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 a look at two top-ranked prospects who stepped into the cage last weekend.
Middleweight / 9-0 Professional / 29 years old
In his first eight professional bouts, Brazil's Markus "Maluko" Perez flew under the radar -- way under the radar.
The 29-year-old native of Sao Paulo is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown-belt who trains under former UFC welterweight Viscardi Andrade. Undefeated, Perez is a finisher through and through, with all but two of his professional victories coming by way of stoppage. While relying mostly on his ground game, Perez has been able to utilize his underrated striking and good cardio to both surprise and outlast his opponents.
After winning his first six bouts with relative ease, Perez was given the toughest test of his career in his seventh bout in June 2016. Maluko took on a former UFC veteran in Paulo Thiago, whom Perez edged out to a split-decision victory.
From one former UFC veteran to another, Perez captured a unanimous decision over Ildemar Alcantara in his next fight at Arzalaet Fighting 1 earlier this year. Beating two UFC veterans in back-to-back fights earned Perez an even bigger opportunity: the chance to compete in the United States for the country's biggest regional promotion, the Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA).
Not only would Perez fight in the LFA, but he would also headline its 22nd event in Broomfield, CO, against a prospect on the brink of breaking into the UFC, Ian Heinisch (No. 2-ranked FloCombat middleweight). To make the odds stacked even higher against Perez at LFA 22 last Friday, he would be fighting in Heinisch's home state. A continent away from home, many believed the relatively unknown Perez was being used as a stepping stone for the previously undefeated Heinisch.
The bout began with Heinisch coming out and scoring a big takedown, a common theme from his prior eight wins. Much unlike his previous opponents, however, Perez was ready for it. After a slick reversal, Perez was on top in the blink of an eye and had situated himself so that his right arm was in perfect position to lock in a deep head-and-arm choke. From there, the Brazilian hopped right into mount and tapped out one the most highly ranked middleweight prospects in North America.
Following his first-round submission, Perez called out Dana White and the UFC, saying he was ready to take his talents to the next level. After padding his resume with another impressive performance on Friday night, it's extremely hard to argue with him.
FloCombat Grade: A
Sometimes with quick performances it is hard to get a clear picture of a fighter's abilities. After Perez's victory over Heinisch, however, it became abundantly evident that the Brazilian is more than ready to take the next step to the UFC.
Perez not only had better BJJ than Heinisch but also out-wrestled a dominant wrestler in stunning fashion. Prior to the bout, the popular opinion was that this fight was set up in order to propel Heinisch up the MMA ranks. On Friday night, Perez jacked that contract right out of Heinisch's fingertips and put it in his own pocket. It would be hard to ask much more of Perez in a situation that had UFC implications.
Pair that with his resume and it becomes crystal clear why he received an "A" for this week's Prospect Watch.
Featherweight / 6-0 Professional / 23 Years Old
Marc Montoya's factoryX has become a bit of a staple for AXS TV cards in Colorado. This past Friday was no different, as one prospect who major promotional scouts definitely had their eyes on was factoryX's undefeated featherweight Derek Brenon.
Joining up with Montoya's Muay Thai expertise, Brenon, known for his excellent judo and wrestling abilities, is a force to be reckoned with at 145 pounds.
Entering Friday's bout at LFA 22, Brenon had wiped the floor with the five fighters he faced on the Colorado regional scene, accumulating four first-round finishes in that time. With that being said, none of that really mattered, as his opponent for his sixth professional bout, Boimah Karmo, was the biggest test for Brenon to date.
Throughout the fight, Brenon consistently scored takedowns, taking Karmo's back repeatedly. At numerous points in the fight, it appeared Brenon had the rear-naked choke locked in deep, but Karmo continually managed to break free. As the fight progressed, both men grew noticeably tired, with Karmo looking the most sluggish.
After a dominant pair of rounds for Brenon, Karmo dropped his opponent with a vicious punch that opened the floodgates on Brenon's face. Brenon didn't take much more damage besides the initial blow and was able to control Karmo for the remainder of the round, showing some resolve under fire.
It was a tough, gutsy showing from both men, especially Karmo, who was the inferior fighter but who showed a tremendous amount of heart. When the decision was read, the judges gave Brenon the unanimous decision nod he deserved.
FloCombat Grade: B
Brenon is so talented in certain aspects of the game (judo/wrestling) and still has a high ceiling. However, he may want to take a few more bouts before taking his game to the next level. His striking still needs some work, and his submission game could be improved as well. He'll be facing tougher and more durable guys in the future and will need to make some adjustments so he can pull off the finishes in future fights that he was unable to secure in this one.
Still, Brenon trains at a great camp and has much going for him. With two or three more fights/wins under his belt, he'll likely be ready to advance to the next level.
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