Coming out of a year where the world seemed to stop due to the coronavirus pandemic, the UFC have managed to set up possibly the most exciting year yet.
Dana White has cut a lot of fighters from the payroll which has paved the way for up and coming fighters to make their way into the rankings. Dominant champions have moved up in weight to open up divisions and we’ll surely see gold change hands more than we did in 2020.
Opportunities have arisen and the current roster is ready to take them. Here are ten fighters who have big years ahead of them. Whether it’s new comers charging up the rankings or seasoned professionals putting themselves into the hall of fame, keep your eye on them all.
Many fans’ Fighter of the Year for 2020 and it is hard to argue against it. Five fights and five wins, which was a joint record in the UFC for victories in a calendar year, has seen ‘The Trailblazer’ race up the middleweight rankings into 10th place.
Displaying a wide range of abilities throughout his run has made people stand up & take notice. He now needs to build on that and this year could see Holland be involved in some big nights. But first he must deal with number seven ranked Derek Brunson.
With the champion Israel Adesanya moving up in weight for his next fight to become a double champ and the number one contender Robert Whittaker taking on Paulo Costa, Holland could join the elites of this division in 2021 with a win or two.
Being knocked off the pound-for-pound top spot by Khabib Nurmagomedov didn’t go down well in the Jones household. He immediately took to Twitter to vent his frustrations and it was clear to see he wants and feels he deserves that spot back.
Moving up now to heavyweight after relinquishing the light heavyweight title, expect his next fight to be announced against the winner of the UFC 260 main event when Stipe Miocic defends his heavyweight title against Franics Ngannou.
Already considered by many as the greatest of all time, moving up and becoming the heavyweight champion sets that accolade in stone. A legacy defining year ahead for Jonny ‘Bones’ Jones.
2020 was a big year for the Chechen but 2021 could be even bigger. After his debut on Fight Island he set a turnaround record of 10 days to get his second UFC victory and became a fan favourite instantly.
Now 3-0 in the UFC he will face Leon Edwards on March 13th, where a win will propel him into the top half of the welterweight division. He’s ready to fight anyone at anytime so expect him to be active. Only his potential opponents will stop that.
By the time arenas are full to capacity with fans, could the new star already have gold around his waist?
Another man moving up in weight class, the middleweight champion has dealt with the contenders put his way so far and is looking to test himself at 205lbs in the light heavyweight division.
An immediate title fight with newly crowned champion Jan Błachowicz at UFC 259 would put ‘Stylebender’ in the small company of multi-weight champions. It would also set up a potential super fight with former champion Jon Jones.
Is this the year people start mentioning Adesanya in the G.O.A.T debate?
Already off to good start after his victory against Douglas Andrade at UFC Fight Island 8, an active year could see Lerone Murphy get a match up against a ranked featherweight.
The Englishman likes to get his opponents out of the octagon quickly, however showed patience to win a unanimous decision on Fight Island.
He has a story to go along side his skills too, a survivor of being shot in the face twice earns him the nickname ‘The Miracle’. Opportunities will certainly come his way this year and he’ll be ready to take them.
The only man flying the flag for England in the heavyweight division, the all action scouser can start moving into the rankings in 2020.
His first outing of the year is scheduled for UFC Vegas 19 next month against Andrei Arlovski and gives Aspinall a chance to test himself against an experienced veteran, who has been in the cage with the likes of Miocic, Overeem & Rozenstruik.
Fighting early in the year allows him to get another two or three more fights in and this knockout artist will surely give us some highlights in 2021 in return.
The number three ranked strawweight is on an incredible 11 fight streak in MMA, six in the UFC, and is right in line for a title shot in 2021.
By her own admission one more fight will be needed before that opportunity is earned, and a possible match up with the number two ranked Joanna Jędrzejczyk is one Dana White should be looking to make.
Whichever opponent comes her way, a win will see the possibility of a historic event. If China carries on their successful fight against COVID-19, imagine an all-Chinese title fight with current champion Zhang Weili in Asia, with fans in attendance. What a night that would be.
Kape is scheduled to make his debut in the UFC at flyweight on the main card of UFC Vegas 18 and comes into the company after leaving Rizin as the champion. He also served as the back up to the UFC 256 main event between Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno.
Another exciting young fighter who doesn’t like to leave his fate to the judges, he’s got 15 wins on his record with 14 coming via TKO or submission. An impressive win can introduce him to fans and set him up for a huge 2021.
Nicknamed ‘Kungfu Monkey’, Yadong is on an impressive eight fight unbeaten run.
His first fight of the year is scheduled to come on the prelims card at UFC 259 against another young fighter, Kyler Phillips. With a wide range of finishes on his record, Yadong is someone who will excite people this year and can start moving up the featherweight division and will be keen to make up for inactivity last year.
Magomed Ankalaev dealt with Ion Cutelaba twice in 2020 and after his opponent claimed playing possum in their first meeting, he did it in even more emphatic fashion the second time around.
He’s now on course to get himself into title contention with a successful 2021. The 11th ranked light heavyweight is scheduled to face number eight ranked Nikita Krylov in his biggest test yet at UFC Vegas 20 next month.
A win there and if the Dagestanian can be active and add to his 9 finishes, he can end the year knowing a fight for the belt won’t be far away.