On the Doorstep: 5 fighters who could make UFC with May wins

Every champion in MMA history started out somewhere.

For those who make it to the highest stage, the journey begins long before they strap on UFC, Bellator, or PFL 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 – one for the second time – return to the cage for what could be their stepping-stone fight. There are dozens of fighters close to making the jump in the coming weeks, but these five are particularly exemplary.

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  • A “TUF 30” cast member thinks it’ll be an Invicta FC title shot, if not a UFC opportunity, next if she wins her biggest fight to date.

  • A bantamweight fighter from Sierra Leone hopes another win under the Fury FC banner shoehorns him into becoming the first fighter to represent his birth country in the UFC.

  • After nearly three years away, a New Hampshire-based lightweight picked up where he left off and looks to catch the UFC’s eye with his second victory of 2023.

  • Point-fighting doesn’t simply result in decisions, as one karate specialist hopes to show the UFC with another potential highlight for the reel incoming.

  • One of Spain’s most experienced fighters has fought all around the world and hopes one more win allows him to check “UFC” off his bucket list.

Claire Guthrie

Record: 5-1
Age: 27
Weight class: Bantamweight
Height: 5’6″
Birthplace:
St. Joseph, Mich.
Next Fight: 
Wednesday vs. Olga Rubin (8-3) at Invicta FC 53 in Denver (YouTube)

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Background: When Claire Guthrie reflects on growing up, it makes sense she’s a fighter. A self-described “aggressive” kid who was bullied, Guthrie turned to MMA as both an outlet for her angst and a way to protect herself and build self-confidence. Her first MMA training was in a gym in the basement of a tattoo parlor in Michigan – the type of place she had to train before MMA was “cool.” When the gym closed, Guthrie took some time away from fighting to pursue an accounting education. Post-school, she returned to the scene. When she moved to Colorado, Guthrie was hit with the realization that she’s pretty good at this fighting thing. After a 3-1 start to her pro career, Guthrie partook in “TUF 30” and lost in the opening round to Juliana Miller, a fighter she previously beat. She is 2-0 since coming off the show.

The skinny: Guthrie’s dedication, confidence, skillset, and experience have all increased in a linear, upward direction. With time will come some of the things that perhaps she lacks on paper, namely finishes. But in reality, the decisions are deceiving. Guthrie is an exciting fighter. She’s taking a step up in competition Wednesday against Olga Rubin, a former Bellator title challenger. Should she win, a UFC opportunity could – and really, should – come knocking. If not, she aligns herself perfectly for an Invicta title fight – and a sure-thing signing afterward if her success continues.

In her own words: “I’ve never not shown up for a fight. I’m always ready to perform. I think that’s a big thing. There hasn’t been that fight yet where people have been like, ‘Oh, she’s had an off night.’ It hasn’t happened whether I win or lose. That’s a big thing. I just love being in there, and people can really tell. Normally I’m smiling every time I’m fighting. … One of my main goals every time I fight is to look different than I looked in the prior fight. I think so far I’ve done a really good job of doing that. I think people might expect one thing, and they always see something a little different every fight.”

“… To be able to train and fight for a living? I mean, how cool? I’ve worked in corporate accounting before, and I hope to never do that again. I think that’s part of the motivation: a life that is so far from the rat race. That’s the biggest thing for me. I still look at the UFC like, if you win a UFC title, you get to call yourself one of the best in the world. I’m really a fan of other promotions like Bellator and PFL, and I’m really open to those other paths, but in the end, I do really want to fight for the UFC and show what I’m about.”

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“… ‘TUF’ was an eye opener for me. I got through a lot of fights just being tough. I think even above my skill level, there’s something where I just can perform at a higher level than my skills. I still need to put in all the hours at the gym and I’m really glad I didn’t go straight to the UFC from ‘TUF.’ I needed that time to develop. … Now, I do feel like I’m at a place, no matter what after this fight, I’m ready to move on to the next thing.”

Abdul Kamara

Record: 6-1
Age: 31
Weight class: Bantamweight
Height: 5’9″
Birthplace:
Sierra Leone
Next Fight: 
Sunday vs. Aric Mercado (6-3) at Fury FC 79 in Tulsa, Okla. (UFC Fight Pass)

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Background: A former track star, Abdul Kamara encountered bad news followed by good news. First, he realized he wasn’t good enough to run at the next level – but then he realized how well his skills translate to MMA. Tired at being “average at every sport,” Kamara tried MMA after a suggestion from his younger brother. The skills backfired on his brother, who drunkenly tried to fight him at a house party one night. Kamara took his 5-0 amateur of a brother down and told him, ‘Anything you can do, I can do better.’  Two weeks after formal training, Kamara debuted. He went on an eight-fight winning streak. Eventually he turned professional and focused solely on fighting. In 2019, he turned professional and in June 2020, he moved to train at the MMA LAB in Phoenix. Since then, he’s 4-0 with three finishes, including a massive knockout at Fury FC 74 in February.

The skinny: From Sierra Leone, his birth country, to Oregon, to Arizona, Kamara has gotten a number of different looks and instructions from all over the world. Few fight for more reasons and with more pride than Kamara, who strives to be the first from his home country to make it to the UFC. Not only that, but Kamara’s journey has largely been inspired by an effort to promote anti-bullying. For his entire life, Kamara has stuttered, something outside of his control but which has led to hate and bullying. Kamara is driven by the idea of serving as an example that you shouldn’t listen to the critics. It’s not just his story, Kamara can fight, too. He continues to improve each fight and his highlight reel continues to grow. With a win here, Kamara would be perfect for “Dana White’s Contender Series,” if not a straight call up.

In his own words: “It’s been a lot of struggles, a lot of overcoming, a lot of overcoming. But we’re staying focused and staying on course. … The one thing that stands out the most is my mindset. I’m really unbroken. I feel like my life has been so challenging, it made me grind harder. Whenever I fight, I put a lot of passion into it. I’m fighting for more than just fighting. I’m fighting for my life. I’m fighting for my family’s life. I’m fighting for my kids. I’m fighting for God and Jesus Christ, who gave me the talent to express how I feel.

“Especially as a kid who grew up with a speech problem. I stuttered. I got made fun of. People told me I would not amount to anything or go far, because I had a speech impediment. So I’m just trying to prove everybody wrong and prove myself right that I am who I say who I am – and I will become who I say I’m going to be. I will be in the UFC, and I will be the first person from my country to be in the UFC. Hopefully I can inspire a lot of kids, especially with disabilities that have to overcome a lot. It takes a lot in your mind to keep pushing, even when you don’t see the vision coming close. I’ve been in this journey so long, almost 10 years now. I’m just now finally glad I didn’t quit. I’m so close.”

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Brendon Marotte

Record: 7-1
Age: 26
Weight class: Featherweight
Height: 5’10”
Birthplace:
New Hampshire
Next Fight: 
May 12 vs. Regivaldo Carvalho (7-4) at CES MMA 73 in Beverly, Mass. (UFC Fight Pass)

Background: For Brendon Marotte, it’s been nearly a decade-long journey through mixed martial arts. From a boxing family, Marotte grew up with enjoyment through watching fights on TV. School fights were his earliest hands on experience, before he entered the boxing gym. Boxing led to MMA and the rest is history. After a 6-1 start to his pro career, Marotte took over three years away from competition. The hiatus was due to a number of different factors: the want to improve, the pandemic, lack of available opponents, etc. In March, Marotte returned in an all-out slugfest during a filming of “Dana White: Lookin’ for a Fight” for Combat Zone MMA in Boston. Unfortunately for Marotte, he did not receive a UFC contract.

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The skinny: Three years away is a long time for any professional athlete, never mind a fighter. If you’re a subscriber to Dominick Cruz’s longtime claim that ring rust doesn’t exist, Marotte might be more evidence. In front of UFC president Dana White, Marotte put on arguably one of the best performances of his career – even though he was perhaps swinging for the fences a bit more wildly than he would’ve without White sitting cage-side. The upcoming fight for CES will be his best opponent to date, arguably outside of Adli Edwards, who is the only man to defeat Marotte to date. What he lacks in certain areas, Marotte makes up for in heart and excitement. The abilities will continue to develop – and a second opportunity in front of White should come if he wins his next one.

In his own words: “Mentally, as a fighter, I’m in there, and I’m game. But taking the time off, I really enjoyed it. It gave my body that break. I don’t look at it as two years I lost. I look it as two years I gained. In training, you’re going to take some damage on your body, but that was two years of not fighting, heavy in a cage. I got to just use these extra two years now. Mentally and physically, I grew a little bit more. It was all for the best, 100 percent.”

“… All I want to do when I get in there is finish people as quickly and violently as I can and entertain the crowd. At the end of the day, I understand this is an entertainment business. It was a little nerve-wracking to have Dana at my last fight but once the cage door shut and the ref said ‘go,’ he didn’t pop into my head once. … It was great having him there, but as far as pressure goes, I didn’t feel it.”

“… This next fight will definitely be a proving point. I know a lot of people look at Regivaldo Carvalho as a guy where if you can’t beat him, you don’t belong in the UFC. So when I go out there and starch him in Round 1, which is the prediction I made, it literally just solidifies I belong in the big leagues. I belong in the UFC. I’m ready to start my journey of moving up the ranks.”

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Tedrick Macklin

Record: 5-0
Age: 26
Weight class: Lightweight
Height: 5’11”
Birthplace:
Midland, Texas
Next Fight: 
May 21 vs. Raymond Cardenas (2-1) at Fury Challenger Series 4 in Houston (Facebook)

Background: A rising prospect on the Texas regional scene, Tedrick Macklin has trucked every opponent thrown his way over the course of his short professional career. But his combat sports competition started long before MMA. A taekwondo black belt, Macklin began in the discipline at age 6. He won a state title and eventually competed internationally for the International Sport Karate Association (ISKA) in continuous point-fighting. That’s his background, his foundation, his roots – and Macklin doesn’t mind the “point-fighter” tag. At the same time, he understands the criticism. He’s not a discipline homer. Sometimes, he admitted, aspects don’t work in MMA. But for him, it does. He’s undefeated as a professional with four finishes in five fights.

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The skinny: Macklin is very good for his experience level – too good, really. His biggest struggle hasn’t been the fights themselves, but finding them rather. Despite difficulties matchmaking and various pullouts once he finds an opponent, Macklin has remained active in Fury FC. Look at his record on paper and you’ll see the opposition perhaps isn’t the most experienced. Macklin would agree with you. It’s a gift and a curse being good, he admits. In his most recent bout, however, a weight was lifted off his shoulders as he defeated a game opponent with a good record in Nico Echeverry. Continue to watch Macklin grow and see something special play out.

In his own words: “I’m in a state where I’m trying to take a jump and fight people with similar records to Echeverry or on that scale and none of them want to take the fight. Other people, who are on my level, sure as f*ck don’t want to take the fight. … I go out there to hurt people. That’s what I’m always going to do first and foremost. You’ve got to be intelligent when you’re in there so it’s not always just about hit-hit-hit. Defense is super important. Your whole game plan shouldn’t just be ‘hold on and survive.’ It should be to win, especially at the level we’re trying to go to.”

“… I want to fight again between May and July and hopefully get that Contender Series shot. I talk about it all the time. I’m really, really pushing for it. … I’m hoping to showcase my striking first. The speed and the power has been shown, but the I.Q. I have is next level. With the right opponent, I’ll get to showcase that.”

“… Contender Series would be great. Going straight into the UFC would be great, as well. We’re just trying to create the pathway and create the openings and opportunities by fighting. I feel like I’m ready already. I feel like I’m that level. Being 6-0 will help my resume, especially if I have five finishes at that point. I don’t think my resume is bad, especially considering who I had a decision against. Not only are all my finishes finishes, they’re first-round finishes as well, so far. … I feel like my resume is there. I’m the kind of fighter the Contender Series looks for.”

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Daniel Barez

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – OCTOBER 05: Daniel Barez prepares to fight Carlos Hernandez in a flyweight fight during Dana White’s Contender Series season 5 week 6 at UFC APEX on October 05, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Record: 16-5
Age: 34
Weight class: Flyweight
Height: 5’6″
Birthplace:
Burjassot, Spain
Next Fight: 
May 27 vs. Joseph Morales (12-2) at Urijah Faber’s A1 Combat 11 in Wheatland, Calif. (UFC Fight Pass)

Background: Spain hasn’t had a ton of UFC representation to date, but Daniel Barez hopes to change that. At 13, Barez started kickboxing and took third place in Spanish nationals. At 18, he transitioned to mixed martial arts. The passion found in kickboxing was amplified as additional disciplines were mixed in. After a 6-4 start to his professional career, Barez turned a corner in late 2016 as he embarked on 10-of-11 stretch of wins. The only loss was a split decision defeat to Carlos Hernandez on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2021.

The skinny: Outside of the close loss on DWCS, the modern version of Barez has proven unbeatable on the regional scene. Since the defeat, Barez has gone 4-0 with four finishes, showing the loss in front of UFC president Dana White wasn’t a morale-crusher. Instead, it was a valuable learning experience. His most recent three bouts were for UWC, a top Mexican regional promotion run by renowned coach Raul Arvizu. The UFC often turns to DWCS alums (even those who lost) for short-notice calls. The timing is perfect. Whether it’s in Europe, Latin America, or the United States, Barez could be a perfect candidate.

In his own words: “I am training very hard to achieve my dream. I am sure that I will give 100 percent. This fight could be on a UFC card perfectly, both because of Joseph, who was already there, and also because of me. It will be a very exciting and very explosive fight.”

“… When I had the opportunity to enter I lost to Carlos Hernandez, but now I am showing that this is the Dani Barez that I am normally and that I deserve another chance. There are guys who, after contending with a victory, have entered and I’m happy for them. … I don’t know if they’ll call me. I just know that I’m proud of what I’ve done and I think I could give war to anyone in the UFC division, they just have to give me a chance, I think I’m in the best stage of my career.”

“… Being so active as a fighter lately has been good for me. On a psychological level, I’m great and confident of the potential I have. I am measuring myself day by day with top level people and I am sure that I am too.”

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

  • James Llontop (12-2) – Thursday vs. Nilson Oliveira (20-9) at FFC 60 in Lima, Peru (UFC Fight Pass)

  • Mikey England (7-1) – Friday vs. Victor Moreno (41-25) at FAC 19 in Independence, Mo. (MMAFutures.Live)

  • Alan Olivas (7-2) – Friday vs. Jacob Thrall (7-5-1) at FAC 19 in Independence, Mo. (MMAFutures.Live)

  • Caolan Loughran (7-0) – Saturday vs. Dylan Hazan (9-0) at Cage Warriors 154 in Rome, Italy (UFC Fight Pass)

  • Dylan Hazan (9-0) – Saturday vs. Caolan Loughran (9-0) at Cage Warriors 154 in Rome, Italy (UFC Fight Pass)

  • Matheus Camilo (5-2) – Saturday vs. Alberto Romo (4-0) at LXF 9 in Burbank, Calif. (fuboTV)

  • A.J. Cunningham (9-2) – Sunday vs. Jason Mullen (6-4) at Fury FC 79 in Tulsa, Okla. (UFC Fight Pass)

  • Julius Holmes (7-2) – Sunday vs. Julio Rodrigues (13-7) at Fury FC 79 in Tulsa, Okla. (UFC Fight Pass)

  • Nikola Joskovic (10-1) – May 11 vs. Vincent del Guerra (29-20-1) at ARES FC 15 in Paris (UFC Fight Pass)

  • Felix Klinkhammer (8-0) – May 11 vs. Christopher Jacquelin (8-3) at ARES FC 15 in Paris (UFC Fight Pass)

  • Eddy George (6-0) – May 12 vs. Yemi Oduwale (9-4) at CES MMA 73 in Beverly, Mass. (UFC Fight Pass)

  • Domingos Barros (7-1) – May 12 vs. William Knight (11-5) at CES MMA 73 in Beverly, Mass. (UFC Fight Pass)

  • Carlos Petruzzella (8-0) – May 13 vs. Cristian Dominguez (10-5) at Samurai Fight House 11 in Lomas de Zemora, Buenos Aires, Argentina (YouTube)

  • Kasey Tanner (6-0) – May 19 vs. Thiago Belo (9-6-1) at LFA 158 in Chandler, Ariz. (UFC Fight Pass)

  • An Ho (3-0) – May 19 vs. Edwin De Los Santos (2-1) at LFA 158 in Chandler, Ariz. (UFC Fight Pass)

  • Jacobi Jones (5-1) – May 19 vs. Jean-Paul Lebosnoyani (5-1) at LFA 158 in Chandler, Ariz. (UFC Fight Pass)

  • Jean-Paul Lebosnoyani (5-1) – May 19 vs. Jacob Jones (5-1) at LFA 158 in Chandler, Ariz. (UFC Fight Pass)

  • Ali Alqaisi (14-6) – May 20 vs. Jesse Arnett (20-9) at UAE Warriors 42 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

  • Kaua Fernandes (6-0) – May 27 vs. Vinicius Pires (6-1) at LFA 159 in Sao Paulo (UFC Fight Pass)

  • Vinicius Pires (6-1) – May 27 vs. Kaua Fernandes (6-0) at LFA 159 in Sao Paulo (UFC Fight Pass)

  • Lucas Rocha (15-1) – May 27 vs. Matheus da Silva (11-3) at LFA 159 in Sao Paulo (UFC Fight Pass)

  • Rodolfo Bellato (9-2) – May 27 vs. Acacio dos Santos (15-5) at LFA 159 in Sao Paulo (UFC Fight Pass)

  • Rose Conceicao (6-0) – May 27 vs. Julia Polastri (11-3) at LFA 159 in Sao Paulo (UFC Fight Pass)

  • Julia Polastri (11-3) – May 27 vs. Rose Conceicao (6-0) at LFA 159 in Sao Paulo (UFC Fight Pass)

  • Eimar Hernandez (5-0) – May 27 vs. Leandro Soares (10-4-1) at Urijah Faber’s A1 Combat 11 in Wheatland, Calif. (UFC Fight Pass)

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie