As the smallest men’s weight class, the flyweight division includes some of the quickest and most high-volume strikers in the entire UFC. What began as a division that was the scorn of UFC brass has now developed into one of the most underrated hotbeds of talent in the promotion. These are the fighters who weigh in at 125 who have the best shot at cracking the rankings and continuing their climb.
The fighter with the most advanced skills on this list might also be the youngest one. At the young age of 23, Tatsuro Taira has already collected three UFC wins after entering the promotion two years ago and since winning his debut against Carlos Candelario has managed to find armbar finishes in his last two fights. The Japanese prospect hails from Shooto as their flyweight champion and has already developed into a fan favorite. Taira imposes a grappling-heavy approach in which he is willing to put himself into vulnerable positions to create reversal opportunities. This dangerous but opportunistic grappling style will always make for exciting fights, but Taira may face some adversity against the higher-level fighters in his division at the present moment. Regardless, he has plenty of time to sharpen his skills and has already established himself as the next man up at 125.
In his first UFC matchup, Charles Johnson was thrown right into the fire, drawing Muhammad Mokaev. Mokaev proved too much for Johnson to handle then, but he also gave an impressive performance that stands as Mokaev’s only decision win in the octagon. Johnson has since accumulated two wins in a row, to stiff competition in Zhalgas Zhumagulov and Jimmy Flick. While both fights didn’t lack controversy, Johnson has good momentum heading into a fight this weekend against Ode Osbourne. “InnerG” unified the LFA flyweight title after winning both the interim belt and the regular belt and has regional wins over several formidable opponents. He combines his 5’9” with a 70” reach and quick footwork to give him a scrappy style that is difficult to contain. With a win against Osbourne, Johnson could ascend to a ranking spot or at least be one more fight away, and with his activity, it’s only a matter of time.
Hailing from Diego Lima’s Chute Box academy (the same camp that Charles Oliveira trains at), Alan Nascimento has retooled nicely since his split decision debut loss in the UFC. The loss came to 14th-ranked Tagir Ulanbekov, and since then, Nascimento has put together two impressive wins in the octagon. Just this past January, Nascimento submitted Carlos Hernandez in the first round to improve to a respectable 20-6. The Sao Paulo native finds most of his success on the ground and takes advantage of his size for the division as a former 135er. “Puro Osso” has the skill set to crack the flyweight rankings as soon as he finds another finish in his next fight.
Another former 135er, Atlanta’s Cody Durden, has proven to be a tough out to anyone who steps into the octagon with him. Durden started his UFC career with a draw against bantamweight’s 12th-ranked Chris Gutierrez. This prompted him to shift to flyweight, where he has seen mixed results. Durden has gone 3-2 since then but currently rides a two-fight win streak. Durden’s missteps in the UFC have come against stiff competition, and at 31, he’s entering the prime of his career. Durden has heavy hands but prefers a ground-and-pound approach as a two-time state champion wrestler with the potential to find a submission. He’s one of the many prizefighters who work a second job to make ends meet, so it would be nice to see him keep finding success to make this a full-time career potentially.
“Bulldog” Bruno Silva has seen mixed results in the UFC, going 2-2, along with one no-contest. Still, the Brazilian has another opportunity to crack the top 15 with an early-March matchup against 15th-ranked Tyson Nam. Silva worked hard to secure a spot in the UFC after losing in the second round of fights in TUF Brazil season four. He went 3-1-1 since that moment, including a split draw against the battle-tested Casey Kenney. Like Durden, Silva has turned his luck around recently with two wins in his most recent UFC fights, both by finish. Unfortunately, he’s been away for almost two years now. Still, Silva has received adequate preparation at Fight Ready in Arizona, where he can learn from former 125 king Henry Cejudo. With both of his losses coming by decision against ranked competition, there’s no reason that Silva can’t join their ranks.
We’ve spoken about Japanese and Brazilian talent, but how about some British flair? Former Cage Warriors flyweight champion Jake Hadley entered the UFC after an RNC finish of former TUF contestant Mitch Raposo in Dana White’s Contender Series. He lost his debut fight to Allan Nascimento but returned to submit Carlos Candelario in the second round last November. His next fight comes against the scrappy Malcolm Gordon in an opportunity to announce his arrival as a flyweight contender in the UFC. Hadley’s clear route to victory is through his ground game, with slick jiu-jitsu skills that account for five career submissions in nine pro wins. At 26 years old, Hadley has plenty of time to improve his striking skills and become a mainstay of the flyweight division.
Here we have an interesting case. Jeff Molina has already graced the UFC rankings after building a three-fight win streak in the octagon and becoming a fan-favorite on the mic. Since then, Molina has become implicated in illegal sports betting accusations stemming from his coach, James Krause, and has thus been suspended indefinitely. With hopes that the situation resolves itself soon, Molina has the evident abilities to have a solid UFC career and potentially climb the rankings as an eventual title challenger. He’s only found one finish in the UFC, but Molina rides a nine-fight win streak after beginning his professional career at 1-2. The 25-year-old’s quickness is a constant issue for any opponent, and he’s proven to have a strong chin and a good grappling base to match. Molina is one of the most well-rounded fighters at flyweight, and hopefully, we can have him back in the octagon soon.
His jawline is the only thing more “Concrete” than Clayton Carpenter’s nickname. The flyweight prospect had one of the most memorable decision wins in recent DWCS history, going to war with Edgar Cháirez and coming out the victor. He capitalized on the UFC opportunity to win his debut by first-round submission just last week. With just seven pro fights, Carpenter is one of the greenest fighters in the UFC, but with multiple head-kick KOs and submission win on his record, he’s a proven threat wherever the fight goes. He’s just 26 years old, and the UFC won’t look to fast-track this kid anytime soon. If he continues his current form, Carpenter will indeed receive a ranked opportunity in 2024.
I just had to include Jimmy Flick as the only fighter on the list coming off of a loss. This man is one of the best-kept secrets in the UFC. Jimmy Flick entered the UFC in 2020 with a third-round submission in his DWCS fight and stylishly submitted his first two UFC opponents. Most notably, he finished Cody Durden with a flying triangle. Flick retired after that but got the itch to return in 2023 after more than two years away from the sport. Unfortunately, Flick lost his first fight back in the first round to Charles Johnson in what many deemed an early stoppage. However, I’d like to attribute this loss to ring rust and point to his raw talent as a reason Flick will return with a vengeance in 2024. The former LFA flyweight champion is as good as it gets on the ground, and we haven’t heard the last of Jimmy “The Brick” Flick.