Despite 2018 already losing multiple main and co-main event fights, the UFC is still off to bang this year. What cards have lacked in star power, they’ve more than made for in excitement.
And one of the most exicting things for fans is seeing a solid prospect moving up the ranks. While the UFC hasn’t always done a great job of promoting their rising talent, in my opinion, the fans are a clever bunch and great at catching these stand-out performances. These are the fighters who are slowly building a solid buzz and showing they have the skills to be the futures of their respective divisions.
These are the top five UFC up and comers to watch in 2018.
#5. Gregor Gillespie
MMA Record: 11-0
Wrestling: Four-time NCAA All-American, National Champion
Gregor Gillespie was recently seen at UFC on FOX last month absolutely destroying Jordan Rinaldi in the first round. Gillespie is a remarkable wrestler who possesses some big power in his hands. He’s also shown to have decent technical boxing, keeping his guard high, pumping his jab and using it to set up his NCAA -champion level takedowns.
Once Gillespie gets his adversaries to the ground, he is constantly working to improve the position. Thus far, Gillespie has been able to transition to mount and back mount with relative ease on his opponents. From here, he likes to rain down bombs while looking for the TKO or the choke. Like many wrestlers, he’s an admirer of the arm-triangle choke, having won three of his 11 bouts with the submission.
Even if faces an opponent with the ability to stop the takedown in the future, they still need to be wary. He’s also showcased some solid power, dropping and then TKO’ing his second UFC opponent in just :21 seconds.
#4. Alexander Volkanovski
MMA Record: 17-1
A seven-time champion in various organizations in three different weight classes before joining UFC.
Alexander Volkanovski hasn’t tasted defeat in almost five years. And the last time he did, he was fighting three weight classes higher then he currently competes. After jumping around and fighting as high as middleweight, Volkanovski seems to have fully settled into the featherweight division. He’s 4-0 in the UFC with two of those wins coming via TKO from his vicious ground and pound. When Volkanovski gets on top you, you’re in for a bad time.
Volkanovski was a champion level rugby player and took up Greco-Roman wrestling and MMA to stay in shape. Realizing his skill and love for combat sports, he would take to fighting and training full time. The Aussie was relentless in his dismantling of the undefeated Jeremy Kennedy last Saturday at UFC 221. Volkanovski got the fight to the mat at will and then unloaded with bombs until the referee finally saved Kennedy from the onslaught in the second round.
#3. Tai “Bam Bam” Tuivasa
MMA Record: 7-0
Kickboxing Record: 14-2
Boxing Record: 5-2
“Bam Bam” really put on a show at UFC 221 last Saturday. He completely decimated Cyril Asker within a matter of minutes. Elbows, hooks, body shots were all on display in the short bout that had the crowd in Perth going bananas for their fellow Austrailian. Afterwards, he gave a fun post-fight speech and then stopped on his way to back to the locker room hangout with the fans for a moment and drink beer from a shoe.
Thanks for teaching this guy from the Midwest what a “shoey” is, UFC Perth.
In his previous UFC fight, he knocked out Rashad Coulter with a flying knee. Yeah, the 265 lb. behemoth has flying knees too. The former professional rugby player’s physique is deceitful. Tuivasa is incredibly fast and athletic.
And while we don’t know much about him outside of the first round (since he’s knocked everyone he’s fought out in the first five minutes), or anything about his grappling, the young prospect is a much-needed boost of adrenaline to the aging heavyweight division.
He’s 24 years old, exciting, vicious in the cage and has a likable personality. This guy has all the makings of a future star.
#2. Israel “The Last Style Bender” Adesanya
MMA Record: 12-0
Kickboxing Record: 50-5-2
Boxing Record: 5-1
With a nickname as cool as “The Last Style Bender”, you better be able to deliver in the ring or cage. Well fight fans, Israel Adesanya definitely delivered in his UFC debut last weekend at UFC 221. Adesanya brings a striking pedigree rarely seen in mixed martial arts. His penchant for switching stances and employing footwork makes him a puzzle to his opponents. He throws kicks from angles seldom seen in MMA and has a willingness to throw crushing body blows (an underutilized tactic in the sport).
Of course, as with any high-level striker, there were plenty of questions about his ability to stop a takedown and his ground game. While he spent five minutes consistently getting up and stuffing the takedown attempts of Rob Wilkinson last Saturday, that’s not a great gauge. It showed he was definitely competent with his takedown defense, but Wilkinson isn’t exactly a top-level grappler.
Regardless of these questions, he’s a more than welcome addition to a division that’s in desperate need of new blood. With his flashy style and strong social media game, this guy should be a fan favorite in no time.
#1. Zabit Magomedsharipov
MMA Record: 14-1
Wushu: Four-time Russian champion, European Champion, World Cup Winner
I often feel like it’s lazy to compare fighters just because they share a slight similarity in styles to more popular fighters. But I think it’s fair to draw the comparison between Zabit Magomedsharipov’s smothering ground game and that of another pretty well known Dagestani in Khabib Nurmagomedov. Once Magomedsharipov gets his clutches on you, you’re going for a ride. And once you land, he hasn’t let go of you. He stays attached and uses his grip on you to move to better position and beat you some more.
While his grappling mastery is a thing of beauty, Magomedsharipov is more than capable on the feet. At 6’1”, he towers over most of the featherweights he faces. On the inside, he crushes his opponents with elbows. At range, he utilizes a wide array of effective kicks. Wheel and spinning kicks strike his opponent’s head and body with a fury. He even sprung off the cage and threw a “Showtime” kick in his UFC debut against Mike Santiago.
This guy is the whole package and I believe, “the real deal”, as they say. With a couple of big wins, we could easily see him fighting for the belt near the end of 2018.
Brett Johns – Bantamweight, 15-0
Dominick Reyes- Light Heavyweight, 8-0
Yan Xiaonan- Women’s Strawweight, 8-1
Ricardo Ramos- Bantamweight, 11-1