Paul Hughes (Cage Warriors)

Five Featherweight Prospects the UFC Should Sign in 2024

Welcome to Year 11 of the annual “Prospects the UFC Should Sign” series, in which we’ll examine five MMA prospects per division the UFC should sign in the upcoming year.

This series started during my time as a writer for Bleacher Report, continued through my tenures at Today’s Knockout and FanSided, and now it stays alive another year here at Combat Press.

Let’s examine the featherweight division, a weight class that is loaded with good, young talent.


In picking these prospects, I’ll try my hardest to stay away from fighters who are currently in top organizations, such as ONE Championship or the Professional Fighters League, but a couple may pop up. In the past, I’ve had some great picks on the list, and some that haven’t worked out. Below are the previous year’s selections, followed by the five men the UFC should offer roster spots to in the coming year.

2012: Doo Ho Choi, Joe Soto, Georgi Karakhanyan*, Lance Palmer, Henrique Bilcalho

2013: Doo Ho Choi, Andre Fili, Rick Glenn, Georgi Karakhanyan*, Deividas Taurosevicius

2014: Raoni Barcelos, Bekbulat Magomedov*, Marat Gafurov, Gleristone Santos, Alexandre Bezerra

2015: James Jenkins, Ivan Buchinger*, Andre Harrison*, Henry Corrales, Mark Dickman

2016: Tom Duquesnoy, Herbert Burns, Andre Harrison*, Magomed Idrisov*, Rasul Mirzaev

2017: Raoni Barcelos, Paddy Pimblett, Magomed Idrisov*, Salman Zhamaldaev*, Michael Tobin

2018: Kevin Aguilar, Tyler Diamond, Mike Grundy, Salman Zhamaldaev*, Juan Archuleta

2019: Mike Grundy, Nate Landwehr, Timur Valiev*, Leonardo Limberger*, Alex Gilpin

2020: Pat Sabatini, Leonardo Limberger*, Yusuf Raisov*, Justin Gonzales, Jason Soares

2021: Pat Sabatini, Daniel Rutkowski*, Kyle Driscoll, Felipe Froes, Bibert Tumenov*

2022: Gabriel Santos, Dennis Buzukja, Daniel Rutkowski*, Timur Khizriev, Islam Omarov*

2023: Dennis Bazukja, Gabriel Santos, Elijah Johns, Islam Omarov*, Bibert Tumenov*

Note: Bold denotes fighter was signed by UFC; * denotes fighter ineligible due to two years on list.

Andrey Goncharov (17-4, Russia)

As you have seen in this series so far, Russia has been well represented in the number of prospects that the UFC should target. That continues with Andrey Goncharov, an ACA fighter with a ton of quality experience and impressive wins.

Goncharov is a powerful striker who possesses strong wrestling. He leans toward using ground-and-pound ,as opposed to submissions, showing he likes to do damage. He fought just once this year, but he scored a knockout over respected prospect Felipe Froes.

Goncharov has hovered between lightweight and featherweight, but he’s more often a featherweight. He’s a good-sized featherweight and could terrorize the UFC 145-pound division with his aggressive style and good size.

Roberto Hernandez (9-1, USA)

You may have noticed there has not been a ton of talent in this prospect series. I think a big reason for that is the constant slew of signings from the Contender Series. However, featherweight Roberto Hernandez is a 145-pounder on the rise and could be a guy that sees the UFC in the near future.

Hernandez is a disciple of UFC veteran Joe Stevenson, which explains why he has a similar style. He is a grappler first, possessing good submission wrestling. He has decent striking as well, as seen in his most recent finish. He’s been a beneficiary of Cage Warriors’ foray into the USA, where he’s fought his last six bouts. He was 4-0 in 2023, winning decisions over Bellator vet John de Jesus, undefeated fighter Moses Diaz and UFC vet Trevin Jones. He also scored a body-shot TKO on Contender Series vet Toby Misech.

Running a 7-0 record in Cage Warriors is certainly something that should open the UFC’s eyes, seeing as it’s an organization that pipelines to the UFC frequently. I could see Hernandez getting a Contender Series slot, though I think he is worth inking directly to the UFC now.

Paul Hughes (10-1, Ireland)

The UFC definitely loves having Irish-based fighters on their roster due to that market being crazy for MMA. In Aussie-Irishman Paul Hughes, you have a Cage Warriors champion that looks tailor made to be in the UFC.

Hughes is a good striker both offensively and defensively. He has good punches and kicks, as well as power that can stop a fight. He also has strong submission skills, which round out his skill set. His only career loss was a puzzling split decision to Jordan Vucenic, though he got that loss back by beating him late last year. He fought just once in 2023, knocking out Jan Quaeyhaegens with a vicious check hook.

To be honest, I am shocked Hughes is not already on the UFC roster, but he’s not. I think that changes in 2024, and it should. Hughes is a talented guy that will find success in the big leagues when he gets the call up.

Daguir Imavov (15-3-1, Russia/France)

This is a dark horse pick for a fighter under the radar, but Daguir Imavov, the brother of UFC fighter Nassourdine Imavov, is a guy with the talent to fight at the next level. The Russo-Frenchman has been a feared man on the European regional scene for a while and should get a shot in the UFC.

Imavov is a lot like his brother in that he is a strong wrestler. He doesn’t mind to stand on the feet and bang, but he likes to shoot takedowns and do his damage on the mat. He has struggled to find opponents in the last few years, as he’s had a number of cancellations. After no fights in 2022, he was able to return in 2023 with a fight under the Ares FC banner, scoring a first-round knockout over UFC veteran Geraldo de Freitas.

As stated, Daguir’s brother Nassourdine is on the roster, and he’s top-20 in his division. Daguir is similar to his brother and should be given a shot, as he could similarly rise as his brother has under the UFC banner.

Kurban Taygibov (14-3, Russia)

A pro for a decade, Kurban Taygibov has a lot of quality time in the cage in performing for the ACA and AMC Fight Nights promotions, both of which are top Russian regional organizations. He has long proven he can hang with the top guys in those promotions, so it’s time to have him step up to the big leagues.

Taygibov is a Sambo practitioner, which shows in his fights where he uses a wrestling-heavy attack and some good power punching. That variety makes him hard to prep for and earns him knockout stoppages regularly. After earning his biggest win to date to end 2022 against UFC veteran Levan Makashvili, he went 1-0 in 2023 in knocking out 40-plus fight veteran Luis Rafael.

His only two recent losses came to fellow top Russian prospects a few years ago, and since then he’s on a four-fight surge. He’s clearly UFC ready now and could make a nice run in the UFC featherweight division.