With over 600 fighters on the UFC roster to start 2021, there are a number of fighters who are going to take a serious step forward this year and emerge as serious contenders. It’s not easy to predict which fighters are ready to take the next step in their careers, but it’s fun to try and guess who the next Khamzat Chimaev could be. Below are my top-10 UFC breakout candidates in 2021, with the only rules being that the fighters on this list cannot be currently ranked in the top-15, and each fighter on the list needs to have less than three fights in the Octagon. Let’s take a look below.
Tom Aspinall (2-0 UFC)
There are quite a few up-and-coming heavyweight prospects in the UFC, but the one I’m the highest on is Tom Aspinall. So far in the UFC since making his promotional debut last summer on Fight Island, he’s picked up two quick knockout wins over Jake Collier and Alan Baudot. Aspinall is next scheduled to take on former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski in February.
Rodolfo Vieira (2-0)
One of the most talented grapplers on the UFC roster, Vieira made his promotional debut in 2019 and has since gone 2-0 in the Octagon with wins over Oskar Piechota and Saparbek Safarov. Vieira has looked incredible during his UFC run so far but he’s had issues with injuries that limited him to just one fight last year. In his next outing, Vieira is set to take on Anthony Hernandez at UFC 258.
Dusko Todorovic (1-0)
Another middleweight prospect I’m very high on is Dusko Todorovic. The Contender Series veteran stopped Dequan Townsend in his UFC debut and now takes on Punahele Soriano in his sophomore Octagon effort. Just 26 years of age and blessed with the ability to finish the fight anywhere it goes, Todorovic looks like he could be someone who makes a run into the top-15 at 185lbs in 2021.
Tafon Nchukwi (1-0)
As a light heavyweight, Tafon Nchukwi made waves when he scored an incredible head kick KO win over Dana White’s Contender Series over Al Matavao last summer. White offered him a contract and Nchukwi decided to drop down to middleweight for his UFC debut, where he picked up a decision win over Jamie Pickett. Nchukwi figures to land a step up in competition in his next bout.
Miguel Baeza (3-0)
At welterweight, one fighter who I think can truly break out in 2021 is Miguel Baeza. He’s already 3-0 in the UFC so far, with a knockout win over Matt Brown being his biggest victory to date. A Contender Series veteran, Baeza appears to have all the tools in his toolbox to make a run for the welterweight top-15. Expect him to get a ranked opponent in his next fight. He deserves it.
Ilia Topuria (2-0)
One of the top featherweight prospects in the sport, Ilia Topuria defeated fellow prospect Youssef Zalal in his promotional debut and then he knocked out Damon Jackson in his sophomore UFC effort. At just 23 years of age, Topuria has time on his side and he has all the time in the world to become a future title contender in the UFC. His next fight has yet to be booked.
Jordan Leavitt (1-0)
I liked what I saw from Jordan Leavitt on the Contender Series and then the lightweight made a huge splash in his UFC debut when he knocked out veteran Matt Wiman with a body slam. Leavitt has a great personality and he appears to have the finishing skills that could help make him a star. After retiring Wiman, look for the UFC matchmakers to give Leavitt a step up in competition.
Jack Shore (2-0)
Only 25 years old, Jack Shore has already defeated Nohelin Hernandez and Aaron Phillips in his first two UFC outings to push his unbeaten MMA record to 13-0. The Wales native Shore is a finishing machine who figures to make a run up the bantamweight ladder in 2021. After winning his first two UFC fights in dominant fashion, Shore figures to draw a more experience opponent next.
Kyler Phillips (2-0)
After a great start to his UFC career in 2020, I think Kyler Phillips can take the next step in 2021. Phillips began the year with a decision win over Gabriel Silva in an incredible fight last February before he returned to the Octagon in October and finished Cameron Else. As long as Phillips is able to stay healthy and get another couple of fights this year, he will be pushing for a top-15 spot at 135.
Cory McKenna (1-0)
This list wouldn’t be complete with a female fighter. Truthfully, I don’t think there are as many breakout candidates in the UFC’s womens division as in the men’s weight classes, but one fighter who I think can break out in 2021 is Cory McKenna. Just 21, the Team Alpha Male product defeated Kay Hansen in her UFC debut and she’ll look to build on that momentum with a big year in 2021.
Who would be on your list of the top-10 UFC breakout candidates of 2021?