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UFC Fight Night: Almeida v Porter

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MMA Fighting’s 2022 Rookie of the Year: Jailton Almeida

Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Three wins and three first-round finishes across two different divisions. That’s an impressive résumé for anybody in the UFC, much less a fighter pulling off that feat in their first three appearances in the promotion.

But that’s exactly what Jailton Almeida accomplished in just seven months’ time. That’s why the 31-year-old Brazilian was ultimately voted the 2022 MMA Fighting Rookie of the Year.

Originally signed to the UFC following a second-round rear-naked choke submission win on Dana White’s Contender Series back in 2021, the 31-year-old Brazilian didn’t make his octagon debut until five months later when he made quick work of Danilo Marques.

It took Almeida less than three minutes to get the job done, dispatching Marques with some vicious ground-and-pound that let the light heavyweight division know a new prospect had arrived. But before the 205-pounders even had a chance to really take notice, Almeida decided to try his hand at heavyweight just to see how he might fare against bigger competition.

Almeida proved that the hype around him was justified after he once again took care of business — this time with a dominant victory over Parker Porter with a first-round rear-naked choke. In almost an identical ending, Almeida did the same thing to Anton Turkalj after securing a takedown just seconds into the opening round and then finishing with another rear-naked choke submission that put him at 3-0 in the promotion.

If not for two separate bouts being scrapped in October and November, Almeida may have very well moved to a perfect 4-0 before 2022 was over. As it stands, he will hope to secure that fourth win in January instead against veteran heavyweight Shamil Abdurakhimov.

To win Rookie of the Year, a fighter has to debut in a major promotion during that particular year. But it’s easy to predict Almeida will shed that prospect label sooner rather than later. In the past, he has compared himself to ex-UFC light heavyweight champion Glover Teixeira, and it’s not crazy to think he could be right when watching him perform in the cage.

With a blinding combination of speed, technique, grappling and knockout power, the Brazilian mauler, who currently rides a 12-fight winning streak overall, will likely start seeing a number next to his name in the very near future. He might even do that in two different divisions.

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2. JACK DELLA MADDALENA

UFC Fight Night: Della Maddalena v Salikhov Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Suffering back-to-back losses in your first two professional fights could send anybody back to the drawing board to contemplate whether combat sports was really the right job. That’s the harsh reality for most fighters.

Whatever you do, don’t count Jack Della Maddalena in that category.

The 26-year-old Australian stumbled badly in those first two pro fights, but it turns out that was exactly the kind of fuel he needed to get better and prove he could be a threat to anybody crazy enough to stand across from him in the cage. After starting his career 0-2, Della Maddalena promptly ripped off nine straight, wins with every single fight ending by way of knockout or submission.

That earned him a shot on Contender Series, where Della Maddalena went to decision for the first time ever. But his savagery against Ange Loosa was still enough to earn him a UFC contract.

In his first fight in the UFC, Della Maddalena showcased his devastating power by dispatching Pete Rodriguez by TKO in the first round at UFC 270. He followed that up with his first of two bonus-winning performances by demolishing Ramazan Emeev and then capped off his year with another jaw-dropping knockout over Danny Roberts.

Nobody has even made it to the four-minute mark yet with Della Maddalena in the UFC.

Of course, the level of competition for Della Maddalena will only get tougher as he continues rising up the ranks in the welterweight division, but don’t be surprised if he keeps adding names to his win column with a chance to eventually become a top-10 fighter before 2023 is over.

3. MUHAMMAD MOKAEV

UFC 280: Mokaev v Gordon Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

There was a time not long ago when it looked as if the UFC was on the verge of dumping the men’s flyweight division, having seemingly released half the roster and traded away the greatest 125-pound fighter in history. Eventually the narrative surrounding the flyweight division started to change, with marquee fights being booked and new talent being added to replace outgoing veterans.

When 22-year-old Russian (by way of England) prospect Muhammad Mokaev got signed, it looked like the UFC may have struck gold for the future of the 125-pound division.

With an undefeated record and just about every pundit on Earth saying he could be the next big thing, Mokaev backed up that praise by blitzing Cody Durden in his UFC debut before wrapping up a guillotine choke at just 58-seconds in the opening round to secure his first win in the promotion. Even with just a single fight on his UFC résumé, Mokaev was already predicting he would become a champion and may even do it in two different divisions.

Life got a little harder on Mokaev in his next two fights, but he still impressed with a unanimous decision win over Charles Johnson and then a late third-round submission finish of Malcolm Gordon at UFC 280 in October.

Still undefeated through 10 fights, Mokaev wants the chance to potentially become the youngest fighter to claim a title in UFC history. He’s got about a year and a half left to turn that fantasy into a reality if Mokaev wants to beat Jon Jones’ all-time record (23 years, 242 days). But even if it takes him until he’s 24 to make that kind of impact, “The Punisher” looks like being one of the best rookies of 2022 will just be the first of many accolades he’ll have on his résumé when it’s all said and done.

4. RAUL ROSAS JR.

UFC 282: Rosas Jr. v Perrin Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

By all accounts, Raul Rosas Jr. should be just a few months away from putting on a tuxedo, renting a limousine, and attending prom in his senior year of high school. Instead, the 18-year-old phenom is celebrating his first UFC win after becoming the youngest fighter to ever sign with the promotion and score a victory inside the octagon.

With only five fights on his record, Rosas appeared to be a couple of years away from landing on the UFC’s radar. But that didn’t stop the matchmakers from recognizing the talent and potential in a kid who turned pro around the same time he was old enough to try for his driver’s license.

Rosas proved that taking a chance on him was well worth the risk after he scored a unanimous decision win over Mando Gutierrez on Contender Series, which then got him signed to the UFC roster. Over the next couple of months, Rosas went from unknown to one of the most talked about fighters in the world, thanks to his unique story and the fact that nobody could quite believe a high-schooler was about to compete among the best fighters in the UFC.

Despite all the pressure and expectations surrounding him, Rosas handled it like a veteran.

He was dynamite on the microphone in the days leading up to his octagon debut, saying all the right things. He never appeared to let any of the attention get to him. Then, he backed up his words with a lightning-quick first-round submission over Jay Perrin as he continued defying the odds in arguably the toughest sport on Earth.

It’s impossible to know what kind of ceiling exists for Rosas now that he’s in the UFC. Sure, fighters around his age have been here before, and many of them have been chewed up and spit back out again. But it really does appear that there’s just something special about Rosas, and that’s why he earned his spot as one of the best rookies of the year.

5. CAIO BORRALHO

UFC Fight Night: Borralho v Petrosyan Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

It’s safe to assume that the Contender Series is going to produce a whole lot of new talent for the UFC in the coming years, but even Caio Borralho couldn’t have predicted what would happen to him after signing with the promotion in late 2021.

The Brazilian defeated future Bellator fighter Aaron Jeffrey to get his contract and then made his official UFC debut in a co-main event — a spot routinely reserved for much more seasoned veterans. Borralho made the most of the opportunity by securing a decision win over Gadzhi Omargadzhiev in April.

Once again, Borralho got the call to serve in the co-headlining spot in his next fight, as he took out a devastating striker in Armen Petrosyan to move to 2-0 in the UFC. He finally found out how the other half lived in his third fight as Borralho moved to the prelims for a win over Makhmud Muradov, but that one still took place on one of the biggest cards of the year at UFC 280 in October.

Borralho has definitely gotten the attention of UFC executives, who saw enough to believe he deserved a marquee spot in his first two fights with the promotion. Now, he has everybody watching as he looks ahead at 2023. Considering the faith in him so far, don’t be surprised of Borralho sees his name in a headlining spot before too long as he looks to build on his 3-0 record in the UFC, showing a new middleweight threat has officially arrived.


Here is how the voting for MMA Fighting’s 2022 Rookie of the Year played out.

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