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Top 15 Brazilian MMA prospects to watch for in 2014

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Guilherme Cruz, MMA Fighting

Don’t be surprised if you see some new Brazilian faces in major mixed martial arts promotions next year.

Some Brazilian talents had that chance in 2013, and did the best with it, like UFC fighters Antonio Braga Neto, Alan Patrick, Adriano Martins, Kevin Souza and Lucas Martins, or Resurrection Fighting Alliance’s Raoni Barcelos, Bellator featherweight Goiti Yamauchi and Legacy FC's Thomas de Almeida.

As a new year starts, MMA Fighting lists the 15 fighters that will likely burst onto the scene in 2014. Check it out:

Alexandre Pantoja (14-2): Considering that the UFC is the only major promotion to have the flyweight division and they are still building it, Pantoja could be the next addition to the roster. The Nova Uniao fighter is the current Shooto Brazil champion and holds two victories over Lincoln de Sa, another talented flyweight. He lost only once over the last 13 bouts, a unanimous decision against UFC fighter Jussier da Silva, and has 10 stoppage victories under his belt.

Gleristone Santos (25-4): "Toninho Furia" is one of the best featherweights on the scene right now. With only one blemish on his record since 2009, the Brazilian Top Team product became the Bitetti Combat featherweight champion with a pair of first-round knockout victories over Bruno Machado and Marcos Vinicius Silva on the same night. He has added three more wins to his record since winning the belt.

Dileno Lopes (13-1): If you’re a hardcore fan, and watched TUF: Brazil 1, there’s a chance you remember Lopes. He was on the first elimination fight and fought Rony Jason, losing via first-round TKO. It was a controversial stoppage by Mario Yamasaki, and Jason ended up winning the season. Lopes, who fought in the featherweight division, is 4-1 since after dropping back to his natural weight class (125 pounds).

Larissa Moreira Pacheco (9-0): "Larissao" has heavy hands and good grappling skills. Undefeated in MMA with nine finishes, Pacheco became the first Jungle Fight female champion after stopping Irene Aldana in a three-round war in Belem, Brazil. Expect to see another Jungle Fight champion signing with the UFC in the next few months, if Invicta FC isn’t fast enough to land a deal before.

Luis Rafael Laurentino (24-0): Remember the 19-year-old Julio Cesar "Morceguinho" Neves, a 28-0 bantamweight that signed a deal with Bellator recently? I now present you Luis Rafael "Japa" Laurentino. Two years older than his training partner, "Japa," ended 2012 with a 3-0 record, but enters 2014 with an impressive 24-0 professional record. Laurentino hasn’t fought the toughest competition in most of his wins, but his 12 submissions and six knockouts in 12 months is still impressive.

Talita Nogueira (6-0): Nogueira left MMA in 2010 to focus on her jiu-jitsu career and became the world champion in 2011. Back to MMA in 2013, the featherweight added a pair of first-round submission victories to her record. If she can’t cut more pounds to fight at UFC’s 135-pound division, Invicta FC is her natural destiny.

Renato Carneiro (7-0-1): The undefeated bantamweight fought his entire career under the Jungle Fight and Shooto Brazil banner, and has done great so far. With a slick ground game, the Constrictor Team talent was set to fight for the Jungle Fight title last November, but was forced out of the bout with an injury. If he continues to impress and wins the championship in 2014, there’s a good chance he will appear in one of the UFC Fight Night cards in Brazil next year.

Leandro Higo (13-2): A training partner of the Pitbull brothers, Patricio Freire and Patricky Freire, Higo has only lost once in his last seven bouts, in a boring decision against UFC’s Iliarde Santos. However, the flyweight has done great in his other bouts, scoring eight submission victories under his belt, three of them in his last four appearances.

Luis Gustavo Dutra da Silva (5-0): The younger brother of UFC fighter Luiz Jorge Dutra Jr., who makes his promotional debut on Jan. 4 against Kiichi Kunimoto, Luis Gustavo Dutra da Silva started his professional career in 2012 with a win at Jungle Fight. "Gugu" was a swimmer growing up, but decided to start his career as a fighter after his brother’s success in MMA and is undefeated so far.

Mario Israel (9-0): Israel became the Jungle Fight bantamweight champion with a comeback victory over Reginaldo Vieira last August, stopping his opponent with a one-punch knockout after escaping from a tight guillotine choke in the first round. With nine stoppage wins (six knockouts and three submissions), Israel could join his training partner Adriano Martins in the UFC next year.

Douglas Silva de Andrade (22-0, 1 no-contest): Like "Japa", he hasn’t fought the best competition in his weight class, but the Para native featherweight is worth keeping an eye on. Riding a 21-fight win streak with 17 knockouts, and currently signed with Wallid Ismail’s Jungle Fight, de Andrade will be tested against a better foe his next bout, when he faces...

Marcos Alexandre Campos de Almeida (16-5): Another Jungle Fight champion makes it to the list of prospects for 2014. After back-to-back submission victories in 2013, "Capitao" dominated Rafael Miranda to become the promotion’s new bantamweight champion. He will put his title on the line for the first time against Douglas Silva de Andrade, and giving him his first professional loss after 23 bouts would be a good statement.

Tiago dos Santos e Silva (17-4-2, 1 no-contest): A training partner of UFC fighters Iuri Alcantara and Ildemar Alcantara, "Trator" followed their steps in 2013. Like his teammates, the lightweight became the Jungle Fight champion after submitting Geraldo Coelho last October, and will put his title on the line for the first time in February against Nova Uniao's Ary Santos. With eight wins in a row, and 12 stoppages under his belt, he’s a promising name in the 155-pound division.

Rafael Nunes (10-0): In three years as a professional mixed martial artist, "Indio" dominated ten opponents, finishing nine of them. Nunes has stopped long-time veterans in Claudiere Freitas, "Bob Esponja" and Udi Lima in his last three bouts, becoming the Premium Fight Championship lightweight titleholder.

Luis Philipe Lins (7-0): Fighting out of Natal, "Monstro" completes the list of prospects with a perfect MMA record. He hasn’t fought much since his MMA debut in 2005, but the Kimura Nova Uniao product returned for good in 2013, winning the Bitetti Combat light heavyweight championship with a TKO victory over Brazilian Top Team’s Armando Sixel.

Honorable mention: Rayner Silva (4-1) is still green, but holding the flyweight title at Jungle Fight in just your fourth professional fight is an impressive achievement. Silva, a teammate of fellow Jungle Fight champion "Capitao", scored a 54-second TKO over Arinaldo Batista da Silva to become the 125-pound champion last June, and needed 130 seconds to stop Junior Boya and successfully defend the title.