For those who make it to MMA’s 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, but 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 fights. There are dozens of fighters inches away from making the jump in the coming weeks, but these five are particularly exemplary.
Two LFA 93 headliners will try to derail each other’s winning streaks en route to a potential major promotional ticket-punching victory.
One of Texas’ top prospects looks to break through perennial “on the bubble” status by earning a CFFC title.
A Dana White’s Contender Series alumnus aims to continue his career comeback with a win in his home region.
A Mexican-born Canadian resident will fight in the middle of her two represented countries when she makes her LFA debut for the title.
Image via Cage Fury Fighting Championship (CFFC)
Weight class: Middleweight
Birthplace: New Jersey
Next Fight: Oct. 16 vs. Aaron Jeffrey (8-2) at LFA 93 in Wichita, Kan. (UFC Fight Pass)
Background: Since he was 4 years old, Andre Petroski has wrestled. After stops at Springfield High School, the University of North Carolina, and Bloomsburg University, Petroski finished out his collegiate career at Kutztown University. In his senior year of college, nationals were in March with a May graduation. During the two-month gap, Petroski felt the need to find a new venture with fresh goals to pursue. Jiu-jitsu was Petroski’s avenue to filling the void. After graduation, he stuck around to continue training until he went broke. A lifelong martial artist in the making, Petroski figured his skills would translate into the cage, and he slowly translated into a fighter.
The Skinny: Although he has already built well-rounded MMA skills, Petroski is developing. His wrestling background is strong, and one that gives him a leg up on the majority of other five-fight professionals – especially at middleweight. Recently moving to Factory X, Petroski has shown willingness to try to improve his striking to compliment an already outstanding wrestling game. Training at elevation will only help him, too. If he defeats a guy like Aaron Jeffrey, who has handily beaten almost everyone thrown in front of him, look for the UFC to come calling. The middleweight division can always use prospects – nevermind former college wrestlers with a 100 percent finishing rate and a near-even split of knockouts and submissions.
In his own words: “I’m 5-0 with five finished in the first two rounds. I feel like it’s only a matter of time. I’m not going to say I deserve the spotlight, but I’m going to say I deserve a big fight (like this one). There’s a lot of guys that are 5-0, but not a lot of them have all finishes.”
“… The proof is in the pudding. Obviously, everyone that follows MMA pretty closely knows the wrestling background is crucial. It’s very important. If you match that up with coach (Marc) Montoya, who is one of the best striking coaches in the country? If you put the two and two together, then add in that I’m training at altitude, right? Now you’ve got the gas tank and the striking. It’s a recipe for disaster for anybody.”
“… Everyone says (the UFC will be calling). I don’t know. I’ve never been to the UFC. I don’t know how they operate. A lot of people say a lot of things but I just try to worry about the task in front of me.”
Weight class: Middleweight
Birthplace: London, Ontario, Canada
Next Fight: Oct. 16 vs. Andre Petroski (5-0) at LFA 93 in Wichita, Kan. (UFC Fight Pass)
Background: Aaron Jeffrey is one of Canada’s top pound-for-pound fighters. Fight fans who don’t follow the regional scene closely might recognize Jeffery from Season 3 of Dana White’s Contender Series. Of Jeffery’s eight wins, seven have come inside the distance. He holds six TKO victories and one by submission. His only two losses have come to current members of the UFC roster Brendan Allen and Sean Brady – both of whom have promising futures ahead.
The Skinny: Jeffery’s striking is crisp and technical. He’s light on his feet, particularly for a middleweight, and is able to utilize his movement to pressure his opponent. But beyond his physical attributes, Jeffery is a very confident competitor. Instead of becoming complacent upon dominating the Canadian regional scene, he’s frequently traveled south of his border to take on new challenges in the U.S. A win over Petroski is just what he needs to go straight to the UFC.
In his own words: “(Opponent withdrawals) have been super frustrating. I had three canceled fights in two events. For all of those fights, I think I found out around the exact same timeframe. It was like two days out from weigh-ins or something. I was already sucked down, dehydrated.”
“… The last one seemed like it was maybe going to be enough. I don’t know exactly what they’re looking for or what they want from me or if the eyes on me that much. I guess all I can do is keep training and winning fights, right?”
“… It’s sick that we’re on UFC Fight Pass in the main event. That’s a big slot. I assume there’s going to be a lot of eyes on this (as I fight) an undefeated opponent. It’s a big one. I’m super stoked.”
Image via Cage Fury Fighting Championship (CFFC)
Weight class: Lightweight
Birthplace: New Jersey
Next Fight: Oct. 29 vs. Christian Leonard at CFFC 86 in Philadelphia (UFC Fight Pass)
Background: Joe Lowry kicked off his wrestling career at 5 years old – a passion he still has today. After a brief pause in his wrestling career, Lowry picked up kickboxing in middle school. Upon entry into high school, Lowry joined the wrestling team. With his coach being an MMA fighter, Lowry tagged along to one of his coach’s weigh-ins. Around the time of his graduation, Lowry became bored with the daily grind of weightlifting. He began training MMA as a substitute, which turned into an amateur, then professional, career. In 2018, Lowry was featured on Dana White’s Contender Series and was knocked out by future UFC fighter Devonte Smith in Round 1. Shortly thereafter, Lowry was in a bad head-on car accident that injured his ankle and threatened his career. However, Lowry persevered and returned to action for CFFC earlier this year with a 129-second TKO win.
The Skinny: Whether it’s inside the cage or outside of it, Lowry has been tested. Battling through adversity, Lowry has shown his determination and focus to quite possibly be his most outstanding attribute. A union worker who still puts in eight hours per day before training, Lowry’s work ethic is supreme. His wrestling and striking are both very good, providing a difficult challenge to any fighter who steps in the cage with him. Sure, he lost to Smith on Dana White’s Contender Series. But that’s by no means a bad loss. It was the first of his career and an experience that will likely make him better in the long run. While Lowry is certainly good enough to be in the UFC, it might not be a bad idea for him to get a couple more fights in as he still is trying to rebuild strength and mobility in his ankle.
In his own words: “I’ve been competing my whole life. I didn’t have the easiest life in the world. When people ask me, ‘How long have you been fighting for?’ I always tell them, ‘I’ve been fighting my whole life, but I’ve been fighting MMA for the past 15 years.’ It’s nothing new to go out there and train and fight. I can put in the hard work.
“… What makes me different from everyone else is my heart and the way I train and my coaches. Me and my coaches are like a family. We understand each other. My coaches are improving as much as I’m improving each time I fight. We go ever techniques and strategies for different opponents. I have a great team behind me, which you need if you want to go far in this sport.”
“… My mindset right now isn’t focused on the UFC. I’m not trying to think like that. … I’m not trying to disappoint myself and get myself all hyped up waiting for a phone call. If I don’t get a phone call, I don’t want to be all bummed out about it. I’m just thinking about this fight now and that’s where my mind is. I’m training for the now. Whatever comes next comes next.”
Weight class: Bantamweight
Birthplace: Venus, Texas
Next Fight: Oct. 29 vs. James Gonzalez (6-3) at CFFC 86 in Philadelphia (UFC Fight Pass)
Background: It was a natural progression that Levi Mowles would go down the MMA path considering the battles he engaged in with his younger brother while growing up. The boys were quickly introduced to jiu-jitsu by their parents, and they haven’t looked back since. Training out of Fitness Fight Factory, Levi Mowles has competed against some of Texas’ top competition since his pro debut in 2014.
The Skinny: If you’ve watched an LFA or other high-level regional event in Texas, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Mowles fight. Despite only being 25, Mowles seems like he’s been around forever. Since Day 1, he’s fought the who’s who of Lone Star State talent. He’s competed against the likes of Miles Johns, Raufeon Stots, Damon Jackson and Tony Kelley. He’s beaten current UFC fighters Jimmy Flick and Adrian Yanez. Mowles is exciting and a threat no matter where the fight ends up. In recent years, he’s erased any doubt about his consistency, winning seven-of-eight fights entering his CFFC title fight. Already on the UFC’s radar, title gold should tip the scales in his favor as a perfect short-notice signee for a major promotion.
In his own words: “My management and coaches have been on a mission to get me to the UFC this year. … I’ve been on the UFC’s list for a while now. It’s been all on me. I feel like especially after making the weight, it will be easy for me to stay really low. They’d be kind of crazy not to give me a call a few weeks afterward.”
“… Something I’ve always strived to give my friends, family, and fans watching my fights is not just a win. Winning is cool. But I want a fun fight to watch. I don’t feel like in any of my fights, even my losses, I was ever not competitive. (My fight) was never not something that people were going, ‘Ooh, ahh.’ I feel like that’s kind of where I differentiate myself from the rest of the pack in terms of people on my level. I’m exciting. I’m the guy people want to tune in for and watch. You never know what’s going to happen.”
“… Looking at my record, a couple of those fights were too close to call. There were split decisions in there that could’ve been either me or him. I definitely took them as learning experiences, and it made me a better fighter today.”
Image via Iridium Sports Agency
Weight class: Strawweight
Birthplace: Aguascalientes, Mexico
Next Fight: Oct. 30 vs. Vanessa Demopolous at LFA 94 in Wichita, Kan. (UFC Fight Pass)
Background: From a young age, Lupita Godinez wanted to be a fighter. With MMA being relatively foreign to many Mexicans at the time, Godinez gravitated toward WWE. Given the resources available, Godinez’s mother signed her up for judo classes, which jumpstarted her combat sports pursuit. After moving to Canada, Godinez dropped judo because she was juggling school and work. A year into her life as an adopted Canadian, Godinez refocused on judo. While nursing an injury, she discovered MMA and set her mind upon it when she returned to peak health. Two years after she started training, Godinez took her first amateur fight, and the rest is history.
The Skinny: For much of her life, Godinez has proven to be a hard worker. From moving across multiple countries to work and go to school to taking numerous short-notice fights with the hopes of advancing her career, Godinez’s determination has been her driving factor. She’s come so far in so little time, spoiling multiple “homecoming” fights for her opponents. At 27 years old, the best is still yet to come. Winning a major regional promotional title will only help her chances. The UFC and Bellator are always looking for women’s strawweights who can talk the talk and walk the walk. Godinez’s mic skills are very good and she’s proved to be a compelling interviewee. If she wins her next fight, don’t be surprised if a major promotion comes knocking.
In his own words: “I’m really hungry and I’m always working. I’m always working hard. All of the fights I’ve had as a professional, I’ve taken them on two weeks’ notice. I think the longest one I’ve had was three weeks’ notice. My first professional fight was in Denver on two weeks’ notice. I’m pretty sure I was brought in to lose. I broke my hand in the first round. It was at high elevation – and I still got on top. Each fight, I’ve had something as a professional. Yes, I have so many decisions, but I haven’t had the full camps that now I get. I’m constantly putting the work in.”
“… You never know. This could be (my UFC ticket). It could not. The game is really weird. Right now, I’m mostly focusing on this fight, and whatever happens, after I will deal with it. I feel like, yes, I do want to get in the UFC. Yes, I do want to fight there. Yes, I want to be part of the organization. But if I’m thinking about that, it takes away from living in the moment for this fight.”
The best of the rest
Here are some fighters worth watching who didn’t crack the list, yet are on the verge of something big:
Askar Askar (11-1) – Oct. 2, defeated Kevin Wirth (8-2) via unanimous decision at LFA 92 in Park City, Kan. (UFC Fight Pass)
Adli Edwards (7-1) – Oct. 3, defeated Jake Willyard (1-6) via TKO (ground-and-pound) in Round 1 at Ultimate Battle Grounds 4 in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
David Onama (6-0) – Oct. 9, defeated Justin Overton (8-5) via submission in Round 3 at FAC 4 in Independence, Mo. (UFC Fight Pass)
Jack Della Maddalena (9-2) – Oct. 10, defeated Aldin Bates (6-3) via knockout (punch) at Eternal MMA 53 in Perth, Western Australia, Australia. (UFC Fight Pass)
Mitch Raposo (4-0)– Oct. 14 vs. Matt Almy (4-3) at CES 61 in Warwick, R.I. (UFC Fight Pass)
John Gotti III (5-0) – Oct. 14 vs. Nick Alley (6-3) at CES 61 in Warwick, R.I. (UFC Fight Pass)
Elijah Johns (6-1) – Oct. 16 vs. Luke Faultersack (6-3) at LFA 93 in Wichita, Kan. (UFC Fight Pass)
Josh Fremd (5-1) – Oct. 16 vs. Antonio Jones (7-3) at LFA 93 in Wichita, Kan. (UFC Fight Pass)
Brogan Anderson (13-3) – Oct. 17 vs. Cole Davids (9-3) in Dunedin, New Zealand.
Yasmin Castanho (4-0) – Oct. 23 vs. Bruna Vargas (4-3) at Taura MMA 10 in Rio de Janeiro.
Jared Revel (10-2) – Oct. 23 vs. Sergio Moraes (14-6-1) at Taura MMA 10 in Rio de Janeiro.
Gian Sarturi (8-2) – Oct. 23 vs. Isaac Moura (10-4) at Taura MMA 10 in Rio de Janeiro.
Felipe Gheno (9-1) – Oct. 23 vs. Bruno Mesquita (11-3-1) at Taura MMA 10 in Rio de Janeiro.
Bruno Mesquita (11-3-1) – Oct. 23 vs. Felipe Gheno at Taura MMA 10 in Rio de Janeiro.
James Gonzalez (6-3) – Oct. 29 vs. Levi Mowles (13-4) at CFFC 86 in Philadelphia. (UFC Fight Pass)
Santo Curatolo (5-0) – Oct. 30 vs. Alberto Trujillo (4-1) at CFFC 87 in Philadelphia. (UFC Fight Pass)
Dustin Joynson (5-0) – Oct. 30 vs. Carl Seumanutafa (12-11) at CFFC 87 in Philadelphia. (UFC Fight Pass)
Brett Martin (9-0) – Oct. 30 vs. Antonio Silva (19-12) at Taura MMA 11 in Kissimmee, Fla.
Thai Clark (8-0) – Oct. 30 vs. Chase Gibson (9-5) at LFA 94 in Wichita, Kan.