Sean Strickland, 4 other stand-out fighters of 2023

MMA had no shortage of incredible fighters in 2023.

Sep 9, 2023; Sydney, NSW, AUSTRALIA; Israel Adesanya (red gloves) fights Sean Strickland (blue
Sep 9, 2023; Sydney, NSW, AUSTRALIA; Israel Adesanya (red gloves) fights Sean Strickland (blue / Jasmin Frank-USA TODAY Sports
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Islam Makhachev holds tight to lightweight throne

Islam Makhachev benefited from healthy competition. It's one thing to be trained by Khabib Nurmagomedov and receive popularity for it, but his path to the top seemed to be heavily criticized.

No matter how many wins Makhachev ripped off, the Adriano Martins knockout loss followed him everywhere. In MMA, until you fight the big names, fans tend to be fickle with credit. Lucky for Makhachev, Charles Oliveira and Alex Volkanovski were ripe for the picking.

Before the Oliveira and Volkanovski fights, Makhachev still deserves plenty of credit for his record. The win against Arman Tsarukyan is aging like fine wine, and something has to be said for finishing Drew Dober, Thiago Moises, Dan Hooker and Bobby Green consecutively.

If those wins aren't enough, ending 2022 with beating Oliveira was the perfect start to 2023. With limited opponents, Volkanovski tried his luck at lightweight. The first fight was close and had many people believing Volkanovski won. Volkanovski was the undisputed featherweight champion and pound-for-pound number one amongst active fighters. That all changed after their second fight.

While some cling to the fact that it was short notice for Volkanovski, the dominance was eye-opening. Makhachev was a step ahead and was able to deal with any dangerous areas. After their second fight, the doubts were put to rest, and Makhachev passed Jon Jones on the pound-for-pound list for number one.

The amazing part about the UFC lightweight division is the Makhachev and Tsarukyan rematch seems close. Both fighters have improved drastically since their first fight and it's quite obvious that they are the two best lightweights in the world right now. Making this happen should be a priority for the UFC.

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