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Young MMA Fighters: 25 Up-and-Coming UFC Fighters to Watch in 2020

The 2010s were an amazing time for MMA, with plenty of superstars to cheer on. Unlike many other sports, MMA fighters tend to start their careers later and only become great in their late 20s and early 30s. With more and more fighters appearing on the UFC roster every year, now is the time to watch out for rising stars. While the UFC, like all industries, has taken a hit with the COVID pandemic, it still has plans to hold fights later in the year, which is a great relief for many UFC fans.

If you’re wondering who to look out for in the coming year, we’ve taken a look at the current crop of the most exciting and newest UFC fighters who are about to make a big impact in 2020, in no particular order. Keep an eye on these fighters, because we’re sure they’re going to be something special.

#1 – Maycee Barber

  • Record: 8-1 MMA, 3-1 UFC
  • Weight class: Flyweight
  • Age: 21

Maycee Barber came from the LFA and was featured on the Contender Series before her debut in the UFC. Since then, she’s shown her worth, winning her first three fights in her UFC career. She suffered her first loss at UFC 246 to Roxanne Modafferi by unanimous decision.

Barber’s goal is clear: to become the youngest ever UFC champion, and despite recent setbacks, we think has the skill and determination to reach her goals.

#2 – Mike Davis

  • Record: 8-2 MMA, 1-1 UFC
  • Weight class: Lightweight
  • Age: 27

Mike Davis came into the UFC with an impressive 80% win rate, which he promptly lost in his first official UFC bout. He recovered quickly, though, and took out Tom Gilford at UFC on ESPN+ 19. With his impressive track record, strong ground game, and carefully honed boxing skills, Davis can quickly become a force in the UFC lightweight division.

#3 – Nasrat Haqparast

  • Record: 11-3 MMA, 3-2 UFC
  • Weight class: Lightweight
  • Age: 24

Nasrat Haqparast came into the UFC with a strong 8-1 MMA record. Currently ranked as the 21st best lightweight MMA fighter (1), Haqparast has a lot to prove. He’s started training at Montreal’s famous Tristar gym, which is sure to hone his sharp boxing skills even further. He’s currently facing a one-loss streak but is taking time off to work on his weaknesses, and is sure to come back even stronger than before.

#4 – Magomed Ankalaev

  • Record: 13-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC
  • Weight class: Light heavyweight
  • Age: 28

Dagestan seems to be the country producing some of the top UFC fighters in the 2020s. Despite a rocky start to his UFC career with a loss to Paul Craig at UFC Fight Night 127, Ankalaev has bounced back with style, winning his next four bouts with ease.

He beat Marcin Prachnio at UFC Fight Night 136, a fight that also earned him his first Performance of the Night. Apart from one decision, he’s finished off all his fights decisively and doesn’t look to be stopping any time soon.

#5 – Tatiana Suarez

  • Record: 8-0 MMA, 5-0 UFC
  • Weight class: Strawweight
  • Age: 29

While most people have eyes on Zhang Weili, Tatiana Suarez has been quietly working her way up the UFC rankings, boasting a 13-fight win streak and an 8-0 professional fighting career. With her strong wrestling game and fearsome attitude, Suarez is one to watch.

She’s recently had some neck issues that have forced her out of the ring, but with enough time to recover, she’s coming for the strawweight title belt soon.

#6 – Ryan Spann

  • Record: 18-5 MMA, 4-0 UFC
  • Weight class: Light Heavyweight
  • Age: 28

Many UFC fans think the light heavyweight division is one of the more boring divisions, but the recent rise of several stars may change all of that. One of the biggest names in the division at the moment is Ryan Spann, who’s well on his way to a title bout in the next few years.

His pre-UFC career may not be much to talk about, including a 15 second knockout during the Tuesday Night Contender Series in 2017, but he’s honed his skills since then, and it shows. If you’re ready to see the light heavyweight division become more interesting, Spann is a rising star to watch.

#7 – Zabit Magomedsharipov

  • Record: 18-1 MMA, 6-0 UFC
  • Weight class: Featherweight
  • Age: 28

Featuring a distinctive haircut and even more distinctive striking style, Magomedsharipov has already made a name for himself in the UFC featherweight division. With an unbeaten 14-win streak, Magomedsharipov currently ranks as the 4th best MMA featherweight fighter.

We’re sure that, thanks to his win streak and his victories over Jeremy Stevens and Calvin Kattar, you can expect to see Magomedsharipov in a title fight sooner rather than later.

#8 – Islam Makhachev

  • Record: 18-1 MMA, 7-1 UFC
  • Weight class: Lightweight
  • Age: 28

Not only does Islam Makhachev have the strong Dagestani ground game of his relatively famous training partner Khabib Nurmagomedov, but he also has a lightning-fast standing game that’s won him several of his UFC victories.

So far, all of Makhachev’s wins have been against unranked opponents, and we’re sure he’ll be raising the stakes in 2020.

#9 – Sean O’Malley

  • Record: 11-1 MMA, 3-1 UFC
  • Weight class: Bantamweight
  • Age: 25

Sean O’Malley made his UFC debut with a recognizable style that was a joy to watch. After a long, 23-month hiatus between his second and third UFC bouts, he returned to the octagon with back-to-back finishes of Jose Alberto Quinones and Eddie Wineland.

A TKO loss to Marlon Vera would follow as a result of an unfortunate injury to his foot but even still, there is no doubt in our minds that the ‘Suga’ show will continue as advertised once he heals up (2).

Few young MMA fighters have elevated their star more than Sean O'Malley in recent times.
Despite his recent loss, Sean O’Malley remains one of the most highly-regard prospects in the sport of MMA.
Photo credit: Twaku

#10 – Brianna van Buren

  • Record: 9-3 MMA, 1-1 UFC
  • Weight class: Strawweight
  • Age: 26

Brianna van Buren has cut her chops in the Invicta FC, where she reigned as Strawweight champion before moving into the UFC. While she’s only had one official UFC match, her performance at the Invicta FC championships and in the Octagon has given her the groundwork she needs to succeed.

Her fight against Livia Renata Souza shows that she has the aggression and the skills to become a top contender in one of the most exciting divisions in the UFC. Sure, a loss to the veteran Tecia Torres exposed some shortcomings in her overall game but given her young age, time remains well and truly on her side.

#11 – Yair Rodriguez

  • Record: 13-2 MMA, 8-1 UFC
  • Weight class: Featherweight
  • Age: 27

Yair Rodriguez’s 8-1 UFC record speaks for itself. At age 27, Rodriguez has already shown he’s got what it takes to make it to the top; all he needs is the opportunity to do so. With a versatile ground game and strong, striking game, Rodriguez has already taken out several notable competitors, including Chan Sung Jung, in 2018.

His recent win against Jeremy Stephens has put him one step closer to the title bout he so desperately desires, and it’s up to him to make it happen.

#12 – Cory Sandhagen

  • Record: 12-2 MMA, 5-1 UFC
  • Weight class: Bantamweight
  • Age: 27

Cory Sandhagen has lived in a weird space in the bantamweight division for several years now, always flying under the radar despite several major wins and an undoubtedly elite skill-set.

However, even with a quick and unlucky submission defeat to Aljamain Sterling on his record, Sandhagen absorbed virtually no damage in that fight and remains one of the most versatile and creative fighters at 135lbs right now.

#13 – Marc Diakiese

  • Record: 14-4 MMA, 5-4 UFC
  • Weight class: Lightweight
  • Age: 27

Coming in from the BAMMA, Marc Diakiese’s entrance into the UFC couldn’t have started better, with wins against Łukasz Sajewski, Frankie Perez, and Teemu Packalén. He then hit a snag while facing some of the best fighters in the lightweight division, which put a damper on his prospects.

Luckily, Diakiese picked himself up, with strong showings against Joe Duffy and Lando Vannata in 2019. We think that Diakiese has tons of potential and is an exciting prospect in 2020.

#14 – David Teymur

  • Record: 8-2 MMA, 5-1 UFC
  • Weight class: Lightweight
  • Age: 31

While David Teymur may be on the older side of prospective fighters to watch, we think his strong Muay Thai base means that he’s developing a ground game that is only going to get better as time goes on.

While Teymur suffered a loss against Charles Oliviera in 2019, he’s had more than enough time to shore up his ground game and come back into the Octagon swinging for the fences.

#15 – Muslim Salikhov

  • Record: 17-2 MMA, 4-1 UFC
  • Weight class: Welterweight
  • Age: 35

Despite a less than stellar start to his UFC career, Muslim Salikhov has tons of potential on display. After his first fight ended in a loss, he came back stronger than ever against Nordine Taleb, a performance that earned him the evening’s Performance of the Night.

Also known as the ‘King of Kung-Fu’, Salikhov blends a unique style of wushu sanda that catches his opponents off-guard. He’s been training up his ground game to bring it up to speed with his wushu, which is sure to produce results soon.

#16 – Mike Grundy

  • Record: 12-2 MMA, 1-1 UFC
  • Weight class: Featherweight
  • Age: 33

It may feel a bit premature to get excited about someone who’s only had one fight in the UFC, but we think Mike Grundy is an important fighter to keep an eye on. He’s represented Great Britain at the Commonwealth Games, winning a bronze medal in 2014.

His record of MMA wins reads like a list from a submission manual, including three consecutive D’Arce chokes, several arm triangles, a keylock, and guillotine choke. His focus on his striking also paid off when he won his first win via punches in 2019. Despite some injuries and a recent defeat to Movsar Evloev, Mike Grundy promises to be an exciting addition to the UFC roster.

#17 – Makhmud Muradov

  • Record: 24-6 MMA, 2-0 UFC
  • Weight class: Middleweight
  • Age: 30

Makhmud Muradov already had an established MMA career before moving into the UFC. His claim to fame is the fact that he’s the only MMA fighter ever signed to Floyd Merryweather’s TMT brand, so you know he’s got the punches to back up his words.

His UFC start has been impressive, taking out veterans Alessio di Chirico and Trevor Smith in stellar match-ups. With a team like TMT behind him, the future looks very bright for this 30-year old.

Makhmud Muradov celebrates following a victory inside the cage.
Riding a 13-fight win-streak, Makhmud Muradov is looking to become the latest sensation at 185lbs.
Photo credit: WikiMedia Commons

#18 – Jack Shore

  • Record: 13-0 MMA, 2-0 UFC
  • Weight class: Bantamweight
  • Age: 25

With a 25 fight win streak across both his amateur and pro career, Jack Shore is the most exciting Welshman in the UFC since, well, ever. He also duly impressed fans during his first UFC bout with Nohelin Hernandez, controlling the entire fight until his third-round submission. We’re looking forward to seeing what Shore will do next in an already-crowded bantamweight division.

#19 – Dan Ige

  • Record: 14-3 MMA, 4-2 UFC
  • Weight class: Featherweight
  • Age: 28

Like so many other rising stars, Dan Ige’s first performance in the Octagon wasn’t the greatest. But he’s managed to climb back and impress everyone with his skills, grit, and determination. His fight with Kevin Aguilar shows that he’s willing to fight until the bitter end, while his win over Edson Barboza shows that he’s got the skills to keep even the most ferocious opponent at bay.

Despite losing out to the immensely talented Calvin Kattar, Ige remains a hugely exciting prospect in the deeply-stacked 145lb division.

#20 – Bryce Mitchell

  • Record: 13-0 MMA, 4-0 UFC
  • Weight class: Featherweight
  • Age: 25

Known mainly for his love of camo shorts, Bryce Mitchell doesn’t mess around in the Octagon. His 2020 win against Charles Rosa has cemented him in the minds of fans as one of the top featherweight contenders of 2020.

Mitchell is also the holder of the second finish by way of twister submission in UFC history (3).

#21 – Nathaniel Wood

  • Record: 17-4 MMA, 4-1 UFC
  • Weight class: Bantamweight
  • Age: 26

After honing his chops in the British MMA scene, Nathaniel’ The Prospect’ Wood is more than ready to take on the UFC. His fights against Johnny Eduardo, Andre Ewell, and Jose Alberto Quinones show that his ground game is solid.

Even if his loss against John Dodson shows he’s still got some growing to do, a rebound victory against John Castaneda proved that he belongs at the top level.

#22 – Sodiq Yusuff

  • Record: 11-1 MMA, 3-0 UFC
  • Weight class: Featherweight
  • Age: 27

With UFC wins under his belt, Yusuff is quickly making a name for himself in the packed UFC featherweight division. He’s on a six-fight win streak, and it will be interesting to see what can stop this guy.

#23 – Raoni Barcelos

  • Record: 15-1 MMA, 4-0 UFC
  • Weight class: Bantamweight
  • Age: 35

Roani Barcelos is a multi-time BJJ and RFA champ and has the experience to make a huge splash in the UFC. He’s already had one Fight of the Night bonus and three finishes, which will certainly secure him some big-name fights in 2020.

#24 – Alonzo Menifield

  • Record: 9-2 MMA, 2-2 UFC
  • Weight class: Light heavyweight
  • Age: 32

The light heavyweight division is about to have a huge influx of new talent, with Alonzo Menifield leading the way. Backed by the Fortis MMA team from Texas, 2020 may be the year when Menifield will make his mark.

#25 – Mark Madsen

  • Record: 10-0 MMA, 2-0 UFC
  • Weight class: Lightweight
  • Age: 35

It’s not often that an Olympian graces the Octagon, but when they do, it’s something special (4). Olympic silver medalist Mark Madsen has shown that he can easily translate his wrestling skills into the MMA world, where he’s already won his first two fights. How much further can Mark go? Only time will tell, but we’re definitely along for the ride.

Olympic silver-medalist Mark Madsen celebrates a victory at the 2016 games in Rio de Janiero.
Olympic silver-medalist Mark Madsen is looking to become the latest to excel in his transition to MMA.
Photo credit: tasnimnews

Who do you have your eye on this year in the world of MMA? With this packed line-up of up-and-comers, we’re keen to see as much of them in the Octagon as possible.

Be sure to check out more MMA content here.

FAQs

Who is the youngest UFC fighter?

The youngest UFC fighter currently on the roster is featherweight contender Chase Hooper – who turned 21 on September 13, 2020. Hooper, who fights out of Enumclaw, Washington, has posted a 1-1 record in the promotion thus far – winning his debut outing against Daniel Teymur before dropping a decision defeat to the veteran Alex Caceres. Though certainly skilled inside the octagon, Chase is well known to fans for the memorable prank he played on Jorge Masvidal in the wake of UFC 239 – where Hooper pretended to be the son of Masvidal’s rival Ben Askren.

Who is the youngest female UFC fighter?

At present, the youngest female mixed martial artist on the UFC roster is the flyweight contender Maycee Barber at 22-years-old. Touted as one of the biggest prospects in the sport, Barber ran into some serious opposition in her last outing, losing badly to Roxanne Modaferi on the scorecards over three rounds at UFC 246. On a night that was poised to be her breakout moment, an early injury disrupted her gameplan completely, allowing her opponent to steal the fight’s momentum away from there onwards. Now sidelined due to injuries, time well and truly remains on the side of this undoubtedly talented up-and-coming talent, making her one to watch for the future.

How old do you need to be to fight in MMA?

In order to be sanctioned to fight by any of the world’s reputable athletic commissions, you must be at least 18-years-old and pass all of the relevant health checks required to certify you as ‘able-bodied’. Whether you intend on fighting at an amateur level or as a pro, you will not be allowed to make the walk to the cage if you are 17-years-old or under. With this being said, training to become a mixed martial artist is something you can begin as a child, with several gyms offering programmes tailored to junior members.

Find out who the elite of the elite within the sport of mixed martial arts are through our best MMA fighter list.


Sources:

  1. https://www.tapology.com/fightcenter/fighters/48941-nasrat-haqparast
  2. https://www.bjpenn.com/mma-news/ufc/sean-omalley-injury-update-x-ray-on-his-ankle-lower-leg-came-back-ok-no-fractures-but-mri-is-needed/
  3. https://www.ufc.com/video/fight-night-dc-bryce-mitchell-pulls-2nd-twister-submission-ufc-history
  4. https://www.olympianmma.com/

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