Five UFC fighters who could explode in the final months of 2021

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May 12, 2018; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Mackenzie Dern reacts after defeating Amanda Cooper (not seen)​​​ during UFC 224 at Jeunesse Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

The Ultimate Fighting Championship has a wide array of talents who have what it takes to rise to the upper echelon become the next Conor McGregor or Ronda Rousey. So who has the ingredients to become the promotion’s next big thing as we get closer to 2022? Here are five fighters that could soon make the switch into the superstar stratosphere.

Five UFC fighters with breakout star potential

Joaquin Buckley (13-4)

Last October the Missouri middleweight delivered one of the most mind-blowing knockouts in UFC history. A gravity-defying spinning back kick finish of Impa Kasanganay that has to be seen to be believed.

Since then, Joaquin Buckley has fought three more times. In two of those bouts, he delivered another pair of memorable knockouts, each of which earned “Performance of the Night” bonuses. But he also slipped up and got caught while he was headhunting in January against Alessio Di Chirico and was on the wrong end of a highlight-reel knockout.

Having 10 KOs in 13 career wins is the stuff that makes up a human highlight machine, and easy placement on this list.

Mackenzie Dern (11-1)

May 30, 2020; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Mackenzie Dern (red gloves) celebrates after her submission victory over Hannah Cifers (blue gloves) in their strawweight fight during UFC Fight Night. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa via USA TODAY Sports

Young, confident, supremely skilled, and good-looking, Mackenzie Dern is basically a fight promoter’s dream.

The Los Angeles resident is Brazilian a jiu-jitsu prodigy who won a pair of BJJ world championship gold medals by the time she turned 21.
Dern’s path since entering MMA has been interesting. Her submission game was top-notch from the jump, as she’s snatched up limbs and earned seven submission victories — four of those in the UFC.

However, she has had some issues with the scales during her time in the sport. She also took a step away from competition to have her first baby and lost 18 months of development time. She suffered her only career loss in her return fight, but since then Dern has won four straight and looks like a more complete fighter every time she steps into the Octagon. And her issues making weight seem well in her rear-view mirror.

Dern competes in one of the deepest division’s on the roster at strawweight, and her Oct. 9 bout against Marina Rodriguez will be a tough challenge, but if she were to win a fifth straight and over a highly ranked opponent, Dern could be in the running for a strawweight title fight sooner than later.

Islam Makhachev (20-1)

Khabib Nurmagemodov has retired, but his student and former training partner Islam Makhachev has picked up where the undefeated former UFC lightweight champion left off. The 29-year-old Dagestani uses the same style as Nurmagomedov (think an angry mama bear mauling someone who got too close to her cubs) as he suffocates them with his grappling, then softens them up with striking when they tire.

Makhachev has won eight consecutive fights dating back to 2016, with the past two being finishes. The only thing that has kept him from breaking through with the masses yet is his winning nearly half of his fights by decision and the lack of a marquee victory. He will have a chance at that big name win next month when he faces former division champion Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 267.

Sean O’Malley (14-1)

The UFC clearly thinks Sean O’Malley is the next big thing in the division. The Helena, Montana, native has benefited both from favorable matchmaking and showcase spots on major events. Fortunately for the 26-year-old, he’s upheld his end of the bargain for the most part by winning six of his seven Octagon appearances.

O’Malley has some of the flashiest striking you’ll see, and during his run, he’s picked up three “Performance of the Night” bonuses and a pair of “Fight of the Night” checks as well.

O’Malley is going to have to prove his mettle by upping the caliber of his competition soon, and he didn’t help himself in that regard when he turned down a fight with former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar for UFC 268 at Madison Square Garden.

Bryce Mitchell (14-0)

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Dec 7, 2019; Washington, DC, USA; Bryce Mitchell (red gloves) after his win against Matt Sayles (not pictured) during UFC Fight Night at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

This is mixed martial arts, and mixed martial artists have a particular knack for creating headlines out of the cage for the most absurd reasons. With that in mind, featherweight Bryce Mitchell is still best known for making news after accidentally tearing his scrotum with a power drill.

He’s just as nuts (pun intended) in the Octagon, employing a wild grappling style that has made his fights worth seeking out. The Arkansas native has won all four of his UFC bouts to date, and in his past two, he handily dispatched of a pair of mid-level divisional gatekeepers in Andre Fili and Charles Rosa.

A matchup with popular brawler Dan Ige has been rumored for a while now, and a strong performance there could be what vaults him into the division’s top tier.

–Field Level Media

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