It’s difficult for any fighter, no matter how talented they are, to reach the top of the UFC. Even if a fighter’s capable, they may not be able to secure the fights they need to get there.
Right now, there are a number of fighters in the UFC who seem to have the potential to reach the top of the mountain, but if they’re to do this, they need a big step up in competition in their next fight.
Whether these fighters can get past that next step up is another thing entirely, but it’s definitely fair to say that they’ve more than earned the opportunity to go for it.
Here are five current UFC fighters who need a step up the ladder in their next trip to the octagon.
#5. Jailton Almeida – UFC light heavyweight contender
Brazilian prospect Jailton Almeida might only be two fights into his career with the UFC, but from what we’ve seen of him thus far, he’s definitely got the tools to reach the top of the mountain, and needs a step up the next time he fights.
‘Malhadinho’ debuted in the octagon in February and easily dispatched Danilo Marques via TKO in a light heavyweight bout, but his second fight – which took place this past weekend – saw him step up to heavyweight and dominate Parker Porter en route to a first-round submission win.
Interestingly enough, the suggestion has been that Almeida was forced to fight Porter at heavyweight as he couldn’t find an opponent at 205lbs, which gives some kind of indication how dangerous he’s considered by his fellow fighters.
So where does the Brazilian go from here? Prior to his fight with Porter, he suggested that he’s capable of competing at both 205lbs and as a heavyweight, and that the path to the title was perhaps “easier” in the latter weight class.
However, given that he came into that fight at just 227lbs, there’s probably an argument for him to go back down to light heavyweight for his next visit to the octagon.
Either way, ‘Malhadinho’ appears to be highly skilled both standing and on the ground. He’s in phenomenal shape and has yet to show any weaknesses. He’s got everything he needs to break into the rankings soon – and so it’s time to give him a step up.
#4. Jack Shore – UFC bantamweight contender
Welsh bantamweight Jack Shore is a fascinating case in that he’s currently ranked No.14 in the UFC’s 135lbs division, and yet he hasn’t really fought anyone notable yet. So how did he ascend as highly as he has done thus far?
Looking at his record, it’s easy to see. Despite competing in one of the most stacked weight classes in MMA, ‘Tank’ is 16-0, and has already reeled off five straight victories in the UFC, with his most recent coming in London this past March.
A highly skilled and technical competitor, Shore is capable of outclassing his opponents in any facet of the game, be it on the ground or on the feet, but his penchant for going the distance in the octagon thus far – three of his wins there have come via decision – may be responsible for keeping him below the radar.
However, any fighter who can win five straight fights in the world’s biggest MMA promotion should be considered a very legitimate threat to the title in their weight class, and Shore is no exception.
Thankfully, the number before his name should now mean that he gets the step up he needs next time out. He is reportedly set to lock horns with No.12-ranked Ricky Simon later this year, and while Simon is a decent step up, a clash with someone like Rob Font or Frankie Edgar would make more sense for him down the line.
#3. Alexander Romanov – UFC heavyweight contender
When Alexander Romanov debuted in the UFC back in September 2020, he looked like a classic case of a shorter, heavily muscled heavyweight who’d been able to bully his way to wins on the smaller circuit, and would likely struggle in the big leagues.
However, that hasn’t been the case for ‘King Kong’ at all. Instead, the Moldovan wrestler has used his brute power to run through five straight opponents in the octagon thus far, most recently dispatching Chase Sherman via submission after just two minutes.
It’s true that despite weighing around 260lbs, Romanov isn’t the biggest man on the heavyweight roster – he’s just 6’2” tall – but thus far at least, he’s made that low centre of gravity work for him by using it to set up his big takedowns.
What ‘King Kong’ now needs is a step up in competition. It’s probably arguable that Sherman – or Marcos Rogerio De Lima – is his biggest win thus far, and neither man would be considered a title contender.
The Moldovan is now 5-0 in the UFC and deserves a shot at stepping up against an elite fighter next time around, so hopefully the UFC can give him a bout with someone like Marcin Tybura or Derrick Lewis in the near future and allow him to try to prove his worth.
#2. Chidi Njokuani – UFC middleweight contender
It’s probably safe to say that few newcomers to the UFC in recent years have made the impact that Chidi Njokuani made in 2022. Not only did ‘Chidi Bang Bang’ take out his first opponent in just 16 seconds, but he then followed that up this past weekend with one of the best knockouts of the year, a brutal elbow that switched the lights of Dusko Todorovic off in an instant.
However, Njokuani is no MMA neophyte. The younger brother of former UFC fighter Anthony, he’s actually been around the game for a long time. His professional debut came back in 2007, and he had a notable run in Bellator from 2015 to 2019, going 5-3 there.
Add in the fact that he’s already 33 years old, and the fact is that his window of opportunity to make it to the top of the UFC probably won’t last all that long.
With that considered, then surely it’s worth giving him a step up in his next fight. Nobody would mistake Todorovic or Marc-Andre Barriault as genuine contenders for the middleweight title, but based on what he did to them, Njokuani is on a different level.
Therefore, why not give him a fight against someone like Brad Tavares, Kelvin Gastelum or Jack Hermansson? After all, the middleweight division could do with some fresher contenders, and while it may be jumping the gun, a fight between ‘Chidi Bang Bang’ and Israel Adesanya already sounds like fun.
#1. Michel Pereira – UFC welterweight contender
While Michel Pereira’s UFC debut was probably up there with the flashiest of all time – he needed just under two minutes to dispatch Danny Roberts via flying knee – the efforts he produced just after suggested that he’d be a fighter who would flatter to deceive.
‘Demolidor’ completely gassed out in his loss to Tristan Connelly, seemingly more focused on throwing wild offense like backflips than actually fighting, and he didn’t look too hot in his disqualification loss to veteran Diego Sanchez, either.
Since then, though, Pereira has changed things up entirely, and it’s clearly working for him. Largely eschewing much of his flashy offense, ‘Demolidor’ has instead focused on the basics, and he’s been able to use his timing, athleticism, slick striking and underrated grappling to reel off five wins in a row now.
Given that his most recent win came over a ranked fighter in Santiago Ponzinibbio, it’s highly likely that the Brazilian will wind up somewhere in the top fifteen at welterweight in the near future. That should guarantee him a big fight next time out, but he might also find it hard to pin down an elite opponent.
That’s where the UFC ought to step in, though, and force someone’s hand. ‘Demolidor’ has everything needed to make the climb to the top, and his athleticism should make it hard for anyone to handle. It’s time to give him a chance and see if he can take it.