Who were the top rookies to make their way to the Octagon in 2022? Read on to find out as the highly unofficial awards season begins…
Perhaps the best talent to emerge from Down Under since Robert Whittaker, Australia’s Jack Della Maddalena piqued the interest of UFC fans after his win over Ange Loosa on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2021, but then he took over in 2022 with three consecutive knockouts of Pete Rodriguez, Ramazan Emeev and Danny Roberts that left him just outside the welterweight Top 15 as the year comes to a close. More than a fighter with potential, Della Maddalena is the real deal.
2 – Jailton Almeida
Another 2021 graduate of Dana White’s Contender Series, Jailton Almeida has been a force of nature since his arrival in the big show. Able to fight at 205 pounds or heavyweight, Almeida can strike fear into his peers in both divisions thanks to the attack that has already produced finishes of Danilo Marques, Parker Porter and Anton Turkalj.
3 – Muhammad Mokaev
One of the most heavily hyped prospects entering the Octagon for the first time in 2022, Muhammad Mokaev has lived up to all his advance notices so far thanks to a trio of wins that saw him defeat Cody Durden, Charles Johnson and Malcolm Gordon. Already in the Top 15 at 125 pounds, Mokaev has the talent and drive to perhaps be in the flyweight title race by this time next year.
4 – Tatsuro Taira
At just 22 years old, Tatsuro Taira may not just be the present of Japanese MMA in the UFC, but its future. A phenomenal talent with the approach of a seasoned vet on fight night, Taira was impressive in his first two trips to the Octagon, as he decisioned Carlos Candelario and submitted CJ Vergara, and even more is expected from him in 2023.
5 – Yazmin Jauregui
Another member of the youth movement taking over the UFC, 23-year-old Yazmin Jauregui seemingly came out of nowhere to put on an epic three-rounder with Iasmin Lucindo and then stop Istela Nunes to up her perfect record to 10-0 in the talent-rich 115-pound weight class. In 2023, expect the Mexico native to make her move on the Top 15.
6 – Chidi Njokuani
The senior member of the 2022 rookie class in the UFC at 33 (soon to be 34), Chidi Njokuani paid his dues on the regional circuit before earning his spot on the roster on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2021. So how did he introduce himself to UFC fans? Only with two first-round knockouts of Marc-Andre Barriault and Dusko Todorovic (both earning Performance of the Night honors) and a Fight of the Night war with Gregory Rodrigues, proving that win or lose, we will tune in to watch Chidi “Bang Bang” fight.
7 – Natalia Silva
Despite entering the UFC with a six-fight win streak, Brazil’s Natalia Silva was a big question mark thanks to the fact that she had been sidelined due to injury for nearly three years when she made her debut in June against Jasmine Jasudavicius. Three rounds later, she upset the Canadian and then went on to halt previously unbeaten Tereza Bleda in November. Suffice to say there are no more question marks.
8 – Michael Morales
A perfect 14-0 as a pro, Ecuador’s Michael Morales emerged from the 2021 edition of Dana White’s Contender Series as a raw talent with a high upside. Now he’s stopped Trevin Giles and Adam Fugitt in the UFC, and nothing has changed in that scouting report except that he’s starting to refine his attack, which makes the 23-year-old even more dangerous at 170 pounds.
9 – Raul Rosas Jr.
Raul Rosas Jr. was the talk of the MMA world when he earned a UFC contract at 17 by defeating Mando Gutierrez on the Contender Series in September. Then the talk only got louder when he became the youngest fighter in UFC history at 18 in December, defeating Jay Perrin in the first round before an appreciative packed house at T-Mobile Arena. And get ready, because in 2023, Rosas has no plans to slow down.
10 – Andre Fialho
Yes, Andre Fialho goes into 2023 with a 2-3 UFC Octagon slate after an ultra-active schedule in his rookie year, but knockouts of Miguel Baeza and Cameron VanCamp, coupled with a gritty effort against Michel Pereira, made him a welcome addition to the roster and one to keep an eye on next year.
Also receiving votes – Bryan Battle, Caio Borralho, Joanderson Brito, Waldo Cortes Acosta, Emily Ducote, Abus Magomedov, Maheshate, Mike Malott, Francis Marshall, Armen Petrosyan, Joe Pyfer
Voters – Thomas Gerbasi, Maddyn Johnstone-Thomas, Cory Kamerschak, E. Spencer Kyte, Steve Latrell, McKenzie Pavacich, Gavin Porter, Zac Pacleb