2023 was another great year for the UFC in many ways. But one thing that was lacking, was the building of the next generation of stars. Though UFC has finally caught on and started booking up-and-comers to headline Fight Night cards in 2024, there needs to be a dedicated focus all throughout next year. Especially if they want to prep fighters to go five rounds for future title fights…
Fighting under the brightest lights possible is already hard enough. But going through a fight camp to prepare for five rounds is much needed. Joey Torres and Kyle Dimond decided to look at the current crop of talent and list 10 fighters that the UFC should be building next year. Fighters they should consider making headliners out of.
This one seems almost too obvious. UFC likes to put their promising prospects like Bo Nickal on the main card of a PPV. But in reality, he should be main eventing a Fight Night card at least once before his eventual first title fight. Some may argue that being on a PPV is better in building hype. But that truly depends on who the headliners are… If it’s not a Conor McGregor card, then the only people buying PPVs are hardcore MMA fans. At some point, he’ll need to continue building on to his experience and be introduce to the general public. In other words, the casuals.
Since his regional career was short, going five rounds is going to be critical in his growth. Even if it never goes to the later rounds. It’s moreso about getting the opportunity to feel what it’s like to headline and go through a camp that prepares you for five rounds. 2024 should be a massive year for Bo, who has all the potential to be the next cash cow for the UFC.
The hype around Khamzat Chimaev has undoubtedly declined compared to his first five fights in the promotion. Despite beating a former champion in Kamaru Usman at UFC 294, the controversial majority decision against a fighter moving up a weight class on short notice added some doubt over his potential. For fans to really get back on board, we need to see “Borz” tested over five rounds against a legitimate middleweight contender. He is still an enigma that generates a lot of interest which would elevate any main event match-up you put him in. There are questions for him to answer at middleweight and this would make for one of the best Fight Night main events the UFC could possibly put together.
What a stud. Mike Malott should be headlining a UFC Fight Night card sometime next year, despite his short tenure with the company. After earning his contract with a 39-second submission on DWCS, “Proper” Mike made a massive splash with back-to-back-to-back wins. Prior to that, he captured the CFFC welterweight title after training fighters at Team Alpha Male and a 3-year layoff. At 32 years old and on a 6-fight win streak, 2024 could be that breakout year for the Canadian. Not to mention, he has a 100% finish rate in the UFC and Canada needs their next future champion to get behind. Look no further… Malott has the looks, skills, experience, and charisma to be a massive star.
It has been a consensus opinion for a while now that it was only a matter of time before Umar Nurmagomedov was competing at the top of the bantamweight division. Despite his status as one of the best undefeated prospects in the world, he is yet to reach the upper echelon at 135-pounds. With just one fight in 2023 (in January no less), it has been a frustrating time for the 27-year old to really lock down a top opponent. Given the hype around him and the fact he was booked to face Cory Sandhagen over five-rounds before withdrawing due to an injury, his next fight needs to be a main event.
The talent is clear to see, but injuries and matchups have prevented his progress. A big main event against a top-10 bantamweight would finally provide him with the platform he needs to announce himself as a legitimate contender.
Maycee Barber’s goal of beating Jon Jones’ record is no longer reachable. But that doesn’t mean her quest for gold is unattainable. At just 25 years old, Barber has shown much promise to one day become a UFC champion. 2024 could very well be that year. Though she won’t be the youngest champion in the promotion’s history, she could become the youngest female fighter to win the belt. That in itself is still very impressive considering the short history of women’s MMA. Maycee has been in the UFC since 2018 by way of DWCS. In recent bouts she has shown tremendous growth and the confidence of a seasoned veteran. After all, they don’t call her “The Future” for nothing.
Diego Lopes got his breakout moment on the global stage in a late notice UFC debut which he lost. Coming up short against Movsar Evloev, most fans were taken aback by the performance he put on. Especially because he was the replacement opponent. Since then, the Brazilian has produced two incredible first round finishes to show that he has real potential at featherweight. The UFC is always on the hunt for the next Brazilian stars, and Lopes has come out of nowhere as a name on that list. A Fight Night headliner could be the next step that he needs to really become a big name in his home country. Plus, we can’t get enough of watching him… So whilst there’s no guarantee the fight will last any longer, it’s worth a shot.
I swear Muhammad Mokaev is not human. Not only is he 10-0 at the moment, he’s on a 34-fight win streak which stems from his extensive amateur career. He is also only 23 years old… Which is absolutely insane. Now five fights into his UFC career, he has the opportunity to get one step closer to the title early in 2024. If we’re being honest, that flyweight title shot seems inevitable at this point. And it would be very deserving. Along with Erin Blanchfield, Mokaev is ushering the next generation of flyweights. So put some respect on his name. “The Punisher” is undoubtedly primed and ready to take over the fight game.
Ian Machado Garry
Though people love to hate him, his talent and star power speak for themselves. When you get the amount of attention and hate that Ian Machado Garry gets, people are going to tune in solely to watch you lose. Since joining the UFC in 2021, Ian has gone 7-0. He was able to collect three finishes and four decision wins, giving him that much-needed cage time to one day be a headliner. Because he knows how to backup what comes out of his mouth, he seems to be primed for a very big 2024. Like others on this list, he should be headlining a Fight Night card en route to the top-5 of the welterweight division. Since he’s already compared to Conor McGregor, Boston seems like the logical state to do it in.
Aside from a controversial draw in his debut that many thought he won, Lerone Murphy has been perfect so far in the UFC. In five straight wins, he’s shown a well rounded skill set, an excellent eye for a finish and plenty of potential that he’s still yet to realize. With a matchup scheduled against Dan Ige on February 10th, Murphy could be on the cusp of some big fights if he is able to maintain his unbeaten streak. His fighting style looks to be the kind that would only benefit from longer fights and even in his wins, he’s been a part of some great fights. Not to mention that he has the story to back up his incredible rise at 145-pounds. They don’t call him “The Miracle” for nothing and Murphy could be the next UK headliner to break out amidst the likes of Edwards, Aspinall, Allen and Pimblett.
Unlikely? Most probably. Deserving? Absolutely. 23-year old wonder kid Tatsuro Taira has been one of the best kept secrets in the UFC throughout 2023. He was able to extend his undefeated streak in the flyweight division to 5-0. The influence of Japan is massively important to the history of MMA and despite being under the radar to some degree, Taira could be the UFC’s breakout star from the Land of the Rising Sun. Some of the best UFC events in recent years have seen the promotion put on shows in countries they don’t frequently visit with talent from that region topping the bill. Taira could be the guy for the UFC in Japan. It would be a special moment for him to make that walk with his name on the marquee.
Which UFC fighter do you want to see headline an event in 2024? Let us know in the comments.