From new ranked contenders to exciting up-and-comers, here’s 10 fighters you won’t want to miss in 2018.
The list includes fighters who I believe will make their way into championship contention or ones who I expect to have a standout year.
Antonio Carlos Junior – Middleweight
As the winner of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil Heavyweight tournament, Antonio Carlos Júnior (9-2-) is beginning to really establish himself at Middleweight. The jiu-jitsu specialist is currently on a 4 fight winning streak, submitting Jack Marshman in the first round in his last outing.
Aside from Jacare Souza, there aren’t many Middleweights with the grappling capabilities to rival Antonio. With such a dominant ground game, I would favour him against many of the ranked 185lb’ers if he is able to take the fight to the mat. Look for him to breach the Middleweight rankings in 2018.
Tatiana Suarez – Women’s Strawweight
As an unbeaten prospect, two-time World Wrestling Championship bronze medalist, and the The Ultimate Fighter: 23 winner, ‘Tatiana Suarez’ (5-0) is a name we will be hearing a lot more about.
World-class freestyle wrestler Tatiana missed out on competing in the 2012 London Olympics due to an unfortunate neck injury. The development of the aforementioned injury also gave light to another, more serious issue – a cancerous growth in her thyroid gland. Tatiana’s battle with cancer ended her wrestling and olympic dreams but also led to her finding a love for MMA through jiu-jitsu.
With Suarez’ hugely impressive wrestling pedigree, I expect her to make waves in the Strawweight division. Due to her great talent and truly inspiring story, I also expect the UFC to get behind her promotionally if she is to have continued success.
Shane Burgos – Featherweight
Featherweight “Hurricane” Shane Burgos (10-0) is an unbeaten talent fighting out of Tiger Schulmann’s Mixed Martial Arts academy. Shane has slick striking, heavy hands, and a great personality to match. Shane’s 3 UFC wins have come over Tiago Trator, Charles Rosa, and Godofredo Pepey.
Shane will be putting his unbeaten record on the line at UFC 220 where faces the equally promising Calvin Kattar. If he can get past Kattar and make his way into the rankings, I can see him being a future star of the division.
Zabit Magomedsharipov – Featherweight
Despite only having 2 fights in the UFC so far, Zabit Magomedsharipov (14-1) has cemented himself as one of the most promising prospects in the 145 lb division. With two ‘Performance of the Night’ UFC bonuses, Zabit has showcased two very impressive sides to his game through dominant wrestling ability and a highly creative striking arsenal.
Zabit is in the early stages of his UFC career so it’s difficult to predict how he will fare against top opposition, but I for one can’t wait to see how he progresses through the division.
Aspen Ladd – Women’s Bantamweight
Signed from Invicta FC, 22-year-old Aspen Ladd (6-0) has heaps of potential. Her octagon debut and TKO finish over Lina Lansberg extended her winning streak and served as her 5th career stoppage.
Since the UFC has opened up their Flyweight division, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ladd cut down and compete at 125lbs. Ladd competed at Bantamweight in her first UFC fight, but she has fought at Flyweight before and I think she could have great success there.
Mairbek Taisumov – Lightweight
Many athletes who fight in the UFC are often hampered by VISA issues and the inability to fight in the U.S., but Mairbek Taisumov is perhaps the worst case of them all. Taisumov holds a 6-1 record in the UFC with 5 finishes but has been hamstrung by persistent VISA issues.
If the Russian Lightweight can resolve his current predicament or get on more international cards then expect big things from him in 2018. Per an interview with Kumite Radio, Taisumov hopes to fight at UFC 221 in Perth.
Ketlen Vieira – Women’s Bantamweight
Brazilian Judoka and BJJ brown belt Ketlen Vieira (9-0) is 3-0 in the UFC and coming off a hugely impressive arm-triangle submission over the experienced Sara McMann. Vieira has received high praise from coach Andre Pederneiras and expectations are high for the Bantamweight.
With the road to the title at 135lbs fairly short, a victory over Cat Zingano at UFC 222 could put her just one fight away from a title shot.
Tai Tuivasa – Heavyweight
After turning away from a potential career in rugby league and a short stint in boxing, Tuivasa turned his hand to mixed martial arts where he is now thriving. The Samoan-Australian Heavyweight holds a fantastic 6-0 record comprising entirely of first round finishes. Tai has just one fight in the UFC but it came in the form of a devastating flying knee knockout over Rashad Coulter.
The success of Francis Ngannou has been great for the UFC and it has reinvigorated fan interest in the Heavyweight division, but the company is still desperate for new talent. If Tuivasa can rack up some more impressive wins I could see him developing into a real contender within the division.
Tuivasa is will be fighting Cyril Asker at UFC 221 in Perth on the 11th of February.
Li Jingliang – Welterweight
Chinese Welterweight Li Jingliang is currently 6-2 in the UFC with 4 finishes. Jingliang’s UFC record doesn’t tell the full story and he very well could be 7-0. His loss to Nordine Taleb came by way of a close split decision and his guillotine loss to Keita Nakamura came in a fight that Li looked like he was winning.
Li is on a 4 fight winning streak with finishes over Zak Ottow, Bobby Nash, and Anton Zafir. At 29 years old Li is entering his prime and could find a way to the rankings if his is to have a year as impressive as he did in 2017.
James Vick – Lightweight
Texan-born Lightweight James Vick (12-1) has amassed a hugely impressive UFC record so far with 8 wins and 1 loss. Some of his most notable wins include Joe Duffy, Abel Trujillo, Marco Polo Reyes, and Jake Matthews. Vick possesses great striking ability with solid boxing fundamentals.
Vick struggled previously to find himself a ranked opponent, but now he finds himself in the top 15 he might start to get them with a little more ease. Expect Vick to have an active year and challenge the best Lightweight has to offer.