The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) gave us a good run for our money in 2022. With 42 events and 511 fights, we had enough to watch and get excited over. The year did not go without some broken bones and knockouts, but they were all savoured by combat aficionados.
While UFC 2022 was exhilarating, we expect even more of an adrenaline rush in 2023. With two champions from different categories, Alexander Volkanovski and Islam Makhachev, facing each other on February 12, 2023, the year already seems promising. Fans are as are keen to watch as the fighters are geared up to hit the ring!
The money part of the games is not left out however, as betting sites have started rolling out betting odds for the 2023 games and individual fighters. While it is not guaranteed who will win, who will take the belt, and who will end up in the hospital, it’s a year we’re all looking forward to. And although nothing is in stone as yet, here are some combatants to watch out for this year based on their previous performances, present ranking and the exhilarating 2023 matchups on the near horizon.
1. Alexander Volkanovski
Eyes are focused on the UFC featherweight champion, Alexander Volkanovski, as he starts 2023 with a historic game, a fight against the lightweight champion, Islam Makhachev.
No one but Alexander’s hunger for greatness pushed him into this risky game. Many people believe it is a risk he shouldn’t have taken but should continue to defend his current belt.
However, Alexander wants a legacy. And winning the fight against Islam will result in nothing short of making history.
2. Islam Makhachev
Islam Makhachev is currently the UFC Lightweight Champion. He finished 2022 with a 2-0 record and a 23-1 record in his thirteen year career. He currently stands at no.17 on the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) rankings.
Islam is set to have an exciting 2023 as his first fight of the year is set between himself and, as mentioned, the featherweight champion, Alexander Volkanovski.
3. Valentina Shevchenko
The only woman on this list, Valentina, is the UFC Women’s Flyweight Champion. With a record of 23-3 in her career, she finished 2022 with a 1-0 against Taila Santos. She is currently no.2 in the MMA rankings.
Although she doesn’t have any fight lined up as yet, she still has the prospect of a great year. Strawweight Champion Weili Zhang has expressed that she wants to move up in 2023, and a match between Zhang and Valentina can’t be ruled out.
Also, Taila Santos is making a case for a rematch after having a close call fight with Valentina last year. With these and many more possible matchups for her, 2023 looks pretty bright for Shevchenko.
4. Kamaru Usman
Usman is ranked no.1 in MMA. Although he lost his 2022 match against Leon Edwards, making him finish the year 0-1, which is the second loss in his 20-2 career, Usman assuredly has an intriguing 2023 ahead.
A kick from Edwards changed his opportunity to win a fight he was almost done with last year to cement himself as the best fighter of the year. He is expected to rematch Edwards in London this March 2023. This will go a long way to defining his career as a success or otherwise, as a loss at this level goes a long way for him.
Unlike other sports, a win in martial arts is not simply a win or a loss; it is the demonstration of one’s strength, resilience and skills. Most martial artists put their lives on the line to win and defend their medals.
With most of the fighters discussed above having had a great 2022, we now definitely expect them to face and conquer new and bigger challenges in 2023. For some, it is about making history, while for others it’s about recovering what was lost. Perhaps for the rest, it’s about breaking stereotypes. Whatever the reason, these fighters are going full bore into the ring this year in 2023, and we look forward to being cageside for the thrills and spills of their fights!