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Northeast MMA Scouting Report

As most of you probably know, while MMA Convert gets a good portion of my love, I still go to live MMA events in the Northeast and write about them for my blog – a gig I’ve been doing since 2001. How many fights a year do I see from cageside? Well, to put things in perspective, in 2011 there were 199 professional MMA bouts in New Jersey, and I would’ve seen them all had my car not broken down en route to Atlantic City on two separate occasions (who knew running down homeless people for sport could have negative repercussions on engine functionality?). Usually, I’m there for all of them. Leland Rolling over at BloodyElbow does a pretty kickass job of painstakingly researching and putting together scouting reports with a global scope (example: here). I daresay the work is inspirational. So! Here’s a nice little Northeast MMA scouting report, featuring guys who are on the cusp of breaking out into the national/international scene. Odds are you will see these ultra-skilled, ultra-talented and ultra-ready dudes in the UFC, Strikeforce or on a Bellator main card in the next year. And remember: I’ve witnessed their prowess with my own eyes, and in some cases have seen all of their fights since they first stepped into combat as an amateur. To put it another way, I’m like that sketchy-looking fellow at the racetrack who hangs out by the stables and keeps track of all the horses, the guy that bettors go to to know which horse to put money on. Only with less sketchiness.

-Tom DeBlass, 205 pounds – A Ricardo Almeida-trained jiu-jitsu black belt and Ring of Combat light-heavyweight champ, DeBlass has been amassing win after win since committing himself to mixed martial arts competition (before MMA, he competed in the Abu Dhabi submission grappling tournament). He’s won by quick submission (a 57-second toe-hold against UFC veteran Sean Salmon), he’s won by knockout, and he’s grinded out a few, so he’s capable in all areas. Plus, UFC champ Frankie Edgar is one of his stablemates, so you just know he’s got a handle on what it takes to compete at the highest levels. You will definitely be seeing this guy in the Octagon soon.

-Aljamain Sterling, 135 pounds – I remember when Jon Jones fought his way up the local ranks, and while I’m loathe to throw around the “Jon Jones” label for those unworthy, it’s safe to say Sterling is cut from a similar cloth, both physically and talent-wise. In 2011, he took out two of the best “little guys” the Northeast has to offer in Sean Santella and Claudio Ledesma, and with his uncanny grappling, strong wrestling base and knack for learning exponentially, he finished out the year with a new Cage Fury Fighting Championship belt around his waist. He, too, should be in the UFC soon.

-Sean Santella, 125 pounds – “Shorty Rock” mixes lightning-fast scrambling with dangerous jiu-jitsu, and aside from his loss to Sterling (which was at 135 pounds), he spent the year out-working everyone he met. With the UFC opening up the flyweight division, expect Santella to make an appearance at some point.

-Claudio Ledesma, 135 pounds – Right behind Sterling in the “I am a very bad man, don’t mess with me” category is Ledesma, who’s racked up wins on everything from Bellator undercards to Ring of Combat main cards. He can jiu-jitsu opponents to death and he can drop them with body blows, so he’s a threat everywhere. Watch for Ledesma to make the leap to the “big time” soon.

-Lucas Pimenta, 170 pounds – There is a huge Brazilian community in Newark, and when the New Jersey MMA circuit found its legs, all these “fresh off the boat” dudes who spoke maybe only six words in English but were fluent in Portuguese began appearing, many of them with way more skill and poise in the cage than their official records would’ve indicated. Pimenta is one such fighter, and in his last two outings he hit his opponents with such explosive and abrupt violence that they went into convulsions (no lie, convulsions). If Bellator doesn’t snatch this cat up, the UFC or Strikeforce will. That’s a fact.

-Pat Audinwood, 155 pounds – Audinwood already fought his way into the UFC, but he was cut after losing to Thiago Tavares and John Makdessi. C’est la vie, right? Maybe. However, Audinwood is on track for making a return to the Octagon, as evidenced by his armbar over Matt Serra/Ray Longo-trained Al Iaquinta at the last Ring of Combat (a feat that earned him the lightweight belt). Audinwood can hit hard, take punishment, and is hella dangerous from the guard, and if he keeps beating quality opponents, I have him pegged at fighting for Dana White again sooner rather than later.

-Al Iaquinta, 155 pounds – Prior to the armbar loss to Audinwood, Iaquinta was an undefeated bad mofo. He’s still a bad mofo, though, with enough ace kickboxing, wrestling and subs to fight and win everywhere. With another win or two, I see him competing in the UFC soon as well.

-Joey Gambino, 145 pounds – Despite the fact that Gambino seems to bring every relative he has to his fights, and I mean everyone – from infants to the elderly – he tends to deliver in a big way when fists are flying. He won the Cage Fury Fighting Championship featherweight title with a crushing knockout over a veteran opponent, and his undefeated record has more than a few wins via submission. To the UFC or Bellator with this guy!

-Jimmie Rivera, 135 pounds – If you watched this last season of TUF, you saw Rivera beat the stuffing out of Dennis Bermudez for a round before inexplicably fading in Round 2. But what you don’t know is that Rivera, who mixes boxing, wrestling and submission grappling to perfection, was also a King of the Cage champ and a Northeast MMA badass. I see him needing one more quality win before the UFC comes calling.

-Igor Gracie, 170 pounds – The Gracie family has had a hard time excelling in the realm of MMA for a while now, but Igor has been plugging away and gaining experience, tapping people out with the kind of assuredness you’d expect from someone named “Gracie”. Strikeforce was hot for Roger Gracie; I think Igor would be a better fit for them, and could put quite a few of their welterweights to sleep.

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Fight Cards

UFC on FOX 26: Lawler vs. dos Anjos

Event Date: December 16, 2017
Broadcast: Fox

UFC 219

Event Date: December 30, 2017
Broadcast: TBD