This Saturday will mark the first Ultimate Fighting Championship event of 2021 — UFC Fight Island 7. In 2020, despite the pandemic, we saw title fights, new champions crowned, and breakout stars. With 2021 arriving (and hopefully better times with it), there are more opportunities — meaning more fighters making a name for themselves.
To help put the spotlight on up-and-comers to watch out for, we’ll be taking a look at 20 UFC fighters who could have a breakout year in 2021. To qualify, fighters must have had at least one fight in the UFC, but no more than three fights — and they cannot be ranked in the top 15 of their division.
Now, let’s get started.
Featherweight, Movsar Evloev (13-0)
Evloev had a lot of hype coming into the UFC as he was the reigning M-1 Challenge bantamweight champion. When he moved to the UFC he made the move up to featherweight (145lbs). Since fighting in the octagon he has picked up three wins including a win over Mike Grundy in his latest fight. He’s set to fight veteran Nik Lentz this Saturday who would be a good name on his record. A win over Lentz would be a great start to 2021 for Evloev.
Flyweight, Su Mudaerji (13-4)
Mudaerji came into the UFC in late 2018 while coming off a loss. A lot of fighters find it difficult to get into the UFC on lengthy win streaks, let alone making it to the big show off a defeat. With that said, the UFC must have seen something in Mudaerji to sign him off a loss. It didn’t pan out for him in his debut, with Mudaerji falling short to Louis Smolka. Since then, he has defeated Andre Soukhamthath and scored a quick knockout (under a minute) against Malcolm Gordon. In the Gordon fight, Mudaerji won a Performance of the Night bonus. Su is set to fight Zarrukh Adashev next, which is a favorable match-up for him.
Welterweight, Sean Brady (13-0)
One of the rare occurrences of late where an American prospect didn’t have to go through the Contender Series to make it to the UFC. Sean Brady was a blue-chip prospect debuting in the UFC back in 2019. Putting him right to the test, Brady fought veteran Court McGee right out of the gate. Although he won the bout, it wasn’t the best fight — but he beat a really good Ismail Naurdiev next. Last fight, Brady won a Performance of the Night bonus with a stellar guillotine finish against Christian Aguilera.
In the first quarter of 2021 Brady is going to be fighting Jake Matthews. Matthews is a guy that’s gotten better in the UFC over time so this is an important fight for both men.
Featherweight, Ilia Topuria (10-0)
Topuria is someone that has had my attention for a while. He made his debut last October against Youssef Zalal who was on a roll with three consecutive UFC wins in 2020. Topuria beat him on the scoreboards and then knocked out Damon Jackson last December. He is ready for even tougher fights and I believe he can perform really well. The 23-year-old from Georgia is the real deal, and part of a wave of Georgian talent to hit the UFC in recent years.
Lightweight, Arman Tsarukyan (15-2)
Of all the fighters in the UFC, Tsarukyan is one of the most underrated. The promotion itself sure hasn’t overlooked him, however, giving Tsarukyan a blockbuster fight against Nasrat Haqparast next Saturday. In his debut he lost to Islam Makhachev, but it was a respectable effort that won a Fight of the Night bonus. His two octagon wins are against Davi Ramos and Olivier Aubin-Mercier. Only 24-years-old, Tsarukyan is the future of the UFC.