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27th Dec 2016

Top 10 most promising UFC newcomers of 2016

A good year for debutants

Ben Kiely

The UFC gained a lot of fresh talent in 2016.

It tends to be a short stay at the top of the fight game, so bringing in new blood that have the potential to develop into future superstars is just as important as building up the current big draws in the promotion. The UFC had no problem finding new names in 2016 judging by some of their performances inside the cage.

Without further ado, here are our top 10 picks for best fighters who made their first walk to the Octagon in 2016.

10. Paul Craig (9-0, 1-0 UFC)

Just the one fight so far inside the Octagon for ‘Bearjew,’ but there are few better ways to make your debut than to finish a previously undefeated rising star. His submission of Luis Henrique da Silva in Sacramento was one of the most impressive debuts of the year.

9. Justin Ledet (8-0-1NC, 2-0 UFC)

The American heavyweight flew in under the radar when he signed for the world’s biggest MMA promotion this year, but he’s slowly emerging as one of the prospects to keep an eye out for in a division with a dearth of rising starlets. Two fights in 2016 and two impressive wins over Chase Sherman and Mark Godbeer respectively. He’s certainly one to watch in 2017.

8. Mike Perry (9-1, 2-1 UFC)

If it wasn’t for Alan Jouban’s sensational performance over ‘Platinum,’ this knockout artist could have easily been topping this list. He entered into the promotion raw, but armed with a swagger and a killer instinct. Bac-to-back knockouts in his first two fights against over Hyun Gyu Lim and Danny Roberts, the latter in enemy territory, saw him become a bit of a cult hero.

7. Mickey Gall (4-0, 3-0 UFC)

Three fights, three wins and although the first two were against vastly inexperienced fighters who were really out of their depth in the UFC, his submission win over Sage Northcutt proved he was worth his place in the big leagues. He may be biting off more than he can chew by calling out legendary fighter Dan Hardy, but at least the youngster isn’t short of ambition.

6. Alexa Grasso (9-0, 1-0 UFC)

The strawweight division is quickly running out of contenders for Joanna Jedrzejczyk purely because of the Polish powerhouse’s dominance in her UFC career so far. After a stellar debut against the very durable Heather Jo Clark, don’t be surprised if we see this highly marketable and talented young fighter challenging for that belt if she can string a streak together.

5. Emil Meek (9-2-1-1NC, 1-0 UFC)

He earned his shot in the UFC by slaying one of the sport’s most hated villains, Rousimar Palhares, in just 45 seconds and was really thrown into the deep end when paired up against seasoned veteran Jordan Mein for his first fight. However, he was more than up to the task as he scored an impressive decision win over the Canadian.

4. Marc Diakiese (13-0, 2-0 UFC)

The sky really is the limit for this extremely talented 23-year-old. With Michael Bisping embracing the role of Britain’s biggest UFC star, this prospect could well be the next generation of superstar to emerge from the UK. He’s never in a dull fight and his knack for winning in brutal fashion should see him become a main card staple on European cards and beyond in 2017.

3. Brandon Moreno (13-3, 2-0 UFC)

The UFC have found a real gem in the ‘Assassin Baby’. The rising star was knocked out of season 24 of the Ultimate Fighter early, but shocked the world by finishing top 125 lb contender Louis Smolka on extremely short notice. He closed out the year with an another impressive showing, beating the always tough Ryan Benoit.

2. Lando Vannata (9-1, 1-1 UFC)

What a groovy year for this Greg Jackson prospect. Many young fighters making their debut against arguably the greatest lightweight fighter on the roster on short notice may have been intimidated, but that wasn’t the case for Vannata who gave Tony Ferguson a hell of a scrap in his debut. He bounced back perfectly by scoring my pick for knockout of the year against John Makdessi in the lion’s den. It will be interesting to see how far he can go in the most populated division in the promotion, but one thing’s for sure, whatever the destination, he’s going there at his own chilled-out pace.

1. Cyborg (17-1-1NC, 2-0 UFC)

An unfortunate end to the year after she popped for a diuretic in an out-of-competition test, but inside the Octagon, the Brazilian superstar has looked sensational. Following back-to-back wins, both of which ended in extremely brutal fashion, there’s no wonder why fans see her as the rightful heir to the soon to be introduced women’s featherweight throne.

Cyborg ko