1 UFC fighter from each division headed for title contention
The UFC machine - and the fighters who are part of it - is in constant movement: Old fighters leave while up-and-comers arrive, and some fall in the rankings as others work their way up the ladder. That's the name of the game - or sport.
Of course, the world's largest MMA organization wouldn't be operational without a nonstop influx of prospects - the young fighters who step into the Octagon striving to one day become top contenders, champions, and household names. Without further ado, here is one up-and-coming UFC fighter from each division poised to catapult into title contention shortly.
Flyweight: Manel Kape
Next fight: Alex Perez, UFC San Antonio on March 25
Kape lost his first two UFC bouts, but he has since shown why so many MMA fans were excited about the former Rizin FF champion's move to the promotion in the first place. Between August 2021 and now, Kape has knocked out Ode Osbourne with a flying knee, finished Zhalgas Zhumagulov with an insane barrage of punches, and gotten the nod over David Dvorak by unanimous decision to crack into the top 10. Things are finally clicking for Kape, and if he gets past Perez, he'll be well on his way to earning a shot at Brandon Moreno's title.
Bantamweight: Umar Nurmagomedov
Next fight: TBA
Of course, the last name speaks for itself. However, Nurmagomedov, cousin of UFC legend Khabib Nurmagomedov, has done more than enough in four promotion appearances to give people a reason to pay attention - aside from the fact he has a famous family member. Umar Nurmagomedov's talent on the ground is for real, but in a recent knockout win over Raoni Barcelos, he proved he is also extremely dangerous on the feet. At 27 years old, Nurmagomedov is already a force to be reckoned with, and he's only getting better.
Featherweight: Movsar Evloev
Next fight: TBA
Ilia Topuria is all the talk right now at 145 pounds, but Evloev has even more promise. The Russian fighter, undefeated as a pro at 16-0, has quietly worked his way up to a 6-0 mark in the Octagon. He has a suffocating style - similar to Khabib Nurmagomedov and many of his other countrymen - that will be hard for anyone to stop. Once Evloev can stay a bit more active - he's only fought twice since June 2021 - everyone will realize that this guy is the next big thing in the division.
Lightweight: Jalin Turner
Next fight: Dan Hooker, UFC 285 on March 4
Turner has been firing on all cylinders lately. Once 1-2 in the UFC with a pedestrian 9-5 pro record, "The Tarantula" has won four in a row and pushed his way into the top 10. But even more impressive is how those four fights ended: A 45-second mounted guillotine choke, a TKO in under six minutes, a rear-naked choke in just over four minutes, and a rear-naked choke in the second round. Turner is one of the most opportunistic, violent fighters at 155 pounds, and a win over Hooker would be the perfect next step in becoming one of the division's main players.
Welterweight: Shavkat Rakhmonov
Next fight: Geoff Neal, UFC 285 on March 4
This one is a no-brainer. Rakhmonov has "future champion" written all over him. He is often compared to Khamzat Chimaev, and while Chimaev's run has garnered a lot more buzz, there's an argument to be made that Rakhmonov has even more potential. The ease with which he's beaten Neil Magny, Carlson Harris, Michel Prazeres, and Alex Oliveira is frightening, and his ground skills are elite. If Rakhmonov gets past Neal in his biggest test so far, even more people will realize that he is quickly becoming one of the top guys at 170 pounds.
Middleweight: Andre Muniz
Next fight: Brendan Allen, UFC Fight Night on Feb. 25
The guy who broke Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza's arm had to represent middleweight on this list. Muniz submitted the submission king of the 185-pound division, and that's all it takes to know that his Brazilian jiu-jitsu is next-level good. Muniz's suffocating grappling is a stylistic nightmare for the top names in the division, like Alex Pereira and Israel Adesanya, so if he continues to climb toward the top, there's a decent chance Muniz will rule over the division sooner than later.
Light heavyweight: Ryan Spann
Next fight: Nikita Krylov, UFC Fight Night on Feb. 25
Spann has been on the UFC roster since 2018, but he's just recently started to come into his own. Like Turner, "Superman" is one of the most explosive fighters out there, viciously knocking out former title challenger Dominick Reyes and submitting Ion Cutelaba in his last two fights. A win over Krylov would result in a big leap in the rankings for Spann, and in a shallow division like 205 pounds, that might be all it takes to officially join the shortlist of title contenders.
Heavyweight: Jailton Almeida
Next fight: TBA
The heavyweight division is in somewhat of a transitional period with Francis Ngannou leaving as the reigning champion, and Almeida might just be what it needs. The Brazilian fighter made his UFC debut in 2022 and picked up four stoppage wins, including a second-round mauling of Shamil Abdurakhimov. His control on the ground, ability to get opponents in bad positions, and ground-and-pound make him one of the scariest up-and-comers in the sport. Almeida might be a generational talent, so climb aboard the hype train now before it leaves the station.
Strawweight: Yazmin Jauregui
Next fight: TBA
Strawweight has historically been rich in talent, but with the recent rotation of Zhang Weili, Rose Namajunas, and Carla Esparza as champions, there seem to be fewer contenders in the mix than usual. This is where Jauregui can come in and make her mark. The 23-year-old Mexican fighter is only 2-0 in the UFC, so she has a bit more work to do before vying for the title. But those wins were impressive, and at her young age, she'll get a lot better between fights. A quick rise is in her future.
Women's flyweight: Erin Blanchfield
Next fight: Taila Santos, UFC Fight Night on Feb. 18
Blanchfield is one of the top prospects in the entire sport, full stop. She's 23 years old with 11 pro bouts under her belt, but she fights like someone who's been doing this for years and years. Her poise on the ground - which has led to dominant wins over the likes of Molly McCann and Miranda Maverick - is unmatched for her age. Her fight with Santos is a massive opportunity since the latter arguably defeated champion Valentina Shevchenko in 2022. With a win, Blanchfield could lock up a title shot and would leave no doubt she's one of the brightest women's fighters we've ever seen.
Women's bantamweight and featherweight: Josiane Nunes
Next fight: TBA
Nunes' last two bouts took place at featherweight, but she's also competed at bantamweight. Either way, she's the woman to watch in both divisions. She's a little bully - she might be small at 5-foot-2 but makes up for it in aggressiveness, strength, and power. Nunes is 3-0 in the UFC, and she'll surely keep climbing. Women's bantamweight is the promotion's shallowest division, and women's featherweight is hanging on by a thread (in terms of its existence), so there's a good chance Nunes will be the one we're talking about soon enough.