Conor McGregor's heir, Israel Adesanya's nemesis: Top UFC prospects to watch out for in 2022

  • Tom Ward
Top UFC prospects to watch out for in 2022

It’s a new year which means it’s time for UFC fans to get all excited about what lies in store for them in 2022. 

Francis Ngannou will be back again in late January to defend his title against Ciryl Gane at UFC 270, while Israel Adesanya rematches Robert Whittaker for the UFC middleweight title three weeks later on February 13.

But nobody knows what’s next for Conor McGregor or indeed his arch-rival Dustin Poirier, who holds two wins over the Notorious, both by way of knockout. 

And while Jon Jones has been busy piling on the pounds ahead of his heavyweight debut, he is not expected to return to the octagon until a later date according to reports.  

Thankfully however there is another generation of fighters coming through who could indeed take their places as pay-per-view stars in the future.

With that in mind, GIVEMESPORT thought it’d be a good idea to give you the lowdown on several up-and-coming fighters who are on course to become huge stars in their own right in 2022. 

In no particular order…

The sky is the limit for Casey O'Neill

1. Casey O’Neill

Now signed to Paradigm Sports Management, the same agency which represents McGregor, it seems the sky really is the limit for Casey O’Neill, who enjoyed a bumper year in 2021.

O’Neill, 23, is currently booked to face Roxanne Modafferi as part of the supporting cast for Adesanya’s highly-anticipated rematch with Whittaker next month. 

But it’s hard to imagine she won’t end up headlining an event herself one day, maybe even at some point this year, provided she gets past Modafferi of course.

Over to Miesha Tate herself to tell you more about her teammate…

Tate told GIVEMESPORT: “Casey is getting to the point where she is ready to graduate. 

“She is undefeated, she has covered a lot of ground in the time she has been competing professional in MMA, and she is only going to get better from here on in.

“I believe she has the mindset, the work ethic, and the skill set to become a world champion, or indeed anything else she decides to put her mind to.” 

Alex Pereira knocked out Andreas Michailidis in the second round

2. Alex Pereira

A former two-weight world champion, fans thought they knew what to expect when decorated kickboxer Alex Pereira stepped into the octagon for the very first time last year.  

So when he showed off his grappling skills and takedown defence against Andreas Michailidis, it caught many by surprise. 

Born in Brazil, but fighting out of Connecticut, Pereira seems to have all the tools at his disposal to give Adesanya a run for his money.

After just one fight however, that might be quite a leap right now, and there will be more obstacles to come between now and then. 

But don’t forget, he’s beaten him twice before already, albeit when they were both competing in GLORY Kickboxing. 

However, with Glover Teixeira in his corner, there’s no knowing what might happen if the two do end up meeting for the third time – this time under mixed martial arts rules. 

Ian Garry smoked Jordan Williams on his debut

3. Ian Garry

Long considered the heir to McGregor’s Emerald crown, Ireland’s Ian Garry certainly lived up to that reputation – and then some – after he stunned Jordan Williams with a one-hitter quitter on his debut at Madison Square Garden. 

That came a few months after he was signed by Dana White after he put together an impressive seven-fight winning streak at a regional level on his way to capturing the vacant welterweight title in June against Jack Grant at Cage Warriors 125.

What better way to make a first impression in front of your new boss, eh? 

One thing’s for sure, ‘The Future’ is bright for the Irish prospect under the tutelage of Sanford MMA head coach Henri Hooft, who counts Gilbert Burns, Michael Chandler and Vicente Luque among some of his famous students. 

Some company, that. 

Ilia Topuria rendered Ryan Hall unconscious in the first round

4. Ilia Topuria

All Ilia Topuria wanted was some respect on his name.

Against Ryan Hall, Topuria had something of a point to prove, and he did precisely just that. 

Now on the cusp of a place in the top 15, it’s only a matter of time before he starts to climb the rankings.

Personally speaking, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw Topuria fight for a title before the end of the year – he really is that good.   

The same could be said for Movsar Evloev, the No.13 ranked featherweight in the world, who is also on this list. Topuria is expected to face Evloev on January 22.  

Shavkat Rakhmonov submits Alex Oliveira in their welterweight bout

5. Shavkat Rakhmonov

Fighting out of Kokshetau, Kazakhstan, Shavkat Rakhmonov has never quite got the recognition he deserves from the media until now. 

Rest assured that will no longer be the case after he reeled off back-to-back victories over Alex Oliveira and Michel Prazeres, both of whom have a combined 60 fights between them at the time of writing. 

For context, Rakhmonov’s win over Prazeres was just the 14th fight of his career overall. 

The 27-year-old has won all 14 of his pro fights by stoppage, most recently submitting the Brazilian in June. 

Certainly one to keep an eye on for sure as the welterweight division is arguably hotter than ever before.

Erin Blanchfield shows off her ground and pound against Miranda Maverick

6. Erin Blanchfield

Rising star Erin Blanchfield – the youngest fighter on this list – made her debut for the promotion last year at UFC Fight Night 192, completely dominating MMA veteran Sarah Alpar.

The Invicta FC alumni then notched a win over fellow prospect Miranda Maverick to extend her winning streak to five in her last six fights.

Blanchfield’s only loss of her career came against Tracy Cortez, a result which is still disputed to this day. 

Despite still being so young in her pro career, the Eddie Bravo Invitational graduate showed experience far beyond her years in her first two octagon outings.    

The 22-year-old has only shown a glimpse of the arsenal at her disposal – which she has been working on at Renzo Gracie Academy – and, as such, should be one for fans to watch out for in the flyweight division heading into 2022.  

Jack Shore puts on a clinic against Liudvik Sholinian

7. Jack Shore

The first of two Brits on this list, Wales’ Jack Shore has been in the UFC for a while now but by his own admission he has been unable to claim that elusive big scalp which could help him catapult him into the spotlight. 

Admittedly, that’s not exactly his fault, as Khabib Nurmagomedov‘s cousin Umar is just the latest name in a long list of opponents who have been forced to pull out of fighting him for various reasons. 

However, that could all be about to change in the coming weeks and months, as Shore is expected to face Timur Valiev on the rumoured March 19 date in London. 

Of course, anything can happen between now and then, but a win over someone like Valiev would send a serious statement to the rest of the bantamweight division.  

At the age of 26, Shore is arguably one of the most well-rounded mixed martial artists Britain has ever produced. He just needs to be given the opportunity to showcase his skills against a ranked opponent or at the very least a name that will appeal to a casual audience.

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8. Jake Hadley 

Former Cage Warriors flyweight champion Jake Hadley hasn’t even made his official debut yet for the promotion but he’s already one of the most-talked about British prospects to look out for in 2022. 

The 25-year-old inked a multi-fight contract with the UFC in October after submitting highly touted prospect Mitch Raposo on Dana White’s Contender Series. 

Speaking exclusively to GIVEMESPORT, Leon Edwards had this to say about his fellow Birmingham based fighter.

He said: “Jake is a talented young man who works hard and is always in the gym improving. 

“I’ve seen him in the gym, I’ve seen him spar many guys who come down to the gym to train with us, and he’s another level to all these guys.

“I’m looking forward to seeing him in the UFC and having another guy from Birmingham in the UFC besides myself of course.”

Movsar Evloev grapples against Hakeem Dawodu

9. Movsar Evloev

Like Rakhmonov, Russia’s Movsar Evloev may not be the first name on everyone’s lips at the moment. 

But when you take a look at his record, you may find yourself asking why ever not. 

15 wins in 15 fights isn’t exactly bad going, especially when you consider the level of opposition he has faced in such a short period of time. 

Alright, Hakeem Dawodu, Mike Grundy and Nik Lentz might not exactly be household names themselves, but if you know anything about MMA at all, you’ll know they all take some beating. 

As mentioned, Evloev will next take on Topuria, as he looks to further his own ambitions at 145lbs. Be sure to keep an eye on this one, folks, as it could decide the future of the featherweight division for years to come.  

Manon Fiorot faces off against Tabatha Ricci

10. Manon Fiorot

And last but by no means least, it’s only right to mention Manon Fiorot. 

Fiorot made history on Fight Island in January of last year with her victory over Victoria Leonardo as the 31-year-old became the first French female fighter to win in the octagon.

The former UAE Warriors champion has gone on a bit of a tear since then, with back-to-back wins over  Tabatha Ricci and Mayra Bueno Silva to end her year on a high note.

With the announcement she has just signed a new deal, don’t be surprised to see her fight at least twice or three times again this year. 

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