22 fighters to watch in 2022

Getty Images

As 2022 kicks off, contenders are gunning for title shots, former champions and veterans are looking to bounce back, and young prospects are hoping to make a name for themselves.

Here are 22 fighters worth keeping an eye on this year:

Amanda Nunes

Last result: Loss vs. Julianna Pena, second-round submission, Dec. 11, 2021
Next fight: TBA

Nunes has handled her stunning title loss to Pena well so far. But there are no guarantees that translates to success in a likely rematch, which would be her first fight coming off a defeat since 2015. Nunes' 2022 can go several different ways: she could beat Pena and prove the loss was nothing more than a bump in the road, or she could lose again and raise questions about her MMA future.

Conor McGregor

Last result: Loss vs. Dustin Poirier, first-round TKO, July 10, 2021
Next fight: TBA

McGregor will always be valuable to the UFC, but the former two-division champion needs to get back on track in 2022 to stay relevant in the eyes of most MMA fans. Assuming he does return to the cage, McGregor will be competing for the first time since breaking his leg in the trilogy bout against Poirier. We'll get a good idea of whether that injury took a long-term toll on McGregor and whether he can still be a contender.

Khamzat Chimaev

Last result: Win vs. Li Jingliang, first-round submission, Oct. 30, 2021
Next fight: TBA

After emerging as a welterweight contender in 2021, Chimaev could have a huge year ahead of him. Some are predicting he'll be the one to dethrone Kamaru Usman. Of course, it could go the other way, too. If Chimaev loses his next fight, presumably against a top-five opponent, it'll show that fans need to pump the brakes a bit.

Dustin Poirier

Last result: Loss vs. Charles Oliveira, third-round submission, Dec. 11, 2021
Next fight: TBA

Poirier came up short in his second attempt to become an undisputed champion, making even himself wonder if it just wasn't meant to be. At 32 years old, "The Diamond" has enough time to turn things around and earn another shot, but that'll largely depend on what he accomplishes - or fails to accomplish - in the next year or two.

Carmen Mandato / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Nate Diaz

Last result: Loss vs. Leon Edwards, unanimous decision, June 12, 2021
Next fight: TBA

Diaz, one of the UFC's most popular fighters, is in an interesting spot. He has one more fight on his current contract with the promotion, and so far, he's yet to ink a new one. There's been more chatter about him leaving than him staying, and that largely has to do with the desire to see him box Jake Paul. There are still several big fights left for Diaz in the UFC, but that may not matter.

Giga Chikadze

Last result: Win vs. Edson Barboza, third-round TKO, Aug. 28, 2021
Next fight: Calvin Kattar, Jan. 15, 2022

Chikadze is one of the most promising featherweight up-and-comers we've seen in a while. He went 2-0 in a breakout 2021 campaign and is poised to enter title contention this year. If he beats Kattar, he'll likely move into the top five and set up a No. 1 contender bout.

Jorge Masvidal

Last result: Loss vs. Kamaru Usman, second-round KO, April 24, 2021
Next fight: TBA

After an incredible 2019 that saw Masvidal become one of the UFC's biggest stars, his stock has plummeted the last two years. Granted, Masvidal has only lost to Usman in that time, but fans have still largely written him off as a title contender after he was on the wrong end of a "Knockout of the Year" candidate in 2021. This year, Masvidal will have a chance to redeem himself and prove he's still one of the best at 170 pounds.

Paulo Costa

Last result: Loss vs. Marvin Vettori, unanimous decision, Oct. 23, 2021
Next fight: TBA

The big storyline surrounding Costa's career heading into 2022 is what division he'll compete in. After a weight debacle leading up to the Vettori fight, UFC president Dana White said Costa would have to move up to light heavyweight. But since then, Costa and his manager have been adamant that he'll stay at middleweight. The Brazilian will either try to get back on track at middleweight, where he's lost two in a row, or he'll start a new chapter at 205 pounds.

Jeff Bottari / UFC / Getty

Kevin Holland

Last result: No-contest vs. Kyle Daukaus, Oct. 2, 2021
Next fight: TBA

Holland went 5-0 in 2020 - including four finishes and one of the best knockouts of the year - breaking through as a potential middleweight contender. But then he went 0-2 (1 NC) in 2021. Not only will "Trailblazer" look to return to full form this year, but he's also expected to make a long-awaited move down to welterweight.

Dominick Reyes

Last result: Loss vs. Jiri Prochazka, second-round KO, May 1, 2021
Next fight: TBA

Reyes arguably beat Jon Jones for the light heavyweight title in early 2020. The narrow loss cemented him as the No. 1 guy behind Jones. But then Reyes' career took a major turn for the worse, as he lost to Jan Blachowicz in a vacant title bout before falling to Prochazka. Now situated outside the top five, Reyes has his work cut out for him in order to return to contention. We'll see if he can do it.

Erin Blanchfield

Last result: Win vs. Miranda Maverick, unanimous decision, Dec. 11, 2021
Next fight: TBA

One of the best prospects in women's MMA, Blanchfield impressed the masses with a dominant upset win over Maverick. Only 22 years old, the sky is the limit for Blanchfield, whom some have already called a future UFC champion. Expect her to keep the momentum going in 2022 and possibly break into the flyweight's top 15.

Alex Pereira

Last result: Win vs. Andreas Michailidis, second-round KO, Nov. 6, 2021
Next fight: Bruno Silva, March 12, 2022

Pereira's UFC debut against Michailidis garnered a lot of attention; he's a former GLORY Kickboxing champion who holds a knockout win over UFC middleweight champ Israel Adesanya in that sport. The Brazilian has a ways to go before reaching title contention, of course, but that's certainly the path the promotion hopes he takes. A fight with Adesanya in MMA would do big business.

Mike Stobe / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Rafael Fiziev

Last result: Win vs. Brad Riddell, third-round KO, Dec. 4, 2021
Next fight: Rafael dos Anjos, Feb. 19

Lightweight is one of the UFC's most loaded divisions, but any conversation about it must include Fiziev, who's poised to make bigger gains than most fighters in 2022. A devastating striker who trains out of Phuket, Thailand, Fiziev is ranked No. 11 but could easily find himself inside the top five by the end of the year if he continues to perform at his current level.

Jamahal Hill

Last result: Win vs. Jimmy Crute, first-round KO, Dec. 4, 2021
Next fight: Johnny Walker, Feb. 19, 2022

If there's anyone in the bottom half of the light heavyweight rankings who'll make a significant jump in 2022, it's Hill. His emphatic knockout of Crute made people forget about his bizarre loss to Paul Craig earlier in 2021. If he takes care of business against Walker, which he likely will, he'll set up another big fight and inch closer toward contention.

Andre Muniz

Last result: Win vs. Eryk Anders, first-round submission, Dec. 11, 2021
Next fight: TBA

Talk about a dark horse in the middleweight division. Muniz is 4-0 in the UFC, including three submissions and an arm-snapping performance against jiu-jitsu ace Ronaldo Souza. Ranked No. 13, Muniz needs a couple more wins to become a contender, but he should be on everyone's radar already. He could be the man who gives Adesanya some problems down the road.

Paddy Pimblett

Last result: Win vs. Luigi Vendramini, first-round TKO, Sept. 4, 2021
Next fight: TBA

Pimblett is one of the most talked-about prospects in a while. He has a lot of improvements to make to become a contender, but at 27 years old, he also has a lot of time. At the very least, you can count on Pimblett to put on entertaining fights.

Jeff Bottari / UFC / Getty

Ilia Topuria

Last result: Win vs. Ryan Hall, first-round TKO, July 10, 2021
Next fight: Movsar Evloev, Jan. 22, 2022

Topuria seems to be destined for greatness. He's looked like an absolute killer through three UFC appearances, particularly in his finishes of Ryan Hall and Damon Jackson. And at 24 years old, he has tons of time on his side to keep getting better. That said, if Topuria can get past Evloev - a fellow up-and-comer who could easily be on this list himself - his rise up the rankings might happen even quicker than expected.

Tom Aspinall

Last result: Win vs. Sergey Spivak, first-round TKO, Sept. 4, 2021
Next fight: Shamil Abdurakhimov, March 19, 2022

Hardcore fans have had their eyes on Aspinall for a while, but it won't be long before he starts getting attention from the wider MMA audience. With Chris Daukaus losing to Derrick Lewis in the final UFC bout of 2021, Aspinall is officially the heavyweight prospect to watch. That weight class is in need of some fresh blood, and all signs point to Aspinall being a contender down the road.

Manel Kape

Last result: Win vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov, first-round TKO, Dec. 4, 2021
Next fight: TBA

Fans like to complain about flyweights not having knockout power. Well, let us introduce you to Kape - if, for some reason, you don't already know who he is. Kape's coming off back-to-back stoppage wins and is must-watch television. A former Rizin FF champion, Kape got off to a rough start in the UFC, but he's since found his groove and could very well be the future of the 125-pound division.

Adrian Yanez

Last result: Win vs. Davey Grant, split decision, Nov. 20, 2021
Next fight: TBA

Yanez was one of 2021's breakout stars, winning all three of his UFC appearances. Two were knockouts and the other was a "Fight of the Night" offering. There's a sense of composure to Yanez's striking that's usually only seen in veterans. This guy is going to make a big climb in the bantamweight division in 2022.

Chris Unger / UFC / Getty

Casey O'Neill

Last result: Win vs. Antonina Shevchenko, second-round TKO, Oct. 2, 2021
Next fight: Roxanne Modafferi, Feb. 12, 2022

Along with Blanchfield, 24-year-old O'Neill is one of the standout prospects in all of women's MMA. Perhaps setting her apart from everyone else - even Blanchfield - is her inclination to finish fights. She's 3-0 in the UFC, and all three wins have been stoppages - two TKOs and one submission. A win over Modafferi would move her further up the flyweight ladder.

Shavkat Rakhmonov

Last result: Win vs. Michel Prazeres, second-round submission, June 26, 2021
Next fight: Carlston Harris, Feb. 5, 2022

Rakhmonov is the least-known fighter on this list, but don't get it twisted: this 27-year-old welterweight oozes with potential. He's 14-0 as a pro, and if he can make it 3-0 in the UFC when he faces Harris, it'll be time to start looking at Rakhmonov as a future contender.

Comments
22 fighters to watch in 2022
  Got something to say? Leave a comment below!

Daily Newsletter

Get the latest trending sports news daily in your inbox