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Joe Pyfer reacts after submitting Abdul Razak Alhassan of Ghana in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in at UFC APEX on October 07, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Al Powers/Zuffa LLC)
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Fighters On The Rise | 2024, Part 2

Continuing Our Look At The Top Ascending Names On The UFC Roster As 2024 Begins

Earlier this week, we kicked off our look at 20 competitors you should be keeping close tabs on heading into 2024 by highlighting four Dana White’s Contender Series graduates, a bantamweight slated to compete on the first fight card of the year, and a trio of fighters that began outstanding rookie campaigns with memorable short-notice efforts.Earlier this week, we kicked off our look at 20 competitors you should be keeping close tabs on heading into 2024 by highlighting four Dana White’s Contender Series graduates, a bantamweight slated to compete on the first fight card of the year, and a trio of fighters that began outstanding rookie campaigns with memorable short-notice efforts.

READ: Part 1 Of The Fighters On The Rise In 2024

Today, we tackle the second half of the group, which includes a couple more bantamweight standouts, a tetra pack of Brazilian women, and a couple middleweights that could be front and center all year.

Remember: these athletes are listed alphabetically because it’s the easiest way to do it; these are not rankings.

Rinya Nakamura

Rinya Nakamura of Japan poses for a portrait after his victory during the UFC Fight Night event at Singapore Indoor Stadium on August 26, 2023 in Singapore. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)
Rinya Nakamura of Japan poses for a portrait after his victory during the UFC Fight Night event at Singapore Indoor Stadium on August 26, 2023 in Singapore. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)

Nakamura began showing out during the inaugural Road to UFC competition in 2022, punching his ticket to the bantamweight finale with a pair of first-round finishes. He began his 2023 campaign by closing out the tournament with another first-round stoppage win, knocking out Toshiomi Kazama in 33 seconds before posting a unanimous decision win over Fernie Garcia in his official UFC debut in August.

Order UFC 297: Strickland vs Du Plessis

The 28-year-old is a fascinating prospect, as he’s just eight fights and less than three years into his professional career, but has already risen to the biggest stage in the sport. He was an Under 23 world champion in freestyle wrestling and clearly has both power and some submission skills, all of which combine to make him an intriguing figure in the 135-pound weight class.

He’s expected to face former TUF finalist and fellow youngster Brady Hiestand in February at UFC 298, and a win would certainly hasten his ascent in the bantamweight division.

Bo Nickal

Bo Nickal enters the Octagon in a middleweight fight during the UFC 290 event at T-Mobile Arena on July 08, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Bo Nickal enters the Octagon in a middleweight fight during the UFC 290 event at T-Mobile Arena on July 08, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Nickal’s rookie campaign in the UFC was excellent, but also flew under the radar a bit.

The former three-time National champion wrestler dominated and finished both Jamie Pickett and Val Woodburn to move to 5-0 overall, maintaining his 100 percent finishing rate. His grappling was solid in the win over Pickett, whom he eventually submitted with an arm triangle choke, and he flashed some hands in stopping Woodburn at UFC 290 in July.

The UFC Year In Review: 2023

It’s a strange thing when you’re one of the most hyped new arrivals in some time because as good as that was, fans still wanted more, and having Nickal go from International Fight Week through the end of the year without competing again caused him to slide behind some other emerging names, and as good as he looked, 2024 should be even better for him.

At UFC 300, Nickal is scheduled to face off with Cody Brundage, who registered a first-round slam knockout of Zachary Reese in Austin in December and has gone 4-4 through his first eight UFC starts.

Nickal is expected to work his way into the Top 15 this year and show all the way out…and I am 100 percent be here for it.

Umar Nurmagomedov

Umar Nurmagomedov of Russia prepares to fight Raoni Barcelos of Brazil in a bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on January 14, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Umar Nurmagomedov of Russia prepares to fight Raoni Barcelos of Brazil in a bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on January 14, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

“Cousin Umar” kicked off 2023 with a first-round stoppage win over Raoni Barcelos in what was theoretically his “let’s just make sure he’s ready for this next step” fight, signaling that he was absolutely ready for a step up in competition. That was supposed to come in the form of a main event clash against Cory Sandhagen, but unfortunately, the 27-year-old Russian suffered a shoulder injury and was forced to withdraw.

Nurmagomedov is 16-0 and seems to be having trouble finding anyone that is willing to fight him, which is both disappointing because we all want to see him compete, and wholly understandable, because we’ve already seen him compete and know how good he is inside the Octagon.

Breaking Down UFC 297's Co-Main Event: Pennington vs Bueno Silva

We’re closing in on a year since his last appearance and he’s made just four starts through his first four years on the roster, which is well lower than the annual amount of Nurmagomedov fight fans are supposed to consume each year, according to doctors.

Hopefully we see him two or three times in 2024, because as outstanding as the bantamweight division is already, it will be even better with Nurmagomedov added to the contender mix.

Vitor Petrino

Vitor Petrino of Brazil poses for a portrait after his victory during the UFC Fight Night event at Ibirapuera Gymnasium on November 04, 2023 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)
Vitor Petrino of Brazil poses for a portrait after his victory during the UFC Fight Night event at Ibirapuera Gymnasium on November 04, 2023 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)

Undefeated prospects always catch my attention.

Undefeated prospects that look like they’re chiseled out of marble tend to hold my attention a little longer.

And undefeated prospects that look like they’re chiseled out of marble and compete in a division that constantly needs fresh young names can keep me interested for a very long time.

Petrino is all three of those things. The 26-year-old Brazilian light heavyweight went 3-0 during his first year on the UFC roster, out-working and out-lasting Anton Turkalj in his debut before scoring stoppage wins over Marcin Prachnio and Modestas Bukauskas.

He’s greener than a fresh field of clover in May, but with his physical skills, clear ability to learn and grow from fight-to-fight, and the wide-open nature of the 205-pound weight class, Petrino is someone that could make a rapid ascent in 2024.

Joe Pyfer

Joe Pyfer reacts after submitting Abdul Razak Alhassan of Ghana in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in at UFC APEX on October 07, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Al Powers/Zuffa LLC)
Joe Pyfer reacts after submitting Abdul Razak Alhassan of Ghana in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in at UFC APEX on October 07, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Al Powers/Zuffa LLC)

After getting the Dana White seal of approval following his Contender Series win in Season 6 and a first-round stoppage victory in his debut, Pyfer kept the momentum rolling in 2023 with a pair of stoppage victories.

In April, he ventured to Miami and put away veteran Gerald Meerschaert, felling him in the first round with powerful strikes. Then, in October, “Bodybagz” submitted Abdul Razak Alhassan, showcasing a piece of his game that goes under-discussed, but is part of what makes him such an intriguing figure to watch in the middleweight ranks.

View The Entire Hermansson vs Pyfer Card

Pyfer is slated to take a big step up in competition for his fourth UFC appearance, facing off with Jack Hermansson in the main event of a Fight Night show on February 10. It’s a tall order, but a win over “The Joker” would not only catapult the Philadelphia-based fighter into the Top 10, but position him as one of the top emerging talents in the promotion as a whole as well.

Mateusz Rebecki

Mateusz Rebecki Chops Down Loik Radzhabov In The Second Round | UFC Fight NIght: Emmett vs Topuria
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Mateusz Rebecki Chops Down Loik Radzhabov In The Second Round | UFC Fight NIght: Emmett vs Topuria
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There were an inordinate number of outstanding first-year fighters in the UFC last year, and Rebecki was one of them.

A graduate of Dana White’s Contender Series, the 31-year-old Polish lightweight began his maiden campaign with a good, but not great, showing against short-notice replacement Nick Fiore before posting consecutive stoppage wins over Loik Radzhabov and Roosevelt Roberts to close out the year.

He’s won 16 straight overall, is excellent on the ground, but dangerous on the feet, as well, and is the type of no nonsense, forward pressure fighter that should have a lengthy career as a fixture in entertaining contests, at the absolute least. But his well-rounded game and sound overall experience make him a dark horse to track in the lightweight division heading into the year, and with the right results in the right matchups, Rebecki could find himself knocking on the door of the Top 15 before too long.

Luana Santos

Luana Santos of Brazil reacts after a bantamweight fight against Stephanie Egger of Switzerland during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on December 09, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Luana Santos of Brazil reacts after a bantamweight fight against Stephanie Egger of Switzerland during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on December 09, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Santos went 2-0 in the UFC in 2023 after beginning the year with a first-round stoppage win under the LFA banner in March. She trounced TUF winner Juliana Miller in August, finishing her with a storm of strikes along the fence in under four minutes, and then edged out veteran Stephanie Egger on the cards in December to move to 7-1 overall.

First and foremost, she has to ensure that the weight miss from her bout with Egger is an anomaly and not a regular occurrence, and second, I think she’s best suited to compete in the 125-pound weight class long-term given her size and stature.

But the raw materials are there and the fact that the 23-year-old Brazilian has been working with both Danny Castillo and the crew at Team Alpha Male as of late is a major positive for her potential future development. The 125-pound weight class is loaded with talent at the moment — keep reading, you’ll see — which should work in Santos’ favor as it could allow her time to develop and gain experience before she’s thrust into the thick of things.

Karine Silva

Karine Silva of Brazil reacts after her submission victory over Maryna Moroz of Ukraine in a flyweight fight during the UFC 292 event at TD Garden on August 19, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)
Karine Silva of Brazil reacts after her submission victory over Maryna Moroz of Ukraine in a flyweight fight during the UFC 292 event at TD Garden on August 19, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)

The elder of the unrelated Silva tandem making waves in the 125-pound ranks, Karine Silva doesn’t like to waste time when she’s inside the Octagon.

A member of the DWCS Class of ’21, the 30-year-old Brazilian has won each of her first three UFC starts in the opening stanza, building on her 2022 victory over Poliana Botelho with submission wins over Ketlen Souza and Maryna Moroz in 2023 to move to 17-4 overall.

Physically strong and dangerous on the canvas, there is a little “you have to be careful with her at all times” element to Silva, as she doesn’t need much of an opening or opportunity in order to latch onto a limb or your neck and finish the fight. She put Moroz out in the final seconds of the first round of their clash in Boston at UFC 292 and has now won eight straight overall, all by stoppage.

There is a pack of ascending talents all working forward in the flyweight division currently, and Silva might be the most dominant and top-end ready of the pack.

Natalia Silva

Natalia Silva Finishes Leonardo In RD 1 |UFC Fight Night: Dern vs Hill
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Natalia Silva Finishes Leonardo In RD 1 |UFC Fight Night: Dern vs Hill
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The younger of the unrelated Silva tandem in the flyweight division, Natalia Silva has been even more impressive than her older compatriot.

The 26-year-old is now 4-0 in the UFC, having followed up her rookie campaign with two additional wins in 2023, capped by a unanimous decision victory over Andrea Lee one fight after Karine tapped out Moroz in Beantown. That evening, I told a friend that inquired about my thoughts on the Brazilians that I think Natalia has the greater upside, but Karine might be more ready to move forward, and I stand by that assessment… for now.

Silva is a fluid athlete with excellent kicks, sound movement, and good speed, all of which should continue to serve her well in the talent-rich 125-pound ranks. She actually reminds me a great deal of Viviane Araujo, whom she is penciled in to face at the start of February.

If she can beat her fellow Brazilian, Silva will take another big step forward in the rankings and really cement herself as a person of interest in what is quickly becoming one of the most competitive and compelling divisions in the UFC.

Tatsuro Taira

Tatsuro Taira of Japan poses for a portrait after his victory during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on December 09, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)
Tatsuro Taira of Japan poses for a portrait after his victory during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on December 09, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)

Taira is 15-0 overall with his last five victories coming inside the UFC Octagon. He turns 24 at the end of January.

After earning a pair of wins in 2022, the Japanese flyweight standout collected three more victories in 2023, making quick, efficient work of Jesus Aguilar before struggling to get by Mexican veteran Edgar Chairez in a short notice pairing at UFC 290. But just when it felt like maybe Taira was in a little too deep, he walked out on the penultimate card of the year and absolutely dominated Carlos Hernandez, flashing improved and impressive hands.

There is a quiet, patient nature to Taira’s game that makes him captivating to watch — he doesn’t rush anything, allowing the opportunities to present themselves and capitalizing on them when they do. While he had some rough moments against Chairez, I’m more than willing to cut him some slack after the bout came together a week after his original fight with Kleydson Rodrigues was scuttled.

Between he, Muhammad Mokaev, and Felipe Dos Santos, the future of the flyweight division looks incredibly bright.

UFC 297: Strickland vs Du Plessis took place live from Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on January 20, 2024. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass