25 Emerging Talents Set to Grace the UFC Octagon

By E. Spencer Kyte | Posted 2 years ago

Coming off an exciting Pay-Per-View event last weekend at Toyota Center in Houston, Texas, the UFC begins a six-week stretch on Saturday where there are fight cards every weekend, but the names atop the marquees and throughout the lineup aren’t necessarily the biggest.


Sure, there are a few familiar faces set to step into the Octagon between now and the end of March, with Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal penciled in to deal with their friends-turned-enemies beef in the main event of UFC 272.


For the most part, these next six weeks are about getting things sorted out across a number of divisions — clarifying title pictures, strengthening scouting reports on rookies and relative newcomers — and waiting to see which unheralded talents use this opportunity to make a splash.


And lucky for you, I’m here to get you prepared and provide you with a little cheat sheet containing 25 emerging talents you should pay close attention to during this low-key, but still legit stretch of action inside the UFC cage.


* all cards subject to change, but even if some of these folks don’t fight as scheduled, remember their names


UFC Fight Night: Walker vs. Hill (Saturday, February 19)


Jamahal Hill, light heavyweight: Eleven fights into his professional career, “Sweet Dreams” is set to headline this weekend opposite 10th-ranked Johnny Walker. Coming off a 48-second knockout win and flashing a ton of potential, the Michigan native could emerge as a contender before the year is out.


Joaquin Buckley, middleweight: After registering one of the best knockouts of all time in 2020, Buckley started last year getting knocked out himself. That prompted him to go all-in on his fighting career, resulting in a trip back to the win column in September and a ton of intrigue as he begins his 2022 campaign on Saturday in an explosive matchup against Abdul Razak Alhassan was someone is pretty much guaranteed to get KTFO… man.


Jonathan Pearce, featherweight: Good on the feet and good on the ground, Pearce has earned consecutive second-round finishes since returning to featherweight. The division is flush with talent, but another couple impressive performances and the Tennessee native will be taking on the established set in the 145-pound weight class.


David Onama, featherweight: Onama made his short-notice debut up a division in October, giving Welsh prospect Mason Jones a helluva fight. Now he moves down to his natural weight class, with a chance to make a splash this weekend when he takes on divisional stalwart Gabriel Benitez.


UFC Fight Night: Dariush vs. Mahkachev (Saturday, February 26)


Islam Makhachev, lightweight: Long forecast to be the successor to Khabib Nurmagomedov in the lightweight division, Makhachev has continued validating those projections and exceeding expectations since his long-time training partner and now coach called it a career. The 30-year-old has won nine straight heading into his headlining assignment against Beneil Dariush, including three submission finishes in 2021.


Arman Tsarukyan, lightweight: After debuting in the UFC with a competitive loss to Makhachev, the 25-year-old Tsarukyan has collected four straight victories, most recently earning a first-round stoppage win in September. Paired off with fellow rising star Joel Alvarez at the end of the month, a win would leave him on the cusp of cracking the Top 10 in the treacherous 155-pound weight class.


Terrance McKinney, lightweight: We profiled McKinney here last summer following his electric short-notice debut, where he knocked out Matt Frevola in seven seconds. The 27-year-old is 11-3 overall after earning four first-round stoppage wins in 2021, capped by his outstanding UFC debut, and profiles as a real blue chip prospect.


UFC 272: Covington vs. Masvidal (Saturday, March 5)


Rafael Fiziev, lightweight: Initially slated to headline the February 19 fight card, Fiziev’s bout against former champ Rafael Dos Anjos was pushed back due to visa issues. The streaking 28-year-old will now face the Brazilian in a five-round, non-title co-main event on pay-per-view instead, and if he can secure a sixth straight victory, “Ataman” will advance into the thick of the title conversation in the 155-pound weight class.


Bryce Mitchell, featherweight: “Thug Nasty” has been out of action since Halloween 2020, but is perfect in four trips into the Octagon since claiming the bronze medal in the featherweight competition on Season 27 of The Ultimate Fighter. The 27-year-old from Arkansas has a chance to crack the Top 10 with a win over Edson Barboza at the start of March.


Mariya Agapova, flyweight: The confident and talented Agapova stumbled in her sophomore appearance, landing on the wrong end of one of the biggest betting upsets in UFC history. But last time out, the brash 24-year-old turned in a blistering effort against Sabina Mazo, and will look to do the same in a grudge match against Maryna Moroz at T-Mobile Arena on March 5.


Jalin Turner, lightweight: Because he’s been in the UFC for a handful of years, folks forget that Turner is only 26, but with three straight stoppage wins, a wealth of experience, and a dangerous build for the 155-pound weight class, “The Tarantula” should scare a lot of fighters in the lightweight division. 


Michal Oleksiejczuk, light heavyweight: The Polish hopeful has struggled on the canvas a couple times over the course of his first seven UFC appearances, but his boxing — particularly his body work — is a sight to behold. He’s paired with surging veteran and former Glory Kickboxing champ Dustin Jacoby next month, and if he can get passed him, Oleksiejczuk could make a run at the Top 15 before the year is out.


Umar Nurmagomedov, bantamweight: While he’s been limited to one appearance over the last two years, Nurmagomedov made the most of it, extending his record to 13-0 with a second-round submission win in his promotional debut in January 2021. Next up for Khabib’s cousin is a date with veteran Brian “Boom” Kelleher. Bantamweight is the deepest, most competitive division in the UFC at the moment, and Nurmagomedov is very much one of the top young talents in the weight class.


UFC Fight Night: Santos vs. Ankalaev (Saturday, March 12)


Magomed Ankalaev, light heavyweight: It’s been a slow and steady progression up the rankings for the 29-year-old Ankalaev, who currently sits at No. 6, one spot behind the man he faces next month, former title challenger Thiago Santos. The multi-talented fighter from Dagestan has won seven straight since losing his debut quite literally at the last second, and carries a 16-1 overall record into this critical main event showdown in March.


Song Yadong, bantamweight: It’s actually a little strange that fight fans and media don’t talk about Song more as one of the top young talents on the roster, given that the 24-year-old Chinese standout is already 7-1-1 inside the Octagon. He takes on former title challenger and dangerous veteran Marlon Moraesin mid-March and with a victory there, “The Kung Fu Monkey” should vault into the Top 10.


UFC Fight Night: Volkov vs. Aspinall (Saturday, March 19)


Tom Aspinall, heavyweight: Born in Manchester, fighting out of Liverpool, and headlining in London, Aspinall is Britain’s next best hope for collecting UFC gold. The 28-year-old is 11-2 overall and riding a seven-fight winning streak, the last four of which have come inside the Octagon, all of them by stoppage. If he maintains that streak through this fight with Alexander Volkov, the skilled big man will find himself no more than a win or two away from challenging from championship gold.


Paddy Pimblett, lightweight: “Paddy the Baddy” is one of the most charismatic fighters on the roster — a character from an early Guy Ritchie film brought to life and tossed into the Octagon. In addition to talking a good game, the 27-year-old Scouser can back it up inside the cage, as evident by his first-round stoppage win over Luigi Vendramini in his debut. Expect the crowd at The O2 Arena to go berserk when he struts out to the Octagon on March 19 in London. 


Arnold Allen, featherweight: The highest-ranked British fighter in the UFC at the moment, the 28-year-old Allen is 8-0 in the UFC and 17-1 overall, but frequent injuries have kept him from competing on a consistent basis. Currently positioned at No. 7 in the featherweight rankings, “Almighty” is slated to welcome Dan Hooker back to the division in his one, and a victory over the highly regarded New Zealander would thrust Allen into the thick of the title conversation in the 145-pound weight class. 


Muhammad Mokaev, flyweight: The youngest fighter on the UFC roster, Mokaev went 24-0 as an amateur, and has maintained his winning ways since turning pro in the summer of 2020, registering five victories and one No Contest. In baseball terms, Mokaev is a five-tool prospect and everyone that follows the sport should be paying close attention to him now that he’s set to make his major league debut in March against American Cody Durden.


Jack Shore, bantamweight: Wales’ Shore is another “why aren’t more people talking about him?” type, as the 27-year-old has followed up a 12-0 run as an amateur by going 15-0 to start his professional career. The last four of those victories have come since getting called to compete in the Octagon, and a win over Timur Valiev in London next month should have more people talking about “Tank” heading into the second quarter of 2022.

Cory McKenna, strawweight: The first Welsh woman and youngest fighter from the United Kingdom to ever grace the Octagon, the now 22-year-old McKenna earned a unanimous decision win over Kay Hansen in her debut back in November 2020. She was sidelined for all of last year, but can thrust herself back into the conversation about emerging names to track going forward with a strong effort against Elise Reed in London.


UFC Fight Night: Blaydes vs. Daukaus (Saturday, March 26)


Amanda Ribas, strawweight: The 28-year-old Brazilian bundle of positive energy and happiness was near the top of many “Future Champions” lists to start last year, but stumbled out of the gate, suffering a second-round stoppage loss to Marina Rodriguez. She rebounded from her first UFC loss with an impressive decision win in October, and can move another step close to title contention with a win over veteran Michelle Waterson next month.


Lerone Murphy, featherweight: It’s rare fighters with unbeaten records and multiple stoppage victories in the UFC continually fly under the radar, but such is the case with Murphy. “The Miracle” is 11-0-1 overall and 3-0-1 in the UFC, having won three straight, most recently collecting a second-round knockout win over Makwan Amirkhani in October. The 30-year-old from Manchester faces Nate Landwehr at the end of next month.


Karol Rosa, bantamweight: Rosa is the one fresh name working up the ranks in the 135-pound weight class, carrying a 4-0 record in the UFC and a 15-3 record overall into her date with former title challenger and Olympic silver medalist Sara McMann next month in Columbus, Ohio. The 27-year-old Brazilian continues to show improvements each time out, and a victory over McMann would likely elevate her into the Top 10.


David Dvorak, flyweight: By winning each of his first three UFC assignments, Dvorak extended his overall winning streak to 16 and earned himself a place in the Top 10 in the flyweight division. After making just a single appearance in 2021, the 29-year-old from the Czech Republic looks to start a more productive year at the end of March when he takes on fellow Top 10 fighter Matheus Nicolau.


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