5 of the best fighters of 2024, so far

We are halfway through 2024 and there are already some standout candidates for Fighter of the Year.
Alex Pereira
Alex Pereira / Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The UFC arguably may be the best sports organization in the world right now. It runs a sport that requires the most skill and heart to get to the highest level. Part of what makes the company and the sport great are the athletes who compete. These are some of the most hardworking people ever, as many come from different factions of the world and have different backgrounds as to how they got into MMA. The athlete's hard work and dedication are used in different ways to compete and win at the top.

Some athletes cut an insane amount of weight to compete, at times, it is healthier to compete in a higher, natural weight class. However, some keep themselves disciplined enough with their diet, training, and weight-cutting processes that they manage to make weight every time. Injuries are a common hardship that occurs frequently in the sports world. They can affect careers, seasons, and competitions. This is another part of what makes UFC athletes so great. UFC athletes suffer injuries in camp or during fights but still manage to show up to win fights. Some of the best fighters of 2024, so far, will be discussed as to what makes each one great.

Kayla Harrison
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Kayla Harrison

Kayla Harrison was one of the UFC's hottest new signings of 2024. She is an Olympic gold medalist and world champion in the high-level wrestling skill, judo. Harrison also succeeded in becoming a two-time champion in the MMA organization, PFL. Before coming into the UFC, she had 16 wins, six by knockout and six by submission. Harrison had only one loss, and it was to someone she had beaten two times before. Larissa Pacheco was the only fighter she could not finish, and she took her to a decision twice. Pacheco finally got a decision win in November 2022. Luckily, Harrison bounced back after, as she beat Aspen Ladd by decision a year later.

Everyone was hyped when Harrison finally got signed, as she is very entertaining and skillful. Harrison has it what it takes to be a UFC champion, but there was a challenge standing in her way. Making weight as the highest weight class for women's competition in the UFC was bantamweight. Harrison competed in higher weight classes at featherweight and lightweight in PFL. UFC had featherweight and lightweight classes but only for male fighters. Harrison would have to cut to 135/136 to compete, as that was the limit for bantamweight bouts. She pushed back the concerns as she claimed she walked around 160–165 pounds while also doing test weight cuts beforehand. Everyone would see how accurate she was when she did her weigh in for her UFC debut.

It was announced that Harrison would be facing top-five contender and former bantamweight champion Holly Holm in her UFC debut at UFC 300, one of the biggest cards of the year. Holm warned Harrison beforehand to make weight, or they would not fight, as Holm valued professionalism. The time came for weigh-ins, and nearly every other athlete successfully made weight. Harrison was one of the last athletes left to weigh in, and all eyes were on her. She made weight at 136 and proved herself right. Though making large weight cuts is possible, there can be downsides at times as those cuts can affect durability and cardio. Her next challenge was performing well in her UFC debut. Harrison ended up shining as she rag-dolled and submitted Holm in the second round. Her skilled accomplishments, professional dedication to making a big weight cut, and exciting UFC debut, earning her a top-five ranking, solidified Harrison as one of the year's best athletes.

Islam Makhachev, Dustin Poirier
Islam Makhachev / Luke Hales/GettyImages

Islam Makhachev

Islam Makhachev is a dominant champion in the lightweight division who has been trying to make a name for himself. He is a protégé of the former, dominant lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. Makhachev rose greatly in the MMA scenes when he submitted Charles Oliveira, a skilled finisher at lightweight, to win the lightweight title in Oct 2022. His stock rose up when he had the fight of the year against dominant featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski in Feb 2023. Makhachev edged out a decision and ended the 22-fight winning streak of Volkanovski. He did receive criticism, as many thought the decision should have gone to Volkanovski. Makhachev received a chance to shut everyone up when Oliveira pulled out of a title rematch and Volkanovski stepped in on short notice. He shut everyone up when he shockingly head-kicked Volanovski to knock him out in one round, in Oct 2023.

Makhachev was showing that Dagestan fighters don't have just wrestling but striking too. He showed that he could put on shows while winning dominantly. Makhachev stood out once again as he recently put on one of the best fights of the year as he fought Dustin Poirier. Poirier is a skilled boxer, as it is nearly impossible for him to ever have a boring fight. Going into the fight, it was an obvious fact that Makhachev's main path to victory was wrestling, as Poirier lost title fights by getting submitted by grapplers. Some thought it was either going to be a quick submission or boring wrestling decision, assuming Makhachev would refuse to strike with one of the UFC's best boxers. Makhachev proved people wrong as he literally got the better of striking exchanges at times. The threat of the takedown played a part, but that shows how scary and skilled Makhachev is. Poirier ended up getting submitted in the fifth round after a long, hard battle. What made Makhachev's victory most impressive was him coming into the fight with a staph infection, which can affect cardio and durability in fights. Makhachev got tired but still managed to find victory. Him pushing through injury adversity and building his fight style in entertaining fashion, earned him a spot in being one of 2024's best fighters.

Max Holloway
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Max Holloway

One of the UFC's best boxers and fun fighters is an absolute savage. Max Holloway was a dominant featherweight champion until he was dethroned by Volkanovski in Dec 2019. He lost his immediate rematch by a controversial split decision in July 2020. After outclassing top contenders in Calvin Kattar and Yair Rodriguez, Holloway earned a trilogy match with Volkanovski in July 2022. Volkanovski outclassed him with ease, putting a nail in the coffin of their rivalry. From that fight, it seemed the main narrative was that if Volkanovski did not exist, Holloway would be a dominant champion. Time passed until Holloway returned in 2023 to dispose of more contenders in Arnold Allen and Jung Chan-sung.

Holloway wanted to be champion again but wanted to see how featherweight would play out. Volkanovski was knocked out at lightweight and was set to face a hard hitter in Ilia Topuria, which he ended up losing. Holloway could have easily waited for Topuria to win, but he did not know if he would even win at the time. Holloway got bored and called out Justin Gaethje in a fun fight for fans. Gaethje had just won the BMF belt and was waiting around for a title shot. Makhachev was not active due to many PPV main events being booked already. A fight with Holloway and Gaethje gave both fighters something to do in the meantime. The BMF belt had never been defended before, and this would make it a first.

The BMF title fight eventually got booked for UFC 300. Many people criticized Holloway for taking this risky fight. They said he was undersized for lightweight and that his chin is weaker there, referring to his fight with Poirier in April 2019. Many did not mention the fact that Holloway was short notice for that and would have more time to properly bulk up this time. Holloway was an underdog for this fight, as many thought Gaethje would finally knock him out and permanently damage his career. That changed when Holloway put a striking masterclass on Gaethje and knocked him out cold. That was the best fight of 2024 so far, as was the best knockout. Holloway used everyone's criticism as fuel to earn himself a major career win. He earned himself top contender fights and title shots in either weight class he wanted. Holloway taking risks and winning big as an underdog makes him a top fighter this year.

Diego Lopes
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Diego Lopes

Diego Lopes introduced himself to the world when he stepped in on five days notice against a top 10, undefeated contender in Movsar Evloev in May 2023. This was his UFC debut, and Evloev was favored to put on an easy wrestling masterclass. Evloev won by a wrestling decision, but it was not easy. Lopes cracked Evloev on the feet and threatened him with tough submissions, making that a fight of the night. Though Lopes lost, he showed that he absolutely belongs in the UFC. Lopes went on to get first round finishes over unranked contenders in August and Nov of 2023. He went on to earn himself another shot at the rankings against Sodiq Yusuff at UFC 300. Lopes won by first round knockout, as it was amazing to see his career rise in exactly a whole year.

Lopes received an opportunity to get into the top five rankings when it was announced he and top five contender Brian Ortega were fighting at UFC 303. Conor McGregor, the biggest UFC superstar, pulled out of the main event slot. In addition to a new main event, the UFC wanted a solid co-main event to fill the fire Mcgregor's star power left. The day before the fight, Lopes was asked to weigh in at 155 pounds due to Ortega not being able to make featherweight last minute. Lopes agreed, so it may add to his challenge, of reaching into the top five. On the day of the fight, Ortega ended up catching a fever, leading to him pulling out. Dan Ige heard of the jeopardy and offered to step in at around 165, leading to Lopes being asked to change weight again. Both fighters successfully made the last-minute weight. This was unheard of, in UFC history. Lopes won by competitive decision, as Ige was hard to knock out and submit. Taking risks in short-notice fights and weight changes on some of the biggest UFC stages had led to increased stardom for Lopes this year, making him the second-best fighter of 2024.

Alex Pereira
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Alex Pereira

With Conor McGregor inactive, this can easily be argued to be the UFC's biggest star right now. Alex Pereira has had an incredible rise, going from a two-division kickboxing champion to a two-division MMA champion. Israel Adesanya was an unbeaten champion at middleweight at one point. Pereira was most famous for having two victories over Adesanya, including one knockout. That played a part in the UFC signing him and fast-tracking him to a middleweight title shot. Pereira cut 50 pounds to make middleweight yet made it every time. He was losing to Adesanya on points until he dug deep to get a last-minute stoppage, dethroning the middleweight champion in Nov 2022. Though he lost to Adesanya in the rematch in April 2023, Pereira went on to make a wise career decision to move up to his more natural weight class at light heavyweight. The UFC believed in Pereira enough to fast-track him to another title shot. He became a two-division champion in Nov 2023 when he defeated former champion Jiří Procházka by second-round stoppage.

Pereira was initially targeted to defend against former champion Jamahal Hill at UFC 301, in Brazil. However, UFC 300 was such a major card that needed a main event that the UFC called on Pereira. Other champions were either injured or too boring to headline. Pereira jumped on the opportunity, delivering a spectacular first-round knockout. Afterward, he was ready to fight again, as he had a kickboxing mentality of loving activity. He fought three times in each of the past two years, which implied he wanted to continue that tradition in 2024. Pereira got the opportunity to headline UFC 303, on International Fight Week, when Mcgregor pulled out of the main event. He and Procházka were called for a rematch as both were the most in shape.

Pereira was on a media tour in Australia when he got the call, so this was a career risk for Pereira. In the last fight, Procházka gave Pereira problems as he was winning until the stoppage. That was controversial as some said it was stopped early. Like Makhachev, Pereira got an opportunity to show why he is still the better fighter. In Pereira's case, it is by getting a proper knockout. He fought a perfect fight this time as he outstruck Procházka, dropped him at the first-round end bell, and head-kicked him ten seconds into the second round. Some said this was a late stoppage this time, but regardless, Pereira put a nail in the coffin of that rivalry. This year, Pereira has delivered highlight reel finishes against former champions and has stepped in short notice to save a massive Vegas card, to give people their money's worth. Most of all, he is making the light heavyweight division great again by being active. For four years, the division was not good as champions kept losing and vacating, due to being injured and being inactive. Pereira has defended two times this year and likely may defend a third time. All this makes him earn the title of best fighter of 2024.