Olga Rubin (Phil Lambert/Combat Press)

Five Women’s Bantamweight 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 women’s bantamweight division, the original female weight class within the UFC. It’s been thinned out due to the recent addition of the flyweight division, so the UFC needs to look to add an injection of new 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.

2014: Leslie Smith, Rin Nakai, Larissa Pacheco, Pannie Kianzad, Agnieszka Niedźwiedź*

2015: Tonya Evinger, Irene Aldana, DeAnna Bennett, Pannie Kianzad, Agnieszka Niedźwiedź*,

2016: Irene Aldana, Lina Länsberg, Taila Santos, Jennifer Maia, Julia Berezikova

2017: Aspen Ladd, Ji Yeon Kim, Taila Santos, Juliana Velasquez, Sinead Kavanaugh

2018: Antonina Shevchenko, Katharina Lehner, Julia Avila, Marina Mokhnatkina*, Rizlen Zouak

2019: Julia Avila, Duda Santana, Sarah Alpar, Lisa Verzosa*, Gisele Moreira

2020: Stephanie Egger, Hailey Cowan, Jamila Sandora*, Lisa Verzosa*, Pam Sorenson*

2021: Joselyne Edwards, Josiane Nunes, Dariya Zheleznyakova, Pam Sorenson*, Bella Mir*

2022: Tereza Bleda, Dariya Zheleznyakova, Ekaterina Shakalova*, Lucia Szabova*, Taneisha Tennant*

2023: Melissa Dixon, Bella Mir*, Ekaterina Shakalova*, Lucia Szabova*, Taneisha Tennant*

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

Cecilie Bolander (3-0, Norway)

Some of the female prospects included on the list this year are projects that will have to be developed and built up. One of those fighters, who looks to have a bright future, is Norway’s Cecilie Bolander, a top amateur prospect that turned pro in December of last year.

Bolander is an excellent submission fighter who has really worked hard on her kickboxing, which is making her an even more dangerous fighter. She went 7-1 as an ammy, with her only loss coming to top ammy prospect (and featherweight) Sabrina de Sousa. All of her amateur wins came by armbar, as have two of her three pro wins. In 2023, Bolander tapped out Christina Kamenitsa to start the year before going to her first decision since her sixth amateur fight, earning a split nod over another former top ammy Nina Nikoija Milosevic.

Bolander is definitely a project, but it’s one that will be worth the wait if you’re the UFC. You build her up with cage experience against the lowest ranked fighters in the bantamweight division and let her develop. In a few years, she could be someone in the top 15, maybe even top 10. She has that much upside.

Kennedy Freeman (4-0, England)

Ian Freeman is a legendary figure in British MMA, and his daughter Kennedy is looking to take the torch from her father. The undefeated fighter disappeared for a while, but she stormed back in 2023 to re-establish herself as a prospect in women’s MMA.

Freeman had not fought since 2018, and she had disappeared from the MMA scene until she finally made her comeback in Nov. 2023. The well-rounded fighter has two knockouts in her four pro outings, including her 2023 comeback fight against Annabruna Rados under the Cage Warriors promotion.

The women’s bantamweight division is the shallowest division in the UFC in terms of depth of talent. Freeman is somebody who could help bolster that division. Because of her layoff, she may need another win or two, but she’s no doubt somebody who should get a look on the UFC roster.

Evelyn Martins (5-1, Brazil)

There are not many 21-year-olds that are ready to step up from the regional scene to fight under the bright lights. However, Brazilian Evelyn Martins, a true blue chipper at her age, did that in 2023 and proved that she’s big-show ready.

A member of the elite American Top Team, Martins had a one-year layoff coming into 2023, but already had some hype. In an attempt to score a one-million-dollar payday with PFL, Martins moved up to 145 pounds from her normal weight of 135. She scored impressive wins over prospects Jeslen Mishelle (rear-naked choke) and Jackie Cataline (former national level wrestler) in the PFL Challengers Series. That earned her an invite into the 2023 PFL season, where she went 1-1. She bested Karolina Sobek, but was unfortunately defeated by eventual season finalist Marina Mokhnatkina.

Despite that loss to the experienced grinder Mokhnatkina, Martins remains a top 135-pound prospect. She showed success fighting up a weight class, so imagine if she spent her 2023 fighting at her actual weight class. She appears to be someone who will contend for a UFC title at some point in her career. I can imagine her in four to five years as she continues to develop, and she’s definitely somebody that will be in the UFC’s top 10.

Olga Rubin (9-3, Israel/England)

Many of Invicta FC’s fighters have gone on to the UFC and seen success. Olga Rubin is a veteran of the sport and has competed on high level shows for a while, so she should be somebody added to the UFC roster.

Rubin is a solid grappler who has fought five times for Bellator, including challenging for the Bellator featherweight championship. After failing to get Invicta gold in 2022, Rubin had a great 2023. After beating Serena DeJesus in a one-sided decision, she took on Ultimate Fighter vet Claire Guthrie. In that fight, Rubin had what was likely the Submission of the Year when she tapped out Guthrie via buggy choke.

Rubin is 34 years old, so she’s getting up there in age, and her time is more limited than a fighter in her late twenties or early thirties. She is likely the top contender to Talita Bernardo’s Invicta championship, but with a window closing on her, perhaps a jump straight to the UFC would be far more beneficial for her.  

Klaudia Sygula (6-1, Poland)

Poland has an outstanding number of talented fighters in their country who are chomping at the bit to make a name for themselves. One of those fighters is Klaudia Sygula, who represents the criminally underrated Ankos MMA gym in Poznan.

Sygula is a grappler with good takedowns and a strong submission arsenal, like many Polish fighters. She has improved her striking as well, both on the feet and on the mat. She has some bad luck in 2023, as fights in May and July had to be cancelled. However, she did end up fighting in September, where she scored a second-round TKO over Russian veteran and journeywoman Yulia Kutsenko.

Sygula is 24 years old, meaning she’s not even reached her prime yet. That means in several years, she is going to be a fighter to really be reckoned with. She could definitely compete in the UFC right now, but may require a slower build.