t ‘when will it happen?’ – it’s ‘why the hell hasn’t it happened already?’.
Despite starting his career leaning on his grappling chops, Cartwright has recently shown that he has power behind his gloves as well, picking up the victory in the Cage Warriors single-night tournament with a series of back-to-back KOs in under 5 minutes total.
With two successful defences of his Cage Warriors Bantamweight title (though not without some controversy, as his most recent opponent wasn’t content with top control and insisted on violently headbutting Cartwright on multiple occasions leading to the disqualification) it seems likely that Cartwright will join his fellow Cage Warriors Bantamweight Championship alum like Jack Shore and Nathaniel Wood to the golden shores of the UFC.
Prediction With an unusually strong wrestling base, a diverse submission game and heavy hands to boot, Cartwright appears to be one of the most well-rounded British talents to have appeared in quite some time.
Unfortunately for Cartwright, while he picked up the win in his last outing due to disqualification, enough questions were asked during the bout that might necessitate either a rematch or for Cartwright to put a definitive stamp on his status as UFC-ready, despite being in that position for at least the last 18 months.
I predict the Cage Warriors champion will have one more bout in the promotion before signing his long-deserved contract, Contender Series being quite unnecessary, before making an impact on the Bantamweight division of the UFC.
So there you have it! While you’re watching Jack Shore, Molly McCann, Modestas Bukauskas, Tom Aspinall, Paddy Pimblett and Darren Till compete inside the Octagon this Sunday, be sure to keep the names mentioned above in mind – no doubt you’ll begin to see them popping up in the UFC before too long.
If you wanted to take a look at the mindset it takes to earn a UFC contract, be sure to check out the run it back boy’s interview with Paddy Pimblett from before his bout with Davide Martinez in March 2021 that secured his place in the UFC.