In 2021, there were a ton of up-and-coming fighters who broke onto the scene and made a name for themselves. Heading into 2022, there are several prospects at each division that fans should be intrigued by. For this list, there are certain criteria for a fighter to be labeled as a “prospect.”
- This fighter cannott currently be ranked in the top 15 in their respective division. Casey O’Neill is still very much a “prospect” with untapped potential, but as the 15th ranked women’s flyweight, she does not qualify.
- Additionally, fighters on this list must have five or fewer fights within the promotion. Many may still view Raoni Barcelos as somewhat of a prospect, but he does not qualify as he fought six times under the UFC banner.
- The last qualification is that each fighter cannot have already been a champion in a different major promotion. Mateusz Gamrot cracked into the top 15 after a win in December. However, had we made this list at the start of 2021, Gamrot would not have qualified after having been a champion in KSW.
Without further ado, here is one prospect from each division that all fans should look out for heading into 2021.
Flyweight: Jeff Molina
Only two fights in his UFC career, Jeff Molina has already become an incredibly intriguing fighter. On a loaded UFC 261 card, Molina earned a fight of the night award for his war against Aoriqileng, a fight in which he took home a unanimous decision. In his next outing, he dominated Daniel Da Silva, earning himself a round two TKO victory. Nearly unknown coming into 2021, Molina is definitely someone to keep an eye on in 2022.
Bantamweight: Saidyokub Kakhramonov
The easy answer for a prospect to watch at 135 is Adrian Yanez. However, most people have heard of Yanez’s name at this point, so we’re picking a lesser-known fighter. Saidyokub Kakhramonov made his UFC debut on short notice in August and dominated Trevin Jones, en route to his third win by guillotine. Set to fight against Brian Kelleher on January 15th, Kakhramonov is going to get a major step-up in competition and it will be interesting to see if he can make a run in the UFC’s loaded bantamweight division.
Featherweight: Pat Sabatini
There are only a small handful of fighters who went 3-0 in the UFC in 2021, and Pat Sabatini belongs on that list. A wrestling specialist, Sabatini dominated all three of his UFC fights in 2021, with wins over Tristan Connelly, Jamall Emmers, and Tucker Lutz. Sabatini is booked to fight Gavin Tucker at UFC 273 in early April and could enter the top 15 at 145 with wins in 2022.
Lightweight: Mike Davis
Early in 2021 on a Wednesday card, Mike Davis put on a fight of the year contender, earning a unanimous decision win over Mason Jones. That win has aged extremely well, and Davis’ creative striking makes him an extremely intriguing prospect. His only UFC loss has been to Gilbert Burns, and Davis’ has a 2-1 record with the promotion. He certainly hopes to have an active 2022 and make a run for the top 15.
Welterweight: Carlston Harris
Debuting in 2021, Carlston Harris had an extremely successful debut year, earning two first-round finishes against Christian Aguilera and Impa Kasanganay. The only fighter on the roster from Guyana is almost a complete unknown, but his well-rounded skill set could make him a perennial contender. Harris is set for a major step up in competition as he’s set to face Shavkat Rakhmonov on February 5th.
Middleweight: Dricus Du Plessis
After turning pro back in 2013, Dricus Du Plessis has yet to have a fight reach the judges’ scorecards through 18 pro bouts. 2-0 in the UFC, Du Plessis has looked fantastic, with two one-punch knockouts against Markus Perez and Trevin Giles. Visa issues have prevented him from being more active, but so far, Du Plessis is looking like South Africa’s best shot at having a champion.
Light Heavyweight: Tafon Nchukwi
A product of Dana White’s Contender Series, Tafon Nchukwi still lacks much octagon experience but is certainly a prospect for fans to keep their eyes on. After losing a majority decision to Junyong Park in May at 185, Nchukwi moved up to 205 pounds and looked fantastic in his most recent outing against Mike Rodriguez. Nchukwi has talked about how brutal his cuts to make Middleweight were, and moving up in weight should be a great move for him heading into 2022.
Heavyweight: Alexandr Romanov
A 15-0 Heavyweight who has finished 14 of 15 wins, Alexandr Romanov should have garnered a lot more attention by now. Debuting in the UFC in September of 2020, Romanov has an extremely well-rounded skill set. His grappling skills are exceptional for a heavyweight, and he proved that by pulling off a forearm choke against Marcos Rogerio de Lima. Set to face Ilir Latifi on February 19th, Romanov is looking to crack the top 15 in 2022.
Women’s Strawweight: Tabatha Ricci
Tabatha Ricci had the extremely difficult task of having to face Manon Fiorot in her UFC debut back in June, a fight in which she lost by TKO. However, Ricci rebounded in her second octagon appearance, defeating Maria Oliveira in October at her natural weight class of 115. Even for a Strawweight, Ricci is somewhat undersized at 5’1”, but her ability to grapple makes her a name to watch out for this year.
Women’s Flyweight: Erin Blanchfield
Forget becoming a contender- Erin Blanchfield has ‘future champion’ written all over her at age 22. Through two UFC bouts, Blanchfield has shown off her grappling, with an incredible 21 minutes and 43 seconds worth of control time in 30 minutes of octagon time. Her most recent opponent, Miranda Maverick, was also seen as a top prospect at 125 as well. It will be difficult for anyone to take the throne from Valentina Shevchenko; and while Blanchfield isn’t ready yet, she is someone to look out for in the years to come.
Women’s Bantamweight: Josiane Nunes
Options were limited for the women’s bantamweight division, but Josiane Nunes was one name that stuck out as a prospect. In her UFC debut in August, Nunes showed off her one-punch power, knocking out Bea Malecki in round one. Despite being only 5’2”, Nunes packs an incredible amount of power into her punches, reminiscent of Jessica Andrade. If she can stay active in 2022, Nunes is someone who could make a run for the top 15.
What fighters do you see as legitimate prospects to watch in their division? Let us know in the comments below who could break onto the scene in 2022!
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