Event number two of the “Eight Events in 10 Weeks” run that kicked off last weekend in Zagreb, Croatia takes place this Saturday at the Amelie Arena in Tampa, Florida, where 13 pairs of fighters will step into the Octagon for the second UFC on FOX event of 2016.
Headlined by light heavyweights Glover Teixeira and Rashad Evans, with veterans Lyoto Machida and Dan Henderson doing battle in the penultimate bout of the evening, this weekend’s event also features a trio of young athletes looking to make their mark and take a big step forward in their respective divisions in “The Big Guava.”
Here’s a closer look at those three emerging fighters to watch Saturday at UFC on FOX: Teixeira vs. Evans.
“The Tiny Tornado” has become a somewhat overlooked contender in the strawweight division, but that can all change this weekend if the American Top Team product can earn a second career victory over fellow TUF 20 alum Rose Namajunas.
Squaring off in what was each women’s third professional fight at Invicta FC 6, Torres picked up a unanimous decision victory over Namajunas that night and has tacked on four more wins to push her record to a perfect 7-0 heading into their rematch, which kicks off Saturday’s main card.
Currently ranked No. 4 in the strawweight division – one spot behind Namajunas – Torres is a high volume striker with excellent conditioning who has yet to deliver a complete performance inside the Octagon, despite having earned three wins. As a result, she’s fallen behind others in the Top 10 that have garnered higher profile wins or collected highlight reel finishes.
Stepping into the cage and setting the tone for the main card with a dominant effort against Namajunas will thrust her into the spotlight and put her at or near the top of the list of potential title challengers heading into the second half of 2016.
Randy Brown & Michael Graves
The second fighter to earn an opportunity to compete in the Octagon after impressing UFC President Dana White with a performance capture on Looking for a Fight, Brown won his debut on the year’s initial UFC on FOX event in Newark, New Jersey back in January, edging out Canadian Matt Dwyer in a close, entertaining clash.
Like Torres, Graves represents American Top Team and earned his chance to compete in the Octagon through The Ultimate Fighter, taking part when the Coconut Creek-based fight camp was pitted against their South Florida rivals, The Blackzilians, in Season 21, before picking up a victory over Vicente Luque on the show’s finale event in July.
Now the two emerging talents will square off on Sunday in Tampa.
Brown, who hails from Spanish Town, Jamaica and fights out of Queens, New York, is tall and rangy for the division, standing at 6’3” and brandishing a 78” reach. He’s earned six of his seven career victories by way of stoppage, and after getting the first-time jitters out of the way while fighting close to home in his debut, it wouldn’t be surprising to see “Rudeboy” come with a more complete showing in his sophomore appearance.
Of course, Graves has other plans, as the unbeaten wrestler who collected seven takedowns (in 10 attempts) in his bout with Luque will be looking to close the distance and take this fight to the mat from the outset, nullifying Brown’s striking and turning this into a grind.
With 12 combined victories and nary a loss between them, these tandem 25-year-olds each carry a ton of upside and potential as they ready to cross the threshold into the Octagon for the second time in one of those “Prospect vs. Prospect” matchups that is always exciting.
The welterweight ranks are extremely deep and these two are still in the formative stages of their respective careers, but a couple years down the line, with continued improvements and steady growth, both Brown and Graves could make some waves in the 170-pound weight class.