After what feels like forever, the first UFC fight card of 2023 is in the books and in anticipation of an exciting year of mixed martial arts, we decided to take a look at some of the best fighters to watch in the year ahead. All coming off the back of a successful 2022, here are five of the fighters expecting to make a big impact on the UFC over the coming year.
Ilia Topuria sprung into the public eye over the course of 2022, in part due to his very public feud with Paddy “The Baddy” Pimblett. A spat on Twitter, an incident involving a bottle of hand sanitiser and a lot of crossed words during the UFC 282 press conference with Pimblett, shone the spotlight on Topuria, but it’s inside the Octagon where he’s really shown his potential to be a top tier fighter. A second-round KO victory over Jai Herbert in the UK, followed by an impressive submission victory over highly regarded grappler Bryce Mitchell at UFC 282, earned him #9 ranking in the featherweight division. A callout of Brian Ortega followed, which could be a massive fight for him. Ortega or not, expect Topuria to face a top five opponent in 2023, where an impressive victory could see him force himself into an already highly competitive Featherweight title picture.
After gaining citizenship in 2017, Uzbekistan born Shavkat Rakhmonov is the first Kazakh fighter in the UFC… and what a fighter they have representing them on one of the biggest platforms for MMA. With an unbeaten 16-0 record, including four victories inside the UFC Octagon, and every one of those finished before the final bell, Rakhmonov’s potential in the UFC is limitless. He is very similar in both ability and skillset to Khamzat Chimaev, and like the Swede, he has dominated every opponent unfortunate enough to share the cage with him. 2022 saw Rakhmanov walk away with two victories, knocking out Karlson Harris inside the first round, followed by an impressive guillotine submission victory over Neil Magny, both earning him performance of the night bonuses. He next faces #7 ranked fighter Geoff Neal at UFC 285. Another dominant display here and the Welterweight division will have a new competitor approaching the top, that nobody will be excited to face.
With a 3-0 record, Bo Nickal is the least experienced MMA fighter on this list, but by no means is he an inexperienced martial artist. A three-time NCAA Champion with an incredible record of 120-3, his transition to MMA has been eagerly anticipated, and so far, he hasn’t disappointed. Three dominant first round finishes, first by knock out in his MMA debut with Jorge Masvidal’s Ikon promotion, followed by two submission victories on Dana Whites contender series, have begun to show the hype may be real for Nickal. He is scheduled to face Jamie Pickett at UFC 285, a further step up in competition. Expect Nickal to overcome Pickett and dominate further opponents over the course of 2023, as he surges towards a Middleweight ranking.
Hailing from Tijuana, Mexico, at just 23 years of age Yazmin Juaregui began to make a name for herself in the UFC with two victories in 2022. Since signing with the UFC, she took a decision win against Iasmin Lucindo in March, then followed this up in December with an impressive knockout win against Istella Nunes, despite being knocked down early in the first round. These victories took her to an impressive 10-0 in MMA, with six finishes by knockout. After the success of Brandon Moreno, Mexico is crying out for a female poster fighter, and Juaregui could be just that. With her feet firmly on the ground, she doesn’t expect to be near the top fifteen rankings anytime soon. But have no doubt, she is more than prepared to work for her opportunity in the UFC. With expectations of Jauregui fighting two or three times in 2023, don’t be surprised to see her earn a spot in the rankings if her good form continues against higher-pedigree fighters.
A name that many of you will be familiar with, this list couldn’t be compiled without some representation from the UK, and what a fighter we have in Ian Garry. A former Cage Warriors Welterweight Champion, the Irishman has a 10-0 record in MMA, with three of these victories coming in the UFC. Following two comfortable decision wins in 2022, Garry took a break from MMA to support his wife with the birth of his first child, but he is back in training, and he is confident 2023 will be his breakthrough year. A boxer who also holds a blackbelt in Judo, Garry prefers to keep the fight standing, and his four knockout wins, including a knockout and performance of the night win on his UFC debut back at UFC 268, have created excitement and intrigue around MMA fans that there is a new Irishman in town. If he can get into the Octagon two or three times in 2023 and continue his strong performances, he will certainly be knocking on the door of the welterweight rankings and beyond.
So, there we have it, our five fighters to watch in 2023. Do you agree? Who have we missed? Shout up in the comments