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 lightweight division, a weight class that is loaded with talent and is constantly providing fans with new top fighters.
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: Mairbek Taisumov, Lukasz Sajewski, Alexander Sarnavskiy, Guillaume de Lorenzi, Gordon Bell
2020: Jai Herbert, Mason Jones, Max Rohskopf,Rafa Garcia, Natan Schulte
2021: Rafa Garcia, Mateusz Rebecki, Brant Moore, Tofiq Musayev, Anthony Romero*
2022: Mateusz Rebecki, Nariman Abbasov, Roberto de Souza, Rodrigo Lidio, Jackson Loureiro
2023: Arthur Estrazulas, Luiz Gustavo*, George Hardwick, Aaron McKenzie, Anthony Romero*
Note: Bold denotes fighter was signed by UFC; * denotes fighter ineligible due to two years on list.
Arthur Estrazulas (14-5, Brazil)
It seems we don’t hear as much about Kings MMA as we used to, but it’s still a reputable gym with a lot of talent. One of those fighters is Arthur Estrazulas, an LFA mainstay with a strong resume to warrant a UFC shot.
Estrazulas is a well-rounded fighter, possessing powerful Muay Thai skills and a strong jiu-jitsu game. 12 of his 14 career wins come by finish, with three knockouts and nine submissions. He competed just once in 2023, where he scored a submission win over Bobby Lee via triangle choke.
The downside is that Estrazulas is 34 years old already, which means his window is closing fast. If he doesn’t make the move to the UFC soon, I think any opportunity he will has will pass. The UFC should sign him now.
Amru Magomedov (7-0, Russia)
When it comes to hype trains, Amru Magomedov is likely to be the next one most people are going to jump on. The Russian blue chipper is a disciple of Khabib Nurmagomedov and his camp, and it shows in his fights.
Like the rest of the Nurmagomedov clan, Magomedov is a nasty wrestler who gets takedowns at a high rate. Once down, he gets to work and dominates his opponents. He has good submission skills and can throw heavy hands on the mat as well. After choking out undefeated Renan Oliveira to start 2023, Magomeodv struck gold, winning the UAE Warriors lightweight championship with a submission win over Jakhongir Jumaev.
Magomedov is just 24 years old and already has this type of hype. I think that hype is well warranted, as he has already shown to be a terror in the cage against some strong competition. This guy could be a UFC contender one day in the mold of guys like Nurmagomedov and Islam Makhachev.
Jefferson Nascimento (11-0, Brazil)
If you are a fighter who is undefeated and under the LFA promotion, there is a good chance you will see the UFC pretty quickly. For Brazil’s Jefferson Nascimento, he has those distinctions and has emerged as a top lightweight prospect with a strong 2023 campaign.
Nascimento is a well-rounded fighter who has solid kickboxing and a strong arsenal of submissions. Most of his wins come by way of finish, with more coming by knockout. He went 3-0 in 2023, scoring knockouts over Matheus Rocha and Gabriel Costa, as well as a decision over Italo Gomes.
Nascimento is the LFA lightweight champion right now, so having that in his trophy case clearly has him on the UFC’s radar. If he’s not signed in 2024, I would be shocked, as he’s proven to be a guy that’s ready for his shot in the big leagues.
Cristian Perez (13-1, Mexico)
Mexico has really been coming into its own with MMA talent in the last few years, showing they are no longer just a boxing powerhouse. Cristian Perez is proof of that, as the Combate Global mainstay has shown he’s not only exciting, but skilled.
Perez’s best asset is his ground game, as he’s quite a gifted submission artist. Six of his win come by tap out, with the rear-naked choke being his go-to technique. He also has solid hands as well, rounding out his game. His lone loss came to Enrique Gonzalez in 2021. Since then he’s rattled off fight-straight wins, including his two wins in 2023. He started the year off when he knocked out Bruno Cannetti in the first round. He then earned a second-round knockout over Sebastian Piedrahita.
Perez is only 24 years old, so he has time on his side. At his age, he’s the definition of a blue chip prospect. He could be another guy that the UFC can market in Mexico, especially if he’s fighting at the level I think he can be fighting at in 2-3 years. The UFC needs to get on top of this guy.
Manoel Sousa (10-0, Brazil)
As stated many times, I try to stay away from including fighters on this list that are under contract with PFL/Bellator, but Manoel Sousa is an exception here. The Brazilian is on a PFL Challengers contract and has had some contractual disputes, so I think the PFL should release him and the UFC should jump on him.
Sousa is a finisher who has big-time power in his hands and very good submissions as well. That well-roundedness is what makes him such an intriguing prospect. He’s gone to decision just once, which was his lone fight in 2023 where he scored that win over Paulo Henrique on the PFL Challenger Series.
I hate when fighters cannot be active because of their contractual issues, as it takes away time from their careers in a sport that doesn’t promise longevity. Sousa is 26 years old and is very talented, so I really hope he can get that figured out and the UFC can get their hands on him.
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.