Most fans immediately mention the lightweight division when they think about the modern-day UFC. With some of the promotion’s most prominent names stationed at 155 (McGregor, Poirier, Pimblett, etc.), it’s got the most fighters than any other division on the roster. Of course, that means it’s got the hottest prospects, so here are the ones closest to a ranking.
The most well-known fighter on this list, Terrance McKinney has made the most of his time in the UFC with a 3-1 record. Even in his lone loss in the promotion, McKinney looked like he had 14th-ranked Drew Dober on skates for most of the one-round fight. Legends have been written about Dober’s chin, and even in a loss, McKinney’s explosiveness was one of the biggest takeaways from the fight. “T. Wrecks” also holds the record for the fastest finish in UFC lightweight history with a seven-second knockout against the formidable Matt Frevola. Since 2021, McKinney has not left the first round, amassing a total record of 6-1 in that time. The Spokane, WA native is no stranger to adversity, having survived a drug overdose in 2015. Going from the brink of death to making it into the UFC and establishing himself as a legitimate contender, McKinney’s story will continue to inspire fight fans who want to change the direction of their lives the way that he did. “T. Wrecks” fights DWCS product Isamel Bonfim in enemy territory (Brazil) later in January and could earn the Paddy Pimblett matchup he’s been calling for with a win.
Joel “El Fenomeno” Alvarez is one of the best European prospects that nobody is talking about. The Spaniard has been in the UFC for a sneaky four years now, going 4-2 in that span. While he is coming off a loss to Arman Tsarukyan in early 2022, there is not much shame in losing to a ranked contender at the top of everyone’s watchlist. His other loss came to another ranked fighter, Damir Ismagulov, and with four finishes in the rest of his UFC fights, it’s clear he belongs in the rankings discussion. Alvarez’s primary opponent throughout his career has been the scale, having missed weight in two of his UFC bouts. However, with a proper weight cut, there is no reason that the Spaniard can’t make a run in the division. Alvarez fights Zubaira Tukhugov in February – with a seven-inch height advantage and a nine-inch reach advantage, he has all of the physical tools to dispatch Tukhugov, which would effectively position him for an opportunity to enter the rankings late into the year. Whispers of the UFC making its way to Spain (on the back of Ilia Topuria’s rise) could also improve Alvarez’s chances of getting a marquis matchup.
Benoit Saint-Denis spent the beginning of his 20s fighting terrorist groups in the French Army Special Forces. Now, at just 27, the warrior has shifted his focus onto MMA, with a high level of success. Think about this: Saint-Denis started his MMA career when Joel Alvarez entered the UFC (early 2019) and managed to go 10-1 in that time. The “God of War” took his first loss against the notoriously hard-hitting Elizeu Zaleski at welterweight and has since gone 2-0 at lightweight with two finishes. The UFC has recently expanded its reach into France, and Saint-Denis is the next fighter to lead the charge; he faces Joe Solecki in February and will see a step up in competition with a win in that matchup. Saint-Denis’ skills are high-level, but his mental toughness separates him from the rest of the competition and will ultimately lead to his success in the big show.
Often labeled the best fisherman in the UFC, Gregor Gillespie is familiar with the UFC rankings. However, due to inactivity, the four-time D-1 All-American wrestler found his name off the list in 2023. Gillespie took two years off after his first-round KO loss to Kevin Lee in 2019 but returned to earn a FOTN bonus against Carlos Diego Ferreira in a TKO win (Ferreira was over four pounds overweight too). The inactivity has been Gillespie’s Achilles heel, as most fans will struggle to remember that he has four fight bonuses in eight UFC fights. Ultimately, the wrestling phenom will have to work his way back into the rankings, and with plenty of hyperactive fighters on the roster, it’s hard to envision the UFC rewarding him for playing the waiting game. Still, “The Gift” has an undeniable pedigree that keeps him relevant and worthy of an honorable mention on this list.
The only fighter on this list to come from a different weight class is Zubaira Tukhugov. The AKA product had mixed results at featherweight, going 5-2-1, but with both his losses coming by split decision, Tukhugov has proven to be a handful for all opponents. Unfortunately, his lightweight debut is no walk in the park, with a matchup against Joel Alvarez. A win would put Tukhugov right at the top of the unranked fighter pool at 155, but it’s hard to envision a positive result with such a distinct size disadvantage. Still, Tukhugov comes from an excellent camp, and coach Javier Mendez has hailed him as a dark horse for title contention. So let’s see if the Russian all-arounder can put it together in a new weight class.
Highlight reel performances have been the name of the game for Ignacio Bahamondes in the UFC. His last two wins came by wheel kick and brabo choke, marking the start of a good run in the octagon. “La Jaula” loves to go for the knockout with creative striking and even has an opportunistic grappling game to go with it. If Terrance McKinney isn’t Paddy Pimblett’s next suitor, it could very well be this man, who was rumored against Pimblett before the Jared Gordon fight. Bahamondes is an honorable mention due to his infancy in the promotion at just 2-1, but with tons of potential at the young age of 25, he’s got plenty of time to climb the rankings.
Hailing from Michigan, Drakkar Klose can be deemed as a veteran of the octagon at this point. He holds a solid UFC record of 7-2, with his last loss coming at the hands of 4th-ranked Beneil Dariush. He had Dariush rocked before the title contender came back, and with two encouraging wins since then, Klose is back on the up and up. Unfortunately, Klose suffered a bit of a setback in late October when he tore his ACL and pulled out of his scheduled fight with the then-undefeated Mark O. Madsen. However, he will return with a vengeance once healed, positioning him for a big 2024. When Grant Dawson beat Madsen as Klose’s replacement, he landed in the rankings; this should mean that Klose isn’t too far off himself.
In such a loaded division, it speaks volumes that Guram Kutateladze was still able to make this list after a loss. That loss came in a razor-thin split decision against 12th-ranked Damir Ismagulov, a killer in his own right (up until his recent retirement). The former kickboxer has a win against 7th-ranked Mateusz Gamrot, and while that win was arguable, Guram must be commended for the two performances he has given thus far. Like Klose, Guram has struggled with injury, which will keep him out of a fight against Thiago Moisés initially scheduled for late January. The UFC might be getting frustrated by the inactivity of Kutateladze, but his sheer skill should put him back in good spirits if he manages to get healthy. Georgia continues to produce contenders, and this man is no exception.
Alright, I admit it – it was way too difficult to choose just one name out of the seven terrifying lightweight prospects to make their way into the UFC through DWCS recently. These guys combine for a record of 83-8-1; over half are under 28 years old. All but two of them are scheduled to fight in the next two months, so we will soon find out how competitive they are. This entry is an homage to the continued emergence of the international scene; these fighters are from Argentina, Tajikistan, England, Brazil, Mexico, and Poland. My favorite prospect of the bunch has the toughest upcoming matchup as well – Nurullo “Tajik Eagle” Aliev fights Rafael Alves in late February, promising to deliver on his promise to model his career after Khabib Nurmagomedov. The British Sam Patterson is another one to watch, who towers at 6’3” and comes from the most legitimate promotion of the bunch. The future is bright at 155!