Every year, new UFC fighters from every walk of life enter the octagon for their shot at UFC glory. Unfortunately, many of them cannot survive the harsh realities of fighting in the UFC and are cut before their time in the cage is noticed. The ones who last in the UFC are those willing to take on the challenges of a fighter’s life head on and compete with the upper echelon of fighters. Of those who make it, a percentage of them become stars in the fighting promotion. The stars are those who are able to face and defeat the elite of the UFC. These stars fly under the radar before they make their splash by defeating a big-name fighter.
In the list below are the 15 fighters on the brink of superstardom in the UFC. These fighters have not yet received a great deal of recognition but have accomplished feats worthy of praising. The ranking of the list is based on several factors, which include the notoriety the fighter has been able to garner in the UFC, the level of the opponents the fighter has been able to defeat in the UFC, and the fighter’s ranking in his respective division.
15 Louis Smolka
Before Louis Smolka made his way to the UFC he held the flyweight belt of the fighting promotion PXC where he garnered a 4 – 0 record. After two fights in the UFC, he went through both sides the proverbial coin in the UFC with a 1 – 1 record. Shaking off his UFC jitters he went on to amass a four-fight win streak. Currently, rank eleventh in the UFC’s flyweight division he has made his intentions clear that his intent is to push ahead for the pursuit of the flyweight title. Still at the age of 25 he presumably is in the midst of a long career in the UFC and if he continues to perform as he has in the past that champion bout is definitely going to happen sooner than later.
14 Nikita Krylov
The Ukraine-born Nikita Krylov began training at the early age of 10 in the martial art discipline of Karate. Then in 2012 he decided to transition to this sport that was growing in popularity called Mix Martial Arts. Just two years into the sport Krylov got a shot to fight in the UFC against Soa Palelei at UFC 164. The bout would be a disappointment for Nikita Krylov losing the bout by TKO. From his first performance, he went on to garner a 1 - 1 record in his next 2 about. He is now on a five-fight win streak and ranked 10th in the UFC Lightweight Heavy rankings.
13 Aljamain Sterling
Matt Serra and Ray Longo have over the past few years produced a number of fighters making an impact in MMA today such as former middleweight champion Chris Weidman, lightweight Al Iaquinta, and Gian Villante. Their latest prospect Aljamain Sterling is making headway in the bantamweight division. Sterling has made a splash in the bantamweight division winning his first four fights in the UFC, three of which were as a result of early finishes via submission. Reeling off his first loss against John Lineker. Now with a 4 - 1 record in the UFC he is ranked as number 8 in the bantamweight division.
12 Thomas Almeida
Chute Boxe Academy is a legendary MMA fighting team based out of brazil. They have produced some of the most prolific fighters that have ever step foot in the octagon. Fighters like former Pride Champion Wanderlei Silva and all-time great Anderson Silva. The latest fighter to come out of Chute Boxe Academy Thomas Almeida is making a name for himself as well. Almeida began his career in the UFC as a highly touted prospect who hadn't lost a fight in his MMA career. In the UFC he won his first four fights in spectacular fashion. Many at that time considered Almeida on the cusp of a championship fight. However, in his most recent fight against fellow bantamweight contender Cody Gerhardt, Almeida suffered his first defeat. Despite the loss, many agree the young Almeida is a fighter to watch for a long time.
11 Lorenz Larkin
Lorenz Larkin has been through his ups and downs in the UFC. Originally fighting in the middleweight division he did not fare well in his fights in the division to the extent that he dropped four of his five fights in the UFC. During that time his status in the promotion was in question. In the pursuit of a change of momentum, he switched divisions moving down to welterweight. Going on to win his first two bouts in the Although he lost his second fight at welterweight he was not deterred going on to win his next four bouts. Then he was set to fight welterweight contender Neil Magny who at that time was on a three-fight win streak and ranked with the top ten in the division. Unphased by his opponent he dominated the bout finishing Magny in the second round by TKO.
10 Michael Chiesa
Michael Chiesa is Yet another rising star in the UFC to come out of the UFC reality show The Ultimate Fighter. The season that produced Michael Chiesa was The Ultimate Fighter Live. He defeated his first two opponents on the show heading into the show's finale against New York MMA prospect Al Laquinta. Chiesa ended up defeating Al Laquinta winning the tournament. From the tournament, Chiesa went on to garner a 1 - 1 record. From there seemingly shaking off his UFC jitters he went on to win all but one belt in his next five fights. That lone loss was a result of a medical stoppage due to a cut Chiesa sustain during a fight with Joe Lauzon. Chiesa is currently ranked 7th in the UFC lightweight rankings.
9 Yair Rodríguez
Yair Rodriguez first appeared on the UFC scene as a cast member of the The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America. Winning his first two fights in the tournament he made his way to the finals against Leonardo Morales. He went on to win that bout earning him the title of Ultimate Fighter: Latin America winner and a six-figure UFC contract. After five fights in the UFC Yair Rodriguez has garnered a name for himself with his unorthodox fighting style that includes moves like jumping kicks and spinning punches as a regular feature. Now on the midst of a six-fight win streak, he is currently undefeated in the UFC. Ranked 11th in the featherweight division it will be interesting to see how his style fairs up against the best in the featherweight division.
8 Robert Whittaker
Robert Whittaker first made headway in UFC by competing on The Ultimate Fighter: Smashes. Whittaker ended up dominating the tournament becoming the series winner. From the show, he went on to compete in the welterweight division of the UFC. While competing well enough in the welterweight division he would come to the conclusion that the extreme weight cut took a lot out of him and subsequently affected his performance inside the cage. Whittaker made the move up to middleweight against Clint Hester at UFC Fight Night Rockhold vs Bisping. Whittaker won the match with a devastating combination of knees and punches. From that win, Whittaker has seemed almost unstoppable in the middleweight division defeating the likes of Uriah Hall, Brad Tavares, and Rafael Natal.
7 Jimmie Rivera
Jimmie Rivera began his MMA career at the age when most people were deciding what college they were going to attend. On the amateur scene, he dominated going seven fights without a single loss. After going through the amateur circuit Rivera went on to fight in several different fighting organizations garnering a name for himself in the fighting world in the process. In 2015 he finally got his shot at fighting in the UFC when he was called in as a replacement against Marcus Brimage at UFC Fight Night 72. Rivera made the opportunity count winning the bout by TKO in the very first round. From that fight, Rivera raffled off two more wins in succession earning the opportunity to face his most accomplished opponent to date perennial bantamweight contender Urijah Faber. Stepping up to the plate Rivera defeated Faber stamping his name among the elite in the UFC bantamweight division.
6 Valentina Shevchenko
You can say that UFC bantamweight Valentina Shevchenko has always been in the fight game. At the age of five, she began training in the martial art Taekwondo. Then in her teens, she branched out into Muay Thai and Kickboxing. Her career in the UFC began at UFC on Fox: Dos Anjos vs. Cerrone 2 when as a short notice replacement she defeated top ten bantamweight contender Sarah Kaufman. In her latest bout, she defeated former women's bantamweight champion Holly Holm putting Shevchenko in the conversation as the next opponent of current women’s Bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes. If granted the opportunity to fight Amanda Nunes it would mean for Shevchenko a chance at redemption against the only person to defeat her in the UFC and an opportunity to raise her already rising stock.
5 Khabib Nurmagomedov
Before Khabib Nurmagomedov turned to MMA he was a prolific wrestler in the sport of Combat Sambo claiming two combat sambo world championships in his time in the sport. In the UFC he has been just as dominant going 7 fights in the UFC without a single loss. Why may you ask Is an undefeated fighter in one of the most competitive divisions in the UFC not already on everybody's radar? Well, it's because Nurmagomedov has been injured often to the extent that he was out of action for two years from 2014 to 2016. In his time away many were contemplating whether the powerhouse fighter would ever return. At UFC on Fox: Teixeira vs. Evans, Nurmagomedov returned in a bout against Darrell Horcher. He impressively dominated the bout with his prolific wrestling. Hopefully, he can now stay healthy to show the world what he is capable of.
4 Cody Garbrandt
Before mixed martial arts, Cody Garbrandt was a successful boxer winning the ABA Junior boxing championship two consecutive years in 2007 and 2008. After deciding to make the transition to Mix Martial Arts Garbrandt joined the MMA fighting team, Alpha Male. Alpha Male was at that time touted as one of the best lighter-weight teams in the world with a roster that included UFC bantamweight contender Urijah Faber, featherweight power hitter Chad Mendes, and future bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw. Suffice to say Garbrandt had a plethora of experienced fighters to gain tutelage from. As a fighter in the UFC Garbrandt has yet to lose a fight displaying his superior boxing against every fighter that has stood in his way.
3 Cristiane Justino
For several years Cristiane Justino was heralded as one of the most dominant fighters in the MMA world outside of the UFC. She has impressively won a championship in every mixed martial arts promotion she has fought in. Understandably many were clamoring for Justino to make an appearance in the UFC but there was a barrier keeping Justino out of the UFC and that was her inability to make it down to the 136 weight limited of the women’s bantamweight division. At UFC 198 Justino was finally given her opportunity to fight in the promotion against Leslie Smith at a weight of 140 lbs. Justino won the fight in the first round by devastating KO. In her next fight at UFC Fight Night 95, it would take Justino only two rounds to defeat her opponent by TKO. Going on almost ten years without losing an MMA bout, the sky’s the limit for Justino's UFC career.
2 Amanda Nunes
You wouldn't expect a UFC champion to be on this list but it just goes to show you how competitive the UFC women's bantamweight division is currently. Since the prolific fighter Ronda Rousey lost her belt at UFC 193 after a remarkable six title defenses no women’s bantamweight champion has been able to successfully defend the title. The newest champion Amanda Nunes claimed the belt after defeating previous champion Miesha Tate at UFC 200 via submission. Her journey to that title bout included a span of three years and seven fights in the UFC. Of those seven fights she only had one loss. She is now hitting her stride amidst a four fight win streak.
1 Max Holloway
Max Holloway began his career in the UFC at the astonishing age of 19. Going through his shares of wins and losses after his first five fights in the UFC. Following those fights, he started to rattle off a couple of wins first against well-experienced fighter Will Chope then Andre Fili. The wins from there did not stop. Max Holloway continue to defeat the fighters place in this path accumulating an eight-fight win streak. Then he was placed against Ricardo Lamas who at that time was a top 5 featherweight and Holloway's most difficult test to date. Rising up to the occasion Holloway defeated Lamas in a decisive one-sided bout. Holloway is currently ranked number 3 in the UFC featherweight rankings. At the age of 24, he is considered by many one of the fastest involving fighters in the UFC.
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