UFC: The Five Most Impressive Fighters of 2018 (Thus Far)

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Daniel Cormier UFC
Daniel Cormier Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

In MMA, consistently winning is the best way to get what you want. Regardless of (most) other circumstances, continuing to rack up wins over top competition can impress even the stingiest promoters and fans. These five UFC fighters have managed to impress more than the rest thus far in 2018.

We’ve passed the halfway mark of 2018, and several fighters in the UFC have set themselves apart. Defeating a top-ranked contender in any of the promotion’s divisions is a great way to get some spotlight. Doing so in highlight fashion? Even better.

This year, we’ve been treated to more than a few incredible bouts and fantastic finishes. We’ve also trudged through some boring fights. But stuff like the dolly-related, trip-related, and WWE-related drama we’ve been enjoying will always keep the world of MMA fresh.

In staying fresh, MMA waits for nobody. If you’re not rising up the ranks, you’re likely falling away from the title-picture. Unless you’re Brock Lesnar, Georges St. Pierre, or another big name with similar drawing power, winning fights is the best way to earn the kind of paycheck every fighter wants. In recent years, the likes of Cody Garbrandt, Volkan Oezdemir, and Darren Till have shown what consistently winning high-profile fights over a 12-month span can do for a fighter.

It sounds, and is, obvious. But it’s easier said than done. These five fighters are impressing more than any other in the promotion. With half of 2018 still remaining, there’s plenty of time for fighters to join this group, or for this group to set themselves apart even more.

Daniel Cormier (2-0) – Heavyweight & Light Heavyweight Champion

This was an easy first pick. The second-ever “Champ Champ” in the UFC, Daniel Cormier is an all-time great. It’s safe to say he’s, once again, successfully bounced back from a defeat* at the hands of Jon Jones. There were a lot of questions regarding D.C.’s future last summer following UFC 214. They’ve been answered.

With wins over Volkan Oezdemir at light heavyweight and Stipe Miocic at heavyweight, Cormier is the only fighter in the promotion with two title-wins in 2018. Oezdemir was riding a five fight winning streak going into his bout with Cormier, while Miocic had won his previous six fights ahead of UFC 226. Now, things get tricky for the two-division champion.

Following his victory over Miocic, former UFC heavyweight title-holder and current WWE Universal Champion Brock Lesnar made his way into the Octagon. It certainly looks like he’ll be Cormier’s next opponent, but that won’t come until 2019. So, what does he do until then?

There’s whatever is left of the light heavyweight bouts coming up over the next month or so. The top-two ranked light heavyweights outside of the champ are fighting at UFC 227. The winner of that bout between Alexander Gustafsson and Oezdemir will be in pole position to be Cormier’s next opponent at 205-pounds, should he compete at that weight again. There’s also Shogun Rua, whom D.C. has mentioned, but we’d rather not think about how sad that matchup would be in 2018.

Cormier has options, and they’re well deserved. He’s one of the greatest fighters in MMA history, and while he’s already had a great 2018, it’ll likely get better by the end of the year.

Israel Adesanya (3-0) – #9 Middleweight

Arguably the hottest prospect in the UFC, Israel Adesanya has already racked up three wins since joining the promotion this year. The 28-year-old holds an undefeated 14-0 record in MMA, and has continued to impress throughout his career. He looked as good as he ever has in his most recent bout. Adesanya was cool and confident in his five-round unanimous decision win over the formerly top-10 ranked Brad Tavares.

Now that he himself is ranked in the top-10, he’s due for another ranked opponent. A break might be in order as well, considering he’s fought five times in the last 12-months. Even with just one more win this year, Adesanya will be in the title-picture heading into 2019.

It now looks like UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker’s next title-defense won’t come until 2019 anyway. We already know that defense will come against Kelvin Gastelum, which says something about the depth at the top of the 185-pound division. The weight class might be losing the likes of Yoel Romero and Luke Rockhold sooner rather than later, leaving an even bigger hole in the title picture.

Insert: Israel Adesanya. The promotion is obviously a fan of “The Stylebender”, given his card placement since joining the UFC, and so are we. Along with the aforementioned Gastelum and Brazilian Paulo Costa, we could see a few fresh faces competing for UFC middleweight gold next year.

Curtis Blaydes (2-0) – #3 Heavyweight

UFC heavyweight Curtis Blaydes
Daniel Omielanczuk, right, fights Curtis Blaydes in a heavyweight mixed martial arts bout at UFC 213, Saturday, July 8, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

It’s hard to have two better wins this year than Cormier, but heavyweight contender Curtis Blaydes is damn close. The 27-year-old has already racked up victories over Mark Hunt and Alistair Overeem in 2018. He also defeated Oleksiy Oliynyk last November at UFC 217.

Blaydes feels like he’s earned a title shot. Especially given the current landscape of the heavyweight division. Considering what happened following Cormier’s victory over Stipe Miocic, the promotion disagrees. It’s hard to argue with Blaydes’ credentials. He’s 10-1 (1) in his four-plus year professional career. Blaydes’ lone loss came to Francis Ngannou in April of 2016, in his UFC debut.

The Illinois-native has a record of 5-0 (1) since that loss, and currently sits behind Miocic and Derrick Lewis in the official “super legitimate and not at all stupid” UFC heavyweight rankings. Along with Ngannou and Alexander Volkov, Cormier has plenty of challengers waiting in the wings.

That includes Brock Lesnar, apparently. And maybe Jon Jones too, sometime.

It’s a bummer for Blaydes, who might be Cormier’s toughest currently not-suspended-by-USADA matchup. He’ll likely need another win, or maybe two, in order to get his shot at the title. Even so, out of all of the heavyweights in the title-picture, we’ll take Blaydes to come out on top and earn his shot at the heavyweight title next year.

Brian Ortega (1-0) – #1 Featherweight

In a timeline not too far from ours, Brian Ortega is the UFC featherweight champion. Unfortunately for our Brian Ortega, the opportunity to turn that into our reality will have to wait. Title-holder Max Holloway was pulled from his second consecutive title-defense ahead of UFC 226, putting plans for the Hawaiian to defend his belt against Ortega on hold.

Rather than face a different opponent on short notice, Ortega is opting for the patient route. He’s earned his shot. Knocking-out the legendary Frankie Edgar at UFC 222, Ortega silenced the last of his doubters. With a win in his next bout, whenever that is, the undefeated 27-year-old will be among the top pound-for-pound fighters in the promotion.

Ortega’s quick rise into the 145-pound title picture isn’t too dissimilar from recent runs from the likes of Volkan Oezdemir and Cody Garbrandt. Like those before him, Ortega will get a shot at the belt, and it will probably be in 2018. Whether it’s against Holloway or not remains to be seen. Regardless, Ortega’s current run is one of the best in MMA, and it may not end for some time.

Jeremy Stephens (2-0) – #4 Featherweight

Securing two solid wins in the first two months of the year, Jeremy Stephens is knocking on the door of the UFC featherweight title. Currently ranked in the top-five, Stephens has his toughest matchup of 2018 later this month. Fighting Jose Aldo in the co-main event of UFC Calgary, Stephens has a prime opportunity to insert himself into the featherweight title picture.

While Stephens’ UFC career has been somewhat inconsistent, he’s on a great run right now. He’s won his last three bouts and earned performance bonuses in each of those fights. He’s fought the best of the best at 145-pounds over the years, and adding Aldo to the list feels long overdue. With a win over Aldo, Stephens places himself firmly in the driver’s seat for a shot at the winner of Holloway-Ortega. Whenever that (hopefully) takes place.

Stephens isn’t a huge name. But the 32-year-old has been in the UFC since 2007, and has plenty of highlights in that time. The promotion has featured him on a dozen PPV events. while having him headline four UFC Fight Night events, including his last two bouts.

He’s always been on the outside looking in when it comes to competing for UFC gold. By picking up his third win of the year in Calgary against Aldo, Stephens will undoubtedly secure his first career UFC title shot.

Let us know who you think the most impressive fighters in the UFC have been in 2018! These five fighters have done well this year, and there’s plenty of time for others to make their mark. Comment below, on Facebook, or reply on Twitter!

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