There is something different to be found when watching touted prospects compete inside the chaos of a mixed martial arts cage.
There are some who are simply meant for larger achievements, and their performances reflect that motivation. Meanwhile, others who possess developed traits struggle against more experienced competition. The ones who pass the test move on to face tougher obstacles, and those who struggle discover there is much more work to be done.
Let's take look at a pair of highly touted prospects who competed this past weekend.
Lightweight / 9-1 Professional / 27 years old
Training out of Glory MMA & Fitness in Kansas City, Missouri, with the likes of James Krause, Tim Elliott, and Zak Cummings, Trey Ogden (No. 4 FloCombat lightweight prospect) has definitely set himself up for success. Surrounded with with some of the Midwest's top-tier talent, Ogden has improved leaps and bounds in his past few outings. A ground-fighting specialist, Ogden had five professional submission victories under his belt entering this past Friday night, with four coming in the first round.
After starting off his career at 2-1, Ogden won six straight bouts for promotions such as Bellator MMA, Victory FC, and KC Fighting Alliance. Following his submission win over undefeated prospect Chance Thackston at Victory FC 57 back in May, Ogden earned his shot to compete on AXS TV against TJ Brown at LFA 21.
LFA 21 took place at the Branson Convention Center in Branson, Missouri, making the bout a bit of a homecoming, but Ogden was not at all rattled by the pressure. Ogden showed that while he may be touted as a prospect, he has the mental fortitude of a highly polished veteran.
Going into Friday night, Ogden's opponent, Arkansas' TJ Brown, was riding a two-fight finishing streak, with an in-cage time of just over three minutes in the two efforts combined. The bout began with Ogden looking a bit uncomfortable on the feet, eating a few big shots from Brown. Just when Brown really started to find his rhythm, Ogden unleashed a lightning-quick jab that floored his opponent. Before Brown even had any idea what had happened, Ogden had already pounced on him, eventually locking in both hooks.
The hand-fighting began but was hindered briefly by Brown losing his mouth piece and a subsequent referee timeout. Once the action resumed, Ogden made Brown's life a living hell, continually digging his left arm under the chin, searching for the rear-naked choke.
It didn't take Ogden long. He found what he was looking for, locking in the rear-naked choke just minutes into the first round.
FloCombat Grade: B+
BREAKDOWN: Ogden's high-level ground game was clearly evident (as always). However, his slightly uncomfortable striking prior to the leg-kick-jab combination (which put Brown on the canvas) leaves something to be desired. Following the bout with Brown, Ogden took to the microphone to call out LFA lightweight champion Robert Watley. The fight seems like the correct next step for Ogden, with the winner likely solidifying a shot in the UFC.
Heavyweight/Light Heavyweight / 9-0 Professional / 26 Years Old
In MMA -- or in any other sport for that matter -- name recognition can be a byproduct of associated positive or negative connotations.
Well-known fighters are oftentimes notable due to their excellent performances inside the cage, but on occasion, fighters can also be known for negative reasons that extend outside of fighting.
Kyle Noblitt (No. 2 FloCombat light heavyweight prospect) is starting to be known to MMA fans far and wide for both of these reasons. Noblitt's troubled past, which includes being found guilty of sexual abuse, has been a hot topic of late, especially after his removal from Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series.
However, much like other MMA fighters who have been convicted of wrongdoings outside the cage, Noblitt's skills are worth breaking down from an objective standpoint, especially when he is headlining shows for a promotion such as LFA.
Like the aforementioned Ogden, Noblitt is also a part of the Glory MMA & Fitness team in Kansas City. Despite being a member of a division that is known to be lacking young prospects, Noblitt has torn through every single opponent put in his way and is still just 26 years of age. Prior to this past Friday night, Noblitt had competed exclusively at heavyweight, winning all eight of his professional mixed martial arts bouts there.
After a flagged background check caused him to be removed from Dana White's consideration, Noblitt received a call from LFA to headline LFA 21 this past Friday night in Branson.
Outside-of-the-cage actions aside, Noblitt showed why he is one of the top-ranked prospects in North America. The big man -- who at one time weighed north of 300 pounds -- dropped to the light heavyweight division to take on undefeated, prodigal Glover Teixeira protégé Antonio Paulo Branjao.
From the opening bell, Noblitt went to his wrestling roots, grabbing a tight hold of the taller Brazilian. After controlling the fight against the cage for about 30 seconds, Branjao was able to separate, and the two squared off once again. Noblitt repeatedly used his unorthodox striking to set up a clinch. From there, Noblitt was eventually able to score double under-hooks on his much lankier opposition.
Then, it was all Noblitt, who continually softened up Branjao with short shots to the head and to the body. Starting from side control, Noblitt didn't have to go far to end up in mount.
Branjao was able to reclaim half guard, but only for a brief period of time, as the hometown fighter grabbed a hold of his neck, jumped into full mount once again, and choked out the Brazilian via guillotine.
FloCombat Grade: A-
BREAKDOWN: Basing things strictly on merit inside the cage, Noblitt's skills, especially for a division that is lacking ground-game practitioners, would have most big promotions scooping the Missourian up in an instant. His striking could be sharper, but his wrestling is superb for his size and his jiu-jitsu is solid. With all of this said, the obvious remains. It is unknown at this time to everyone (including Noblitt) if the baggage of his past will ever be able to be overlooked.
The UFC's disinterest in Noblitt this past summer would indicate that the largest promotion in the world does not seem to be very keen on signing the 26-year-old. Following the bout against Branjao, Noblitt addressed the situation on the mic, saying that he and the UFC needed to have "a long sit-down talk." It will be interesting to see if the UFC obliges some time in the future.
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