Who were the top rookies to make their way to the Octagon in the first half of 2023? Read on to find out as the highly unofficial half-year awards season begins…
1 - Gabriel Bonfim
The younger of the Bonfim brothers, 25-year-old welterweight Gabriel has impressed each step of the way during a 14-0 pro career that began in 2014. But the most important wins were the last two, as he submitted current UFC fighter Trey Waters on Dana White’s Contender Series last September, then debuted in his native Brazil with a 49-second submission of Mounir Lazzez in January. Now it’s off to Utah in August for a bout against veteran Trevin Giles.
2 - Ismael Bonfim
A pro since 201, big bro Ismael Bonfim paved the way for Gabriel in the MMA world, but they both arrived in the big show at the same time, with 27-year-old lightweight Ismael making plenty of highlight reels with a flying knee knockout of Terrance McKinney at UFC 283 in January that lifted his record to 19-3 heading into his second UFC bout this Saturday against Benoit Saint Denis.
3 - Ikram Aliskerov
Ikram Aliskerov arrived in the UFC in May with a lot of hype, not surprising, considering that any fighter calling Dagestan home is someone to keep an eye on once they make it to this level. Add in that the only loss of his career was against Khamzat Chimaev in 2019, and there were a few more eyes on the southpaw alum of Dana White’s Contender Series than usual. Then he went and scored a blistering first-round finish of Phil Hawes, justifying all the hype and sending him into a compelling UFC 291 matchup against Paulo Costa in July.
4 - Bo Nickal
It seems like we’ve been talking about Bo Nickal forever, but it wasn’t until 2023 that the decorated wrestler entered the Octagon for the first time, and he didn’t disappoint, as he followed up a pair of first-round finishes on Dana White’s Contender Series with a Performance of the Night submission of Jamie Pickett in March. At UFC 290 on July 8, Nickal returns to face Tresean Gore.
5 - Steve Erceg
Already a top prospect in his native Australia, Steve Erceg took a short-notice assignment against flyweight contender David Dvorak earlier this month and fought like he had been here for years as he scored a unanimous decision win that put him in the top 15 and set up a big second half of the year for “Astroboy.”
OTHERS RECEIVING VOTES – Muhammad Naimov, Jack Jenkins, Rinya Nakamura, Themba Gorimbo, Diego Lopes, Mateusz Rebecki, Brunno Ferreira