With only two cards in March, the UFC has taken a quality over quantity approach and fight fans should be very excited for some of the bouts this month. While Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz headline tonight’s fights in Las Vegas, Frank Mir and Mark Hunt will go toe-to-toe in Australia in two weeks.
Outside of the household names, a few young, and not-so-young, fighters will be hitting the octagon with hopes of climbing the ranks in their respective divisions. Several Ultimate Fighter alumni will be in action this month and some will be looking to bounce back after some tough losses. Due to the lack of events this month, this edition will not only feature the young fighters making UFC returns or debuts, but will also showcase some of the older fighters making a run and others on the cusp of contention.
Here are the top UFC fighters, young and old, hoping to make a splash in March.
Dan Hooker (13-6-0)
With a hit-and-miss UFC career so far, Hooker has gone 2-2 in the octagon but has looked really good in his wins. He is an unorthodox striker who has lost both his UFC fights via submission. Before joining the UFC, Hooker was the Australian FC lightweight champion and made his UFC debut in 2014. His most impressive win came against Hatsui Hioki last May. However, Hooker followed up that win with a decision loss to Yair Rodriguez in October. At just 26 years, Hooker will try to get back on the winning trail against Mark Eddiva in Australia.
Bec Rawlings (5.4) / Seohee Ham (16-6)
It was so tight to between these two female fighters that it was best to group them together. Rawlings and Ham will be fighting each other and are neck and neck in terms of UFC success. While Ham is the more experienced fighter with several wins internationally, Rawlings had a much better showing in her second UFC fight after the TUF card. She finished her opponent via submission while Ham won by unanimous decision in a Fight of the Night thriller. Both fighters are extremely aggressive and should keep this bout exciting. Chances are the winner could see a ranked opponent in their next bout.
Teruto Ishihara (8-2-2)
Training out of Team Alpha Male Japan, Ishihara is just 24 years old and has been successful on the Japanese circuit. His first UFC bout ended in a split draw against Mizuto Hirota. He showed great striking ability and always pushed the pace. However, as the fight progresses, Ishihara was clearly gassing and did not have the same pop as the first round. He loves the lunging left hand and throws a lot of leg kicks. Against a fighter like Erosa, he will want to manage his strikes well and conserve his energy to go all three rounds. Erosa has the ability to recover quickly but pushing the pace will give Ishihara the advantage throughout the fight.
The Top 10
#10 – Julian Erosa (15-3-0)
One of the more colorful competitors during the McGregor vs. Faber TUF season, Erosa lost in the semi-finals to McGregor’s training partner Artem Lobov but came back with a split decision win against fellow cast mate Marcin Wzrosek at the TUF Finale. Prior to his chance on the reality show, Erosa held the SFL lightweight and featherweight belts simultaneously.
Erosa showed good endurance and versatility in his first UFC fight but needs to improve his head movement and defense. He took a few shots and was dropped by Lobov as well. He can really take over a fight in the later rounds but needs to be more responsible as he takes on better competition. Teruto Ishihara will test his abilities in the early rounds and Erosa will need to keep his guard up to avoid the power shots.
#9 – Steve Bosse (18-8-0)
Another Canadian making his mark on the UFC, Bosse lost his highly-anticipated UFC debut but will look to bounce back against James Te Huna in Australia. He trains out of the popular Tristar gym and could make another run if his body allows him. He lost his UFC debut after Thiago Santos landed a nasty kick in the first round, which ended the fight in under a minute. He was a nasty finisher in his prime but had to back out of several fights due to injury. Though far from a prospect, Bosse came out of retirement to give it another go and a main card victory could help gain some notoriety in the UFC.
#8 – Vitor Miranda (12-4-0)
Though his age may prevent him from becoming a great contender in the long run, Miranda has been very successful since losing on the Ultimate Fighter Brazil. He has gone 2-0 in the UFC and will take on Marcelo Guimaraes in his next fight. Miranda has been a natural finisher throughout his career and has only gone to a decision three times. This will likely be his toughest test yet, and a win could open some new doors as he hopes to make a run in the UFC middleweight division.
#7 – Chad Laprise (11-1)
The Ultimate Fighter Nations winner has a 3-1 record and lost his most recent fight to UFC veteran Francisco Trinaldo. Prior to that he beat Bryan Barberena by unanimous decision. Had he defeated Francisco Trinaldo, there is a good chance he would rank much higher on this list or be excluded altogether. One of Canada’s top competitors in the UFC, Laprise will take on Alan Patrick in his next fight. Patrick lost his last fight to Mairbek Taisumov via strikes in the second round and will be looking to come out strong in Australia.
# 6 – Antonio Carlos Junior (6-1-0, NC)
Of all the fighters on this list, Antonio Carlos Junior may have been well on his way to the next level if it were not for the no contest against Kevin Casey. he threw one strike and the fight was ended as Casey could not continue. Prior to that, he beat Eddie Gordon after losing to Patrick Cummins in a dominating decision loss. He is known for his BJJ but his striking seems to be improving with every fight. He was the TUF Brazil winner and should be well on his if he beats Dan Kelly in Australia.
#5 – Nordin Taleb (10-3-0)
Taleb is a Canadian-based French fighter making a splash in the UFC. Despite his bad luck during the TUF Nations reality show, Taleb came out strong in his UFC debut and won three straight fights by decision. He was a major competitor in Bellator and jumped ship to the UFC after going 2-1. In his last fight, Taleb lost to the rising Brazilian Warlley Alves but stood his ground when the fight was standing. He was submitted in the second round but will have a chance to truly prove himself against UFC veteran Erick Silva. They will headline the preliminary card tonight from Las Vegas which should start the off show with a bang.
#4 – Jake Matthews (9-1-0)
Matthews could make a few more appearances on this list in the coming months but the young Australian has proven his ability at just 21 years old. He lost his first career fight against the talented James Vick but came back strong against Akbarh Arreola. The fight was ended via doctor stoppage which took Matthews’ UFC record to 3-1. Despite his age, Matthew is a well-rounded fighter and continues to grow with every fight. He will be around for quite some time and will take on the very talented Johnny Case showcased below.
#3 – Ben Nguyen (15-5-0)
Nguyen has been incredibly impressive in the early parts of his UFC career and is 2-0 in the octagon. He finished both his fights in the first round, one via TKO and his most recent fight by submission. Taking on the improving Justin Scoggins, Nguyen has a good chance to climb the flyweight ladder with Demetrious Johnson destroying everyone in his path. Henry Cejuda is the next man in line but with a win, Nguyen will be just a few wins away from a title shot.
#2 – Johnny Case (22-4-0)
Case edges out Matthews based on experience and overall competition. At just 26 years old, Case has several big fights under his belt which include an impressive submission win over Kazuki Tokudome in his UFC debut. Case was also the Midwest Cage Championships lightweight champion and defended his belt twice. Since then, Case has gone 3-0 as a UFC fighter and will ride his four fight win streak into his bout with Matthews. This should be an absolutely amazing fight and the winner will likely take on a much bigger name in the UFC lightweight division later this year baring any serious injury.
#1 – Chas Skelly (15-1-0)
Quite far from the prototypical prospect, the 30 year old Skelly is only getting started in the UFC. Coming from a strong wrestling base, Skelly has improved dramatically as an all-around MMA fighter and has finished three of his last four fights. After going undefeated on the independent circuit, Skelly went 3-0 in Bellator before joining the UFC. His only career loss came against Mirsad Bektic in his UFC debut but he now holds a 5-1 UFC record and will get his first shot at a ranked fighter in the UFC. While already a fringe prospect, Skelly will surely shed the title with a win over Darren Elkins tonight at UFC 196.