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Islam Makhachev of Russia reacts after his knockout victory against Alexander Volkanovski of Australia in the UFC lightweight championship fight during the UFC 294 event at Etihad Arena on October 21, 2023 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Athletes

The Fighters | 2023 UFC.com Awards

Our Writers Vote On Which Fighter Had The Best 2023

The highly unofficial awards season concludes with the best fighters of 2023...

MORE 2023 AWARDS: The Upsets | The Submissions | The Newcomers  | The Knockouts | The Fights

1 – Islam Makhachev

Islam Makhachev of Russia prepares to face Alexander Volkanovski of Australia in the UFC lightweight championship fight during the UFC 294 event at Etihad Arena on October 21, 2023 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Islam Makhachev of Russia prepares to face Alexander Volkanovski of Australia in the UFC lightweight championship fight during the UFC 294 event at Etihad Arena on October 21, 2023 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

There have been a handful of Superfights in the UFC over the years, but to get two in one year, like we did with lightweight champion and Islam Makhachev and featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski, is still hard to fathom. But these two warriors squared off twice in 2023, and after a close win in their first bout in February, Makhachev left no doubts in their October rematch as he knocked out the Aussie in the first round. Fighter of the Year? He’s right here.

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2 – Alexa Grasso

Alexa Grasso of Mexico reacts after retaining her title with a draw against Valentina Shevchenko of Kyrgyzstan in the UFC flyweight championship fight during the Noche UFC event at T-Mobile Arena on September 16, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Alexa Grasso of Mexico reacts after retaining her title with a draw against Valentina Shevchenko of Kyrgyzstan in the UFC flyweight championship fight during the Noche UFC event at T-Mobile Arena on September 16, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris

Alexa Grasso looked like a different fighter when she moved to the flyweight division in 2020. Yet despite four consecutive wins at 125 pounds, few expected her to beat Valentina Shevchenko in March of 2023. But then she did it, submitting Shevchenko to win the UFC women’s flyweight title. Then she proved it was no fluke as she battled Shevchenko to a draw in September to retain her title. Yeah, Grasso is the real deal.

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3 – Leon Edwards

Leon Edwards of Jamaica celebrates his win over Colby Covington in the UFC welterweight championship fight during the UFC 296 event at T-Mobile Arena on December 16, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Leon Edwards of Jamaica celebrates his win over Colby Covington in the UFC welterweight championship fight during the UFC 296 event at T-Mobile Arena on December 16, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Leon Edwards didn’t make any highlight reels in 2023, but what the UFC welterweight champion did this year was defeat two of the best 170-pounders of this era not named Leon Edwards in Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington. That’s impressive.

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4 – Sean Strickland

Sean Strickland taunts Israel Adesanya of Nigeria in the closing moments of their UFC middleweight championship fight during the UFC 293 event at Qudos Bank Arena on September 10, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Sean Strickland taunts Israel Adesanya of Nigeria in the closing moments of their UFC middleweight championship fight during the UFC 293 event at Qudos Bank Arena on September 10, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Sean Strickland probably didn’t expect to be where he’s at as 2023 dawned thanks to 2022 losses to Alex Pereira and Jared Cannonier. But after wins over Nassourdine Imavov and Abus Magomedov, Strickland got a call to face Israel Adesanya for the middleweight title in September. Five rounds later, Strickland had scored one of the biggest upsets in UFC history, and he was a world champion. That’s why they fight the fights.

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5 – Alexandre Pantoja

Alexandre Pantoja of Brazil reacts to the decision in the UFC flyweight championship fight during the UFC 296 event at T-Mobile Arena on December 16, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Zuffa LLC)
Alexandre Pantoja of Brazil reacts to the decision in the UFC flyweight championship fight during the UFC 296 event at T-Mobile Arena on December 16, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Zuffa LLC)

Alexandre Pantoja has long been seen as a fighter with championship potential. In 2023, the Brazilian finally put flyweight gold around his waist after scoring a split decision win over Brandon Moreno in an instant classic during UFC International Fight Week. Earlier this month, Pantoja successfully defended his crown with a second win over Brandon Royval, and he could be settling in for a long reign.

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6 – Tom Aspinall

Tom Aspinall of England knocks down Sergei Pavlovich of Russia in the interim UFC heavyweight championship fight during the UFC 295 event at Madison Square Garden on November 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)
Tom Aspinall of England knocks down Sergei Pavlovich of Russia in the interim UFC heavyweight championship fight during the UFC 295 event at Madison Square Garden on November 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)

In July of 2022, Tom Aspinall suffered a knee injury against Curtis Blaydes that sidelined him for a year. In July of 2023, the Brit returned with a first-round finish of Marcin Tybura and then won the interim UFC heavyweight crown with another Performance of the Night knockout, this one over Sergei Pavlovich. Grand total of fight time? Two minutes and 22 seconds.

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7 – Benoît Saint Denis

Benoit Saint Denis of France reacts after defeating Matt Frevola by TKO in a lightweight fight during the UFC 295 event at Madison Square Garden on November 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)
Benoit Saint Denis of France reacts after defeating Matt Frevola by TKO in a lightweight fight during the UFC 295 event at Madison Square Garden on November 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)

In 2021, Benoit Saint Denis lost a punishing decision to Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos that was on short notice and at 170 pounds. In 2022, he was in the lightweight division, and he hasn’t lost since. In 2023, Saint Denis made a statement with each fight as he submitted Ismael Bonfim and stopped Thiago Moises and Matt Frevola, leaving fans to eagerly anticipate what’s coming next in 2024.

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8 – Justin Gaethje

Justin Gaethje celebrates his KO victory over Dustin Poirier in a lightweight fight for the BMF belt during the UFC 291 event at Delta Center on July 29, 2023 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
Justin Gaethje celebrates his KO victory over Dustin Poirier in a lightweight fight for the BMF belt during the UFC 291 event at Delta Center on July 29, 2023 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

After a disappointing loss to Charles Oliveira in their lightweight title fight last year, Justin Gaethje was back to doing Justin Gaethje things in 2023, as he went to war with Rafael Fiziev in a Fight of the Night win in March, then picked up the BMF title with a highlight reel knockout of Dustin Poirier in their highly anticipated rematch. In 2024, expect to see “The Highlight” back in a world title fight.

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9 – Alex Pereira

Alex Pereira of Brazil recieves the light heavyweight belt after defeating Jiri Prochazka of the Czech Republic by TKO in the UFC light heavyweight championship fight during the UFC 295 event at Madison Square Garden on November 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Alex Pereira of Brazil recieves the light heavyweight belt after defeating Jiri Prochazka of the Czech Republic by TKO in the UFC light heavyweight championship fight during the UFC 295 event at Madison Square Garden on November 11, 2023 in New York City.

The year didn’t get off to a good start for Brazil’s Alex Pereira, as he lost his middleweight title in a rematch to Israel Adesanya in April. But after a move up in weight and a close decision win over Jan Blachowicz in July, “Poatan” added another belt to his trophy case when he stopped Jiri Prochazka in two rounds to win the UFC light heavyweight crown.

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10 – Jon Jones

Jon Jones reacts to his win in the UFC heavyweight championship fight during the UFC 285 event at T-Mobile Arena on March 04, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Jon Jones reacts to his win in the UFC heavyweight championship fight during the UFC 285 event at T-Mobile Arena on March 04, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

The return of the fighter most consider to be the best to ever do it was as highly anticipated as any in 2023, and Jon “Bones” Jones delivered the goods in spectacular fashion in March when he moved up to heavyweight after three years away from the sport and finished Ciryl Gane in a little over two minutes to become a two-division world champion. An injury scrapped his November bout with Stipe Miocic, but the fact that he’s on this list with just one fight to his name in 2023 shows just how impressive that fight was.

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Voters – Aziz Bawany, Thomas Gerbasi, E. Spencer Kyte, Steve Latrell, Gavin Porter, Zac Pacleb