The most competitive division in the UFC is about to get even more interesting. With top-level talent throughout the roster, plenty of high-level matchups exist in our future. Let's consider which bantamweights we can expect to crack the rankings in 2023.
Kyler "The Matrix" Phillips has been a problem since his UFC debut in 2020. Before this, Phillips competed on TUF 27 and even picked up a first-round finish on DWCS. He would eventually begin his career in the octagon with a three-fight win streak, capped off with an impressive UD win over eighth-ranked Song Yadong. Phillips would lose a closely contested bout against Raulian Paiva afterward but quickly got back on the right track with a third-round submission win in his next fight. Now, Phillips sits on the precipice of the rankings, and with two recently canceled bouts against Jack Shore and Raphael Assunção, it's clear that a win in his next fight will secure him a spot in the rankings. Not only does Phillips have the talent to keep climbing, but at just 27, he has plenty of time to continue improving his skills en route to a potential contender run. Coming from the MMA Lab gives Phillips an excellent opportunity to train with crafty strikers like Sean O'Malley and Alex Caceres. With his slick jiu-jitsu skills, we should be talking about "The Matrix" for many years to come. And I ain't talking about Keanu Reaves.
The Bonfim brothers aren't the only sibling duo to make waves in the UFC. Javid Basharat recently made his way into the octagon with his brother Farid - Javid has wasted no time, compiling a 3-0 UFC record in the past year. While Javid is still looking for his first UFC finish, he has shown a well-roundedness to his game that you'll need help finding in another fighter. Knowing he can comfortably take the fight anywhere, Basharat possesses a calculated fight style with endless pace and cardio. If he were to run into any roadblock on his UFC journey, it would likely come from a discrepancy in power. However, at 27 years old, Basharat has plenty of time to grow into his 5'9" frame and put on more muscle. With zero decisions on his record before entering the UFC, he could get back to his finishing ways. With solid striking and even better grappling, the possibilities are endless for the 14-0 Basharat.
The last name on this list is one that I'm sure will ring familiar to all UFC fans. Coming fresh from his quadrilogy with Brandon Moreno, Deiveson Figueiredo has announced his intentions to move up to bantamweight for the rest of his career. At 35, Figuereido is undoubtedly nearing the twilight of his career. Until his first loss to Moreno in 2021, "Deus Da Guerra (god of war)" looked unstoppable, dominantly finishing most of his opponents. Figueiredo's power in the flyweight division has never been seen before, but his move up to bantamweight leaves fans with plenty of questions. Will his power translate to 135? Will he look even better than he ever did now that he doesn't have to destroy his body with the weight cut to 125? The truth is that Figueiredo has never fought outside of 125, so as we discover the answers to these questions, so will he. Regardless, Figgy will receive a ranked opponent in his first fight at 135, given his champ status at flyweight, which should entrench him within the rankings.
One of the hardest-hitting leg kickers in the game, Jonathan Martinez is the only fighter on this list to have a direct opportunity to enter the rankings. He fights 14th ranked Said Nurmagomedov in March, following a leg-kick TKO against Cub Swanson in late 2022. Martinez is riding a four-fight win streak and has been battle-tested in the UFC, compiling an 8-3 overall record in the promotion. Martinez moved to Factory X in Colorado to continue improving his skills, and at 28, he's approaching the prime of his career. He prefers to keep in on the feet but also possesses a solid defensive grappling base. While Martinez needs one win to enter the rankings, I think that he faces a difficult test in Nurmagomedov, who will look to take the fight to the ground. Both fighters ride four-fight win streaks, so whoever loses will likely have another opportunity to turn their luck around, but it's hard to bet against a guy with Said's last name. Regardless, Martinez will almost definitely enter the UFC rankings at some point in his career.
Montel Jackson clawed his way onto this list. After starting his UFC run with a loss against 10th-ranked Ricky Simon, Jackson has gone 6-1 ever since. Currently riding a three-fight win streak, "Quik" displays a well-rounded skillset that allows him to feel comfortable wherever the fight goes. Still, it's no secret that Jackson prefers a ground-and-pound approach, also threatening submissions. His most recent win against Julio Arce should set him up for a higher-level matchup toward the top of the fighters that sit outside the rankings, but Jackson still needs that signature win to make a mark in fans' minds. The Milwaukee native is hitting his fighting prime as he turns 31 in April, and Jackson is probably two wins away from the UFC rankings.
Another strong MMA lab product, Mario Bautista has put on a show in his last two fights, nabbing two quick first-round submissions. Bautista can improve his win streak to four in a fight against Guido Cannetti in March. Bautista finds most of his success on the ground but has demonstrated some creative striking in past fights. At 29 years old, Bautista has plenty of time to continue improving his game and has great bantamweight training partners at the MMA Lab to compare his skills against.
18-year-old phenom Raul Rosas Jr. finally made his UFC debut in December after capturing the attention of MMA fans in his September contender series win. He passed his first test with flying colors, submitting Jay Perrin in the first round to build upon his undefeated record. He gets his next opportunity in April against Christian Rodriguez. While there is no rush to throw Rosas into the fire immediately, the UFC will surely give him plenty of opportunities in the next two years to continue building his octagon experience. It likely won't happen in 2023, but with a high-level grappling game and a demonstrated willingness to fight often, it is still being determined for Rosas to get his first ranked opportunity in 2024.
The UFC recently completed their "Road To UFC" event that they organized in Asia to attract some of the most talented Asian prospects to the promotion. Through this bracket-style set of events, they found several promising young fighters ready to make an impact in the big show. One of the most promising fighters from this tournament was Rinya Nakamura, a Japanese bantamweight from Saitama, Japan. Nakamura finished all of his opponents from the tournament in the first round, running away with the bantamweight tournament crown. Nakamura is a world-caliber freestyle wrestler, representing Japan at the U23 world championships and taking home gold. Despite this pedigree, he's shown proficiency in his striking, winning both of his last two fights by knockout. Nakamura seems to have all of the tools necessary to make a genuine push for a ranked spot down the line, and with the UFC's desire to expand its Asian influence, there's no reason he can't be at the forefront.
While the previous two fighters mentioned happen to be UFC newcomers, Taylor Lapilus is returning to the promotion after last fighting in the octagon in 2016. Since then, Lapilus has gone 7-1, collecting three belts. "Double Impact" hails from France and seemingly left the UFC initially to pursue boxing. However, after the successful boxing debut, he came back to MMA with a vengeance, and with a well-rounded game and no losses by finish on his record, he's a tough out for anyone. Lapilus recently pulled out against a fight with Khalid Taha but has also been on record calling out Cody Garbrandt. A potential fight with the former champion could be Lapilus' key to becoming a household name in the UFC and to an eventual spot in the rankings.