Top 10 UFC Signings of the Last Five Years
If you watch MMA for long enough, you really do begin to see how cyclical it is in its nature.
Whether it’s division-by-division or even if the sport as whole - MMA does go through eras that relate to its stars, its dominant forces, the fighting styles that are prevalant.
And in doing this video, it’s easier to kind of get a sense of who the new breed are within the UFC roster - and how much of an impact they have been able to have.
So with that in mind, we’re going to take a look at the top ten fighters who have debuted in the UFC over the last five years - basing our assessment of their impact on their skill, their resumé, their upside, their technical advancement of the game, and their overall stature within the sport - both inside the cage and beyond.
So let’s get into it.
#10 - Cory Sandhagen
To kick things off, we have one of my own personal favourite modern-day fighters - a bantamweight contender who I still think will have a huge part to play in the division’s title picture before all is said and done. There’s just something about Cory Sandhagen that makes me think that his prime is still in front of him. As one of the most creative strikers in the game today - though he has encountered his fair share of setbacks - Sandhagen is only losing to the best of the best - getting submitted early by the champ Sterling, going five rounds with Petr Yan in one of the best fights I have ever seen, and losing a controversial split decision against TJ Dillashaw that you really could have given him. I have a lot of faith in Cory Sandhagen’s ability to turn it all around with some minor tweaks - so don’t make the mistake of ruling him out just yet.
#9 - Weili Zhang
Weili Zhang could get a spot on this list based on her war with Joanna Jedrzejczyk alone - but when you factor in her stunning defeat of Jessica Andrade - and her status as one of the three best strawweights on the planet - she’s an easy sell here. Zhang may have gotten her bell rung by Rose Namajunas in the fight that saw her lose her title - but Weili proved that she is still right in the mix through the closely contested rematch. 115lbs is obviously the lightest division in the entire UFC - but it’s easily the most talent-rich in women’s MMA. I’ve been watching Zhang for years now - and it seemed like my faith in her abilities coming into the UFC was paying off big-time when she put on a truly brutal display to win the title against Andrade - and I do the get the sense that her tale has not yet been fully told.
#8 - Deiveson Figueredo
If Demetrious Johnson was so good that he made the flyweights look bad. And Henry Cejudo was the one who was forced to save it. Then where does that leave Deiveson Figueiredo in the annals of 125lb history? Well, I would argue that his role was as a harbinger of violence - as he conclusively no-sold the belief that these lighter fighters couldn’t bring the brutality quite like the bigger men. Through his wars with Brandon Moreno and his complete and total destruction of Joseph Benavidez across two fights - I’d argue that Figgy has played a big role in drawing eyes to the 125lb weight-class amongst the casual fanbase that even the greats like Mighty Mouse and Cejudo couldn’t do.
#7 - Sean O’Malley
Ok, this will be a controversial pick. I know most people are either fully in or fully out on Sean O’Malley - but here’s the thing, the guy isn’t even ranked in the top-10 and he’s a major star. And though there are reasons for that, USADA, injuries and whatnot - I really do think that this guy is good enough to be an elite fixture at 135lbs. And once you remove all of the excess fluff from the equation and focus purely on the fights - the dude is incredibly entertaining, like ridiculously so. I’m not in it for his podcast or his hair or whatever - but if Sean O’Malley makes it to the pay per view level, his placement here is going to look like I’m underselling him.
#6 - Ciryl Gane
Ciryl Gane is without question the most technically advanced striker the UFC heavyweight division has ever known. And I do think that he is still the biggest threat to Francis Ngannou in the sport. We all saw how that first fight went down - and I think with a few minor tweaks to his gameplan and some overall development of his skillset - Gane can absolutely rise up and take out his former training partner. If you’re a fan of high-level striking, it’s very hard not to love watching this dude - and in an ageing division, the fact that he is just 32 is kind of a scary thought.
#5 - Ben Askren
To fully understand the impact Ben Askren had on the UFC, you truly do need to..
#5 - Khamzat Chimaev
Look, it’s early days when it comes to the rise of Khamzat Chimaev - but, and I’m willing to do a bit of long-term betting on this list, if you haven’t noticed already, I am going to put him in the top-5 because of how strange and unique a rise it has been so far. Prospects don’t often come around that totally blow the door off the world’s leading promotion quite like Khamzat has. And though he was made to look more human last time around against Gilbert Burns - it’s actually possible that people love him even more now. I believe that Chimaev has massive upside - and though he didn’t tear through the long-time Brazilian jiu jitsu black-belt like he did with so many others - I still think that there is a lot of mystery, a lot of unknowns with this guy.
#4 - Michael Chandler
If back in 2017 you told me that Michael Chandler would one day find his place in the UFC and go 2 and 2 in his first four - I’d pretty much think that was a very safe prediction to make. But when it comes to Chandler’s amazing run in the top flight, it’s not about the numbers. There is no question that this dude is one of the most game, the most electric fighters in the sport - and he did this after years of already being seen as a legend of the lightweight division. I don’t think I need to say any more, Michael Chandler is the man, folks!
#3 - Petr Yan
He might have lost his belt in pretty surprising fashion - before then falling to a narrow decision to the very same man who he had previously gotten the better of, save for one moment of madness - but I do firmly believe that Petr Yan is one of the greatest fighters in the sport today. And since signing for the UFC, he has been at the forefront of the bantamweight division’s climb towards being the most electric division in the sport - although 155lbs just keeps on knocking at that door. Petr Yan is a truly awesome talent, though, and as far as UFC signings go, this 29 year old still has years ahead of him in the top flight - and if I had to guess, I would back him to reclaim the title before all is said and done.
#2 - Justin Gaethje
Justin Gaethje is the most violent elite talent to have ever set foot in the UFC octagon. And I think that billing alone makes his high placement on this list understandable. Sure, he has fallen at the hands of two champions - two fighters, in Khabib Nurmagomedov and Charles Oliveira, who were able to finish him by way of submission. But if there’s another trait to Gaethje that truly does deserve to be highlighted - it’s his adaptability, his desire to continue to defy his label as a wildman and improve in his skillset. And while yes, this most recent defeat will set him back - through ten appearances in the UFC, The Highlight has been nothing short of sensational - a true legend of the lightweight division who is close to be unanimously adored by the masses.
We have quite a few honourable mentions to get through - ranging from proven contenders like Calvin Kattar, Zabit Magomedsharipov, and Paulo Costa, to rising talents like Askar Askarov, Kai Kara France, Merab Dvalishvili, and Rafael Fiziev - and then those fighters who really could have made it into the top-10 on any given day - Jiri Prochazka, Tom Aspinall - oh, and the king of the shooey king himself, Tai Tuivasa.
But for our number 1, there was only one winner here.
#1 - Israel Adesanya
And finally, we come to Israel Adesanya - the reigning middleweight champion of the world - a fighter who came into the sport on the back of a stellar career as a kickboxer - and up to now, an athlete who is really bringing MMA striking to another level entirely. At 185lbs, it’s going to be difficult to see how these contenders will be able to bridge the gap. And though his first dip into the 205lb weight-class ended in a failure - I do think that The Last Stylebender’s future will not be confined to the middleweight division. He’s a stylish fighter, a magnetic personality, and a talent whose potential still remains up in the air. In my eyes he’s the best signing the UFC have made in the last five years - and four title defenses in, I have a feeling that there are more than a few exceptional performances ahead of him!