On the Doorstep: 5 fighters who could make UFC or Bellator with February wins

Nolan King
·15 min read

Every champion in MMA history started out somewhere.

For those who make it to the highest stage, the journey starts long before they strap on UFC or Bellator gloves. Modern-era fighters progress through the regional ranks with hopes of accomplishing the highest accolades. Many will try, few will succeed.

This month, five fighters on the verge of achieving major-promotion notoriety return to the cage for what could be their stepping stone fight. There are dozens of fighters inches away from making the jump in the coming weeks, but these five are particularly exemplary.

This month:

  • A Brazilian finisher who is flying grossly under the radar looks to punch his ticket to the big show with another win.

  • A Tajikistani lightweight who impressed Dana White this past summer hopes a Titan FC title will be enough to get the wheels turning on a UFC career.

  • A confident bantamweight who cut one of the most memorable promos in Dana White’s Contender Series history looks to back up his talk once again.

  • One of Brazil’s best kept secrets, a high-energy flyweight thinks it’s inevitable he’ll get to the UFC – and LFA title gold is going to help him get there.

  • A dark horse flyweight prospect hopes a 90 percent winning accuracy coupled with an LFA championship catches a major promotion’s eye.

Jackson Loureiro

Image via Future MMA

Record: 11-1-1 Age: 26 Weight class: Lightweight Height: 6'0" Birthplace: Balneario Camboriu, Santa Catarina, Brazil Next Fight: Saturday vs. Amauricio Galvao (5-9) at Gladiator CF 54 in Curitiba, Parana, Brazil Background: [autotag]Jackson Loureiro[/autotag] has been on his MMA journey for over a decade. His combat sports training goes back even further. When he was 15, he began training muay Thai. He was later introduced to MMA by a friend. He joined a gym and began training jiu-jitsu to round himself out. The rest is history. Loureiro started off his career at 3-1, but has since gone 8-0-1 with eight finishes. The Skinny: Simply put, Loureiro has flown under the radar. He's largely competed in Brazilian and Serbian regional cards but has racked up wins against legitimate competition. His most recent four opponents were 44-9-1, as a combined record from the time he faced them. Loureiro is a lengthy lightweight who packs a mean punch (and a mean kick). Although his striking has built his highlight reel, his grappling isn't half bad, either. He can handle himself if the fight hits the mat. If Loureiro gets another finish at Gladiator CF 54, the UFC and Bellator would be stupid not to give him a try. In his own words: "What separates me from the pack is the desire to be recognized for my skills. I have trained through the entire pandemic waiting to fight. Even when the virus resulted in canceled fights, I never stopped training because I am driven to be the best. Also, I want to give a better life to my family, and to leave a legacy within the sport. I want everyone to know my name when it comes to the sport of MMA." "When I watch the UFC I know that I have a huge potential to be a world champion. I know that I'm a tough fighter and I can stand toe to toe with anyone. Sometimes, I watch the fights in my weight class and I even think to myself that soon one of these guys will be standing across the cage from me." "I have a strong belief that I will have an impressive fight. I don't just want to win, I want to win well. After this fight, I'm sure I will be receiving a call from my manager or even from the matchmakers of the larger promotions."

Muhammad Naimov

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 15: Muhammad Naimov stands in his corner prior to facing Collin Anglin in their featherweight bout during week seven of Dana White's Contender Series season four at UFC APEX on September 15, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/DWCS LLC/Zuffa LLC)

Record: 5-1 Age: 26 Weight class: Featherweight Height: 5'9" Birthplace: Dushanbe, Tajikistan Next Fight: Feb. 12 vs. Olivier Murad (4-0) at Titan FC 67 in Miami (UFC Fight Pass) Background: Tajikistan isn't a country known for its home-bred MMA talent, but [autotag]Muhammad Naimov[/autotag] hopes to change that. His MMA journey began in 2016 when he entered the IMMAF international tournament, an experience that led him to Las Vegas. He split his fights there, 1-1, but the experience kickstarted his amateur career. Naimov turned professional in 2018. Following five professional wins, Naimov was signed to fight on DWCS this past summer. Although he lost a unanimous decision to Collin Anglin, Naimov showed a ton of heart and was praised on the broadcast by UFC president Dana White. The Skinny: Dana White already has openly expressed interest in Naimov. If history is any indicator, the promotion will likely have a close eye on Naimov going forward. Competing for a top regional title promotion, like Titan FC's, will further his chances of being offered a UFC opportunity. The fight against Anglin was taken on short notice. Due to COVID-19 protocols, Naimov was required to quarantine for 10 days in his hotel as he cut approximately 30 pounds. That had to have some sort of effect. Training at Team Elevation and getting a full camp under his belt, expect the best Naimov possible – one that, with a victory, should get a major promotion look. In his own words: "I was so upset about that (DWCS) fight. And to be honest, I'm still upset about that fight. ... I took a lot of lessons from that fight. I took a lot away from that fight. I didn't give up. Especially in this sport, it's very hard. If people say, 'I love this sport,' they're lying. I swear they're lying. It's every day you're training. There are injuries. ... They just say that because they want to focus or get in the mind of an opponent." "... You'll see a completely different Muhammad from the last fight. I had a longer camp than eight weeks. After I lost that fight, I jumped right into training right away. I didn't rest. I jumped right back in there because Dana White said they're going to call me short-notice if somebody pulls out. He really liked my style. I needed to stay ready and keep my weight low. I've improved my grappling. I've improved my grappling. I've improved everything." "... I hope if I win this fight I'm going to get my shot in the UFC. I hope it's going to be. I don't know, to be honest. The UFC, to me, seems so unbelievable. There is no fighter from Tajikstan there. Our people from Tajikistan are very crazy supporters of this sport. I can't even (imagine). I'm not going to be surprised because of my fighting style but when they tell me I've gotten the contract, it's going to be different, you know?"

Danny Sabatello

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 10: (R-L) Danny Sabatello kicks Taylor Moore in their bantamweight fight during Dana White's Contender Series season four, week nine at UFC APEX on November 10, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/DWCS LLC/Zuffa LLC)

Record: 9-1 Age: 27 Weight class: Bantamweight Height: 5'10" Birthplace: Chicago Next Fight: Feb. 12 vs. Da'Mon Blackshear (8-3) at Titan FC 67 in Miami (UFC Fight Pass) Background: It's been a long journey for [autotag]Danny Sabtello[/autotag] to get where he is. Fans who don't follow the United States regional scene might remember him from Dana White's Contender Series, Season 4 this past summer. Sabatello was one of a handful of fighters not to receive a contract despite a win. Despite a dominant performance and a colorful post-fight interview Dana White and company elected to pass on the American Top Team standout. The Skinny: Sabatello is the whole package. Sure, he didn't give Dana White the superbly exciting finish on DWCS. However, Sabatello dominated his opponent Taylor Moore for the entirety of the fight. The decision was only the second of his professional career, so it's not fair to judge his excitement off such a small sample size. His mic skills are great and his confidence is through the roof. Need someone to promote a matchup? Sabatello is your guy. With a Titan FC title defense, hopefully, he inches closer to putting pen to paper on a UFC or Bellator deal. In his own words: "Everything went smooth (on DWCS), except I didn't get that contract. I'd say I learned I've always got to chase a finish. It was a good, dominant performance. I think on one of the scorecards, it was 30-24. I didn't get that finish and I really think if I would've gotten that finish, no matter what it was, even if it was a choke or something, I would've gotten the contract. So I think even going forward in these fights, maybe I'll take a little bit more risk. I won't be stupid. I'm not going to give the guy a chance to beat me, but I think if something opens up, then I've got to go full blast to try to finish that fight." "... I'm a mentally harder guy than others. I like to stay tougher and not really show too much love to my opponents, if you will. ... I'm a very exciting fighter. I do like to talk trash, but I'm not just a trash-talker. I know a lot of guys are either good at fighting and suck at trash-talking or good at trash-talking and suck at fighting. I think I'm that perfect blend where I can be exciting in the cage because my style can be hands-on and dominant. Outside the cage, I'll always build up the fights. That's what comes naturally to me." "... This is probably the biggest fight of my life. I think a win here would propel me to get into the UFC, but you never know. This is a good, game opponent with a good background. He's coming off a win over (Mike) Kimbel from Bellator. Also, Titan is just a great promotion, so once you become a champion there, more doors open. I do think a good dominant win or a finish, which is what I'm hoping for, to (expletive) this guy up, hopefully, the UFC comes calling after that."

Carlos Mota

Carlos Mota
Carlos Mota

Image via LFA

Record: 5-0 Age: 25 Weight class: Flyweight Height: 5'5" Birthplace: Para, Brazil Next Fight: Feb. 18 vs. Victor Altamirano (8-1) at LFA 100 in Park City, Kan. (UFC Fight Pass) Background: Growing up in the streets of Brazil, [autotag]Carlos Mota[/autotag] wasn't given a choice. He needed to learn how to fight in order to stay safe. At age 18, he met his coach Francisco Bueno and the rest is history. Bueno crafted Mota into the martial artist he is today, serving as a mentor and father-figure for the Brazilian fighter. Seven years later, "Tizil" will compete for the LFA flyweight title. The Skinny: Mota is a small, compact ball of energy and power. His finishing abilities, stamina, and finishes would bring a lot of fun to the UFC's flyweight division. While Mota certainly has a lot of flare and finesse, gaining experience will be key for him as he moves forward. Fighting for an LFA title will certainly do just that. His skills are advanced well past that of a normal 5-0 fighter. So if Mota wins gold, perhaps a title defense wouldn't hurt – or he could enter into the UFC because it's unlikely there will be many other challenges waiting for him outside it. In his own words: "I'm here fully renewed. I'm a new version. Right now, I'm the best version of myself. I feel like I'm at the top of my game at this moment. I've been doing a lot of training in breathing, the nervous system, and consciousness – all the background that people don't realize a fighter has to have is what I'm doing right now." "... The public can see five fights (on my record), but every day has been an incredible fight for me since I was 18 years old. I've been training a lot, so my main thing is consciousness – being present. I'm doing things differently in my background. My emotional body is ready. I've been through a lot of things. I've been through a fight since I was born so I'm 100 percent ready." "... I know my career in the UFC is going to be a statement. I'm going to be the difference in the flyweight division in the UFC. ... Right now, it doesn't matter too much (though). I'm thinking about the LFA belt. I'll be holding that on Feb. 19. After that, we'll see what plans (arise). We'll see what God has in store for me."

Victor Altamirano

Image via Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA)

Record: 8-1 Age: 30 Weight class: Flyweight Height: 5'8" Birthplace: Mexico City Next Fight: Feb. 18 vs. Carlos Mota (5-0) at LFA 100 in Park City, Kan. (UFC Fight Pass) Background: Combat sports is in [autotag]Victor Altamirano[/autotag]'s blood. Grandparents and uncles competed in boxing, making it a natural fit Altamirano would follow in their footsteps. Furthermore, Altamirano came to the United States as an undocumented immigrant. Martial arts was one of the few activities where paperwork didn't matter. A natural fit, Altamirano found peace in the violence of a gym. His daily routine became laced with heavy-bags and grappling. Now documented, Altamirano hopes to get his passport so he can visit his family back home in Mexico – and aims to bring an LFA title with him. The Skinny: Altamirano isn't your typical MMA fighter – and a lot of that seems to do with his mindset. Whether it's his atypical perspective due to his upbringing or his overall calm persona, Altamirano seems to have an elite fighter mentality figured out. Thus far, his mentality has complimented his physical abilities. Altamirano's only professional loss came to Jared Brooks, a fighter who was cut during the UFC flyweight roster purge. He holds a win over DWCS alum Chris Ocon, who impressed Dana White on the series. With the flyweight division more popular than ever, Altamirano would be a great addition should he win gold. In his own words: "As I grew up, the things that everybody was able to do, the 'normal things,' I wasn't able to do. One thing I was always able to do was to go to the gym. I was always able to compete. Tournaments were always there. ... Fortunately – fortunately – one of the few things that weren't taken away from me was that I could still compete and I could still fight." "... My team and I have gone through amazing, amazing experiences. We've gone through times where an upcoming fight was very discouraging, injuries, heartbreaks, personal life (issues). We've been through it all and we've never given up. Mixed martial arts has always been there for me. My team is the main reason, outside of myself, I've been able to progress." "... The opportunity to fight in the UFC is something I very much wish for. It's something that I've been waiting for. It's something I've been striving for. That's something that every fighter is striving for. Of course, yeah, that's what I want."

Fighters worth watching who didn’t crack the list, yet are on the verge of something big:

  • [autotag]Alberto Montes[/autotag] (4-0) – Feb. 12 vs. Richie Santiago (8-2) at Titan FC 67 in Miami (UFC Fight Pass)

  • [autotag]Olivier Murad[/autotag] (4-0) – Feb. 12 vs. Muhammad Naimov (5-1) at Titan FC 67 in Miami (UFC Fight Pass)

  • [autotag]Da'Mon Blackshear[/autotag] (8-3) – Feb. 12 vs. Danny Sabtello (9-1) at Titan FC 67 in Miami (UFC Fight Pass)

  • [autotag]Brant Moore[/autotag] (8-1) – Feb. 12 vs. Ago Huskic (8-2) at LFA 99 in Park City, Kan. (UFC Fight Pass)

  • [autotag]Myron Dennis[/autotag] (18-7) – Feb. 12 vs. Fabio Cherant (6-1) at LFA 99 in Park City, Kan. (UFC Fight Pass)

  • [autotag]Fabio Cherant[/autotag] (6-1) – Feb. 12 vs. Myron Dennis (18-7) at LFA 99 in Park City, Kan. (UFC Fight Pass)

  • [autotag]Luke Jones[/autotag] (6-3) – Feb. 13 vs. Jack Becker (7-2) at Eternal MMA 56 in Perth, Western Australia, Australia (UFC Fight Pass)

  • [autotag]Gerald Scott[/autotag] (4-0) – Feb. 19 vs. Tommy Aaron (6-4) at LFA 100 in Park City, Kan. (UFC Fight Pass)

  • [autotag]Karlee Pangilinan[/autotag] (6-0) – Feb. 19 vs. Charles Johnson (7-2) at LFA 100 in Park City, Kan. (UFC Fight Pass)

  • [autotag]Steven Nguyen[/autotag] (6-1) – Feb. 19 vs. Here Dudes (8-0) at LFA 100 in Park City, Kan. (UFC Fight Pass)

  • [autotag]Here Dudes[/autotag] (8-0) – Feb. 19 vs. Steven Nguyen (6-1) at LFA 100 in Park City, Kan. (UFC Fight Pass)

  • [autotag]Sharaf Davlatmurodov[/autotag] (16-3-1) – Feb. 20 vs. Jonas Boeno (39-13) at OFC 2 in Samara, Russia

  • [autotag]Leon Soares[/autotag] (6-0) – Feb. 20 vs. Alexander Soldatkin (7-3) at OFC 2 in Samara, Russia

  • [autotag]Elismar Lima[/autotag] (23-7) – Feb. 20 vs. Viktor Kolesnik (18-5-1) at OFC 2 in Samara, Russia

  • [autotag]Adriano Rodrigues[/autotag] (18-5) – Feb. 27 vs. Andrey Koreshkov (22-4) at AMC Fight Nights 2 in Sochi, Russia