10 Prospects that Seem Poised for Greatness in 2020 (Part One)
At the start of every new year, those that follow the sport of MMA feverishly attempt to forecast the next big stars and future champions. Of course, it can be a remarkably difficult task, as it is ultimately impossible to predict the zigs and zags that occur in MMA on a weekly basis. Nonetheless, 2019 introduced us to a number of fighters that seemed poised for greatness, and perhaps 2020 will be the year in which a few, or all of them, dominate the UFC. This is part one of the 10 prospects that seem poised for greatness in the UFC.
Geoff Neal (13-2; 5-0 UFC)
A product of Dana White’s Night Contenders Series, the Sayif Saud product went 3-0 in 2019, including knockout victories over Niko Price and fan-favorite Mike Perry. Many expected the fight with Perry to be a three-round dogfight, but it was anything but that. Neal landed a brutal head kick just over a minute into the contest. A follow-up salvo of strikes sent Perry turtling against the cage, with Joe Rogan proclaiming that “no one” had been able to handle Perry in such a manner. Currently 5-0 in the UFC and ranked #11 in the welterweight division, the stage is set for Neal to receive a top ten opponent and begin to traverse the upper echelon of the division. After watching his progress thus far, Neal appears to be a potent southpaw striker with an evolving wrestling and jiu jitsu game. The Perry win was shocking in that “Platinum,” even in losses, has been able to experience success against all of his foes. However, he was never truly in the contest against Geoff Neal, losing via strikes for the first time. For his next bout, a tilt against Santiago Ponzinibbio, Robbie Lawler, Vicente Luque or Stephen Thompson are all viable options.
Nasrat Haqparast (11-2; 3-1 UFC)
Haqparast was once known only for his uncanny resemblance to middleweight Kelvin Gastelum. Now, however, he has forged an identity of his own as one of the most dynamic and hardest hitting 155ers in the UFC. The Germany native is 3-1 in the UFC, scoring a devastating second round KO of Joaquim Silva in August. In his 11 career wins, he has scored 9 knockouts. At only 24 years old, we can chalk up his sole UFC loss to Marcin Held to being an underdeveloped talent. Now, however, we’re beginning to see the true potential of Haqparast. Fans initially took notice when he scored his first win in the UFC — a dominant decision victory over UK standout Marc Diakese in a bout that saw Haqparast dominate the striking exchanges against the powerful Diakese. The TriStar product squares off against fellow hard hitting lightweight Drew Dober at UFC 246 in a battle that is sure to please. A win over veteran Dober would further cement Haqparast’s position as a surging prospect in the division and set the stage for future fights against top 15 opponents.
Sean O’Malley (10-0; 2-0 UFC)
“Welcome to the Sugar show” might be O’Malley’s catchphrase, but 2020 may truly be the year in which the masses are captivated by the 25-year-old bantamweight’s theatrical skillset. Interestingly, O’Malley is the only fighter on this list not to have fought in 2019, having been embroiled in an extensive USADA controversy after testing positive for a banned substance. O’Malley cited a tainted supplement as the root of the issue and is now eligible to return to competition. Although it has been a little over 22 months since we have seen O’Malley compete in the octagon, he has remained in the spotlight and stayed active, recently representing “Team UFC” at the Quintet Team Grappling Tournament in December. O’Malley is currently 2-0 in the UFC and is known for his flashy, dynamic style of striking characterized by unorthodox kicks and awkward punches. O’Malley faces Jose Alberto Quinonez at UFC 247 in February. If he can pick up where he left off in 2018, O’Malley may be well on his way to becoming a superstar in 2020.
Tatiana Suarez (8-0; 5-0 UFC)
Remaining undefeated in the UFC women’s strawweight division is a Herculean task given the overflow of talent. However, Suarez has remained undefeated as an amateur, a contestant on the Ultimate Fighter’s exhibition matches, and is now 4-0 in the UFC. Suarez defeated Amanda Cooper to claim the Ultimate Fighter trophy, subsequently defeating Viviane Pereira and Alexa Grasso, only to punctuate her 2018 with a brutal ground and pound stoppage over former champion Carla Esparza. Suarez’s lone fight in 2019 saw her defeat a tenacious Nina Ansaroff in which she dealt with adversity for the first time in her career. Many critics posited that Suarez was exposed and looked vulnerable, but others said she showed she had the capacity to engage in a back-and-forth battle and still come out on top. Suarez’s elite wrestling has simply been too overwhelming for everyone she has fought thus far. As she begins to further develop her striking skills, she may very well be a threat to the likes of champion Weili Zhang. Although currently sidelined due to injury, 2020 may see Suarez earn a title shot in the strawweight division.
Sean Brady (10-0; 1-0 UFC)
Sean Brady has long-been considered one of the most promising prospects from the northeastern United States. The former CFFC champion finally made his UFC welterweight debut in October of 2019, dominating veteran Court McGee in a fight that saw Brady drop his opponent multiple times. The Philadelphia native displayed highly technical striking skills and well-developed grappling abilities. Now 10-0, Brady is scheduled to fight fellow rising prospect Ismail Naurdiev at UFC on ESPN+ 27 in February. If Brady can overcome this stiff test, he may very well be a surging contender in the welterweight division. Although an incredibly stacked division in the UFC, Brady appears to have all the necessary skills to become a ranked welterweight in 2020.
With the first fight card of 2020 just weeks away, keep an eye out on these specific fighters as we progress through the calendar year, as it will be intriguing to see which fighters live up to the lofty expectations put forth by the public. Stay tuned for part 2 of the 10 fighters poised for greatness in 2020.