Five UFC Fighters to Watch in 2023
In 2022, the UFC saw a handful of fighters etch their name into the MMA history books, while others came up just short of that goal. As we prepare for 2023, there is a new crop of UFC fighters to watch as the upcoming calendar year will greatly impact their legacies.
Here are five UFC fighters to watch in 2023.
1. Jon Jones
The return of Jones is nearly here. He has not fought since 2020 when he defended the light heavyweight title against Dominick Reyes — which feels like forever ago.
In 2023, Jones is expected to make his heavyweight debut. That in itself is enough to make him a fighter to watch.
The idea of Jones at heavyweight is incredibly compelling. How does he fair against bigger fighters? Does he become a two-division champion? There is a lot going on that makes 2023 a crucial year for Jones.
More importantly, Jones could end the MMA GOAT conversation in 2023. Right now, the race largely comes down to Jones and Georges St-Pierre. Sure, there are other answers to the GOAT question, but those are the most common.
The thing is, Jones could be one win away from passing St-Pierre. At the moment, both fighters have a few accomplishments that can be pointed to when making the argument for greatest of all time. On the side of St-Pierre, he has the advantage of being a two-division champion. Jones can erase that advantage in 2023, which is probably enough to elevate Jones to undisputed GOAT status despite his litany of flaws.
Jones’ heavyweight experiment and chase for the mountaintop is a generational occurrence. It is impossible not to be enthralled with Jones’ potential to make history in 2023.
2. Aljamain Sterling
Sterling has had mixed luck in his MMA career. He got hit with an illegal knee to win the belt against Petr Yan, had to make time off due to injuries, won a close split decision in a rematch against Yan, and beat an injured TJ Dillashaw in his second defense. This laundry list of strange events has resulted in a growing dislike of Sterling from fans.
Despite not being in the best spot right now, Sterling is looking down the barrel at one great opportunity. The current state of the bantamweight division has two fighters looking to challenge Sterling for the bantamweight title: Sean O’Malley and Henry Cejudo.
O’Malley and Cejudo each provide value to Sterling if he is able to defeat them. O’Malley brings popularity while Cejudo brings legacy. If Sterling goes 2-0 in 2023 with wins over O’Malley and Cejudo, he will be looking at a career-defining year.
Only time will tell how the future plays out, but Sterling will have a chance to have a special year in 2023. If he pulls it off he will be one of the hottest UFC fighters at the end of the year.
3. Khamzat Chimaev
Khamzat Chimaev is another fighter that could take a step forward. Thus far into his UFC career, he has been almost perfect. The only fighter to challenge him in the UFC octagon was Gilbert Burns and he still managed to walk away with a victory.
I am interested to see who Chimaev will fight in 2023, as he could fight at welterweight or middleweight. Regardless, Chimaev is likely going to be looking at a fight with a top contender. If he wins that, he will be looking at a title fight.
Chimaev is already one of the most popular fighters in the UFC. If he is able to become a champion, he could extend to superstar status. It will be interesting to watch and see if Chimaev is able to maximize his potential.
4. Bo Nickal
Legendary NCAA wrestler Bo Nickal is set to make his UFC debut in 2023. How can you not be pumped? The UFC has not seen a wrestler with a resume like Nickal’s enter the UFC in a long time. Everyone’s eyes should be on Nickal in 2023.
Nickal showed he is legit on Dana White’s Contender Series. Now, it is time to see if that translates against entry-level UFC competition. I expect it will.
Regardless, Nickal will be an interesting fighter to watch in 2023. It does not matter if he is running through opponents or if he getting into wars, either way, it will be entertaining.
5. Michael Chandler
Chandler has reached an awesome point in his career that few fighters are able to reach. I do not care who he fights, and I do not care if he is fighting for the title, all I know is that Chandler is going to put on a show for the fans. The UFC could book Chandler against any fighter in the UFC, and I will be watching.
With that being said, I am predicting an entertaining year for Chandler. In all reality, I only expect him to fight once — if we see him twice, we will be lucky.
There is a strong chance that Chandler will be on the shortlist for fight of the year at the end of 2023. Once again, I do not care who he fights, Conor McGregor sounds nice, maybe a Justin Gaethje rematch, or if you want to get crazy Eddie Alvarez could make a UFC return to fight Chandler. Every single one of those bouts would produce fireworks.