Emanuel and Endeavor CFO Jason Lublin gave a rundown of the growth seen in recent years;
“In the third quarter of 2021, [UFC] sponsorship revenue was up 59% relative to pre-pandemic 2019 and the promotion saw its best quarter for commercial PPV sales since the onset of the pandemic. For 2021 as a whole, UFC sponsorship revenues reached record highs and 14 new international media rights deals were signed with an average annual increase of 94% over prior contract terms. To top it off, all nine PPV events with an audience sold out, coming off a 2020 where most PPV shows couldn’t have a crowd in attendance.”
The point is, there are more eyes than ever on the UFC, and more potential card collectors than ever.
With a strong list that features the past, the present, and the future of the organization, here’s our roundup of top ten UFC rookie cards to collect.
The Best UFC Rookie Cards to Collect
The best UFC rookie cards tend to feature a serial number, or they’ll be the first auto to feature a fighter. Let’s get started with a real legend within MMA.
10. Conor McGregor: 2013 Topps UFC Bloodlines RC #FACM (eBay)
Conor McGregor is still the biggest name in the sport by a wide margin, even if he’s more likely to make the news for an ill-timed tweet in recent years. ‘The Notorious’ held the Cage Warriors Featherweight and Lightweight Championships in 2012. He did the same in the UFC after defeating Eddie Alvarez.
We’re looking at the Topps Bloodlines set. It contains a rare McGregor rookie that shows the fighter teeing off against Marcus Brimage.
There’s also a signed version, which features a ‘1st Autograph’ logo in the top right corner.
The Bloodlines RCs are some of the best vintage McGregor cards on the market.
- Parallels: Flag #/188, Black #/88, Ruby Red #/8, Platinum 1/1
- Signed Parallels: Red Ink Nickname #/15, Ruby Red #/8, Platinum 1/1
9. Jon Jones: 2009 Topps UFC Knockout RC #FA-JJ (eBay)
Jon Jones has been one of the biggest names in MMA for over a decade, and is the undisputed light heavyweight GOAT. He’s best known for being a former two-time UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, holding the title from March 2011 to April 2015 and from December 2018 to August 2020.
The 2009 Topps UFC Knockout RC is the king of Jones cards. The age is a major factor as it features an image of a rookie Bones with a fledgling record of just 8-0.
The base edition has a sticker auto, and no serial number. That means that it’s reasonably easy to pick up in the present. However, there’s also an elusive Red Ink version limited to just 25 copies. The latter also includes his nickname, and has to be seen as the best Jones RC overall.
- Parallels: Red Ink #/25
8. Khabib Nurmagomedov: 2012 Topps UFC Bloodlines RC #12 (eBay)
Undefeated former UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov retired in 2020.
It seems like his fighting days really are behind him, confirming his decision after making a promise made to his mother.
We’re looking at an RC from the ever-popular 2012 Topps UFC Bloodlines set. It’s Khabib’s first ever appearance on cardboard, as he plants a fist on the chin of Kamal Shalorus in his UFC debut.
As a true rookie card, there’s no better option when looking at the rarer parallels, although they’re out of reach for the average collector.
- Parallels: Flag #/188, Black #/88, Red #/8, Platinum (1/1), Printing Plates Black (1/1), Printing Plates Cyan (1/1), Printing Plates Magenta (1/1), Printing Plates Yellow (1/1)
7. Georges St-Pierre (GSP) 2009 Topps UFC RC #FA-GSP (eBay)
Georges St-Pierre (GSP) (28-2) is widely seen as one of the greatest martial artists of all-time, and still has a legion of fans who would love to see him return in 2022.
The 2009 Topps UFC Round 2 set contains a GSP autographed RC from a collection which is one of our favorites.
It’s not the first signed St-Pierre card, which comes courtesy of the 2008 Donruss Americana II Ring Kings set. However, graded copies are still few and far between, while it definitely has better aesthetic appeal.
6. Stipe Miocic: 2012 Topps UFC Knockout RC #FA-SM (eBay)
We’re looking at Miocic’s sole rookie auto. It’s contained in 2012 Topps UFC Knockout sets, and features a large on-card signature along with a full-bleed image of the young fighter.
The Autographs subset basically contains a copy of the base card with an on-card signature attached. It’s one of the earliest to feature the future champion, who looks set to hang up his gloves sooner rather than later.
Copies of the Knockout auto rarely come up at auction, especially when looking at graded versions.
- Parallels: Red #/8, Mat 1/1
5. Francis Ngannou: 2017 Topps UFC Chrome RC #78 (eBay)
The baddest man on the planet, Francis Ngannou tore through the UFC’s heavyweight division on his way to the summit. Better still, the manner of his victory in the rematch against Stipe Miocic showed that Ngannou is still improving, and is more than a simple powerhouse who ‘hits like a Ford Escort.’
A debut release from 2017, Topps UFC Chrome features Ngannou’s RC.
(Of course, by 2017, Ngannou had amassed a record of 11-1, including six wins in the UFC.)
The Refractor versions are worth a fair amount, and include a Gold edition limited to 50 copies. It’s one of the earliest collectibles to feature the future heavyweight champion.
- Parallels: Refractor (1:3 packs), X-Fractor (1:24 packs), Diamond Refractor (Hot Box), Green Refractor #/99, Blue Wave Refractor #/75, Gold Refractor #/50, Orange Refractor #/25, Black Refractor #/10, Red Refractor #/5, SuperFractor 1/1, Printing Plates 1/1
4. Khamzat Chimaev: 2021 Panini Prizm UFC RC #7 (eBay)
Khamzat Chimaev (11-0-0) is #3 in the UFC welterweight rankings at the current time of writing, and is one of the more highly-rated contenders in a stacked division. Will he be the one to finally dethrone Kamaru Usman?
The first release under Panini’s multi-year exclusive deal, this has to be seen as Chimaev’s true RC. (In fact, it’s his only card contained within the set, making it even easier.)
Prizm parallels abound, and work out to be his most valuable collectibles when graded.
- Parallels: Silver, Green, White Sparkle, Red #/275, Blue #/199, Purple #/149, Orange #/99, Neon Green #/75, Teal #/49, Pink Pulsar #/42, Green Pulsar #/25, Mojo #/25, Gold #/10, Lucky Envelopes #/8, Octagon #/8, Black 1/1
3. Jiri Prochazka 2021 Panini Immaculate Collection UFC RC #106 (eBay)
Czech Knockout artist Jiri Prochazka joined the UFC in 2020 with an impressive record of 26-3-1.
After seeing off Volkan Oezdemir and Dominick Reyes, he’s currently the top ranked light heavyweight in the world, having beaten Glover Teixeira for the belt at UFC 275.
Prochazka’s RPA from the 2021 Panini Immaculate Collection is arguably the cleanest card to make the list. It features an image of the fighter during his bout with Reyes, along with an athlete-worn patch and an on-card auto.
The high-end release also benefits from the understated style seen with all Immaculate Collection cards. Base copies have a print run of 99, while there’s also a further four numbered parallels.
- Parallels: Red #/25, Gold #/10, Acetate #/8, Platinum 1/1
2. Sean O’Malley: 2018 Topps UFC Chrome RC #FA-SOM (eBay)
UFC bantamweight ‘Sugar’ Sean O’Malley has been dominant for the majority of his career in the organization, but has yet to break into the top 10 in his quest to surpass the likes of Conor McGregor.
Within the 2018 Topps UFC Chrome set, there’s a signed landscape release, with a logo to note that it’s his first autograph. Rookie autos tend to be some of the better investment options, especially when looking at modern athletes who appear in multiple sets.
If you think that ‘Sugar Sean’ has what it takes, it has to be seen as his best rookie card overall. He certainly has the backing of fans.
- Refractor Parallels: OctoFractor (Hot Boxes), Green #/99, Blue Wave #/75, Gold #/50, Orange #/25, Black #/10, Red #/5, SuperFractor 1/1
1. Islam Makhachev: 2019 Topps UFC Chrome RC #92 (eBay)
2019 Topps UFC Chrome was the third anniversary of the sets initial MMA release. It includes a sole Islam Makhachev rookie card. He’d been in the organization for a while at that point, but there’s an RC logo in the top right corner.
It’s found in the base collection, so there’s a ton of colored Refractor parallels, although there’s no rookie autograph.
They opted for an action shot from Makhachev’s sole first-round KO loss to Adriano Martins. It’s a strange image to choose, especially as the collection was released midway through his current W streak.
- Parallels: Base Ref (1:3), X-Fractor (1:24), Sepia (4 per Blaster), Diamond Hot Box, Green #/99, Blue Wave #/75, Gold #/50, Orange #/25, Black #/10, Red #/5, SuperFractor 1/1, Printing Plates 1/1
The Best UFC Rookie Cards: Buyers Guide
There’s something to suit fans of almost any era of the sport. What do we think of the best UFC rookie cards on the market right now?
If you’d prefer a safer bet, a retired champion like Khabib is a good option. For a higher risk/reward ratio, check out one of the fighters chasing the belt like Sugar Sean or Makhachev. The latter looks likely to earn a title shot, and could be an underrated UFC rookie card to invest in.
The Best UFC Rookie Cards to Collect: Final Thoughts
We’re big fans of the latest UFC sets, which bring more of a premium feel to the hobby. They’ve also added RC logos, which are sadly missing for the older cards.
GOAT contenders are always worth keeping an eye on, especially as the sport continues to enter the mainstream.
Consider this; it’s been just over a decade since the Stipe/Khabib rookie cards were originally released. McGregor’s RC will be 10 in 2023.
As always, we’d look to graded copies when possible.