Rising Canadian MMA fighters to watch in early 2017

Canadian UFC welterweight Sheldon Westcott. (Zuffa LLC)

With Canadian promotion TKO MMA returning this Friday with their sophomore event on UFC Fight Pass, we figured it would be a great opportunity to highlight a number of Canadian fighters slated to compete in the first few months of 2017. While there are a lot of intriguing matchups on the regional circuit, there are also a few Canadians competing on upcoming UFC events that deserve mention.

Here are some bouts to keep an eye on.

TKO 37: Rivals – Jan. 13 in Montreal

Tony Laramie of Windsor, Ont., (0-0) vs. Keith Lee (0-0)
Laramie makes his TKO MMA and professional MMA debut this Friday and boasts a 4-0 amateur record. The Windsor native, who graduates high school this June, will be facing Keith Lee, the brother of UFC lightweight Kevin Lee. The 18-year-old trains at MTC Windsor, the home of fellow Canadian standouts Kyle Prepolec and his brother TJ Laramie who will also be competing on this card. Lee also rides a 4-0 amateur record heading into this bout and competes for the first time in Canada.
Here’s my interview with Tony prior to the matchup.

TJ Laramie of Windsor, Ont., (4-1) vs. Maxime Dubois (5-2)
In a matchup that was slated to take place at TKO 36 this past November, Laramie looks to make it 2-0 in his TKO tenure this Friday. The 19-year old is coming off a successful promotional debut at TKO 36 where he dismantled Damien Peltier in just 53 seconds by TKO.

Peltier was a late replacement for Dubois, who had to pull out of the matchup due to injury. Speaking of the French Canadian fighter, he returns to the cage for the first time since 2014 and is 2-2 in his last four fights.

Here’s my interview with TJ prior to the matchup.

WXC 66: Night of Champions 9 – Jan. 13

Kyle Prepolec of Windsor, Ont., (9-4) vs. David Newport (4-0)
Yet another product of the famed MTC Windsor camp competes as Prepolec battles American Newport. The 27-year-old heads into this matchup off an impressive fourth-round knockout over Adrian Hadribeaj back in February 2015 at TXC Legends 7. He was slated to face UFC lightweight Alessandro Ricci back at Global Warriors 3 last June, however commission issues cancelled that entire card. Newport has remained undefeated in his career earning all four of his victories by submission.

Invicta FC 21 – Jan. 14

Charmaine Tweet of Kenaston, Sask., (9-5) vs. Megan Anderson (7-2)
Saskatchewan native Tweet looks for a career high fourth straight win as she battles rising prospect Anderson for the Invicta FC interim featherweight title. Since losing to featherweight champion Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino at Invicta FC 11 in February 2015, Tweet has racked up three straight wins with two coming by knockout. Anderson has also been on a roll since losing her Invicta FC debut to Cindy Dandois at Invicta FC 14, earning three straight victories by knockout. The 26-year-old Australian fighter, who calls Missouri’s Glory MMA home, spent time at Factory X in Colorado for this title fight. This matchup was recently made into an interim championship bout due to Cyborg, Invicta’s current featherweight champ, recently being flagged by USADA for a potential anti-doping violation. With the UFC adding in its own inaugural 145-pound title fight next month at UFC 209, the winner of this matchup could be UFC bound.

Here’s my interview with Anderson prior to the matchup.

XFFC 13 – Feb. 3 in Grande Prairie, Alta.

Mike Malott of Waterdown, Ont., (4-1-1) vs. Craig Shintani of Edmonton (6-1)
An exciting lightweight matchup pits Team Alpha Male product Malott against Shintani in an all-Canadian matchup. Malott competes for the first time since 2015 after a majority draw against Thomas Diagne at Bellator 142. The 25-year-old, who trains full time in California, will be looking for his first win since 2014. Shintani heads into this matchup off a six-fight win streak, with five of those victories coming by way of stoppage. These two are competing for the vacant XFFC lightweight title, which was previously held by Chris Horodecki.

Brad Katona of Winnipeg (4-0) vs. Austin Ryan of Red Deer, Alta., (6-0)
In what may be the most exciting Canadian prospect vs. prospect matchup you’ll see all year, Katona and Ryan put their undefeated streaks on the line. Katona went 2-0 last year earning back-to-back decision victories over Josh Rich and Patrick Ward. He was slated to fight TJ Laramie at Hard Knocks 50 back in June, however Laramie missed weight and the commission wouldn’t clear a catchweight fight. Ryan meanwhile has won five of his six career matchups by stoppage and will be competing at bantamweight for the first time since 2014. The 25-year-old didn’t compete at all in 2016, after his scheduled matchup with Joe Murphy at Fight Night Medicine Hat 2 back in October fell through.

UFC Fight Night 104: Korean Zombie vs. Bermudez – Feb. 4

Sheldon Westcott of St. Albert, Alta., (9-3-1) vs. Alex Morono (13-3)
Westcott looks to make it back-to-back victories in the UFC as he battles 26-year-old welterweight Morono. The TUF Nations runner-up heads into this matchup off an impressive first round knockout over Edgar Garcia at UFC 195. It was the lone fight for the 32-year-old last year, as injuries kept the Complete MMA & Fitness product on the sidelines. Now splitting time between Complete and Jackson Wink MMA Academy in Albuquerque, N.M., Westcott aims to push his UFC record to 2-2. Morono meanwhile has gone 2-0 in the UFC, earning decision victories Kyle Noke and James Moontasri.

UFC Fight Night 105: Dos Santos vs. Struve II – Feb. 19 in Halifax

Elias Theodorou of Toronto (18-4) vs. Cezar Ferreira (11-5)
A pair of The Ultimate Fighter winners clash in Halifax, as Theodorou battles Brazilian Ferreira. The 28-year-old Canadian only competed once last year, rebounding from his loss to Thiago Santos by earning a unanimous decision victory over Sam Alvey. The former Amazing Race Canada competitor looks to push his record to 6-1 in the UFC. Ferreira’s UFC tenure has been plagued with inconstancy, going 4-3 in his first seven fights. But since then, the 31-year-old has won three straight and seems to have found a permanent home at middleweight.

Nordine Taleb of Montreal (12-3) vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio (23-3)
Taleb looks to improve his UFC record to 5-1 as he battles Argentina fighter Ponzinibbio. Taleb, a Tristar product, is coming off an impressive TKO victory over Erick Silva at UFC 196 and was slated to take on Alan Jouban at UFC Fight Night 90 before an injury forced him out of the matchup. Ponzinibbio has gone an impressive 5-2 in the UFC and is currently riding a three-fight win streak.

Alessandro Ricci of Woodbridge, Ont., (10-4) vs. Alvaro Herrera (9-4)
Ricci searches for his first UFC victory as he takes on Mexican prospect Herrera. The 34-year-old made his UFC debut last August on short notice at UFC on FOX 21 in Vancouver, replacing Team Alpha Male product Josh Emmett. Ricci ended up losing a close decision against fellow Canadian Jeremy Kennedy, which subsequently snapped his two-fight win streak. Herrera was on season two of TUF Latin America, where he was eliminated from the show losing by unanimous decision to Hector Aldana. He was still signed to the UFC, where his record is 1-1.

Aiemann Zahabi of Montreal (6-0) vs. Reginaldo Vieira (13-4)
Zahabi is the younger brother of famed Tristar coach Firas Zahabi and will be making his UFC debut against Vieira. The 29-year-old has won all six of his career fights by first-round stoppage. Vieira is 1-1 in the UFC, earning a unanimous decision win over Dileno Lopes and losing by submission to Marco Antonio Beltran at UFC Fight Night 90 in his last bout.

Bellator 174 – March 3

Julia Budd of Victoria, B.C., (9-2) vs. Marloes Coenen (23-7)
Budd has a chance to make Bellator history when she looks to become the first Bellator women’s featherweight champion as she battles Marloes Coenen. The Canadian has quietly amassed a seven-fight win streak with her last loss coming to Ronda Rousey back at Strikeforce Challengers 20 back in 2011. Coenen is coming off a loss to UFC veteran Alexis Dufresne at Bellator 155, however that fight was on short notice and her opponent came in close to five pounds heavy for the matchup. The former Strikeforce champion is 4-3 in her last seven fights.

Unified MMA 30 – March 17 in Edmonton

Tanner Boser – Bonnyville, Alta., (12-2) vs. Patrick Walsh (9-2)
Unified heavyweight champion Boser looks for his fourth straight win when he squares off with TUF 19 competitor Walsh. Last year, the 25-year-old Hayabusa product defeated Bellator veteran Tony Lopez at Unified 27 to recapture his heavyweight title. Since then, Boser has racked off back-to-back wins over Joey Yager and Rakim Cleveland. Walsh was eliminated on TUF 19 by eventual tournament winner Corey Anderson. From there, the Massachusetts native went 1-1 in the UFC defeating Dan Spohn and losing to Daniel Kelly. After he was released from the UFC, the 28-year-old racked off four straight victories and will be competing for the first title in his MMA career.

Shane Campbell of Edmonton (10-6) vs. Jose Rodriguez of Saskatoon (7-5)
Campbell competes for the first time since his UFC release when he takes on Saskatchewan native Rodriguez. The 28-year-old went 1-4 in the UFC, earning a win over Elias Silverio and suffering losses to John Makdessi (on short notice), James Krause, Erik Koch and most recently Felipe Silva. Rodriguez also heads into this matchup in search of a win, having lost three straight.

TKO 38 – April 7 in Montreal

Jesse Ronson of London, Ont., (16-8) vs. Derek Gauthier – Terrebonne, Que., (8-6)
UFC veteran Ronson looks for revenge as he battles fellow Canadian Gauthier. At TKO 36, Gauthier knocked out Ronsons’ teammate, Bellator veteran Chris Horodecki, just 35 seconds into the first round of their bout. The win snapped Gauthier’s three-fight losing streak as he earned his first victory since 2011. Ronson also got back in the win column at TKO 36, defeating WSOF veteran Jimmy Spicuzza and snapped his three-fight skid.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.