Tracking UFC breakout fighter predictions of 2022

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To kick off 2022, I’ve put together a list of UFC fighters for the year, one for each division. They had to have made their UFC debut in 2020 or 2021 or, if they made their debut in 2019 or earlier, had three fights or less in the organization. Perhaps more importantly, they couldn’t have cracked the official UFC rankings until this year. It would have been too easy to choose heavyweights like Tom Aspinall for this case. I could skate and let my choices fly away in the sky like dust in the wind, but I’d rather hold myself accountable. So, I think now is a good time to review who I chose and who I should have chosen.

For the original article to verify that I am not changing my story, click here.

HEAVY WEIGHTS

I have chosen Alexander Romanov and maintain that it was the right choice, even if the great Moldovan has just suffered a defeat against Marcin Tybura. After all, Tybura is one of the most underrated members on the roster and Romanov’s issues can be fixed. Given the recency bias, some may argue that Rodrigo Nascimento would have been a superior choice, but how many of you would choose Nascimento if these two were pitted against each other? That’s not to say Nascimento is without promise, but I still maintain that Romanov is the most likely heavyweight signed in this era who has the best chance of cracking the title picture. His physique is nearly unmatched in the division and he’s cut the baby fat that adorned his body. Now he just needs to learn to pace himself and he will start to realize his potential. Perhaps the loss to Tybura will be the best thing for him in the long run, as his dominating win over Chase Sherman offered more than we’ve seen from him before.

LIGHT AND HEAVY WEIGHT

It was a swing and a failure on my part. To be honest, I don’t think anyone thought William Knight looks like fuck it all up and start the next part of his heavyweight career. Also, it’s not like I have a lot of options to choose from. Either way, the right choice would have been Nicolae Negumereanu. The Romanian entered the organization about as raw of a product as there are these days in 2019. The youngster wisely stepped away for around two years to hone his skills and pulled off four straight wins since he gave up his debuts, including two in this year on Kennedy Nzechukwu and Igor Potieria. Admittedly, his level of competition has not seduced anyone, but he beats whoever is placed in front of him and that’s all we can ask of him.

AVERAGE WEIGHT

There were a bunch of different directions I could have taken in this division that I think would have been respectable choices. Gregory Rodrigues would have been a choice that has aged well. Dricus Du Plessis is another. Bruno Silva, not so much. Anyway, I absolutely hit the nail on the head when I said Alex Pereira was going to have every chance to be a star. Considering he’ll be fighting Israel Adesanya for the title in Madison Square Garden next month, he’s getting about as big as he can get. I’ll admit he’s probably in a rush, but the wins over the aforementioned Silva and Sean Strickland indicate Pereira is a quick learner. Considering Pereira is already 35, I understand why the UFC wouldn’t want to wait too long. In fact, his age was a big reason why I thought he would get the boost he did. I don’t want to congratulate myself too much, but when I’m right, I should congratulate myself.

HALF-MIDDLE WEIGHT

This is another place I believe I couldn’t have been more right about. Ian Garry had the bigger name – and probably still does in many places – and Khaos Williams was better established with his quick knockouts. However, Shavkat Rakhmonov has already proven to be a major force. He had already ripped Alex Oliveira and Michel Prazeres before this year. He upped the ante by shredding Carlston Harris and longtime ranking stalwart Neil Magny. Rakhmonov is easily a hotter commodity at this point than Williams or Garry at this point, with many labeling him a future champion. He didn’t push through his opposition like Khamzat Chimaev did, but Rakhmonov surgically cut through his opposition the way a grizzled veteran gets rid of a young green prospect. Considering he’s been the youngest fighter in every contest, this should be a scary prospect for everyone going forward.

LIGHTWEIGHT

I had doubts when I tabulated Paddy Pimblet to be the breakout lightweight based on what he can do in the cage, but he’s held up so far. It doesn’t hurt his cause that the brass gave him only favorable matchups. I mean, can he really be considered a star when his wins beat Kazula Vargas and Jordan Leavitt? Considering Pimblett knows how to sell himself better than anyone this Conor McGregor side, yes, he can be considered a standout. I was not present at any of his fights in London – I have never crossed the Atlantic by the way – but the atmosphere through my television that the crowd gave off for his fights was something magical. How it was in person, I can only imagine. I may not see Pimblett becoming champion, but he’s already built a following that only a select few would scoff at. And I mean a very select a few.

LIGHTWEIGHT

As deep as the featherweight division is, there didn’t seem to be a major contender for it that was off the charts at the start of the year. Or had already been in the ranking. Thus, even if pat sabatini failed due to his loss to Damon Jackson, I don’t feel like that was a complete misreading of the situation. Sabatini might end up being the better fighter in the end, but Jonathan Pearce would have been the legitimate choice for the division fighter, at least until now. His win over Christian Rodriguez didn’t impress many, but it was a win and Pearce eventually ran out and put away Makwan Amirkhani. Even with that, I don’t think it would be unanimous for Pearce to be the unanimous featherweight. However, if he can beat the perennial Darren Elkins in December, I don’t think anyone will challenge that status.

BANTAM-WEIGHT

There is an embarrassment of young talent at bantamweight, leaving me with several choices to choose from at the start of the year. I finally chose Adrian Yanez as the young Texan has a strong organizational push behind him and the flash to attract a strong following. Some may disagree with me and say that Umar Nurmagomedov would have been a better choice considering Khabib’s cousin has two wins on the year against Yanez’s. That’s a damn good argument, especially since Nurmagomedov’s two wins — over Brian Kelleher and Nate Maness — are a higher quality opponent than Yanez’s win over Tony Kelley. However, Yanez has a social media presence and reputation that I would always say he is the best choice. Also, one of Nurmagomedov’s fights was at featherweight. Not that it really sounds Nurmagomedov overall, but it’s the bantam-weight the escape I seek. Not that I would argue with someone who prefers Nurmagomedov. After all, the two look like they will fight for a title one day.

FLY WEIGHT

Several talented flyweights made their UFC debuts after the New Years, so I couldn’t choose Muhammad Mokaev or Tatsuro Taira, two talents many of whom expect to fight for gold one day at the UFC. I don’t think there are many who have that expectation for Jeff Molina, but I would say he was the best pick of those available at the time and he still is at this point after his win over Zhalgas Zumagulov. Maybe some will change their minds if Molina fails against Jimmy Flick, but this contest won’t be held until January. I was hoping to see Molina fight more than once in the calendar year, but he’s beaten the leaderboard and he’s maintaining his reputation as one of the best action fighters in the division. So while it may not have been a true breakout year, Molina was still the right fit for the division.

BANTAM WEIGHTS FOR WOMEN

This division is a mess. Not quite as big as the women’s featherweight, but nonetheless, still a mess. I only had five choices on the list at the start of the year and I went with Josiane Nunes. Nunes won his only appearance this year, but that fight came at featherweight. I’d say Joselyne Edwards would have been the right choice considering she had wins in both of her fights this year… but neither were technically bantamweight contests. One was held at featherweight and Edwards missed weight in the other contest which she took on short notice. So even though she only has one bantamweight win for the year, Stephanie Egger somehow takes the cake by default despite falling short of Mayra Bueno Silva in her final bantamweight contest of the year. To give Egger some more credit, she’s coming off a short-notice win at featherweight, but the division could use a major injection of talent in the worst possible way.

WOMEN’S SOFTWEIGHT

If the rules I had established were non-existent, the obvious choice would be Molly McCann. After all, she got back-to-back spinning elbow knockouts. Most fighters don’t get one in a career, let alone two. But back to back? Ironically, she clashes with my choice at the beginning of the year, Erin Blanchfield. Blanchfield’s lone win was tougher than expected, but she finally got the job done against the plucky JJ Aldrich. If Blanchfield can pull off a win over McCann in November, I’ll say I picked the right candidate. Otherwise, Tracy Cortez probably would have been the right choice…provided she passed Amanda Ribas. In other words, this division is still up for grabs in terms of my useless rewards….

WOMAN STRAW WEIGHT

115 could use some new blood, but there hasn’t been much upward movement outside of the rankings. Despite that, I would say it was more due to bad breaks than anything else. For example, I chose Cheyanne Vlismas, but she has yet to fight for this year. She’s scheduled to face Cory McKenna in the final event of the year, but I don’t think a lone win over McKenna would count as a breakthrough year. The other fighter I considered was Tabatha Ricci, but she only had one win this year after her opponent pulled out due to illness last week. So… would I go with Sam Hughes or Vanessa Demopoulos? Both have two wins on the year so far with a chance for a third. Neither looks like a real breakout fighter right now, but I might see my tune change if either of them can pull off that third win of the year. I will conclude that my choice was wrong with the right choice yet to be determined.

Keep in mind the standards I set for myself (listed at the top) before you bully me too much in the comments, because I recognize that Taila Santos and Jamahal Hill have produced more of a true breakout this year than the ones I have selected. Either way, let me know what you think and who you think is going to have a great year.

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