This past weekend’s UFC Fight Night show saw a number of impressive performances, but perhaps the best came from welterweight prospect Shavkat Rakhmonov, who knocked out Carlston Harris in the opening round.
Rakhmonov undoubtedly has a lot of hype around him following his victory this weekend, so who should he face off with next?
Given his burgeoning reputation, unbeaten MMA record of 15-0 and flashy style, it’s likely that ‘Nomad’ will have no shortage of potential suitors out there.
So with the native of Kazakhstan looking to break into the elite level at welterweight soon, it’s likely that the UFC will offer him a big fight next.
With that in mind, here are three potential opponents for Rakhmonov following his victory last weekend.
#5. Shavkat Rakhmonov vs. Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson
It might be a hugely dangerous fight for a prospect like Shavkat Rakhmonov, but a win over former UFC welterweight title challenger Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson would definitely push ‘Nomad’ into title contention.
One of the greatest strikers in UFC history, Thompson holds wins over fighters such as Johny Hendricks, Vicente Luque, Jorge Masvidal and Geoff Neal. He has been a staple of the promotion for a decade now.
His karate-based striking style has proven to be an impossible puzzle for many fighters to solve. Despite the fact that he turns 39 years old this week, he’s still in phenomenal shape from a physical standpoint.
Sure, ‘Wonderboy’ has struggled in his last two bouts, falling to Belal Muhammad and Gilbert Burns. However, those fighters are largely grappling-based, unlike Rakhmonov, who seems to rely a lot more on his striking.
If ‘Nomad’ could find a way to outstrike Thompson, then the hype around him would immediately go off the charts. However, it is worth noting that Rakhmonov also has seven finishes by submission on his record, meaning that if he needed to, he could perhaps look to stifle ‘Wonderboy’ with his grappling too.
Essentially, there’d be no shame in a prospect like Rakhmonov losing to someone as good as Thompson, meaning this would be a low-risk, high-reward fight for him.
#4. Shavkat Rakhmonov vs. Sean Brady
While there’s a massive amount of hype around Khamzat Chimaev right now, the most proven prospect in the welterweight division is arguably Sean Brady.
The native of Philadelphia is flying under the radar right now, but he’s a remarkably talented fighter who is 15-0 and has already picked up five wins in the UFC. That includes an impressive victory over Michael Chiesa in his last bout.
Brady isn’t a flashy fighter by any means. For the most part, his stoic nature on the microphone has meant that he hasn’t caught on with UFC fans just yet.
However, his stifling grappling style and ability to dominate his opponents on the mat en route to a potential submission have made him a nightmare match for every fighter he’s faced thus far, with nobody finding a way to defeat him.
Would it be a good idea for the UFC to match two prospects like Brady and Shavkat Rakhmonov against one another? It’s debatable. The promotion has done this before, most notably by matching Jon Jones and Ryan Bader against one another in 2011, but whether it’s a good move is questionable.
However, Brady isn’t exactly a star fighter and so the promotion may well decide that the chance of a flashier fighter like Rakhmonov knocking him off might be worth the risk. Either way, this would definitely be a great fight to watch, and the outcome would be a huge question mark.
#3. Shavkat Rakhmonov vs. Muslim Salikhov
If the UFC wants to match Shavkat Rakhmonov with a fighter who is both a beatable opponent and also a fellow flashy striker, thus ensuring a highly exciting bout, they could do much worse than pairing him with Muslim Salikhov.
Currently ranked at No.15 in the welterweight division, Salikhov hasn’t quite lived up to the hype that he entered the UFC with after his viral knockout of Melvin Guillard on the regional scene.
However, after suffering a debut defeat to Alex Garcia, he’s quietly reeled off five wins in a row, including brutal knockouts of Ricky Rainey and Nordine Taleb, and an impressive victory over tough veteran Francisco Trinaldo in his most recent bout.
One of the rare MMA fighters to have a background in Wushu Sanda, Salikhov prefers to stand and strike, usually throwing an array of wild kicks. However, he’s also a solid grappler with decent takedowns and a developing submission game.
Essentially, the native of Dagestan is very much cut from the same cloth as Rakhmonov and so this fight would almost guarantee fireworks. A victory would also break ‘Nomad’ into the top 15 at 170 pounds, meaning that this would be a worthy bout to make.
#2. Shavkat Rakhmonov vs. Li Jingliang
Last October saw Khamzat Chimaev become a genuine contender for the UFC welterweight title by choking out a veteran contender in the form of Li Jingliang. So could Shavkat Rakhmonov follow in the footsteps of ‘Borz’ by doing the same?
It’d definitely be interesting to see him try. Probably the greatest male fighter to enter the UFC from China thus far, Li was outclassed by Chimaev, but he remains one of the welterweight division’s most dangerous fighters.
‘The Leech’ earned his nickname due to his strong takedowns and stifling grappling style. Over the years, he’s also developed a highly dangerous striking game and his last two victories have come by knockout, including an impressive finish of Santiago Ponzinibbio in 2021.
However, it’s fair to say that despite putting together a UFC record of 10-5, Li has often struggled against more explosive fighters, something that was demonstrated again when he lost to Chimaev last year.
Thus far into his UFC career, Shavkat Rakhmonov has certainly proven himself to be a highly explosive fighter who can finish his opponents off in any area, both standing and on the ground, but does he have enough to deal with a tricky foe like ‘The Leech’?
If he could pull the victory off, then ‘Nomad’ would undoubtedly become a genuine contender for the welterweight title overnight. He’d also be following in the footsteps of the hottest prospect in the division in Chimaev.
#1. Shavkat Rakhmonov vs. Robbie Lawler
The UFC has traditionally built their prospects and new stars on the backs of older fighters who are on their way down. In that sense, Robbie Lawler might make the perfect opponent for Shavkat Rakhmonov right now.
‘Ruthless’ is a former UFC welterweight champion and he’s also one of the most accomplished fighters in the history of the division. His brawls with Rory MacDonald, Carlos Condit and Johny Hendricks are part of the promotion’s legend.
However, at the age of 39, Lawler is almost certainly at the tail end of his storied career. The fact that he’s won just two of his last seven fights shows that.
So why would Lawler make a good fight for an up-and-comer like Shavkat Rakhmonov? Firstly, despite his recent troubles, ‘Ruthless’ hasn’t been taking knockouts, only Tyron Woodley was able to stop him with strikes during the past few years.
Secondly, Lawler is coming off a win, his third-round TKO victory over Nick Diaz last September. Thirdly, his name and reputation still hold a lot of respect with the fans, even if it’s clear that he’s in the twilight of his career.
Therefore, if Rakhmonov could find a way to beat Lawler, particularly if he could stop the former champion, then it’d be hard not to see him as the division’s hottest prospect not named Khamzat Chimaev. It’d turn him into an instant star, too.