With such a huge influx of new talent bolstering the UFC’s roster in recent times, we rank the top 8 fighters making up the next generation of UFC stars.
For all the talk of 2017 being something of a down year for the UFC, I think it’s fair to say that several fighters managed to truly establish themselves as real prospects over the course of that 365-day period. Vicious punchers, slick submission specialists and some truly unignorable loud-mouths have managed to make their breakthrough this year so without further ado, here are the top-8 UFC fighters who make up the ‘new-school’.
Honourable Mentions: Cynthia Calvillo, Kamaru Usman, Zabit Magomedsharipov, Mairbek Taisumov, Santiago Ponzinibbio.
#8 – Paulo Costa
If you didn’t know it before, Paulo Costa proved to the world that he is one of the most terrifying prospects in the game when he battered the former-welterweight champion Johny Hendricks at UFC 217 in Madison Square Garden. Purely as a physical specimen, he ranks among the most fearsome fighters not only at middleweight but in the promotion as a whole. He’s got brutal power, ridiculous strength and his boxing looks slick. His next outing should see him get a top-10 opponent but either way, 2018 will be a year when you get to know a lot more about Paulo Costa.
#7 – Mike Perry
Mike Perry is quietly becoming one of the UFC’s most interesting characters and this weekend against Santiago Ponzinibbio, he has a chance to earn himself a shot at someone in the top-5 – if all goes well. He’s a vicious finisher and ruthlessly aggressive from start to finish. If you give him even a glimpse of weakness, he’s the type of fighter who can lay you out in an instance. His last two fights saw him get the win by way of brutal knockout and with a similarly violent customer like Ponzinibbio in front of him, expect the winner to become a serious force at 170lbs.
#6 – Justin Gaethje
Justin Gaethje might have lost out in brutal fashion to Eddie Alvarez at UFC 218, but I wouldn’t be so quick to rule this guy out of title-contention so fast. It takes a special type of fighter to be able to push forward so relentlessly and when he debuted against Michael Johnson earlier this year, he proved to the world why exactly he was renowned as one of the sport’s most unmissable fighters. Perhaps he will get pieced up by a more accurate and composed striker in the future, but for now, look forward to seeing ‘the Highlight’ in some absolute barnburners in 2018.
#5 – Colby Covington
Love him or hate him, it’s hard to deny that Colby Covington has left his mark at 170lbs in recent times. To go from calling out Rafael dos Anjos relentlessly without response to defeating the great Demian Maia in his home country of Brazil in his latest outing, ‘Chaos’ has well and truly disrupted the status quo in both his division and the UFC as a whole. Sure, his striking looks like it could use some work but in his last few fights he has shown that his wrestling pedigree and constant pressure are enough to make him a nightmare for even the upper echelon talents at welterweight.
#4 – Brian Ortega
T-City’s stock just went through the roof as he managed to score one of the submissions of the year, taking out the veteran Cub Swanson in his ‘pick-em’ main-event contest last weekend. Four consecutive third-round finishes saw Ortega make his own little piece of history before being signed for his latest fight but with one of the slickest submission games in the business, he has managed to place himself firmly within the title-picture at 145lbs, and depending on how things pan out in early 2018, could well be within touching distance of a title shot.
#3 – Volkan Oezdemir
What can you say about Volkan Oezdemir that hasn’t already been said? The guy started his UFC career with a short-notice victory over Ovince St-Preux and then managed to earn himself a 205lb title-shot by knocking out top-10 light-heavyweights Jimi Manuwa and Misha Cirkunov in under a minute. ‘No Time’ took exactly that to reach the top but with one of the all-time greats in Daniel Cormier in front of him, he will face a challenge that will test absolutely every inch of his skillset but still, we’ve seen him accomplish ridiculous feats inside the octagon already.
#2 – Darren Till
Liverpool’s own Darren Till stole the show at UFC Gdansk when he obliterated the admittedly over-fought Donald Cerrrone in a dominant first-round KO win but with him now standing as one of the game’s top unbeaten prospects, look to next March’s UFC London as an opportunity to see this guy in action again. As a kickboxer and a genuinely huge welterweight, he poses some serious problems for those he faces and at just 24-years-old, has all the time in the world to develop his already-stellar skillset. Whether he can pull it off against a top-5 guy, remains to be seen.
#1 – Francis Ngannou
I’ll be honest, one brutal punch landed Francis Ngannou at the top of this list. Even though we’ve all been aware of his potential for some time now, to knock out the legendary Alistair Overeem in the manner that he did instantly made him the scariest proposition in the sport. At heavyweight, it doesn’t matter so much if your technique isn’t as sharp or as polished as your counterpart, if you hit like this guy hits, you have the potential to ruin a night in an instance. Stipe Miocic will face him at UFC 220 and though he has taken on some of the toughest veterans in the game before, Ngannou could well be the most dangerous, if not dealt with properly.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena