Each champion in MMA historical past began someplace.

For individuals who make it to the very best stage, the journey begins lengthy earlier than they strap on UFC, Bellator or PFL gloves. Fashionable-era fighters progress by means of the regional ranks with hopes of carrying out the very best accolades. Many will strive, few will succeed.

This month, 10 fighters on the verge of reaching main promotion notoriety – one for the second time – return to the cage for what could possibly be their stepping-stone struggle. There are dozens of fighters shut to creating the soar within the coming weeks, however these 10 are significantly exemplary.

Marcos Degli

File: 11-2*
Age: 24
Top: 5’6″
Weight: Flyweight
Birthplace: Brazil
Subsequent struggle: July 6 vs. Ignacio Fernandez (8-2) at LFA 187 in Cajamar, Sao Paulo, Brazil (UFC Combat Cross)

The Skinny: The combating journey started for Marcos Degli at 12 years previous with muay Thai beneath grasp Cristian Nogueira, who he nonetheless trains beneath to today. Degli hopes to hitch Kalindra Faria and Carlos Prates because the third UFC fighter to return out of the staff. Self-described as “versatile,” “clever,” and “disciplined,” Degli can be fairly self-aware, since all three traits precisely mirror him. Degli’s file speaks for itself. At the moment Tapology’s No. 3-ranked Brazilian flyweight, Degli’s final six opponents had a mixed file of 39-13. He’s a finisher, he’s enjoyable, and he’s solely 24. A win at LFA 187 will probably be 9 in a row – and can align him completely as a last roster addition to “Dana White’s Contender Collection.”

“(I wish to) present that I’m the very best within the class, and win many victories, be a considered man who constructed a legacy on the planet of MMA, this manner I’ll change my household’s life and my mother and father’ actuality,” Degli just lately informed MMA Junkie by means of a Portuguese-language interpreter. “… I sleep and get up fascinated about it day-after-day, I’m able to go in and present the power of my dream. As a result of I’m a really devoted man, I’d be prepared for whoever is i entrance of me, in any space I increase doubts for my opponents and within the UFC it could be no completely different, I discovered that the definition of luck is being ready, so in the event that they known as me they might be impressed with my fashion of struggle.”

* = Degli moved to 11-3 when he defeated Fernandez by way of TKO (ground-and-pound) – Spherical 1, 4:32

Carlos Leal

2023 PFL 3 Las Vegas on the The Theater at Virgin Lodges in Las Vegas, Nevada, Friday, April 14, 2023. (Cooper Neill / PFL)

File: 20-5*
Age: 30
Top: 5’11”
Weight: Welterweight
Birthplace: Curitiba, Parana, Brazil
Subsequent struggle: July 6 vs. Manuel Mena (12-3) at LFA 187 in Cajamar, Sao Paulo, Brazil (UFC Combat Cross)

The Skinny: Martial arts got here to Carlos Leal as a type of remedy after the lack of his father. He discovered consolation and peace by means of the muay Thai. His mom was his greatest supporter and helped information him by means of the tough occasions. Finally, he discovered beliefs in God, Jesus Christ, and faith which he attributes to serving to him discover function. It was a protracted and winding highway for Leal, who ultimately acquired his large break in 2022. Following back-to-back wins at PFL Challenger Collection, Leal stepped in to struggle Ray Cooper III on brief discover – and received a unanimous choice. He then fought within the 2022 PFL playoffs in opposition to Sadibou Sy and misplaced a unanimous choice. Leal certified for the 2023 playoffs after two common season wins, however Sy beat him once more – this time by unanimous choice. Now (surprisingly) freed from PFL ties, Leal is among the most proficient free brokers on the market. He’s 1-0 since. The UFC wants to offer this man a glance as a result of they’re unlikely to remorse it.

“The PFL was a vital occasion for me as a result of by means of it, I used to be capable of present a greater dwelling situation for my household,” Leal just lately informed MMA Junkie by means of a Portuguese-language interpreter. “I solely have gratitude for everybody on the occasion. However I felt it was time for me to go away and check out one thing new. … In the present day, my aim is the UFC. … I strongly imagine there’s a probability for that. That’s why I’m ready to ship the very best efficiency of my life. I positively see myself among the many finest in my division, and I imagine I’ve all the pieces it takes to turn into the champion of the load class.”

* = Leal moved to 21-5 when he defeated Mena by way of TKO (punches) – Spherical 1, 3:09

Tedrick Macklin

File: 6-0
Age: 27
Top: 5’11”
Weight: Light-weight
Birthplace: Midland, Texas
Subsequent struggle: July 12 vs. Devon Dixon (6-1-1) at Fury FC 93 in San Antonio (UFC Combat Cross)

The Skinny: Tedrick Macklin has trucked each opponent thrown his manner over the course of his brief skilled profession. A taekwondo black belt, Macklin started within the self-discipline at age 6. He received a state title and competed internationally for the Worldwide Sport Karate Affiliation (ISKA) in steady point-fighting. That’s his background, his basis, his roots – and Macklin doesn’t thoughts the “point-fighter” tag. On the identical time, he understands the criticism. He’s not a self-discipline homer. He’s undefeated as knowledgeable with 5 finishes in six fights. His focus has been pleasure and if he continues to enhance in that division, there’s seemingly no stopping him from attending to the UFC. His greatest downside has been discovering fights, however with a prepared 6-1-1 opponent in Devon Dixon, this could possibly be the one which will get him to the large present.

“On paper, that is in a manner a Contender Collection struggle that’s not legitimately a Contender Collection struggle,” Macklin just lately informed MMA Junkie. “… I can’t see a win not both getting me one among these three issues: a Contender Collection shot, a late discover shot into the UFC, or a minimum of a title shot in Fury. I’m considering what I’m going to go on the market and do and the fashion through which I’m going to do it’ll be exhausting to not have eyes on me that may get me to the UFC. After I go on the market and beat this opponent the way in which I’m going to beat him, it’s not going to be me begging to get into the UFC; it’s going to be them begging for me. My aim is to not simply be a fighter within the UFC. I’m attempting to deliver my distinctive fashion and actually captivate the followers – and be a star. I’m going to be a type of names individuals go, ‘Oh, man, we’ve acquired to observe a ‘T-Cash’ struggle.’”

John Sweeney

Picture by way of Legacy Preventing Alliance (LFA)

File: 13-3
Age: 29
Top: 5’7″
Weight: Bantamweight
Birthplace: Spartanburg, South Carolina
Subsequent struggle: July 12 vs. Rafael do Nascimento (9-2) at LFA 188 in Chandler, Ariz. (UFC Combat Cross)

The Skinny: As an obese teenager, John Sweeney didn’t take wrestling significantly. He wasn’t to start with, however his dad talked him into it. Sweeney misplaced the load by means of wrestling and transitioned to karate. It was his first official putting expertise, although rising up with 10 blood-related aunts and uncles meant a variety of “loopy as hell” cousins and toughness constructed on the playground. He competed collegiately for a 12 months however encountered some disciplinary points and dropped out of faculty. He went professional in combating, transferring up the ranks beneath the tutelage of Upstate Karate. In a day and age the place seemingly everyone seems to be getting signed left and proper, we seldom have “must-sign” prospects sitting on the shelf. Sweeney is one among them. However relatively than sit round and really feel dangerous for himself, Sweeney has remained lively to show he’s value a significant promotion’s funding. Though not a ending machine, Sweeney is way from boring – and has mic expertise – and now holds an LFA title, too. Now with a brand new staff and administration, Sweeney hopes the ultimate tweaks have been made to get a UFC name.

“It’s been some time however I’ve been honing completely different expertise,” Sweeney just lately informed MMA Junkie. “I’ve been skateboarding and enjoying basketball – simply doing all the pieces I really like with actual ardour behind it. I’m in even higher form. It’s going to be the very best efficiency that I’ve ever had, so I’m excited to show my expertise. … I’ve made a variety of large adjustments. I’ve had some mad experiences been happening in my life to wake me up and shake me up in the precise route. I ended up making some strikes for myself. Perhaps not all of them have been appropriate, however regardless I made correct and proper strikes. … This needs to be the one. Do I do know fully? Nah, something can occur. However my resume speaks for itself.”

Cameron Smotherman

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – AUGUST 15: Cameron Smotherman prepares to face Charalampos Grigoriou of Cyprus in a bantamweight struggle throughout Dana White’s Contender Collection season seven, week two at UFC APEX on August 15, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Picture by Louis Grasse/Zuffa LLC by way of Getty Photographs)

File: 10-4
Age: 26
Top: 5’9″
Weight: Bantamweight
Birthplace: Houston
Subsequent struggle: July 21 vs. Ryan Mondala (4-6) at Fury FC 94 in Houston (UFC Combat Cross)

The Skinny: At some point, Cameron Smotherman was bored. Out of all of the occasions his buddy nagged him to strive coaching, he lastly took him up on it. After a 3-2 novice stint, Smotherman turned professional. He skilled beneath the late Saul Soliz, who laid the inspiration as Smotherman constructed himself as a professional. Following 4 wins in a row, Smotherman fought on Dana White’s Contender Collection. He was completed in precisely one minute by Charalampos Grigoriou in 2023. Smotherman mentioned he discovered by means of that have that “typically life sucks and that sh*t occurs,” however hopped again within the gymnasium after three months of processing. He’s 2-0 since beneath the Fury FC banner.

“I really feel like I’ve made changes and I’m continually attempting to get higher day-after-day to ensure one thing like that (DWCS loss) by no means occurs once more,” Smotherman just lately informed MMA Junkie. “… I felt like I had a tougher path to everybody to get to Contender Collection and I’m nonetheless attempting to determine what I can probably do to make one thing occur. I’ve the thrilling fights and get the loopy knockouts. The battle for me is psychological. It’s not even placing within the work. It’s attempting to remain optimistic and make one thing occur. … I’ve skilled with sufficient guys from UFC, Bellator, and ONE. I’m greater than adequate and greater than maintain my very own.”

Smotherman incessantly works alongside UFC contender Adrian Yanez and beneath UFC alum Yves Edwards. Yanez sings his praises.

Yanez just lately informed MMA Junkie, “Cameron is among the few guys I’ve ever skilled with who will struggle on Sunday and get again within the gymnasium on Monday morning. He’s that kind of fighter. He’s very harsh even within the wins he has, the place he desires to get higher. There will not be many individuals that may take a win as a loss. He’s a type of guys. Even when he did a spectacular job at it, he’s going to take a seat again and critique each little factor that he did flawed. There’s not many individuals constructed like that.”

Michael Pagnani

File: 7-0
Age: 25
Top: 5’9″
Weight: Light-weight
Birthplace: Italy
Subsequent struggle: July 25 vs. Mason Jones (14-2) at Cage Warriors 175 in Manchester, England (UFC Combat Cross)

The Skinny: Michael Pagnani has been coaching since he started kickboxing at age 15. MMA started at age 20. With one 12 months of novice expertise, Pagnani turned skilled at 21. It began out on the base degree of the professional ranks in Italy, however Pagnani’s competitors degree slowly elevated over time. Whereas the opponents modified, the outcomes stayed the identical. Pagnani has 5 finishes in seven fights. He made his Cage Warriors debut in July 2023 when he defeated beforehand undefeated James Energy, which was large – however not as large if he defeats Mason Jones, who can be “on the doorstep.” The UFC is in want of extra Italian illustration with Marvin Vettori and Manolo Zecchini the nation’s lone representatives in the mean time.

“I’m prepared for this. I’m very excited for this matchup and I can’t wait. This can be a large title, however my dream and my goal is UFC. I’ve skilled very exhausting for this. This man was earlier than within the UFC. For me, it’s an excellent take a look at and an opportunity to get into the UFC. I’m prepared for this struggle and I can’t wait. It’s showtime. It’s ‘Sniper’ time. … It’s potential that that is (for a UFC contract). However my focus is on this match, not the subsequent. First, this match and I’ll give it some thought afterward. … However I feel my skillset is nice for the UFC. I practice exhausting. My expertise, proper now, are prepared for the UFC.”

Mason Jones

Jul 23, 2022; London, United Kingdom; Mason Jones (pink gloves) earlier than his struggle in opposition to Ludovit Klein (blue gloves) throughout UFC Combat Evening at O2 Area. Necessary Credit score: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports activities

File: 14-2
Age: 29
Top: 5’10”
Weight: Light-weight
Birthplace: Wales
Subsequent struggle: July 25 vs. Michael Pagnani (7-0) at Cage Warriors 175 in Manchester, England (UFC Combat Cross)

The Skinny: Mason Jones began off in kickboxing when he was seven years previous. From kickboxing, he moved into Japanese jiu-jitsu to judo to Brazilian jiu-jitsu to boxing to muay Thai to taekwondo; Jones piled up the martial arts. Quick ahead to the current day, and Jones has three black belts: kickboxing, judo, and BJJ. A proud consultant of Wales, Jones carried his flag into the UFC the place he competed 4 occasions from January 2021 to July 2022. He went 1-2 with one no contest. His fights have been aggressive and enjoyable. His losses aged properly, as they have been in opposition to Mike Davis and Ludovit Klein. Although his launch stunned many, Jones didn’t put issues on maintain to determine it out. He jumped proper again on the horse. He’s 3-0 in Cage Warriors since with three knockouts/TKOs over robust competitors.

“I’m very self-critical and I take a look at these performances,” Jones informed MMA Junkie in February. “The optimistic factors don’t do something for me. I’m an conceited particular person. It’s a must to be on this sport. I’m the best fighter at 155 kilos and I’ve to imagine that I’m. I’ve potential to be the world champion at light-weight within the UFC or no matter group I find yourself in. I do know the caliber I’m. I practice with guys on the high of 155, the highest of 145, the highest of 170. I do know the caliber I’m at, however we’re the one p.c. This recreation is cut up into one percents. What I do is take a look at what I did flawed and enhance.”

Phillip Latu

File: 6-1
Age: 33
Top: 6’3″
Weight: Gentle heavyweight
Birthplace: Los Angeles
Subsequent struggle: July 26 vs. Steve MacDonald (4-1) at CFFC 133 in Tampa (UFC Combat Cross)

The Skinny: For Phillip Latu, rising up wasn’t straightforward. It’s what led him to combating. Latu remembers the precise second he realized he’d pursue combating: when he fought again in opposition to his father and dropped him. Proper then and there, he embraced the sense of empowerment and have become hooked on overcoming obstacles. He moved to Colorado and Elevation Combat Staff with Abdul Razak Alhassan, Zac Pauga, and Curtis Blaydes amongst others. Latu turned skilled in 2021 and all seven of his fights since have ended inside the space. In a division the place legit prospects are sparse, the UFC needs to be throughout Latu. He’s thrilling and well-spoken with a very good backstory. He’s additionally a proud consultant of Tonga, a nation the place he could possibly be the primary UFC consultant. Oh, and he already has a callout prepared. Mohammed Usman, should you’re studying this, he says he desires a struggle. Using a three-fight TKO/knockout streak, a fourth ought to get him into the large leagues.

“Being a UFC champion is nice, however I simply wish to make my stamp. I need the entire world to know I’m going to be probably the most harmful man alive. That comes with territory. That’s what it’s. That’s what’s going to occur. Whoever is in entrance of me, I don’t care. I need everybody within the UFC. I need any 205er, any gentle heavyweight within the UFC, particularly Mohammed Usman. … If the UFC calls me, I’d be prepared proper now. I’m snug being who I’m. I understand we undergo so many alternative characters and varieties of kinds of combating. I’ve realized the kind of character I’m in any case this time. … Now that I do know who I’m, I’m simply going to go and f*ck shit up. I simply need destruction.”

Amru Magomedov

File: 7-0
Age: 25
Top: 5’11”
Weight: Light-weight
Birthplace: Kyzyl-Yurt, Russia
Subsequent struggle: July 27 vs. Ali Kabdulla (9-2-1) at UAE Warriors 51 in Abu Dhabi (UFC Combat Cross)

The Skinny: Khabib Nurmagomedov. Islam Makhachev. Usman Nurmagomedov. Umar Nurmagomedov. Amru Magomedov may very properly be becoming a member of these names quickly. The following in line of an other-wordly struggle staff lineage, Magomedov is destined for greatness. For years, Magomedov has been molded to have all of the traits of a champion. He’s traveled the world to expertise UFC, Bellator, and PFL struggle weeks with among the world’s biggest fighters. Now at 7-0 himself, Magomedov is probably going one win away from notching a UFC deal of his personal. He’s sped by means of a lot of his skilled profession with 5 first-round finishes in seven fights. He’s by no means fought an opponent with a dropping file. UAE Warriors places on as legit regional fights as any promotion on the market, so Magomedov (3-0 within the promotion) has confirmed himself in opposition to respectable competitors. Magomedov is already prepared. Proper now, that is further credit score.

Joe Giannetti

July 6, 2018; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Joe Giannetti defends in opposition to Mike Trizano throughout the TUF 27 Finale at Pearl Theater. Necessary Credit score: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports activities

File: 16-5-1
Age: 29
Top: 6’0″
Weight: Light-weight
Birthplace: Whitman, Mass.
Subsequent struggle: July 20 vs. Peter Barrett (16-6) at Cage Titans 66 in Plymouth, Mass. (Spectation Sports activities)

The Skinny: Combat followers would possibly bear in mind Joe Giannetti because the artful submission specialist who was the light-weight runner-up for “The Final Fighter 27.” However he’s turn into far more than that since. When he competed for the UFC actuality collection again in 2018, he wasn’t that far faraway from being an obese child who turned to MMA for self-defense. He even admits his one UFC displaying wasn’t a very good one. Six years later, Giannetti has grown tremendously. He’s taken dangers on the regional scene and so they haven’t all the time paid off. However the fighter that exists now in 2024 would college the man from six years in the past, so it looks like he’s made the precise selections. He’s 7-1 in his most up-to-date eight, together with back-to-back spotlight reel knockouts in his most up-to-date two. Now cross-training with Tyson Chartier and the New England Cartel, a win over Peter Barrett, one other man on the cusp of a UFC name again, ought to put a stamp on a ticket again to the promotion.

“I really feel like a very completely different fighter. I really feel like me now would simply do horrible issues to 22-year-old me. Truthfully, that’s form of been my aim since getting lower. All people is like, ‘Two or three wins and also you’ll be again within the UFC. I’ve gotten supplied completely different promotions’ lesser guys. Perhaps ending a few bums in two or three fights would’ve gotten me again to the UFC so quick. However I’ve been telling all people because the day I’ve acquired lower that I would like to enhance. I have to beat good guys. As a result of after I do get again, it’s not going to only be one other New England man making a two or three-fight run. I wish to struggle for a title sooner or later. I wish to be the very best on the planet. I’ve taken the years since and targeted on enhancing. I’ve completed that and I’m not near my peak.”

Fighters value watching who didn’t crack the checklist, but are on the verge of one thing large:

  • Hugo Paiva (9-2) – July 5 def. Rodrigo Roldan (6-5) by way of TKO in Spherical 1 at LFA 187 in Cajamar, Sao Paulo, Brazil (UFC Combat Cross)
  • Pedro Doreto (6-0) – July 5 def. Leandro Solano (3-1) by way of TKO in Spherical 1 at LFA 187 in Cajamar, Sao Paulo, Brazil (UFC Combat Cross)
  • Lionel Abojer (11-2) – July 5 def. Apollo Gomes (9-1) by way of submission in Spherical 2 at LFA 187 in Cajamar, Sao Paulo, Brazil (UFC Combat Cross)
  • Samuel Dias (10-2) – July 5 def. Renzo Cortti (9-5) by way of TKO in Spherical 1 at LFA 187 in Cajamar, Sao Paulo, Brazil (UFC Combat Cross)
  • Maike Linhares (19-3) – July 6 def. Antonio da Silva (21-10) by way of unanimous choice at Lajeado Combat MMA in Lajeado, Tocantins, Brazil (YouTube)
  • Igeu Kabesa (18-2) – Thursday vs. Humphrey Mulenga (6-1) at EFC 115 in Sandton, South Africa
  • Jose Delgado (6-1) – Friday vs. Lucas Faria (7-2) at LFA 188 in Chandler, Ariz. (UFC Combat Cross)
  • Nicolas Leblond (10-4) – July 20 vs. Shajidul Haque (16-5) at Cage Warriors 174 in London (UFC Combat Cross)
  • Shajidul Haque (16-5) – July 20 vs. Nicolas Leblond (10-4) at Cage Warriors 174 in London (UFC Combat Cross)
  • Peter Barrett (16-6) – July 20 vs. Joe Giannetti (16-5-1) at Cage Titans 66 in Plymouth, Mass. (Spectation Sports activities)
  • Jonathan Kunnerman (5-0) – July 20 vs. Tristyn DeHart (5-6) at New Line Cagefighting 26 in Catlettsburg, Ky.
  • Stefano Paterno (17-4-1) – July 25 vs. Olli Santalahti (14-6) at Cage Warriors 175 in Manchester, England (UFC Combat Cross)
  • Morquez Forest (5-0) – July 26 vs. Robert Watley (14-3) at CFFC 133 in Tampa, Fla. (UFC Combat Cross)
  • Robert Watley (14-3) – July 26 vs. Morquez Forest (5-0) at CFFC 133 in Tampa, Fla. (UFC Combat Cross)
  • Devin Goodale (5-0) – July 26 vs. Alonzo Turner (4-0) at Tuff-N-Uff 138 in Las Vegas (UFC Combat Cross)
  • Christian Avalos (5-1) – July 26 vs. Samuel Alvarez (10-6) at Urijah Faber’s A1 Fight 23 (UFC Combat Cross)