Top 24 MMA prospects to watch in 2024

Despite the UFC’s reach and schedule feeling suffocating at times, there’s a ton of worthwhile talent that resides just outside of the umbrella of the world’s leader when it comes to MMA.

In fact, between the constant growth of the sport to the UFC’s semi-recent business trends and how it affects their talent cultivation, one could argue that life outside the octagon has never been richer.

With that in mind, I decided to go down the proverbial rabbit hole in order to compile a list of solid prospects that are either set to make big splashes or are worth keeping an eye on given their potential.

Last year’s list did incredibly well, with that crop of prospects going 33-5 overall with a 67 percent finishing rate.

Lists like these are already an impossible ask in regard to including or satisfying everyone, so I elected not to rank my selections. That said, I’m quite excited to share my findings with you all.

So, without further ado …

Felipe Lima

Austin Bashi

Ramazan Gitinov

Record: 4-0
Age: 26
Division: Lightweight

Despite being just 4-0 as a pro, Ramazan Gitinov had an extensive amateur career where he went 31-2.

In fact, if you follow his wins back to his amateur career, you’ll see that Gitinov is actually on a 34-fight win streak.

Even though Gitinov appears more than comfortable on the feet, the 26-year-old Russian is essentially an athletic stud with superior wrestling and transitions to boot.

Whether he’s snatching up nasty front chokes off the counter or hitting his patent short choke from a rear mount, Gitinov is relentless once he gets a hold of you.

Gitinov currently fights for the Middle Eastern MMA organization BRAVE CF and is worth keeping an eye on going forward.

Trent Miller

Record: 5-0
Age: N/A
Division: Middleweight

Fighting out of my backyard of Xtreme Couture MMA, there’s no way I couldn’t give a prospect like Trent Miller a shout on this list.

Aside from looking like an athletic, brick sh*thouse, Miller can move with sharpness and intelligence.

Working under the tutelage of the unheralded coach and talent Roman Isbell, Miller is quietly arming himself with more and more destructive answers every time he enters the cage.

From stance-switching high kicks to opportunistic submissions, Miller – particularly at middleweight – appears to be the complete package and is worth keeping an eye on this year.

Shanelle Dyer

Loesine Keita

Record: 12-1
Age: 26
Division: Featherweight

A natural fighter with heavy hands, Loesine Keita has fought as high as welterweight and still found success.

That said, I believe that “The Black Panther” could be a real force to be reckoned with at 145 pounds.

Aside from the ungodly knockout power that Keita carries in both hands, the 26-year-old phenom appears to be particularly potent working in and out of the breaks.

Unfortunately for Keita’s opposition, he also appears to pack solid counter-wrestling abilities that range from solid hand fighting to hips that are hardwired to sprawl.

Keita recently won the vacant Oktagon featherweight title last December, so look out for him to have some showcase opportunities in 2024.

Tony Laramie

Record: 8-2
Age: 24
Division: Flyweight

Giving Canada some much-needed representation is Tony Laramie, who is the brother of UFC veteran, T.J. Laramie.

Akin to his brother, Laramie is a deceptively well-rounded fighter who – despite his short stature – appears to be a powerhouse on the feet.

Laramie looks to have excellent eyes in exchanges and an ability to seamlessly shift stances, both coming forward and off the counter.

The Canadian prospect is also good about working the body and has a solid reactionary takedown shot in his back pocket.

Outside of an injury loss to Jordan Graham in 2017, Laramie’s only other defeat comes to Louis Jourdain – a fighter who he is set to rematch this January.

Louis Jourdain

Record: 7-3
Age: N/A
Division: Flyweight

As alluded to in the previous section, Louis Jourdain – brother of UFC featherweight Charles Jourdain – is booked for a flyweight fight with a fellow Canadian prospect this month.

Jourdain, who is huge for the weight class, has successfully competed up a division in both boxing and MMA.

Akin to his brother, Jourdain is a competent striker from both stances but arguably does his best work from southpaw.

Jourdain has excellent eyes and instincts in exchanges, but I still need to see more of his overall grappling game to get a better idea of his ceiling.

All I know is that Jourdain’s rematch with Tony Laramie is gonna be a big deal for the Canadian regional scene this year.

Rakhim Midaev

Record: 12-2
Age: 28
Division: Bantamweight

Although Rakhim Midaev is coming off of a loss up a division, I still believe that he is a bantamweight worth looking out for in 2024.

Despite Midaev possessing the solid wrestling chops that you would associate with his side of the world, the Russian fighter appears to have more of a Wushu Sanda flair to his style.

In fact, I would compare Midaev to a more aggressive Zabit Magomedsharipov (or a version of Sharaputin Magomedov that wasn’t overhyped and can actually wrestle).

I’m not sure if Midaev will be a fighter who makes it out from the Eastern European scene, but I thought I’d include him on this list nonetheless.

Fatima Kline

Fatima Kline def. Natalia Kuziutina Invicta FC 52
Fatima Kline def. Natalia Kuziutina Invicta FC 52

Record: 5-0
Age: 23
Division: Strawweight

Despite being listed under multiple weight classes (likely due to her struggle to find opposition), Fatima Kline appears ready to run shop at either 115 or 125 pounds.

A main training partner for UFC flyweight contender Erin Blanchfield, Kline appears to be embracing osmosis regarding the high-level game she’s turning out.

Aside from having a knack for making high-percentage choices in the heat of battle, Kline appears to have seamless transitions and triggers hardwired into her system.

I’m not sure what Kline has lined up next, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see her step into a UFC octagon before year’s end.

Rasul Magomedov

Record: 2-0
Age: N/A
Division: Light heavyweight

Despite only being 2-0 as a pro, Rasul Magomedov carries some extra weight given both his background and the division he competes in.

Rasul Magomedov defeats Kyle Snyder:

An amateur world wrestling champion who is one of a handful of men to defeat the accoladed American Kyle Snyder in a freestyle wrestling match, Magomedov has had eyes on him since he competed as an amateur on the IMMAF circuit.

Magomedov went undefeated in 13 contests as an amateur, which allowed the former wrestler to sharpen his striking.

We still have a lot more to see from Magomedov, but he’s one of the more likely Russian talents who could end up crossing over to a major promotion this year.

Phumi Nkuta

Dzhamaludin Aliev

Record: 9-0
Age: 24
Dzhamaludin Aliev: Bantamweight

Adding to an already insane talent pool at 135 pounds is Dzhamaludin Aliev.

Although he appears to have some serviceable wrestling chops, there’s no denying that Aliev likes to make his money in the striking department.

Possessing excellent eyes in exchanges, Aliev is a solid counterpuncher who is comfortable in the heat of battle (though arguably too comfortable).

From counter-balancing punching off kicks to crucial bodywork, Aliev makes for a fun watch for all levels of fight fans.

I’m not sure we’ll see him fighting for any North American organizations in the near future, but he’s a prospect worth keeping an eye on.

Gauge Young

Record: 7-1
Age: 23
Division: Lightweight

When an analyst like Laura Sanko tells you to check out an up-and-coming prospect, it behooves you to listen.

In this case, that prospect is Gauge Young.

Aking to the previous entry, Trent Miller, Young is also an athletic stud who is built like a brick shithouse.

Young appears to have good eyes in exchanges and is steadily putting together his striking on the feet. From purposeful feints and footwork to smart change-ups to the legs and body, Young seems to be progressing in all the right ways.

The 23-year-old talent also has excellent wrestling against the cage and in the open, which helps him dictate the lion’s share of the action in his fights.

Young recently fought as high as 175 pounds this past year but looks to do his best work at 155 pounds – where I hope to see him stay in the future.

Nkosi Ndebele

Record: 7-2
Age: N/A
Division: Bantamweight

Adding to the slew of bantamweight selections is Nkosi Ndebele, who recently relieved Jose Torres of his BRACE CF bantamweight title this past December.

Outside of having some cool things to go to as a southpaw or orthodox striker standing, Ndebele’s insane strength and athleticism also translate to his ground game.

Ndebele appears incredibly difficult to pin down due to his scrambling prowess, but also seems to deal real damage with his ground strikes if given ample opportunity.

I don’t know what’s next for Ndebele, I just suspect that 2024 will be a big year for the native of South Africa.

Ruslan Gabaraev

Record: 5-0
Age: N/A
Division: Light heavyweight

Bringing some balance to this list is a light heavyweight entry, Ruslan Gabaraev.

Despite the division he competes in, Gabaraev moves incredibly well for a man of his size.

Staying light and loaded on the feet, Gabaraev embraces more of a Wushu Sanda flair to striking style.

From darting in and out on the balls of his feet to incorporating the occasional spin, Gabaraev makes for a unique watch at 205 pounds.

Given the general lack of talent at light heavyweight, I hope that Gabaraev develops more and eventually makes it to a North American organization.

Tianhao Feng

Record: 15-2-1
Age: N/A
Division: Flyweight

Adding to the list of large Chinese flyweights is a fighter named Tianhao Feng, who recently came across my radar.

Feng, who was easily the most active fighter in 2023 on this list, scored his 14th win in a row when he knocked out former Pancrase flyweight champion Ryuichi Miki this past December.

Akin to Su Mudaerji, Feng is also a long and athletic flyweight who packs some deceptive knockout power for his frame.

The Chinese fighter will scramble like hell in sticky scenarios, but – like a lot of his countrymen – is still working on rounding out his ground game.

Whether it be by a North American promotion or a North American gym, don’t be surprised to see someone invest in Feng sooner rather than later.

Khusien Shakhaev

Record: 12-0
Age: 26
Division: Bantamweight

Despite Khusien Shakhaev technically being on last year’s prospects to watch list, the 26-year-old spent the entirety of 2023 inactive.

In fact, Shakhaev hasn’t fought since 2021, so I hope that the Russian prospect makes his return sooner rather than later.

Shakhaev is an incredibly aggressive grapple-first fighter, who adds to any division he takes part in.

As of this writing, Shakhaev still has nothing on the books as far as MMA goes.

Ernie Juarez

Record: 7-0
Age: N/A
Division: Featherweight

In what might be one of my favorite finds on this list, Ernie Juarez’s style earns a special place in my heart.

Looking like a miniature Daniel Cormier, Juarez is incredibly composed for the pressure and pace that his style invites.

A suffocating approach that’s intended to draw out attacks, Jaurez operates with a slight muay Thai swagger and is particularly effective when striking in and out of the breaks.

When it comes to grappling, Juarez makes good choices and squeezes in powerful ground strikes whenever possible.

Whether it’s a short-notice call or an invite to the Contender Series, don’t be shocked to see Jaurez booked on bigger stages in 2024.

Renat Khavalov

Record: 8-0
Age: 25
Division: Bantamweight

Even if your appetite for bantamweights may be reaching its limit with this article, I implore you to make some room for Renat Khavalov.

Aside from being undefeated at 8-0, Khavalov also owns a win on the amateur circuit over Badmastyren Dorzhiev (who was one of my favorite prospects from last year’s list).

Khavalov is a southpaw who can also fight from orthodox, but it’s on the floor where he primarily makes his money.

Possessing similar wrestling and rides to your favorite Dagestani fighters, Khavalov will punish opponents with a sense of impunity that I’ve not seen since Khabib Nurmagomedov.

I’m not sure what Khavalov’s situation is, but I hope we can see him face the sport’s top talents before he fully enters his prime.

Michael Oliveira

Record: 6-0
Age: 25
Division: Welterweight

Bringing some more Brazilian flavor to this year’s list is Michael Oliveira.

Akin to Thiago Santos, Oliveira is also a Brazilian paratrooper who packs inherent power in almost everything he throws. That said, Oliveira has more of an aggressive counter-punching style that tends to come to life whenever he can get his opponents in his preferred kill zone along the fence.

Oliveria’s athleticism also appears to translate to his wrestling, both defensively and offensively.

Although I’d still like to see more out of Oliveira given that all of his fights have ended in the first round, the 25-year-old has the exact style that matchmakers and casual fans crave.

For that reason, don’t be shocked to see Oliveira continue his climb through North American organizations in 2024.

Murad Guseynov

Record: 6-0
Age: 25
Division: Welterweight

Adding to the options at welterweight from the other side of the planet is Murad Guseynov.

Akin to a lot of fighters who operate or have ties to Bahrain, Guseynov is a fighter with extensive amateur experience via the IMMAF.

Guseynov has all the parts that can make a great fighter, but his striking is still in the developing phases. Despite having a solid jab and some good instincts overall, Guseynov finds most of his success in the submission grappling department.

An excellent wrestler in the open or against the fence, Guseynov is usually good about dictating the terrain of his contests.

Overall, Guseynov has some solid potential and I hope to see him continue to step up his competition in 2024.

Sarvarjon Khamidov

Record: 15-0
Age: 26
Division: Bantamweight

Despite Sarvarjon Khamidov being a selection from last year’s list, I felt that the fighter from Tajikistan deserved dual mentions due to some inactivity.

Although Khamidov only fought once in 2023, it came under the Bellator banner – whose bantamweight division is currently in flux.

Considering that Khamidov is a training partner of Petr Yan, then perhaps we could see another Tajik fighter added to the UFC roster in 2024.

Mateo Vogel

Record: 8-3
Age: 27
Division: Featherweight

Rounding out the list is more representation of a Canadian MMA scene that finally seems to be getting back on its feet.

Although I don’t tend to pick Contender Series alums for these sorts of things, I couldn’t help but give some love to Mateo Vogel.

Aside from the fact that many (including myself) believe that Vogel beat Timothy Cuamba 29-28 last August, the 27-year-old Canadian has some solid skills that I see serving him well down the stretch.

A durable Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt who can wrestle, Vogel’s style and pressure bring an exciting and building dynamic to his fights. Vogel has worked on everything from his leg kicks to his counters, but it’s his ability to make things ugly that makes his fights fun.

Vogel is currently booked to compete for another regional Canadian title at Unified MMA 55 in January. Should he win that, then I hope to see Vogel get a call from the UFC matchmakers for an opportunity in some form.

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie