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On the Rise: Nashville Edition

<a href='../fighter/Al-Iaquinta'>Al Iaquinta</a> celebrates his victory over <a href='../fighter/Ross-Pearson'>Ross Pearson</a> at their Fight Night bout in 2014
The month of April wraps up this Saturday with a return to “Music City, U.S.A.” for UFC Fight Night: Swanson vs. Lobov, a 13-fight event that is sneaky deep if you take two minutes to scan the card and aren’t checking for only the biggest names in the sport.

John Dodson taking on Eddie Wineland is a terrific fight, as is Joe Lauzon facing Stevie Ray, while OTR alum Brandon Moreno looks to make it three straight wins to start his UFC career when he takes on local favorite and durable veteran Dustin Ortiz.

And once the smoke clears at Bridgestone Arena, I have a feeling there will be a handful of standout performances to discuss.

Here’s a look at three competitors to keep an eye on this weekend.

This is On the Rise: Nashville Edition.

Al Iaquinta

Last time we saw “Raging Al,” he was fighting about 650 miles northeast of Nashville in Fairfax, Virginia, where he got the nod over Jorge Masvidal in an ultra-close lightweight contest that established him as a legitimate Top 10 talent. The fans were unhappy with the decision and Iaquinta was unhappy with their decision to boo him, leading to a memorable post-fight interview.

Two years later, the Serra-Longo Fight Team member is back to take on Diego Sanchez in the co-main event.

While there is no way to be certain what impact the 24 months between fights will have on Iaquinta, the former Ultimate Fighter finalist exited the Octagon on a four-fight winning streak and was showing steady improvement between each appearance.

With sharp hands, good wrestling and a double serving of tenacity, Iaquinta was in a position to be a player in the lightweight division. Now it’s time to find out if that remains true.
MATCHUPS: Iaquinta vs Sanchez | Sandoval vs Schnell | Dandois vs Davis

Cindy Dandois

A veteran who defeated legend Marloes Coenen in her professional debut eight years ago, Dandois has been on a nice roll since dropping her Invicta FC debut to current champ Tonya Evinger. She bounced back with a submission win over reigning featherweight titleholder Megan Anderson before quickly tapping out Jessamyn Duke and has since picked up another tidy finish outside of the all-female promotion to push her winning streak to three.

Now, Belgium’s “Battle Cat” gets the opportunity to make an instant impact in the UFC as she debuts against former title challenger Alexis Davis.

The Canadian returned to action for the first time since the birth of her son last December, losing to surging contender Sara McMann, but remains an established and experienced threat to anyone looking to climb the ladder at her expense.

Dandois has only ever lost to arguably the top two bantamweights on the Invicta FC roster – Evinger and Yana Kunitskaya – and now it’s time to see how she where she fits among the elite talent assembled under the UFC banner.
<a href='../fighter/hector-sandoval'>Hector Sandoval</a> punches Freddy Serrano during their flyweight bout at Fight Night Sacramento in 2016.

Hector Sandoval

First impressions in the fight game can be deceiving, as there are a ton of factors that contribute to the outcome of a bout that aren’t evident amongst the wins and losses on a competitor’s resume.

Sandoval was submitted in less than two minutes in his UFC debut, but it came against Wilson Reis on short notice back at UFC 201, the first time the Brazilian grappling ace was scheduled to face Demetrious Johnson for the flyweight title. Facing Reis is a tall task on a good day, and even more daunting on short notice, and the newcomer came up short.

But in his sophomore showing, “Kid Alex” showed why his teammates at Team Alpha Male sing his praises, bringing the fight to Fredy Serrano right out of the chute and securing a unanimous decision win in front of the partisan crowd in Sacramento. Now he looks to make it two in a row inside the Octagon in Saturday’s opener against Matt Schnell.

Flyweight remains a wide-open field, and anyone that can string together a couple strong outings can quickly work their way into an important fight or two. Can Sandoval be one of those guys?

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