(Mamed Khalidov squints in celebration after choking out Melvin Manhoef last June. Photo via Piotr Pedziszewski/Sherdog)
By Nasir Jabbar
The UFC’s ongoing quest for world domination will see the promotion hold over forty events in 2014, including the “European Tour” that kicks off March 8th in London with UFC Fight Night 38. After that, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Poland, and Turkey will also host Fight Night events, catering to the many fans across Europe who are hungry for their UFC fix.
Since these events will be broadcast on the UFC’s online service Fight Pass, they will likely be filled with European talent, to not only attract local crowds but to keep the costs down. The UFC’s European Head of Operations Garry Cook previously revealed that the promotion was on the lookout for another matchmaker to join Joe Silva and Sean Shelby, specifically to help fill those events. So, I’ll do the job for them and highlight four European fighters that UFC needs to sign this year…
(Khalidov vs. Kendall Grove @ KSW 21, 12/1/12)
Current Employer: KSW
Notable Wins: Mevlin Manhoef, Kendall Grove, Rodney Wallace, Matt Lindland, James Irvin
Why the UFC Should Sign Him: We’ve been Khalidov-nuthuggers for years, but can you blame us? Currently riding an eight-fight win streak (all wins by stoppage) the Polish wrecking machine is widely regarded as the best middleweight not signed to a major promotion. Admittedly, his opponents have mainly consisted of cans and UFC washouts, but he has dispatched them in brutal fashion. The Chechnya native has displayed a wide range of attacks as he continues to swallow the competition KSW feeds him, utilizing his devastating submission game and vicious striking.
Many of the big players in the MMA world have tried to get the elusive signature of Khalidov, with Bellator, Strikeforce and the UFC all failing. Khalidov went as far as to call the UFC’s offer “laughable” back in 2012, but with the 33-year-old racking up more wins since the initial offer, the Zuffa brass might be convinced to dig deeper into their pockets to make another offer. Despite the possibility of being a fairly “expensive” European signee, he would provide a stiff test for many of the top 185-pounders on the UFC’s roster. And if the UFC really wants to break into the Polish market, they need this guy.
(Pendred vs. Che Mills @ Cage Warriors 55, 6/1/13)
Current Employer: Cage Warriors
Notable Wins: Che Mills, Nico Musoke, David Bielkheden
Why the UFC Should Sign Him: Pendred is already set to appear on TUF 19: Penn vs. Edgar in pursuit of a UFC contract, but being on the reality show doesn’t guarantee him one. Regardless of how he performs, the Irishman warrants a space on the UFC roster. He may not be as brash or have any special talents like his teammate Conor McGregor, but Pendred is definitely a talent to watch as he provides non-stop action, and an effective grinding style that has helped him remain unbeaten since 2010.
The former CWFC welterweight champion, who was born in Boston, campaigned hard to get on last year’s debut FOX Sports 1 show, but failed in his attempt. Most recently he asked Dana White for a spot opposite Alessio Sakara as Tom Watson fell victim to the injury bug, but the gig eventually went to Nico Musoke, a former scalp of Pendred. And so, Pendred is entering the UFC the hard way — through the booze-fueled reality show chaos of TUF. Pendred is familiar with UFC competition as he trains regularly at Straight Blast Gym in Ireland which houses McGregor and Iceland’s Gunnar Nelson.
(Barnaoui vs. Colin Fletcher @ BAMMA 14, 12/14/13)
Current Employer: BAMMA
Notable Wins: Colin Fletcher, Curt Warburton
Why the UFC Should Sign Him: Born in Tunisia and now residing in France, the current BAMMA lightweight champion has looked very impressive with back-to-back first round finishes over ex-UFC fighters Curt Warburton and Colin Fletcher. Warburton employed a heavy grappling offense which Barnaoui was able to stifle by getting back to his feet whenever taken down and punishing Warburton with strikes, eventually getting the finish. The rangy striker is always the aggressor in the stand-up, and his knee strikes have also made him very dangerous in the clinch.
Barnaoui’s title defense against Fletcher was a wild brawl. Nevertheless, Barnaoui showed more composure during the battle, ultimately pulling through after he was dropped, then avoiding a submission before pulling one off himself. The man also known as “Tarzan” has already racked up thirteen professional fights, and as he continues to develop his skills the 21-year-old is only getting better.
(Buchinger vs. Stevie Ray @ Cage Warriors 63, 12/31/13)
Current Employer: Cage Warriors
Notable Wins: Stevie Ray, Jamal Magomedov
Why the UFC Should Sign Him: Bellator light-heavyweight champion Attila Vegh isn’t the only well known MMA fighter representing Slovakia, as Cage Warriors featherweight champion Ivan Buchinger has also done his home country proud. More known for his defeat to Conor McGregor — which has led to the footage being played over, and over again — “Buki” has since redeemed himself by going on a four-fight win streak which saw him capture the CWFC featherweight title.
Buchinger has demonstrated his durability and endurance by finishing opponents late in his fights, including a fourth-round submission victory over then-champion Stevie Ray. Buchinger has a varied attack which paves the way for his buttery smooth ground game, which has helped him win a majority of his fights by submission. The Slovak doesn’t play it safe and always looks to end the fight before the last bell. With the way things have been going lately, the UFC could use more guys like that.