MMA’s talent pipelines continue to provide talent for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and as the world’s largest mixed martial arts promotion chugs into 2018, there are a number of fast-rising prospects worth keeping an eye on. Here are five of them:
Tuivasa came to the UFC at the age of 24 with an overall record of 5-0. In a heavyweight division absolutely devoid of young talent, he was a welcomed addition. Tuivasa took on Rashad Coulter in his promotional debut at UFC Fight Night 121 on Nov. 19 and finished him in devastating fashion, scoring a flying knee knockout in the first round. He first made his name as a professional rugby player and kickboxer, then made the transition to MMA. “Bam Bam” has plenty of talented training partners at his disposal in Western Sydney, including UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker, 2001 K-1 World Grand Prix winner Mark Hunt and light heavyweight prospect Tyson Pedro. Tuivasa has the luxury of being one of the youngest heavyweights on the UFC roster, so it will be interesting to see how he develops. In a shallow division, he could be fast-tracked into bouts with ranked competition despite his limited experience. Tuivasa takes on Cyril Asker at UFC 221 on Feb. 11 in Perth, Australia, where he will look to build on the momentum from his electrifying Octagon debut.
Reyes currently holds an 8-0 record that includes two wins in the UFC, both of them first-round finishes. The undefeated light heavyweight stands out in another division in desperate need of a talent influx. Reyes wrestled and played football at Stony Brook University, where he captained the Seawolves and was a two-time All-Conference selection on the gridiron. He participated in the NFL Draft Combine but went undrafted despite drawing interest from multiple teams. Reyes then turned to MMA, where he has delivered four sub-minute finishes and emerged as one of the sport’s most promising fighters at 205 pounds. He enjoyed a successful 2017 campaign inside the Octagon, as the 28-year-old blasted Joachim Christensen in his June 25 debut before submitting Jeremy Kimball with a rear-naked choke at UFC 218 in December. Reyes has made it clear that he wants to face ranked opposition as soon as possible.
Anders, 10-0, has already made waves in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. He played linebacker at the University of Alabama, where he won a national championship under Nick Saban in 2009 before a brief stint in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns. Anders moved to MMA in 2012 and turned pro three years later, capturing the Legacy Fighting Alliance middleweight title prior to signing with the UFC. He made his organizational debut at UFC on Fox 25 in July on less than two weeks’ notice, squared off with Rafael Natal and knocked out the Brazilian in the first round. In his second UFC appearance, Anders showed off even more of his skills and walked away with a unanimous decision over Markus Perez. The 30-year-old will meet former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida in the UFC Fight Night 125 main event on Feb. 3 in Belem, Brazil, where has the opportunity to record a breakout victory at 185 pounds.
Magomedsharipov carries a 14-1 record that includes two submission wins in the UFC, cementing himself as a top prospect in the stacked featherweight division. The 26-year-old Dagestan native has built a cult following with a flashy striking style that has been compared to former UFC and World Extreme Cagefighting lightweight champion Anthony Pettis. Magomedsharipov operates out of the Ricardo Almeida Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu camp, where he trains alongside established fighters like Frankie Edgar, Eddie Alvarez and Edson Barboza. Following his anaconda choke submission on Sheymon da Silva Moraes at UFC Fight Night 122 on Nov. 25, he called for a match with “The Ultimate Fighter Latin America” winner Yair Rodriguez. No matter what comes next for Magomedsharipov, he could make the transition from prospect to contender in 2018.
Training out of the MMA Lab in Glendale, Arizona, O’Malley used his appearance on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender series as a springboard to the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The 23-year-old bantamweight made his UFC debut at “The Ultimate Fighter 26” Finale in December, as he picked up a hard-fought unanimous decision over Terrion Ware in a back-and-forth struggle that showcased O’Malley’s endurance and durability. He has since been booked to face former CES MMA champion Andre Soukhamthath at UFC 222 on March 3 in Las Vegas. O’Malley will enter the match with a perfect 8-0 record, plenty of hype surrounding him and the chance to become one of the breakout stars at 135 pounds.