Fighters to watch out for in 2022

The depths of the UFC rankings are rife with talent among many weight classes. Many fighters may slip through card to card for casual fans who may not watch the undercard or preliminary fights before the main events. Many of these fighters will put on fights better than the main event in many circumstances. I am going to stick with fighters who do not receive much media attention due to star power such as Paddy Pimblett, but rather fighters who may be overlooked yet put on spectacular fights. This list is not exhaustive as there are cases to be made with many fighters, but for now I am just going to show these fighters a bit more love. With the many talent-packed cards coming up this month and through to march, it is the perfect time to keep an eye out for these future title contenders or just overall entertaining fighters.

First on the list is Rafael Fiziev, an Azerbaijani muay Thai practitioner, who joined the UFC in 2019 and has gone 5-1 in the promotion thus far. The fighter formerly belonged to Tiger Muay Thai, one of the best muay Thai gyms in the world and developed world class striking that has lit up the rankings of the lightweight division. Rafael has since moved to Sanford MMA to make his fight game more well-rounded, but his striking heavy background shines through in all his fights when he lights up his opponents with lightning-fast hooks and kicks which seem to land with impunity. His slick footwork, lethal striking, and incredible chin make him a sight to see in the stand-up department. Rafael is also a sparring partner to the former, now interim, bantamweight champion Petr Yan, who is himself a world class striker. On a five-fight win streak after an astounding performance against Brad Riddell, which ended in a spinning wheel kick KO (which you should definitely go watch), Rafael is set to face two-division contender and UFC veteran Rafael Dos Anjos on February 19th. A victory over Dos Anjos would put Fiziev closer to the top 5 of the talent stacked lightweight division, meaning many good things for him and fight fans.

Fights to watch: Fiziev vs Bobby Green and Fiziev vs Brad Riddell

Next up on this list is Adrian Yanez, a Texas native who sits unranked in the bantamweight division. After winning a UFC contract on Dana White’s Contender Series, Yanez has gone undefeated in his 4 fights in the UFC and has shown a lot of potential to crack into the rankings of a wildly talented division with a few more fights under his belt. Yanez possesses very slick, technical striking all around. He has a great boxing base which allows him to establish good distance and rhythm behind a sharp jab and no-nonsense footwork as well as hands that can put most people on the canvas if they slip up. Coupled with his crisp boxing are his sharp leg kicks and always dangerous head kicks that take a backseat to his lethal hands. He currently has no fight scheduled in 2022, but the year is long as you can be sure to find him in the prelims or undercard soon.

Fights to watch: Yanez vs Davey Grant and Yanez vs Randy Costa

Next up is Alexa Grasso, a Mexican native fighting in the women’s flyweight division. She made her debut in 2016 as a strawweight which saw her record start 2-3 in the UFC, but a move up in weight to flyweight, after missing weight in a then cancelled fight, has seen her record go 4-3 earning two victories at a new weight. Grasso possesses clean and aggressive boxing that manages to weave combinations and kicks seamlessly. She is always closing the distance to land flurries of hands and not smothering her opposition, rarely letting them go without punishment. Anyone watching her fight would think she was in a boxing match with the way she displays world class head movement, footwork, and punches that would look at home in any boxing ring (until she kicks someone in the leg). Whether she will maintain her form at her new weight will be put to the test next month as she will face Joanne Wood on March 26th. There is still a lot of time for Grasso as she is only 28 and has a lot of room to grow, especially with the amazing talent that she possesses with her striking.

Fights to watch: Grasso vs Maycee Barber and Grasso vs Heather Jo Clark

Last on the list is British mixed martial artist, Tom Aspinall. Aspinall sits at #10 of the heavyweight rankings at just age 28. He holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, yet you would not notice it as most of his wins have come from knockouts. The heavyweight boasts an incredible grappling background in both wrestling and BJJ. Yet he finds a lot of success on his feet stemming from his blistering speed at his weight along with his versatility in the striking. The excitement around Aspinall is similar to the excitement surrounding former interim champion Ciryl Gane, and that being the technicality on display at such a heavy weight. Aspinall is able to transition from threatening take downs to slipping and landing combinations at will. There does not seem to be an obvious weakness in his game as he can hang with strikers and grapplers alike. He is able to move on the feet like a middleweight and is as technical as fighters at lightweight. It is no surprise that he trains with and is able to stand toe to toe with middleweight star Darren Till, who is known for his amazing striking and elusiveness. There is a world of potential for Aspinall to crack into the top 5 this year and put himself in line for title contention soon. Aspinall is set to face number 5 ranked heavyweight Alexander Volkov as the Fight Night main event on March 19th.

Fights to watch: Aspinall vs Andrei Arlovski and Aspinall vs Sergey Spivak