A few notes about the following list of top NYC MMA fighters:
- It's not in any particular order. It can't be - the competitors on this list are in various weight classes.
- It's purely subjective and based on performances I've seen with my own eyes.
- Because of the nature of amateur fighters and how often they suddenly make the leap to fighting pro, there are names that aren't on this list that would be here if not for them publicly stating they're moving on. For instance, former New York Fighting Exchange champ Felipe Carlos, Alfred Jones, Victory Combat Sports champ Ashley Greenway, and others who are worthy aren't on the list - they all said they're done being amateurs.
Okay, so without further ado, here are the best of New York City. Respect them, fear them, love them - do whatever you want, but definitely pay attention when they fight.
- Jerome Mickle - With an NYFE welterweight championship belt and an Underground Combat League championship belt, Jerome became the first fighter in New York history to win titles in two amateur MMA organizations - and it's not surprising, given his explosiveness and ultra-dangerous knockout power. He has yet to taste defeat, and with a spotless 10-0 record, it's only a matter of time before Jerome turns to the pro leagues.
- Marcus Surin - As the proud owner of the VCS lightweight title, Surin has proven two things in his time in the cage: his wrestling and jiu-jitsu are top notch, and he's the man to beat at 155 pounds. And beating him would be a tall order, because if Surin wants you on your back, you're going to have a tough time stopping yourself from going horizontal.
- Bernardo Cano - Solid striking blended with strong jiu-jitsu, plus a healthy dose of pure scrappiness, enabled Cano to win the Golden MMA Championships welterweight strap, and later this month he'll be fighting for another belt at the VCS show at the 69th Regiment Armory in Manhattan. Does he have the chops to be the top guy there? I say yes.
- Gerald Javier - "Lil Bomb" has got some killer Muay Thai skills along with ace jiu-jitsu, which has enabled this flyweight to rule the Aggressive Combat Championships roost as their champ. Unfortunately, just as there are very few higher-level heavyweights in this part of the world, so too are there few top smaller guys, so Javier will either have to make the jump to pro soon or face fighters outside of his weight class.
- Oswald Perez - He's a Jungle Gym brown belt, and though he hasn't yet won an MMA title, Perez's relentless jiu-jitsu and intensity in the cage has enabled him to become one of ACC's top featherweights. And his armbar is literally unstoppable.
- Jonathan Velez - A throwback to an era when weight classes were merely suggestions and rules were for pussies, Velez is a veteran UCL fighter who's been there, done that when it comes to fighting. I think he's a lightweight, but I'm not completely sure because he fights anyone from welterweight up to light-heavyweight. Although he hails from Garcia Gung Fu, which, from its name, sounds like a school that wouldn't be big on MMA, he's a very skilled, very dangerous MMA fighter.
- Luis De Jesus - As the old adage goes, looks can be deceiving, which is very much the case with De Jesus. Thus far in all the fights I've seen him in, he's looked like he's on the losing end of a beating, but then a switch flicked and he turns into a monster, and then beating is returned ten-fold on his opponent. He's the current GMMA light-heavyweight champ, and I only see one or two people in the NYC circuit really challenging him.
- Elija Punzone - Thanks to some hard-fought wins, Punzone has carved out a spot for himself as a top featherweight contender, and could soon be fighting for the NYFE belt. I see this well-rounded fighting giving everyone he faces fits.
- Gregy Styles - Okay, I lied. This list isn't just confined to New York City. Fighting in Elite Cage Challenge and other orgs just north of the city, Styles has established himself as a cut above the competition. And his suplex... man, talk about crowd-pleasing.
- Rob Scotti - A technical submission over NYFE featherweight champ Felipe Carlos saw the belt going to Scotti, who brings a wide range of skills - and threats - into the cage with him when he fights. A dream bout would be him and Ozzie Perez going at it, but sadly, I'm not sure that would ever happen.
- Katalina Morales - Morales is ACC's resident female champ, and she's in the same boat as Lil Bomb, meaning that the talent pool doesn't seem to be deep enough to challenge her. Regardless, her kickboxing and submission game make her the best, and she'll likely remain the best as long as she remains an NYC amateur fighter.
Honorable mentions: featherweight scrapper Eric D'Arce, heavyweight slugger Fady Medani, and submission stud Ethan Gomes - a trio of fighters with tons of talent who might be making their mark some time in the future.