Mid-Year MMA Awards: Best Rookie

UFC Rookie - Manon Fiorot, Luana Pinheiro and Jeremiah Wells

How many UFC rookies in 2021 are really that good or will turn out to be great fighters?

That is a good question and after just 6 months of action, there aren’t a lot of names that are coming to mind at the moment but every single superstar in the UFC has been an Octagon debutant before and spent 365 days as a rookie.

One name I like in this spot who conveniently for us made her debut in January is France’s Marion Fiorot. This woman is the truth. We don’t know much about her ground game yet but we do know the woman looks like she could get after it on the feet with any other female in the Flyweight Division including the world champion, Valentina Shevchenko.

Yea, I said it. She could be that good. Her size and power are exceptional. I would look to bet her whenever possible but the sportsbooks aren’t dumb. They will give her a step up soon and that will be the time to make the play.

If she keeps fighting low-level girls, the betting lines will not be affordable.

Sticking with the ladies but dropping down to the 115 pounds Strawweight Division, Montserrat Ruiz from Old Mexico looked great in her debut with the company earlier this year when she came through as an underdog to defeat the highly touted Cheyenne Buys.

There are a lot of good fighters coming out of Mexico right now just like France so watch out. 2020 was the year of resurgence for Brazilian women’s mixed martial arts but there are other countries catching up in 2021.

Sticking with the ladies once more, Luana Pinheiro is a Brazilian fighter we cashed in on in her UFC debut a few months ago against tough grizzled Canadian UFC veteran, Randa Markos.

Staying with the lighter weight classes but switching over to the men, finally, I wanted to talk about a fighter I think has an X-factor and that is Ronnie Lawrence. We cashed in on him in his UFC debut as well as his Contender Series win before that.

This southern boy is legit everywhere and there is something special about him for sure.

Yes, there are bigger names and some better talent out there but we are focusing only on mixed martial artists who made their UFC debuts in the year 2021. Working our way up to the UFC’s Lightweight Division, Terrance McKinney burst onto the UFC scene with a first-round knockout of the tough and durable Matt Frevola.

This was a short notice fight and T was the dog but quickly showed us why the online books made a big mistake. He could still be one of those first-round or bust guys and it is wise for us not to rate these types of fighters too highly based solely on first-round wins.

We will see, though. He is 11-3 and seems to have learned and matured as a pro fighter so maybe we see him win a decision soon. That would impress me more than another first-round knockout.

Jeremiah Wells is our final candidate and if you missed this Philly fighter’s performance in his UFC debut against Warlley Alves, a fighter who holds a win over Colby Covington, then we will catch you up.

This guy might be the most explosive athlete we have ever seen compete inside of the UFC Octagon.

If we use any betting odds for any future fights for these youngins, they will be provided by the good folks over at BetOnline. Let’s crown a Rookie of the Half Year!

Ronnie Lawrence

Ronnie Lawrence just sounds like a country boy to me and the Nashville, Tennessee native is now 7-1 and an excellent all-around mixed martial artist. We cashed on him in both his Contender Series win and in his UFC debut opposite Vince Cachero.

When Daniel Cormier says he was impressed and Dana White agrees, I tend to take a second look at those fighters and that is when I realized that Ronnie Lawrence was going to be a problem.

Then, I learned that he didn’t really come from a wrestling background but saw how well he utilized it in the Octagon, and boom, I knew we had someone special on our hands at this point. He doesn’t have a next opponent lined up yet but I would seriously consider betting him blind.

The young man has the X-factor.

Montserrat Ruiz

This young lady here is 1-0 in the UFC and 1-0 competing as an underdog inside the Octagon as well. I was very impressed with not only her power but also that she appeared to fight with a ton of heart even though her UFC debut wasn’t a massive challenge for her once she got in there.

Montserrat was born in Guanajuato, Mexico only just 28 years ago and is now training out of El Paso, Texas, and working on her submission grappling at a 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu school in town.

She is 10-1 in her professional mixed martial arts career with her only loss coming in the women’s only Invicta promotion to Danielle Taylor who is just 11-5 but a UFC vet. Danielle has lost to Weili Zhang, Juliana Lima, JJ Aldrich, and Maryna Moroz.

Those are all current or former UFC mixed martial artists there. Tough road for Danielle, wow. I hope the company gives her some love in the near future.

Montserrat has just one fight inside of the Octagon but she got her hand raised and really really put it on Cheyenne Buys who was supposed to run through her. Montserrat isn’t the largest fighter in her weight class but she can crack and as I mentioned, the heart of a lion.

A Mexican-born fighter with a ton of heart? The heck you say, Mike?

Another shocker. Montserrat is an athlete that I really like and even though she already surprised the betting world with an underdog performance like that, I still think we will be able to get some nice value when betting on her in the near future.

Her second fight inside of the Octagon, though, will come against one of the baddest women on the planet, Brazil’s Amanda Lemos. If you follow our blog closely then you might remember Amanda from an article I wrote entitled Doorbuster Betting Odds for UFC 259.

This was back on February 22nd of this year. She opened as a (+165) betting underdog to Livinha Renato Souza, an ok fighter but nowhere on the level of Amanda. Unfortunately for us, this betting line didn’t hang around for very long at all and by that, I mean it got bet down immediately.

We tipped her harder than I may have ever tipped a (-150) fighter but I honestly felt like the implied probability for the Brazilian to get the win here should have been 80-90%. It sounded outlandish and we don’t write on too many sure things but Lemos is the truth.

Amanda is a problem but Montserrat won’t go down without a fight like Lemos’s last couple of opponents did. Ruiz is going to have a very difficult fight on her hands but at least we will learn a lot more about her when she fights one of the top females in the division.

Luana Pinheiro

We got behind Luana in her UFC debut against a tough but beatable veteran in Randa Markos. Markos has been in there with everyone but Luana just looked like the better fighter.

She is 9-1 now, 27 years old, her only loss was a split decision and that was 8 fights ago. Luana has a nice base for women’s mixed martial arts. She is a Judo Black Belt that grew up on the mats down in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

She is the new generation of UFC fighters and has the ability to possibly challenge for a world title one day. She doesn’t have an opponent for her next bout yet and I think that is because the UFC wants to be careful with her and not ruin her name too early like they are with Montserrat Ruiz by giving her Amanda Lemos.

Luana is the truth and her boyfriend, Mattheus Nicolau is as well. He is coming off of the biggest win of his UFC career against the highly touted prospect Manel Kape. Here is a post from Luana about her and her man or just what a great relationship really is.

I am all for other fish in the sea but if you ever find someone who believes in you the way these two believe in each other, you might want to take care of them and stick around for a while to see what happens.

Luana isn’t quite the striker that she is a grappler but that’s okay. Her Judo is legit. I’m not saying she will be the next Ronda Rousey, head movement!!! Sorry, I had to but seriously, when her next opponent is announced, we will be all over it and as long as it isn’t someone the caliber of Amanda Lemos, I think Luana will continue her success fighting inside of the Octagon.

Here is a highlight from some of her game. Check out those throws!

Terrance McKinney

When we talk about first-round knockout artists, we have to mention this guy. What a killer!

Chi-Town born and Spokane raised, Terrance McKinney is probably a well-balanced person because you can’t get much more polar than Chi-Town and Spokane. I have been to Chicago and people are cool and all but it is such a dangerous place that I think people have to remain hard for lack of a better word towards the rest of the world.

Spokane on the other hand, people could not get any nicer. I’m from the south and we wave at everyone. My neighbors were FAMILY but after visiting all 50 states in the Union, Washingtonians are the nicest of them all, and MMA hotbed Spokane took the cake for me.

I couldn’t believe how nice everyone was! Terrance McKinney, though, well he ain’t such a nice guy, at least inside of the Octagon. T.Wrecks has a professional mixed martial arts record of 11 wins and 3 losses at the ripe age of 26 years old.

I like the fact that he has been up, down, and is now up again. I trust those fighters with my money more than I do the ones who only know how to win. It sounds silly but in this game and especially at this level, these are the more trustworthy fighters.

With that being said, we have to be very careful as cappers and bettors not to put too much stock into first-round knockout artists because if they can’t get the knockout, THEN WHAT? Ehem, Conor McGregor is one of those guys.

Terrance kicked off his professional mixed martial arts career with 4 consecutive stoppage wins which all came by the way of submission, actually, and 3 of those in the first round. In his next fight, he injured his leg in the first minute and was forced to take the first L of his career.

Then it was a 7-second knockout win followed by another 2 submissions in the first round as well. This guy gets after it, man, and gets after it early.

He has an incredible story and is very lucky not only to be fighting in the UFC in 2021 but he is fortunate to still have a beating heart. Listen to this.

It was about 2 years ago at this time that Terrance got the call from the UFC to appear on Dana White’s Contender Series against a really tough opponent, Sean Woodson. Sean won the fight by flying knee knockout and for the first time in his young career. T.Wrecks got a taste of his own early in the fight athleticism.

Terrance could have folded up his chair and headed back to whatever he was doing before but he got right back after it fighting another current UFC guy, Derrick Minner. Terrance got subbed with a triangle choke in the first minute and this matchup was fun because both men are first-round fighters, for sure.

T won his next 3 fights after that, though, and got the call from the UFC once more. This time it was on super short notice to fight a very explosive wrestler in Matt Steamrolla Frevola. Terrance, well, got the SECOND 7-second knockout of his career in his UFC debut!

As cool as his story is and as radical as not one but two 7 second knockouts on your resume are, he remains unproven that he can go 3 rounds with UFC level talent so I would still hesitate to trust him with my money, at least at this point.

As an underdog, though, go right ahead.

Manon Fiorot

This woman right here…

Whew, legit legit. She is certainly the most well-put-together mixed martial artist that we will talk about today and is 2-0 fighting inside of the Octagon.

She has great size for the division and a load of power in both hands. We have featured her already in the Breakout Fighter of the Half-Year article so I won’t gush too much more about her but she has a very high ceiling.

She lost her first-ever pro-mixed martial arts bout by way of split decision and since then, has gone undefeated. Her previous 5 bouts have all come by way of TKO! I have a ton of confidence in this woman if you couldn’t tell and there is some serious talent coming out of France now that the martial arts and fight-loving country finally made the sport legal just less than a year ago last October.

Please Note:

She will have a tough test coming up at UFC 266 on the Brian Ortega and Alex Volkanovski card when she fights another 1 loss lady in Mayra Bueno Silva. The Brazilian is very dangerous on the mat but I don’t think the fight will make it to that point.

Manon has the size at 5’7” tall as a Flyweight or 125 pounders and I think that along with her elite boxing and footwork will carry her to a victory. I think she will open as the favorite but since she doesn’t have a huge name, we may get some value on her moneyline.

I am guessing the betting lines will open up at (-150) or so for her which I love and will go ahead and make the prediction for you guys right now. Take Manon to win all the way up to our moneyline limit of (-220).

Best Rookie

Jeremiah Wells

What a savage this guy is! When I said he might be the most explosive fighter we have ever seen compete inside the Octagon, meant it. I will admit that I thought Warlley Alves would be able to bully the smaller framed less experienced mixed martial artist in there but I was wrong.

Jeremiah Wells is a fighter coming out of Philadelphia who trained with Paul Felder and Sean Brady quite often. They are both Welterweights as well so this is a classic case of iron sharpening iron.

With that being said, though, a big part of this Jeremiah’s level of athleticism. It doesn’t matter how good of a writer I want to or even aspire to be. Words will NEVER be able to do this guy justice. You have to see him fight for yourself.

He is a true superathlete and almost as impressive as his speed and power is the fact that he has the endurance to fight like that for 3 rounds. I thought that taking this fight on short notice in his UFC debut would be a problem for him if he couldn’t get the early knockout but that simply isn’t true.

He looked as fresh and fast in the second round as he was in the first and was showing zero signs of slowing down before he got the upset and knockout win to move his pro record to 9-3-1 and, of course, 1-0 inside of the UFC Octagon.

We, unfortunately, missed the opportunity to cash on him in his debut win but I think since he is 34 years old already and incredibly exciting, the promotion will step up his competition quickly for his sophomore sesh.

I would look to bet him again and I don’t even know who he is fighting next. This kid, no, man, this man is special.

In Conclusion

Thank you for sticking with me, team!

There is so much young talent in the UFC right now and I wanted to focus in on the rookies today. Rookies being the fighters who have made their debuts with the company in the year 2021.

2021 is flying by and now you have some targets for your bets as the year progresses. 2020 was so slow, of course, that it made this year go by quickly. That is how I feel, at least. We will see what happens with Conor McGregor in his rematch with Dustin Poirier but 2021 might play out to be an even wackier year than the one we had before.

Manon “The Beast” Fiorot is probably the #1 prospect out of this list but Jeremiah Wells really impressed me… if you couldn’t tell.

What a nightmare he must be to spar. I mean, how can you hit something you can’t even see?! I have never seen anyone strike and move with such explosive ferocity in my life.

Montserrat Ruiz is a lady that I think can make some splashes but may be a top ten fighter in her UFC career but probably nothing more than that. Luana Pinheiro could be a title challenger and is certainly a problem for anyone with that incredible Judo base she has.

Finally, Terrance McKinney made it back from drinking a VILE of LSD and then managed not to get killed or severely injured by the police when he was tripping out of his mind and resisting arrest.

It’s a good thing for everyone involved that this happened in Spokane, Washington, and not where he was born in Chicago. I’ll tell you that.

Cheers to the rookies, guys, and let’s look to make some money on these men and women in the future!

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Mike Pruitt / Author

Mike has been covering sports professionally since 2017 but on the amateur scene for 25 years since when he was 12. Before the internet changed the world, he would keep detailed statistical box scores of NFL and NBA contests, write recaps, and voluntarily commentate games and fights alone in his room. Mike's military experience, Bachelors Degree, and employment thereafter were always rooted in engineering, science, and teaching. Now he enjoys being able to express himself through writing about football, golf, and car racing among other sports but most of all fighting as his life has been rooted in mixed martial arts including competing and teaching for the past 15 years.

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