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The Red Corner: Men’s flyweight prospect preview

The UFC’s men’s flyweight division is by far one of the promotion’s most intriguing. Standing as the UFC’s most junior men’s division, the lightest men’s weight class has also had the most volatile history. With only 36 fighters, the flyweight division is also the UFC’s most shallow men’s division. This is indicative of the 125-pound limit — flyweights can’t physically be all that tall or heavy. 

Current flyweight champion Brandon Moreno (19-5-2) is the tallest UFC flyweight to be crowned champ at 5-foot-7. All those before him — Demetrious Johnson, Henry Cejudo and Deiveson Figueiredo — were at or below the UFC flyweight average of 5-foot-5, according to The MMA Guru website

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Therefore: Flyweights are hard to come by. They have to be stocky martial artists willing to make the hardest cut in MMA. All the same, the flyweight division, for the first time in its near-decade history, is starting to bolster more than one legitimate talent. 

Johnson (30-4-1) made the division borderline unwatchable with his 11-title-defense reign. All credit to Johnson, he is one of the greatest to ever step into the Octagon, but his domination of the division begs the question of the quality of opponents he faced. In 2018, Cejudo (16-2), another name in the MMA GOAT conversation, beat Johnson in a rematch. 

Cejudo vacated in 2019, spurring a two-fight title series between Figueiredo (20-2-1) and Joseph Benavidez (28-8). Figgy won both, had a couple of title defenses of his own and was beginning to get the same ‘unbeatable’ title that his predecessors had earned. 

Then Moreno caught Figgy in a rear-naked choke at UFC 263 and became the first Mexican-born UFC champion. Now Moreno and Figueiredo are set for a trilogy fight, scheduled for UFC 270 in January. 

In the meantime, here are three flyweight prospects who will be knocking on the door of the 125-pound division in the coming years. 

Askar Askarov (14-0-1)

If it’s not a sustained title reign for Moreno or Figueiredo, “Bullet” Askarov is 100% the future of this division. Askarov is undefeated in his MMA career and has three rather dominant unanimous decisions in the UFC. His one blemish is a split-decision draw with Moreno in 2019, but that in and of itself is an impressive feat. 

Askarov is extremely well-rounded. In a division where few fighters have knockout power, Askarov may be the king of the mat, with his exhaustive vernacular of submissions. His slick wrestling exhausts opponents, and his grappling is truly the best in a division where BJJ and MMA are synonyms. 

Before the UFC, Askarov boasted a 100% finish rate, and within the UFC he has dominant UD wins over three very legitimate ranked opponents in Tim Elliott (17-12-1), Alexandre Pantoja (24-5) and former title challenger Benavidez. 

Sumudaerji (14-4) 

Contributing to the recent influx of talented and successful Chinese fighters in the UFC, Su, who is 25 years old, debuted in the UFC on the losing end of an armbar submission to Louis Smolka (17-7). Since then, Su has racked up three straight wins, including a 44-second knockout of Malcolm Gordon (13-5). 

Su’s strength comes from his lightning-quick hands and remarkable power for a flyweight. Eleven of his 14 career wins have come via knockout or technical knockout. In the UFC, he has two wins by unanimous decision and one via the knockout of Gordon.

His grappling has shown to be a weak spot, as all four of his losses have come via submission. The armbar loss to Smolka has been his one loss in the UFC.

Jeff Molina (9-2)

Jeff Molina is the freshest and youngest prospect on this list, but his future may be the brightest. The Glory MMA product is currently on an eight-fight win streak, including a unanimous victory in his UFC debut over Qileng Aori (18-8) at UFC 261. 

Molina handled a 2020 appearance on Dana White’s Contender Series, earning a contract on the back of a dominant unanimous decision. Molina has exhibited both well-trained jiu-jitsu and tight striking in his career, earning three wins apiece via submission and knockout in his ongoing win streak. 

Molina will welcome a fellow well-rounded young flyweight in Daniel Lacerda (11-1) to the UFC on Oct. 23. 

As always, keep up with @RedCornerDFP for picks, predictions and MMA news.

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