Who Will Be The Top UFC Fighters In 2023?
It’s a brand-new year for mixed martial arts here at Bodog Sportsbook. We’re looking forward to some great fights on the horizon, with the Ultimate Fighting Championship dominating the headlines and the MMA odds board as usual. But who will be the top UFC fighters in 2023? At this time 12 months ago, the UFC spotlight shone brightly on Israel Adesanya and Kamaru Usman; it seemed like their respective reigns atop the Middleweight and Welterweight divisions would extend through 2022 and beyond.
That’s not how things worked out. Anything can happen inside the Octagon, and 2023 undoubtedly has its fair share of surprises in store. But when we decided here at Bodog to put together our top five list of which UFC fighters would enjoy the most success in the new year, two familiar names rose directly to the top.
1. Israel Adesanya
There’s no such thing as a perfect fighter, but “The Last Stylebender” comes close. Adesanya (23-2 lifetime, 12-2 UFC) is a decorated boxer and kickboxer, earning titles in both disciplines before signing with the UFC in 2017. Combine his exquisite striking with his intelligence and the ongoing development of his grappling skills, and you get a fighter who can beat you in every facet of the game.
Unless you happen to be Alex Pereira. A two-time winner over Adesanya in kickboxing, Pereira swept their “trilogy” with a fifth-round TKO at UFC 281, claiming the UFC Middleweight title and cashing in at +185 on Bodog’s UFC odds board at the close.
Pereira may have had some betting value at that price, but he was somewhat fortunate to walk away with the title after appearing to lose three of the first four rounds. Adesanya has reportedly been told he’ll get his rematch, which should take place “before the summer,” after the former champion takes some time to reflect on his loss and plan his comeback. It would take a brave punter to back against Adesanya being one of the top UFC fighters in 2023 and beyond.
2. Kamaru Usman
Usman (20-2 lifetime, 15-1 UFC) is like a 170-pound version of Adesanya, except he was a Division II wrestling champion before switching to MMA and working on his striking. As we go to press, Usman sits at No. 4 on the UFC pound-for-pound rankings, two spots ahead of Adesanya despite neither man holding a title.
It was yet another fifth-round stoppage that did Usman in. Leon Edwards was a +300 underdog at UFC 278, and likely down three rounds to one when he hit Usman with a surprise left high kick, instantly knocking him out with less than one minute remaining in the fight.
These two men are reportedly pencilled in for the main event of UFC 286, taking place Saturday, March 18 at the O2 Arena in London. This fight isn’t official yet at press time, and Usman was recently seen with a brace on his left hand, but if he’s healthy, Usman should be the favourite to regain his belt – and it might be a while before he gives it up again.
3. Islam Makhachev
You could make a fair argument that Makhachev (24-1 lifetime, 13-1 UFC) belongs at the top of this list. He’s been talked about as the heir apparent to Khabib Nurmagomedov, claiming the vacant Lightweight title at UFC 280 with a second-round submission over former champion Charles Oliveira (+140). That’s 11 wins in a row for Makhachev.
Chances are he’ll make it 12 when he faces reigning Featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski in the main event of UFC 284, which will touch down Saturday, February 11 at RAC Arena in Perth, Australia. Odds for this prospective fight are available on Bodog’s UFC futures market, where Makhachev is the –360 favourite at press time; this wager stands as long as he and Volkanovski (+270) meet before the year is up.
Volkanovski is the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter on the UFC rankings, with Makhachev nowhere to be seen in the top 15, but the move up in weight from 145 pounds will be challenging – even if Volkanovski is a former Lightweight champion on the indie circuit.
4. Khamzat Chimaev
If Usman is the smaller version of Adesanya, then you can say the same thing about Makhachev as the “Pocket Rocket” to Chimaev (12-0 lifetime, 6-0 UFC), a rising star in the Middleweight division who has also been compared to Nurmagomedov.
The key difference here is that Chimaev is still working his way up the ladder. He’s listed at No. 3 on the UFC Welterweight rankings, but Chimaev failed to make 170 pounds for his scheduled main event fight with Nate Diaz at UFC 279. Will he try again at Welterweight, or will he stick with his more natural weight class at 185 pounds?
Either way, Chimaev will eventually have to face the likes of Adesanya and/or Usman for the title. But for now, he has every chance of clearing whichever path is put in front of him; for example, Chimaev is available at –200 for a prospective Welterweight bout versus Colby Covington (+160), which has been in the works for some time.
5. Amanda Nunes
Truly, no fighter has dominated their division more than Nunes (22-5 lifetime, 15-2 UFC), who has held the Women’s Featherweight title since 2018. The problem is her competition – there basically is none at 145 pounds. This division was ostensibly created in 2017 for Cris Cyborg, who was jacked up way too big for Bantamweight. Once Nunes dethroned Cyborg, who would eventually leave for Bellator, there were no serious contenders left to challenge her.
Good thing Nunes is also the Bantamweight champion. She regained the belt from Julianna Pena at UFC 277 after suffering her first loss at any weight in nearly seven years. We’re not saying Nunes will hold onto this belt until 2030 rolls around – she’s 34 now – but unless Flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko decides to challenge her again, Nunes stands alone above both her divisions as 2023 marches on.
So there you have it. Bodog’s five top UFC fighters in 2023. Do you agree? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter.