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The Newcomers | 2023 UFC.com Awards

Our Writers Vote On Who Made The Biggest Splash In Their Debut Year

Who were the top rookies to make their way to the Octagon in 2023? Read on to find out as the highly unofficial awards season begins…

1 - Diego Lopes

Twenty-six fights into his pro career, Brazil’s Diego Lopes had entered that no man’s land no one wants to be in. Sure, he hadn’t reached his 30th birthday yet, but he had lost on Dana White’s Contender Series and hadn’t put together the type of win streak against top-level competition that would get him a call to the big show. Then came the call for him to make his UFC debut on short notice against unbeaten Movsar Evloev in May. Lopes lost that night, but made quite the impression as he picked up a Fight of the Night bonus for his efforts. Then he finished Gavin Tucker and Pat Sabatini, each in under two minutes, and not only is Lopes the clear winner as UFC Newcomer of the Year, but he’s on the fast track to big things in 2024.

2 - Bo Nickal

Bo Nickal, Part 1 | Dana White’s Contender Series: Next Level
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Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

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Bo Nickal, Part 1 | Dana White’s Contender Series: Next Level
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For most fighters, living up to the kind of hype Bo Nickal received in 2022 would be overwhelming. Nickal wasn’t bothered in the least, and once he entered the Octagon in 2023 after two wins on Dana White’s Contender Series the previous year, he cemented himself as a legit prospect with championship potential in making short work of Jamie Pickett and Val Woodburn. As for 2024, it should be an interesting one.

UFC 296 REWIND: The Scorecard | Photo Gallery

3 - Ikram Aliskerov

The resume of Ikram Aliskerov should have let UFC fans know that he was coming, but even after wins over Octagon vets Denis Tiuliulin and Nah-Shon Burrell and a submission victory on the Contender Series, the Russian still snuck up on some folks with a knockout of Phil Hawes in his UFC debut in May. But by October, a Performance of the Night finish of Warlley Alves made it clear that in 2024, the middleweight division will be on high alert for the 31-year-old finisher.

MORE 2023 AWARDS: The Upsets | The Submissions

4 - Elves Brener

Elves Brener Pulls Off The Knockout Upset | UFC Fight Night: Strickland vs Magomedov
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Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

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Elves Brener Pulls Off The Knockout Upset | UFC Fight Night: Strickland vs Magomedov
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Entering the UFC as an under-the-radar talent, Brazil’s Elves Brener proved he belonged with a split decision win over veteran Zubaira Tukhugov in February, then lowered the boom on his next two foes, stopping Guram Kutateladze and Kaynan Kruschewsky to end the year as someone now firmly on the radar in the lightweight division.

VIDEO: Sean Strickland & Dricus Du Plessis Get Into Fight In Crowd At UFC 296

5 - Steve Erceg

It took a while for Australia’s Steve Erceg to finally make his way to the UFC Octagon, but the wait was worth it for “AstroBoy,” who defeated David Dvorak and Alessandro Costa to enter the flyweight rankings and put himself on the verge of the Top 10 entering 2024.

6 - Luana Santos

Luana Santos of Brazil punches Juliana Miller in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on August 12, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Al Powers/Zuffa LLC)
Luana Santos of Brazil punches Juliana Miller in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on August 12, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Al Powers/Zuffa LLC)

Owner of a 3-0 record in 2023, Brazil’s Santos started her year in the LFA but finished with a pair of UFC wins over Juliana Miller and Stephanie Egger.

7 - Nazim Sadykhov

“The Black Wolf” earned his UFC contract in 2022 and broke it in this year with a busy three-fight schedule that saw him stop Evan Elder in a Fight of the Night scrap, upset Terrance McKinney via submission, then go to a hard-fought draw against Viacheslav Borshchev.

8 - The Bonfim Brothers

Gabriel Bonfim of Brazil poses for a portrait backstage with his te during the UFC 291 event at Delta Center on July 29, 2023 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Ismael & Gabriel Bonfim, July 29, 2023 (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)

Members of the Class of 2022 from Dana White’s Contender Series, older brother Ismael Bonfim went 1-1 in his first year in the UFC, defeating Terrance McKinney and losing to Benoit Saint Denis. Younger brother Gabriel made the walk three times with wins over Mounir Lazzez and Trevin Giles before a year-ending loss to Nicolas Dalby.

9 - Jeka Saragih

Jeka Saragih of Indonesia reacts after his knockout victory against Lucas Alexander of Brazil in a featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on November 18, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Jeka Saragih of Indonesia reacts after his knockout victory against Lucas Alexander of Brazil in a featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on November 18, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Despite losing to Anshul Jubli in the lightweight final of the Road to UFC tournament in February, Indonesia’s Jeka Saragih got a call back to the Octagon in November and made the most of it at featherweight with a Performance of the Night knockout of Lucas Alexander.

Dana White's UFC 296 Post-Fight Press Conference

10 - Rinya Nakamura

A decorated freestyle wrestler, Japan’s Rinya Nakamura has been on “top prospect” lists for a while now, and following a Performance of the Night knockout of countryman Toshiomi Kazama that earned him the Road to UFC bantamweight tournament crown in just 33 seconds, he added a decision victory over Fernie Garcia that improved his perfect record to 8-0.

Voters – Aziz Bawany, Thomas Gerbasi, E. Spencer Kyte, Steve Latrell, Gavin Porter, Zac Pacleb