ufc bantamweights, Merab Dvalishvili, Montel Jackson, Nathaniel Wood

UFC Bantamweights on the Rise

The UFC Bantamweight division is more thrilling than ever with the rise of diverse talent, former champions and up and coming prospects.  There are many exciting fighters who call the division home including Petr Yan, Aljamain Sterling, Jose Aldo and of course current champion Henry Cejudo.  In this article, we’ll breakdown some of the most notable UFC Bantamweights on the rise and their quest to land into the top 15 in 2020 and beyond!

Montel Jackson:

Montel Jackson made a huge statement on Dana White’s Contender Series 9 back in 2018 where he knocked out Rico DiSciullo with an impressive knee and flurry of punches.  The 27-year-old Jackson has fought at numerous weight classes throughout his career including featherweight and lightweight.  After trying out three different weight classes in his first three professional bouts, Jackson decided to make bantamweight his home where he compiled a 5-0 record before participating on Dana White’s Contender Series.  His impressive performance on the show landed him a promotional debut against Ricky Simon where he replaced Benito Lopez on 11 days’ notice.  Although Jackson lost the fight via unanimous decision, this was not the end for Wisconsin native who was eager to prove he belonged in the UFC.

Jackson wanted to show the UFC and fans alike what he could accomplish if given ample time to prepare for a bout.  This came to fruition at UFC 227 when he submitted Brian Kelleher in spectacular fashion and forced a tap at 1:40 of the first round.  Jackson followed up his first UFC win with two even more impressive wins against Andre Soukhamthath and Felipe Colares.  He dominated both opponents from start to finish using his crisp striking, daunting pace and excellent control of the distance.  Jackson is a long and tall bantamweight who stands 5’10 and boasts a 75.5 reach.  Some of his most effective weapons include his accurate straight left, thunderous lead hook and powerful hammer fists after he is able to drop his opponents with powerful punches and kicks.  Jackson heads into the remainder of 2020 as a 3-1 UFC bantamweight with every intent to climb the rankings and show fans he is one of the top bantamweights in the world.

Merab Dvalishvili:

It’s hard to think of a more fitting nickname than “The Machine” for Merab Dvalishvili.  Known for his exhausting pace and everlasting pressure, Dvalishvili has quickly established himself as one of the top bantamweight prospects to keep an eye on in 2020.  The Georgian native compiled a 7-2 professional record prior to getting the call to the big stage.  Merab had a frustrating start to his UFC career which saw him drop a split decision to Frankie Saenz and a questionable guillotine choke submission loss to Ricky Simon at 5:00 of the third round.  Undeterred and constantly growing under the tutelage of Ray Longo and Matt Sera, Dvalishvili bounced back in September of 2018 with a dominant 30-25 unanimous decision victory over Terrion Ware and was ready to take the division by storm.

Merab followed up his UFC win with an equally impressive performance in May of 2019.  He was matched with fellow up and coming bantamweight Brad Katona in a battle to determine who was ready for the next step up in competition.  Unsurprisingly, Merab used his exceptional gas tank and infamous pace to outwork Katona for three straight rounds earning a 30-27 unanimous decision victory.  His toughest test came to fruition in 2020 where he was tasked with facing yet another bantamweight prospect in Casey Kenney.  Kenney was riding a six-fight win streak and had compiled an impressive 13-1-1 professional record.  The first round was closely contested with Kenney being able to land effective two and three punch combinations while Merab pressed forward and landed a powerful slam in the back half of the round.  Merab took control of rounds two and three using his stellar ground game to secure a total of 12 takedowns throughout the fight and winning his third unanimous decision in a row. Currently, the rising bantamweight is averaging 3.84 significant strikes per minute and an eye opening 7.80 takedown average per 15 minutes.  Merab looks to extend his dominant win streak as he further cements himself as a top bantamweight for years to come.

Nathaniel Wood:

Its not everyday where a UFC newcomer starts his promotional career with three submission wins in a row.  That’s precisely what Nathaniel Wood did after joining the UFC in 2018.  Wood compiled a 13-3 record outside the UFC and was extremely successful throughout his Cage Warriors career.  The UK native captured the Cage Warriors Bantamweight Championship before defending the belt twice.  What is even more impressive is that he did so spending no more than 10 minutes total inside the Octagon!  After an impressive run in Cage Warriors, Wood was signed to the UFC where he made his debut against Johnny Eduardo and won the fight via D’Arce choke in the second round.  Wood followed up these performances with two more submissions victories at the expense of Andre Ewell and Jose Alberto Quinonez officially putting his fellow bantamweight and fans alike on notice.

After a 3-0 start and establishing himself as a top bantamweight prospect to watch going into 2020, Wood was matched up with UFC veteran and two-time former title challenger John Dodson in what would be his toughest test to date.  The fight was very competitive with Wood controlling the majority of rounds one and two by landing precise shots as Johnson circled outside the cage to avoid Wood’s longer punches.  Unfortunately for Wood, Dodson landed an accurate left hook that sent Wood to the canvas seconds into round three.  Dodson followed up with ground and pound and referee had seen enough.  Although he suffered his first UFC loss, the young Brit proved he was ready to face top competition in the UFC and will no doubt come back stronger after a loss to a veteran like Dodson.  Wood is averaging 4.30 significant strikes per minute, 1.90 takedowns per bout and 1.52 submissions per 15 minutes.



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Andrew Sumian
Andrew is a lifelong follower of combat sports. His passion began as a child and has only grown as an adult. Andrew holds a bachelor's degree from Pepperdine University and a master's from Texas A & M University. Outside of combat sports, Andrew currently works as a program manager for an aerospace manufacturing company. He has trained Muay Thai for seven years and continues to spar and train on the weekends when time permits.