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Five UFC Fighters to Watch in 2024

UFC Fighters Watch 2024
2024 is set to be a massive year for the UFC. Here are five fighters that could greatly impact their legacy in the upcoming year. (Jasmin Frank-USA TODAY Sports)

Five UFC Fighters to Watch in 2024

In 2023, several UFC fighters made history while others fell short of their goals. As we look ahead to 2024, let’s discuss a few UFC fighters that could greatly alter their legacy in the upcoming year. 

For the record, this is not predicting which fighter will have the best year. Rather, this is about projecting which fighters will have the best opportunities heading into 2024. Those are two very different things.

Islam Makhachev:

Islam Makhachev has been quickly growing his legacy over the last two years. The lightweight champion won the belt off Charles Oliveira before defending it with two wins over Alexander Volkanovski. In 2024, Makhachev will defend that belt against UFC lightweight competition.

The UFC lightweight division is not running short of deserving contenders. Makhachev is staring down two massive fights against Oliveira and Justin Gaethje; Arman Tsarukyan should be in contention for a title fight as well. Realistically, if Makhachev wants to fight three times in 2024, that is possible. 

From a historical standpoint, the lightweight title has been hard to defend. At the moment, Khabib Nurmagomedov, BJ Penn, Benson Henderson and Frankie Edgar are tied for having the most lightweight title defenses of all time with three. If Makhachev defends the title twice, he will have the record to himself. If that is not enough, Makhachev is tied with Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson for the longest UFC lightweight win streak. A win will break that tie. 

Title defenses, win streaks, and a respected resume are all crucial while building a legacy. In 2024, Makhachev can greatly build in those categories. 

Leon Edwards:

Leon Edwards had a great year in 2023 and is staring down massive opportunities in 2024. 

At UFC 296, Edwards set himself up to make history. The welterweight champion has title wins over Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington, giving him wins over the last generation of welterweights. In 2024, he is lined up to fight Belal Muhammad and Shavkat Rakhmonov, allowing him to begin taking out the next generation. 

Hypothetically, if Edwards can bank wins over Muhammad and Rakhmonov, his legacy will quickly rise. At the end of the year, he could have four title defenses against fighters in two separate generations. That is what cements a champion’s legacy. Let’s see if “Rocky” can pull it off. 

Statistically, if Edwards logs two title defenses in 2024, he will pass Robbie Lawler’s mark of three defenses and tie Woodley’s four defenses. It would also extend his unbeaten streak to 15 fights. 

Sean O’Malley: 

Sean O’Malley became a superstar at UFC 292. Now, it is time for him to build upon his stardom. 

O’Malley has the potential to become one of the biggest stars in the sport. That requires winning fights, and if O’Malley can go get two wins in 2024, his stardom will take leaps forward. 

At UFC 299, O’Malley will headline a stacked event alongside bitter rival Marlon Vera. That bout has a level of importance as Vera is the only fighter to beat him in MMA. The goal for O’Malley will be to rectify the only loss on his record. 

In any year, the bantamweight champion will be a fighter to watch. The division is stacked with talent which makes it hard to conquer for extended periods. That gives O’Malley the chance to build his resume while becoming a superstar. That is worth paying attention to. 

Alexander Volkanovski: 

Alexander Volkanovski has done outstanding work in the featherweight division. All three of his losses have come outside of his natural weight class. In 2024, Volkanokvsi will return to featherweight and look to continue building to legacy. 

It is hard to forecast exactly who Volkanovski will fight in the upcoming year. The only thing we do know is that his year will start at UFC 298 with a fight against Ilia Topuria. If he beats Topuria, Arnold Allen or Mosvar Evloev could be next in line. Regardless of how the division plays out, Volkanovski will likely attempt to remain active. 

As for what has become a theme thus far in the post, Volkanovski has serious historical achievements on the line. Volkanovski sits with five title defenses. If he can log three more, he will tie Jose Aldo for the most in featherweight history while breaking into the top five regardless of weight class. 

Aljamain Sterling:

Outside of current champions, Aljamain Sterling is a fighter that cannot be ignored. This pick has less to do with historical significance and more about intrigue and curiosity. 

Sterling’s move to the featherweight division is all but official. The former UFC bantamweight champion will kick off his 2024 campaign in a new weight class. This is interesting for two reasons. Firstly, who will he fight? Secondly, how does he fare in the division? I have a hard time giving a confident answer to either question. 

Sterling’s 2024 will be highly interesting to watch. If he is successful in a new division, he could improve his legacy, but the intrigue of a new weight class switch makes him worth watching.

***

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