Jonas Billstein (photo courtesy of Mix Fight Promotion)

The Out of Obscurity series focuses on UFC and Pride veterans plus up-and-coming prospects, but to what end? The series is dedicated to pointing out fighters who are trying to claw their way out of obscurity and to the larger stages of organizations such as the UFC, Strikeforce, Bellator, Dream or Sengoku. So, what better way to cap off the year than to break down the fighters who have made waves on the regional and international circuit in 2010.

Some fighters featured in past editions of the weekly Out of Obscurity series have already jumped to the big show with varied levels of success – guys like Yuri Alcantara, Maiquel Falcao and Ken Stone, to name a few. Meanwhile, others continue to await their opportunity while shedding blood in front of a few hundred fans at small gymnasiums and event centers around the world.

As the year winds to an end, we’d like to take a look at some mixed martial artists who have made an impact while attempting to find their way to the top. This year, Out of Obscurity presents a two-part “Making Waves” column to break down some of the year’s top performers, both up-and-coming prospects and veterans attempting to get back to the heights they had once attained.

Yesterday, we looked at some veterans of the UFC, Pride and other various major promotions who are attempting to regain a spot on the big stage. Today’s feature centers on the prospects, a set of fighters who are on the rise, but have yet to make it to the big show.

The criteria here is simple: The fighter cannot have set foot inside a major organization at any point in their career. Additionally, the fighter cannot widely be considered among the top 25, or top 10 in the case of women and flyweights, of their division.

Maybe we’ll see some of these warriors make their Octagon (or Strikeforce, or Bellator) debuts in 2011:

Jonas Billstein – Just 19-years old and already a champion, Billstein has put together a stellar campaign in 2010. The young German launched his pro career in November of 2009 with two victories in two weeks and has maintained a frantic pace ever since, going 7-0 in 2010. The first eight fights of his career all ended in stoppages, including TKO victories in his first six bouts of this year. The only opponent he couldn’t finish was fellow European prospect Hans Stringer. Billstein’s crowning achievement on the year was a fifth round TKO victory over “The German Brock Lesnar,” Mathias Schuck, in the German MMA Championship organization. The win earned Billstein the GMC light heavyweight title.

Chris Weidman – The middleweight might be one of the names to look out for in the very near future. At the time of his profile in the MMA DieHards New Breed series, the 26-year old was entertaining an offer from Bellator and had just tried out for the 13th season of The Ultimate Fighter. He also happens to be the champion of Ring of Combat’s 185-pound division, thanks to the first of his two victories in 2010 – a first round TKO of Uriah Hall in September. The 4-0 fighter has already made a successful defense of the belt, earning a unanimous decision over Valdir Arraujo in December.

Jim Hettes – Hettes is another fighter profiled in the MMA DieHards New Breed series that is close to breaking through. The featherweight had to turn down an opportunity to fight for the UFC at the TUF 12 Finale due to a prior commitment with a regional promotion, but he’s also been in talks with Sengoku. Hettes, who sports a 7-0 record as a pro, has picked up three wins in 2010. Among his biggest accomplishments for the year: a 28 second rear-naked choke submission of Binky Jones and a victory over Dwayne Shelton that netted him the Cage Fight featherweight belt.

Douglas Lima – Lima is another fighter featured in the MMA DieHards New Breed series. The 17-4 fighter might be one of the most experienced to make this list, but with MFC welterweight gold around his waist he is starting to hear the phone ring with calls from interested promotions. The young American Top Team product also boasts a win over Ryan Ford this year and tallied a 3-0 record overall in 2010 to extend his current winning streak to five fights.

Alexander Sarnavskiy – The M-1 Challenge series seems to be a breeding ground for talented international prospects, and Sarnavskiy might be at the very top of that list. The Russian will turn 22 in January and already holds a 12-0 record in combat. He has only fought professionally since December of 2008 and six of his wins came in 2010. In his last two fights, Sarnavskiy has spent a combined 57 seconds in the ring.

Motonobu Tezuka –Tezuka has not lost since April 2008, sporting a 9-0-2 record in his 11 fights since the defeat. Amazingly, despite such success, and a 15-3-3 overall record, Tezuka not only hasn’t made it to the big show, but can’t seem to find a stable home among Japan’s established promotions of Pancrase, Deep, etc. His 2010 campaign consisted of four fights under the Pancrase banner. He notched wins in all the outings, extending his current winning streak to eight fights. Decisions might be the biggest factor in holding back Tezuka from a spot on the big show. After all, he has gone to the judges’ scorecards in 10 of his 15 victories.

Alex Soto – The 5-0 Soto was the first fighter to be featured in the MMA DieHards New Breed series, and for good reason. Fighting south of the border in the Ultimate Warrior Challenge Mexico promotion, Soto has quickly risen to the level of a champion despite not fighting since April. He started off the year with a 53 second submission of Kenny Gattrell under the Native Fighting Championship. His next fight marked his UWCM debut, as he fought to a split decision in a featherweight battle with Enrique Briones, the first opponent to push Soto beyond the first round. Next up was the championship match, pitting Soto against submission specialist Rafael Salomao. Soto scored the first round TKO and took home the title belt. Scheduling conflicts have kept Soto inactive since the championship bout.

Shamil Zavurov – The RusFighters Sport Club has had a solid year, thanks in part to Zavurov, along with the previously mentioned Alexander Sarnavskiy. Zavurov went 9-0 in 2010, moving his overall record to 13-1. The Russian capped off a solid year with a TKO of Abner Lloveras in December to become the first-ever M-1 welterweight champion.

Vyacheslav Vasilevsky – Vasilevsky is another Russian fighter who had a very busy and successful 2010, mostly under the M-1 banner. The 11-1 fighter went 6-0 in 2010 and is currently riding a 10 fight winning streak dating back to November of 2008. He notched a submission win over UFC veteran Xavier Foupa-Pokam in July and finished the year by claiming M-1’s light heavyweight crown with a TKO of Tomasz Narkun.

Guram Gugenishvili – The Ukrainian might be one of the most successful heavyweights currently flying under the radar. Sitting at 10-0 over his career, Gugenishvili picked up five of his victories in 2010. The last of those, a second round guillotine choke submission of Kenny Garner, earned the big man the vacant M-1 heavyweight belt. Gugenishvili has also proven to be a finisher, defeating nine of his foes via submission.

Shamil Abdurahimov – The Russian fighter had a great year in 2010, thanks to the Abu Dhabi Fighting Championship promotion. The organization inserted the 11-1 fighter into an open weight tournament featuring UFC veterans Jeff Monson and Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou. Already sitting at 2-0 on the year with a pair of wins under the ProFC banner, Abdurahimov took a majority decision over “The Snowman” and scored a third round TKO of Sokoudjou. He’s set to face 2009 world grappling champion Marcos Oliveira in the tournament’s final sometime in 2011.

Simeon Thoresen – The 14-1-1 fighter kicked off his career with nine straight wins before dropping a majority decision to Eiji Ishikawa in 2008. He has gone 5-0-1 since that loss, including three wins in 2010. He hasn’t fought pushovers either, with two of his victories coming against prospects John Maguire and Vaidas Valancius.

Arthur Cesar – Cesar sports a 14-4 career mark that includes a 2006 decision win over UFC veteran Rousimar Palhares. In 2010, the Brazilian has posted six victories to extend his current winning streak to seven fights.

Kevin Asplund – Asplund’s first two fights came in 2002 and 2003, but he didn’t reappear for his third fight until 2009. Since his return to action, the 10-1 fighter has posted nine victories, mostly under the Brutaal banner. Four of those wins came in 2010 and, counting his DQ victory in 2003, he is now on a 10 fight winning streak dating back more than seven years.

Lincoln de Sa – Right now, it’s the flyweights that are struggling to break through and earn respect, but there are fighters out there even lighter than 125-pounds. The 115-pounders are now represented in the Shooto South American title lineup, with de Sa taking a unanimous decision victory over Michael Willian Costa in the finals of a grand prix to determine the inaugural champion of the weight class. The December win capped off a 4-0 run in 2010 for de Sa, who stands at 5-1 for his career.

Tom Watson – “Kong,” who sits at 13-4 overall, managed to come out victorious in three of four contests over the course of 2010. His wins came at the expense of UFC veteran Matt Horwich, Cage Rage vet Alex Reid and Pride vet Travis Galbraith, while his lone loss of the year was suffered at the hands of TUF 7 alum Jesse Taylor. Watson, a former Cage Rage mainstay, has spent the year alternating fights between the Maximum Fighting Championship in Canada and BAMMA in England.

Marcus Vanttinen – At 18-2 with 14 wins via stoppage, Vanttinen has put together quite a career for someone to never reach the big shows. He picked up six wins in 2010, including a stoppage of UFC veteran Ivan Serati. The Finnish fighter is on a nine fight winning streak and his most recent loss came in 2009 against UFC vet Rodney Wallace.

Gerald Meerschaert – “The Machine” has tallied four victories in 2010. Among his victims, UFC veteran Ron Faircloth and prospect Sam Alvey. The Wisconsin native is a submission specialist and has put together a 13-4 record, including 10 submission wins, since turning pro into 2007.

Quinn Mulhern – The 14-1 Mulhern made people take notice in February, when he handed UFC veteran Rich Clementi a TKO loss. That was the first of six wins, including rear-naked choke submissions of Levi Stout, Joey Gorczynski and Koffi Adzitso, on the year for the current King of the Cage welterweight champion. His only career loss came in 2009 against UFC veteran Mike Guymon.

Andy Branson – Branson is only 6-0, but a look at his opponents reveals a real potential for success. He has only fought one opponent with a losing record, while tallying five wins against legitimate competition. Branson picked up three of his wins in 2010, including a stoppage victory in his most recent outing over Strikeforce veteran Justin DeMoney.

Sam Alvey – Alvey has compiled a 14-2 record since making his pro debut in 2008. Six of those victories came in 2010, including a split decision over Bellator veteran Jason Guida. Alvey’s overall record this year was 6-1, with the loss coming against Gerald Meerschaert. His biggest contest of the year, a matchup with Strikeforce vet Paul Bradley under the King of the Cage banner, was ruled a no contest due to rainfall at the outdoor show.

Ryan Ford – Ford might have lost to Douglas Lima this year, but the 13-3 fighter is still a top welterweight prospect who managed to score rear-naked choke submissions of UFC veteran Tommy Speer and Pete Spratt. “The Real Deal” is a long time Maximum Fighting Championship veteran who tends to finish fights, with only two of his career bouts ending in decisions.

Robert Drysdale – The 2007 Abu Dhabi grappling champion has finally made a go of it in the realm of mixed martial arts. He made his pro debut in July and has so far tallied two submission victories.

Thiago Meller – The 17-3 fighter only had two outings in 2010, but they added to his impressive overall record in which his only losses have come against two UFC veterans – Aaron Riley and Rafael dos Anjos – and the newly crowned UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo. Meller’s two wins in 2010 account for a portion of his current six fight winning streak, dating back to May 2008.

John Phillips – “The White Mike Tyson” has earned that moniker with 12 knockout or TKO wins. What about the other win on his 13-3 career record? Well, it ended in submission, via strikes. The Gracie Barra Predators middleweight notched five wins in 2010, including a TKO of UFC veteran James Zikic. The Cage Rage veteran won the Knuckle Up MMA middleweight belt in his first bout of the year.

Gunnar Nelson – The native of Iceland has made a name for himself both in grappling circles and in mixed martial arts combat. After placing fourth in the absolute division at the 2009 ADCC competition and taking home gold at the 2009 Pan American Championships, the Renzo Gracie black belt returned to MMA in 2010 and used the rear-naked choke to add three victims to his undefeated 8-0-1 record.

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