Slowly but surely fighters from Tennessee are making their way into the UFC. OVince St. Preux and Dustin Ortiz have had some success in the Octagon and are ranked in the Top 15 in their weight classes. Recently Scott Holtzman from East Tennessee was released from his XFC contract and inked a deal with Zuffa. But those aren’t the only guys from the Volunteer state who could do well in the UFC. The state is starting to really produce talent after a few years with an Athletic Commission in place to oversee and sanction professional bouts.
I put together a list of fighters who are the Top Ten prospects from Tennessee who have the potential to wind up in the UFC. I didn’t include Mike Wessel and Thomas Vasquez since they are under contract with Bellator.
Here you go.
10. Andy Uhrich 170 7-4
Two years ago Uhrich was on fire. He defeated previously undefeated D1 wrestler Joe Williams at Bellator 73 and was invited to participate in the new Bellator reality show “Fight Master”. Uhrich defeated Dom O’Grady on the show but he sustained a cut above his eye and was given a suspension by the Louisiana Athletic Commission and sent home. After Bellator couldn’t find a fight for him for almost a year “Stunner” was brought back to face former Collegiate All-American wrestler Nate Coy who had wins over Dhiego Lima and Rick Story. Uhrich dropped him twice and dominated him standing. Unfortunately he lost a decision after Coy laid on him for most of the fight.
Back in May he fought again for Bellator. This time he fought up and coming Ben Brewer. After coming out strong in the first round and imposing his will on Brewer Uhrich got caught in the second round and lost his second fight in a row. He will fight next for Summit Fighting Championships against Codale Ford in September.
Should Uhrich win or two more he could be a great fit on The Ultimate Fighter.
9. Adam Townsend 155 9-3
After a decorated amateur career Townsend turned pro in 2012 and won his first four fights, three of which were by submission. Last year he got caught on the wrong side of some close decision losses to Nate Landwehr, Pat Defranco, and Frankie Perez. Since dropping a split decision to Landwehr in February Townsend has finished three straight opponents and appears to be on the verge of some bigger things.
Like Uhrich, Townsend is another guy who would be a great fit on The Ultimate Fighter. If he could get on the show and show what he’s made of he could easily get a fight in the UFC, whether he wins the show or not.
8. Tyler Minton 185 5-1
Tyler Minton is arguably one of the most popular fighters in East Tennessee. With his gutsy performances and down home, good ol boy demeanor it’s easy to root for “Melee”. Earlier this year he was featured on The Ultimate Fighter. But unfortunately he lost to future semi-finalist Roger Zapata and didn’t make it in the house.
Since the show Minton hasn’t competed. But having been on the show, he’s on the UFC’s radar and with another win or two it’s likely you will see him in the UFC.
7. Nate Landwehr 155 4-1
Nate Landwehr is one of the most polarizing fighters in the state. Some folks love him, while others despise him. He’s not cocky. He’s convinced. But one thing is for sure “The Train” comes to fight every time.
Landwehr quietly built a following as a dynamic amateur out of Clarksville, TN. After dropping a controversial hometown split decision against ISKA flyweight champ Anthony Morgan in 2012 he turned pro that summer on the undercard of XFC 18 in Nashville.
Coming into the bout the promotion was really touting his opponent, Billy Mullins who had won a pro contract with the XFC after winning a tournament. “The Train” dominated Mullins as soon as the fight started and knocked him out in the second round. After the fight he was offered a contract with the XFC.
Later that year Landwehr was the center of the controversy when he taunted his opponent Chris Wright after knocking him out at XFC 20 in Knoxville. Wright is a fairly popular fighter from East Tennessee. He never was shy about saying what was on his mind and allegedly had been talking smack to Landwehr at the weigh-ins and before they walked out to the cage. After their introductions neither man touched gloves and it was a grudge match from that point forward. In the second round Landwehr was on top of Wright raining down punches until the ref stopped the fight. Still upset about the trash talk from earlier “The Train” kept talking and taunting Wright until his opponent’s cornermen ran into the cage. They were escorted out by security but Landwehr had made an impression.
Landwehr next appeared at XFC 22 in Charlotte against D’Juan Owens. “The Train” lost a controversial decision in Owens hometown that probably should’ve gone his way. After suffering his first career loss Landwehr fought Keith Richardson at XFC 26. At the end of the night it was another highlight reel KO for the bad guy as he knocked out “The Rockstar” late in the first round.
In February “The Train” headed back to East Tennessee to face our #9 prospect Adam Townsend. As if the stakes weren’t higher for the two, both men agreed to fight a “Winner Takes All” bout and the winner would go home with the losers fight purse. Landwehr did it again as he went into hostile territory and earned a close split decision win.
Currently Landwehr is tied up in the XFC mess and his contract status isn’t very clear. The XFC has changed course and are only promoting shows in South American so it’s likely he will get his release like Hotzman did and will be a free agent very soon. “The Train” was made for The Ultimate Fighter. Some would love him and most would hate him. Either way you will watch when he’s fighting.
6. Ben Brewer 170 8-2
Brewer is somewhat of a legend in Tennessee amateur MMA. It seemed like he fought every weekend all over the state. The most interesting thing is, is that he rarely lost. He bounced around from gym to gym but after turning pro and winding up with Shawn Hammonds “The Ruler” has found his home. Being over 6 foot tall Brewer has range and with with his slick submission he has developed into a legitimate UFC prospect.
In January 2013 Brewer made his pro debut and was on his way to becoming 2-0 before a freak accident occurred when he hit his head on the cage. Instead of stopping the bout and declaring it a no contest the ref awarded it to his opponent Dameon Melton. Three months later Brewer avenged the loss with a submission victory in less than a minute.
Since avenging the loss Brewer reeled off 5 straight victories and looked like he was about to pick up his sixth earlier this weekend at Legacy 34 against former Ultimate Fighter contestant Gilbert Smith. Brewer dominated the fight and had his opponent in trouble early on. Unfortunately he got caught in the closing seconds of the first round in a guillotine and was forced to tap.
Losing to a guy like Smith won’t hurt him. Brewer is young and will bounce back. Brewer will likely fight again this fall for V3 and if he can string together a couple of wins it’s possible he could skip The Ultimate Fighter and go right to the big show.
5. Brian Hall 125 9-2
Brian Hall is a guy who has been around for a long time. He competed as an amateur for two years and dominated everyone until he fought Thomas Vasquez. Vasquez beat him twice as an amateur. He finished him in both fights. The knock on Hall was he had a lot of potential but his record was padded and he hadn’t beaten anyone that was credible. Going into Legacy 34 Hall’s wins came over opponents with a 10-33 record.
On Friday night Hall changed all that. He beat Pedro Souza who was regarded as one of the top prospects from Brazil at Legacy 34. With the win “The Law” just put himself onto the UFC’s radar. The UFC flyweight division is thin at best and a 9-2 fighter coming off a high profile win has a good shot at making their roster.
4. Austin Lyons 145 12-3
Like Brian Hall Austin Lyons is another guy who has been around a while on the Tennessee MMA scene. He appeared on the Live season of the Ultimate Fighter but didn’t win his fight to get into the house. Since the show he lost 3 out of his next four fights. But now with two straight wins on two major shows (Bellator 120 and Legacy 34) Lyons seems to have righted the ship now that he is with Nashville MMA.
Lyons may need a few more wins before he could make it to the UFC. But with impressive wins over a tough veteran like Zach Underwood and a former UFC veteran and TUF champion, Jonathan Brookins he is a lot closer than he was last year.
3. Drew Kennedy 170 5-1
Drew Kennedy is one of the most dynamic fighters in Tennessee. He finished his first five professional opponents with relative ease. Unfortunately Kennedy was on the wrong end of a controversial hometown decision loss against Roger Carroll last January. Had that fight been held anywhere else Kennedy would’ve won.
Since the loss Kennedy hasn’t competed. He was scheduled to face Ben Brewer earlier this Spring but Brewer had a hard time with the weight cut and had to pull out of the bout the day of the weigh-ins.
Kennedy is scrappy and has tremendous submissions. He still needs a few more wins before he would be on the UFC’s radar but he would be a great fit for The Ultimate Fighter.
2.Teddy Holder 205 8-1
After starting off his MMA career at 2-1 Holder took some time off to deal with health issues. But when he came back in 2012 he was all business finishing 6 straight opponents. Holder wasn’t fighting chumps either. He knocked out former Bellator light heavyweight tournament contender Chris Davis and former UFC fighter Sean Salmon both in the first round.
Holder is currently under contract with World Series of Fighting and was rumored to be fighting Matt Hamill before he announced his retirement earlier this summer. With his heavy hands and knack for finishing fights you know Dana White would love to get ahold of him one day.
1. Luke Sanders 145 8-0
Several years ago when Nashville MMA was starting to turn out quality fighters like Dustin Ortiz Luke Sanders was just beginning his career. Now looking back he could be the biggest prospect they’ve ever had. Sanders went 6-0 fighting on smaller regional shows before signing with RFA earlier this year. Since joining Ed Soares promotion he has quietly gone 2-0 and could be setting himself up for a run in the UFC.
Sanders has taken his training to the next level by taking his last fight camp to The MMA Lab in Arizona to train with former UFC champ Benson Henderson. Before heading out west he had very good wrestling and submissions but now training with some of the best in the world like Henderson and former UFC stars like Jamie Varner and Efrain Escudero he will only get better. Of all the fighters on this list Sanders has the best shot at making it to the UFC the quickest.
Honorable mention: Zach Underwood 155 12-6, Cory Alexander 135 7-6, Craig Johnson 155 6-3