5 fighters who will challenge for UFC gold
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theScore looks at five fighters who have a good chance of competing for the UFC title in their respective divisions.

Brandon Moreno, flyweight

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It took "The Assassin Baby" a while to come into his own in the UFC.

Moreno competed on "The Ultimate Fighter 24" in 2016 as a 22-year-old, but his stint came to an abrupt end when he lost his first fight on the show. The UFC brass must've still appreciated what Moreno had shown in a second-round submission loss to Alexandre Pantoja, however, as the Mexican was called up for a short-notice opportunity in the promotion later that year.

Moreno made the most of it and tapped out Louis Smolka as a major underdog, announcing himself as a future contender in the flyweight division.

It appeared Moreno was on a fast track to the top of the weight class after winning his next two fights. But things went south from there. He lost two straight, including a main-event bout against Sergio Pettis, and was released.

An LFA title victory in 2019 prompted the UFC to call Moreno back to the big leagues, and he's now won two in a row, including a bout against No. 3 Jussier Formiga at UFC Brasilia earlier in March.

With the belt currently vacant and a lack of contenders in the division, it seems likely Moreno, now 26, will get a crack at UFC gold sooner than later.

Sean O'Malley, bantamweight

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O'Malley is still a prospect who's yet to crack the bantamweight rankings, but it won't be long before he sits atop the division.

His viral first-round KO on Dana White's Contender Series in 2017 made it immediately clear that the UFC had found itself a potential star. Aside from his exciting fighting style, fans were intrigued by his vibrant personality, curly hair, and colorful tattoos.

"Suga" earned a UFC contract on the show and started off his Octagon run with a pair of wins. But issues with USADA, the UFC's anti-doping partner, forced O'Malley to sit on the sidelines for two years starting in March 2018.

O'Malley was finally eligible to return to the cage at UFC 248 on March 7. He made up for lost time, finishing Jose Quinones with a TKO just two minutes into their bout.

The 25-year-old said he'd made significant improvements during the time off, and it showed against Quinones. Once O'Malley gains more experience, he'll be a force to be reckoned with at 135 pounds.

Diego Ferreira, lightweight

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You wouldn't think Ferreira has won six straight fights.

The Brazilian's winning streak is one of the quietest in the UFC. For one, he doesn't talk a lot of trash. But additionally, lightweight is arguably the sport's most stacked division, so it's difficult for fighters to rise up the ranks and make a name for themselves.

In reality, Ferreira has been a problem at 155 pounds for a while. After all, he's been in the UFC since 2014 and has compiled an 8-2 record. You don't get there without being good. Ferreira has been putting in work all along, but we've only recently started to notice.

As it stands right now, Ferreira is the UFC's No. 12 lightweight and is coming off a career-defining victory - a first-round submission of former champion Anthony Pettis at UFC 246 in January. It feels like everything is lining up for Ferreira. With so many contenders in front of him, reaching the top won't be easy. But if he keeps performing the way he's been, he won't be denied much longer.

Geoff Neal, welterweight

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Neal finally quitting his job as a restaurant server in 2019 was a good indication that he's all-in on fighting.

The Fortis MMA product has taken the welterweight division by storm since his impressive win on Contender Series in 2017 and subsequent UFC signing. He's currently 5-0 in the promotion with four finishes.

Neal is a precise striker and puts tons of power into his shots, which is a nightmare combination for his opponents. The aptly nicknamed "Handz of Steel" also boasts solid defense.

Most recently, Neal defeated Mike Perry via a 90-second TKO in December. It was a statement win, as Perry had never been finished with strikes heading in. If anyone wasn't talking about Neal up to that point, they sure were afterward.

Neal currently sits at No. 12 in the 170-pound division and is due for a big fight. He's virtually a shoo-in for future UFC title challenger, and don't be surprised if he becomes champion one day.

Edmen Shahbazyan, middleweight

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Shahbazyan is set on becoming the youngest champion in UFC history - and he's making darn good time.

At 22 years old, he's already the No. 9 middleweight and appears to be only going up from here. Jon Jones, who holds the title of youngest UFC champ, was 23 when he beat Mauricio Rua for the light heavyweight belt in 2011, so Shahbazyan still has time to beat the record.

Shahbazyan has become a contender seemingly overnight, though he still feels like a prospect because he's so young. But that's what happens when you score a 40-second knockout on Contender Series and follow it up with multiple quick finishes early in your UFC career.

A head-kick knockout of perennial contender Brad Tavares last November proved beyond doubt that Shahbazyan is ready to fight the best at 185 pounds, even at 22.

At this rate, Shahbazyan fighting for UFC gold seems like a guarantee. More than anything, it will be interesting to see what "The Golden Boy" is able to do once he hits his prime.

Honorable mentions: Sodiq Yusuff (featherweight), Aspen Ladd (women's bantamweight), Jairzinho Rozenstruik (heavyweight), Maycee Barber (women's flyweight)

5 fighters who will challenge for UFC gold
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