The UFC is the premier mixed martial arts organization in the world, and it’s no surprise that every MMA fighter dreams of fighting in the promotion. However, it takes a lot of blood, sweat, and guts to enter the UFC and climb up the rankings to ultimately fight for the gold.
Each year, the promotion shakes things up by adding new and exciting faces to its roster, but only a few make it big. Here are seven fighters the UFC and MMA fans must keep an eye on in 2021.
2020 was the best year of Kevin Holland’s professional life. In a span of seven months, Holland won a record five times in as many fights and cemented his place in the middleweight top 15. His most recent victory, which was also his most impressive one, came against Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza, in which ‘The Trail Brazer’ knocked the Brazilian out from his back at UFC 256.
Kevin Holland (-115 ML) with an UNREAL TKO
— Barstool Sportsbook (@BSSportsbook) December 13, 2020
He will fight Derek Brunson next month at UFC Vegas 22, and should he bag an impressive win, he could break into the middleweight top five.
Khamzat Chimaev is another fighter who had a fantastic 2020, with three dominant wins in a span of only two months. However, the Swedish-Chechen fighter is forced to stay on the sidelines for now due to COVID-related health complications, which is why his scheduled UFC Vegas 21 bout with Leon Edwards was scrapped and the Brit will now face Belal Muhammad.
Nonetheless, Khamzat is surely going to get a top name once he recovers from his illness.
Ciryl Gane is one of the top prospects in the UFC heavyweight division. His most recent TKO win against former champion Junior dos Santos saw him jump multiple places up to number seven in the rankings. Gane is set to face number three ranked Jairzinho Rozenstruik at UFC Vegas 20.
The former TKO heavyweight champion has a lot of hype behind him and has received high praise from president Dana White, who said that the 30-year-old is too fast for a man his size. His speed would definitely be a major problem for his opponents.
Any fighter with ‘Nurmagomedov’ as his surname should be taken seriously, and Umar is as talented as they come. The 24-year-old bantamweight is lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov’s cousin, and like his elder cousin brother, Umar has also never tasted defeated. He is an excellent grappler, but his striking is high-level too.
"(I'm) very happy and we have a lot of work ahead, we have to keep working."
-Umar Nurmagomedov (@UmarNmgdv) is proud of his performance at #UFCFightIsland8 but has bigger goals in mind#InAbuDhabi | @VisitAbuDhabi pic.twitter.com/PsQCcuPz5Z
— UFC News (@UFCNews) January 20, 2021
He made his UFC debut at UFC Fight Island 8, beating his compatriot Sergey Morozov via a rear-naked choke in the second round. With an impressive debut now behind him, Umar wants to get back into the Octagon as soon as possible, and plans to get his hands on the 135lbs title within the next 2-3 years.
Casey O’Neill made her UFC debut at UFC Vegas 19 on February 20th and impressed fans and critics alike with her dominant TKO victory against Shana Dobson. She relentlessly chased Dobson for as long as the fight stayed on the feet, and when it went to the mat, the Australian was all over her opponent.
While she still has a lot to prove, O’Neill is certainly a major problem for the flyweights.
Makhmud Muradov is one of the top prospects to keep an eye on at middleweight. The Tajik made his third walk to the Octagon at UFC 257, beating Andrew Sanchez through TKO in the third round. He’s 3-0 in the UFC, with two stoppages, and being on the same card as Conor McGregor did help him attract some eyeballs.
The heavy-handed, high-pressure fighter plans to keep on winning, and eyes a return in March or April.
The UFC’s light heavyweight division has seen a number of prospects over the past few years, but none more impressive than Czech Republic’s Jiri Prochazka. He knocked out former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir in his UFC debut at UFC 251 and now sits at the fifth spot in the rankings.
— Jiri Denisa Prochazka (@jiri_bjp) February 11, 2021
He was scheduled to fight Dominick Reyes at UFC Vegas 20, but Reyes pulled out due to an undisclosed injury. The fight has been rescheduled and will now take place at a UFC event on May 1st. Given the fact that he’s kicked off his UFC career against the top guys in his division, Prochazka is essentially one win away from a title shot.
Which of the aforementioned top UFC prospects do you believe has the best chance of winning gold down the road?
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