Why this year’s class impresses with poise and potential

The UFC returns to its Apex facility in Las Vegas this weekend with a bantamweight main event between Cory Sandhagen and Song Yadong.

Alongside the headliner, Chidi Njokuani, 33, will make his third UFC appearance against Gregory Rodrigues. Njokuani is far from a beginner in mixed martial arts. He made his professional MMA debut in 2007 and his older brother Anthony was a fixture of the WEC and UFC for many years.

Still, technically, Njokuani (22-7) is a UFC rookie this year – and he’s enjoying a fantastic rookie season. He already has two first-round placements behind him, against Marc-Andre Barriault and Dusko Todorovic. The middleweight division is primed for new blood and if Njokuani can keep winning victories he could soon find himself in a big fight against a title contender.

Besides Njokuani, what other “UFC rookies” are making for a great 2022? Here are five names who have already made waves in their first calendar year with the UFC.


Jailton Almeida, Light Heavyweight/Heavyweight

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Jailton Almeida takes the dominant win at UFC 279 with an assist from Anton Turkalj.

  • UFC Debut: First-round TKO against Danilo Marques on February 5th

  • MMA record: 17-2-0, 6-1 by (T)KO, 11-0 by SUB

  • Record 2022: 3-0

Almeida is a potential problem – in two areas. The 31-year-old lands in a sweet spot between light heavyweight and heavyweight but that could be a good concern as it looks like he could win in both. Almeida is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and has solid wrestling and athletics to accompany his submission skills on the ground. He’s a proven finisher, with most of his career finishes coming in the opening round. Right now he’s saying he’s going to compete in the heavyweight division, but we’ll see. The UFC has two fairly wide-open divisions that are ripe for a freshman to come in and make a statement.


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Muhammad Mokaev hits Charles Johnson with a suplex to remain undefeated in the UFC.

  • UFC Debut: Assist in first round to Cody Durden on March 19

  • MMA record: 8-0, 2-0 by (T)KO, 3-0 by Sub

  • Record 2022: 2-0

If you’re looking for someone who fits the “rookie” definition better, it’s Mokaev. But while this 22-year-old is a rookie with just an 8-0 professional record, it should also be noted that he’s spent his time in the minors. Mokaev’s amateur record is 22-0 and dates back to 2015. A dominant wrestler from Dagestan, the same Russian republic as the Nurmagomedov family, Mokaev set a division record of 12 takedowns in a three-round bout in his second UFC appearance. Mokaev is mature beyond his 22 years and has already said he doesn’t expect to fight for long. But one goal he has set himself is to become the youngest champion in UFC history, an honor currently held by Jon Jones, 23.


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Jack Della Maddalena defeats Pete Rodriguez in his UFC debut with a beautiful left hook at UFC 270.

  • UFC Debut: KO in the first round against Pete Rodriguez on Jan. 22

  • MMA record: 12-2, 10-1 by (T)KO, 1-1 by SUB

  • Record 2022: 2-0

There’s no reason for the UFC to rush Della Maddalena through the welterweight ranks other than that he’s really good and at the age of 26 he might be ready. He represents Perth, Australia, a region that is far less well known in the MMA world than the eastern part of Australia. In this country, Della Maddalena thrives as a standup fighter who is a skilled striker. Since losing the first two fights of his pro career, he is 12-0 with 11 finishes. All but one of those finishes came by knockout. The only win of his career to go the distance was against another UFC 2022 rookie, Ange Loosa, in a Contender Series fight last year. Della Maddalena has confidence, power and as much momentum as you can ride by the end of 2022.


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Michael Morales delivers a powerful punch to Adam Fugitt in the third round to knock him to the canvas and earn the TKO victory.

  • UFC Debut: KO in the first round against Trevin Giles on January 22nd

  • MMA record: 14-0, 11-0 by (T)KO, 1-0 by Sub

  • Record 2022: 2-0

Morales is a 23-year-old Ecuadorian prospect fighting in Tijuana, Mexico. It’s not as polished as some of the other names on this list, but the UFC may have found a hidden gem here. He got a contract as a contestant in Dana White’s Contender Series in 2021 as a fairly significant underdog against Nikolay Veretennikov of Kazakhstan. He showed his punching power in a quick finish against Giles before showing his determination and endurance in a back-and-forth match against late successor Adam Fugitt in July. Don’t mistake Morales for a finished product, but he has a lot of untapped potential. A lot.


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Andre Fialho manages to land a left hand that Cameron VanCamp drops to secure the KO win.

  • UFC Debut: Unanimous decision defeat to Michel Pereira on January 22nd

  • MMA record: 16-5, 13-3 by (T)KO, 1-0 by SUB

  • Record 2022: 2-2

Fialho’s .500 record this year doesn’t jump off the page, but let’s put it in context. He briefly debuted against a top 15 talent in Pereira. He then went on to pick up back-to-back KOs in the first round against high-profile opponents in Miguel Baeza and Cameron VanCamp. He’s coming off a TKO loss to Jake Matthews in a fight that may have been ill-advised. Staying active is one thing, but the Matthews fight was Fialho’s fourth in six months – and it was the second fight he’s fought in 35 days. Whether or not exhaustion affected that result, 28-year-old Fialho was thrown To the right into the mix at 170 pounds. He is experienced, versatile and has finishing skills. And obviously he loves to fight frequently.

https://www.espn.com/mma/story/_/id/34598418/2022-ufc-rookies-why-year-class-impresses-poise-potential Why this year’s class impresses with poise and potential

Emma Bowman

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