European MMA boasted three UFC champions at the beginning of 2017, but after both Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Michael Bisping parted ways with their straps, only Conor McGregor remains as the continent’s sole representative among the promotion’s championship elite.
Several European prospects had stellar years in 2017 and will look to get their chance on the world stage this year.
Here are 10 names to keep an eye on in 2018.
Roberto Soldic (13-2) – Five consecutive wins in 2017 announced 23-year-old Roberto Soldic as one of the most outstanding prospects in Europe. The Croatian welterweight scored a highlight-reel knockout over UFC hopeful Lew Long at Cage Warriors 89 before he dethroned KSW champion, Borys Mankowski, to round out the year at KSW 41.
Nathaniel Wood (12-3) – Brad Pickett protégé Nathaniel Wood made a habit of banking viral finishes in 2017. The Londoner scored a sensational first-round win over fellow prospect Josh Reed in his first bantamweight title defense in September. UFC veteran Vaughan Lee and previously unbeaten Swiss prospect Marko Kovacevic also suffered stoppage losses to Wood last year. “The Prospect” will look to defend his title for a second time when he faces Luca Iovine at CWFC 92: Super Saturday on March 24.
Yusup Raisov (12-1) – “Wolf” bounced back from his first professional loss to unbeaten Marat Balaev in a showdown for the ACB featherweight title with three wins in 2017. Following victories over Valdines Silva and Luis Palomino, Raisov booked a rematch against Balaev, who later withdrew from their championship clash at ACB 77. The 22-year-old Russian went on to claim the interim title with a second-round submission finish of Alexander Peduson.
Fabian Edwards (3-0) - Brother of UFC welterweight, Leon Edwards, middleweight Fabian Edwards turned a lot of heads in 2017 after graduating from the amateur ranks where he collected an impressive tally of 10-0. Edwards’ blend of knockout power and technical grappling saw him ease to 3-0 under the BAMMA banner, with all of his wins coming by way of first-round stoppage. In a recent interview with MMA Fighting, his older brother predicted that he would join the UFC ranks in early 2019. Edwards faces his most experienced opponent to date when he meets Kent Kauppinen at BAMMA 34 on March 9.
Rizlen Zouak (3-0) – Former Olympic judoka Rizlen Zouak is a product of Fernand Lopez’s MMA Factory in Paris. 2017 marked the bantamweight’s first year as an MMA competitor, taking three stoppage victories over IMMAF gold medalist Leah McCourt, Bunmi Ojewole and Jacqualine Feddersen. She currently fights under the EFC banner in South Africa.
Jack Shore (7-0) – Welshman Jack Shore boasts one of the most passionate fan bases in the European sport at the moment. Shore went 11-0 as an amateur, claiming IMMAF’s European Open title in 2015 before graduating to the pro ranks. All of Shore’s professional wins come by way of stoppage. After taking four wins in 2017, he suggested that he would like to move down to bantamweight to challenge for Nathaniel Wood’s title in 2018. Shore makes his first outing at the lower weight class against Vaughan Lee in a title eliminator bout at CWFC 92 on March 24.
Askar Askarov (9-0) - ACB flyweight champion Askar Askarov didn’t have the most active 2017, but the body triangle/Twister variation he hit on Bellator veteran Anthony Leone was a candidate for a lot of fans’ “Submission of the Year”. Askarov was set to return to competition at ACB 79 at the end of January to defend his title against Rasul Albaskhanov, but unfortunately he withdrew from the card after suffering an injury.
Karl Moore (8-1) – Moore has long been considered one of the best prospects in the UK and Ireland, but injuries stopped him from considerably adding to his momentum in 2017. The Belfast native is Cage Warriors first light-heavyweight champion since Michael Bisping and will look to become the second man to hold two of CWFC promotional belts, following in the footsteps of Conor McGregor, when he takes on heavyweight champion, Mauro Cerilli, at Cage Warriors 92.
Salahdine Parnasse (10-0) – KSW were delighted to snap up this undefeated French featherweight prospect late last year. Parnasse scored a decision win over Lukasz Rajewski in his promotional debut at KSW 41. Including his debut win under the KSW banner, Parnasse went 5-0 last year.
Richie Smullen (3-0-1) – In early January, Conor McGregor revealed that his SBG training partner, Richie Smullen, would be a contestant on the next season of TUF. Smullen is known for his patented leg lock game. He contested one of the best European fights of 2017 when he fought Northern Irish prospect Rhys McKee to a draw at BAMMA 30.