The UFC continues its active advance into summer this Saturday with a fight card headlined by flyweight title hopefuls Jessica Eye and Cynthia Calvillo.
While the main event combatants will be jockeying for position in the championship chase in the 125-pound weight class, many others scattered throughout this weekend’s lineup will be competing to garner increased exposure and establish themselves as emerging talents to watch in their respective divisions.
Here’s a closer look at three of those athletes.
This is the June 13 edition of On the Rise.
A member of the Serra-Longo Fight Team who garnered a call up to the UFC thanks to a five-fight winning streak that included victories over elite regional competitors Tony Gravely and Raufeon Stots, Dvalishvili stumbled out of the gate. He landed on the wrong side of a unanimous decision verdict against veteran Frankie Saenz in his debut, then was choked out at the buzzer in a clash with fellow upstart Ricky Simon in his sophomore appearance in the Octagon.
But since that 0-2 start, the 29-year-old native of Georgia has found his footing and rattled off three straight victories as he readies to step into the cage opposite Ray Borg this weekend.
After outworking Terrion Ware to register his first UFC win, Dvalishvili has gone back-to-back against recent TUF winner Brad Katona and streaking Contender Series alum Casey Kenney, who got back into the win column with a victory over Louis Smolka at the end of last month. In all three of those outings, the charismatic grinder has showcased his strong grappling and limitless cardio, pushing a pace that opponents can’t match and are ultimately overwhelmed by.
Dvalishvili looks like another case of a fighter who just needed a little extra time to adjust to life in the UFC, as he was competitive in each of his first two appearances, but ultimately came up short. But the experience made him stronger, gave him elements to adjust, and now he’s fighting at his full potential, heading into this weekend’s clash with Borg as a name to keep an eye on in the constantly improving, surprisingly deep 135-pound weight class.
While Borg enters off a loss to Simon just a few weeks ago, the Albuquerque native still represents a step up in competition for Dvalishvili and the kind of well-rounded, veteran talent who should be a stern test for the New York-based bantamweight. If he can replicate the kind of performance he turned in against Katona and Kenney this weekend, Dvalishvili could find himself within arm’s reach of the rankings and staring down an even bigger name next time out.
Jourdain lost his promotional debut at lightweight, facing off with Desmond Green in the hometown of “The Predator,” Rochester, New York. It was a bout where the 24-year-old from Beloeil, Quebec openly admitted he succumbed to the pressures and jitters of competing on the biggest stage in the sport. Following the bout, Jourdain promised a much better showing once he returned to the featherweight division, and late last year, the French-Canadian made good on that promise.
Going on the road for the second time in as many UFC appearances, Jourdain ventured to Busan, South Korea and took out local star Doohoi Choi in the second round, felling “The Korean Superboy” with a swift left cross in the final seconds of the middle stanza. Gone was the tentative fighter who looked out of place through the first two rounds of his bout with Green, replaced by the attacking, aggressive fighter who amassed a perfect finishing rate on the regional circuit.
After dispatching the durable and respected Choi at the end of December, Jourdain now faces another step up in competition as he steps in opposite divisional stalwart Andre Fili.
Despite coming into this contest off a loss, Fili remains in the midst of the best run of his career, having posted four wins in his last six outings while finally fighting to his full potential. The longtime Team Alpha Male representative is a proven tough out who will push Jourdain every step of the way, forcing the confident former TKO two-weight champion to be at his best if he hopes to continue his climb up the featherweight ladder this weekend.
The only loss on Avila’s record came when she suffered a compound fracture to her left ring finger 49 seconds into her Invicta FC debut. Marciea Allen threw a high kick, Avila threw her hands up to block the attack, and her finger broke, bringing the contest to an immediate halt.
Three months later, she was back in the cage, collecting another victory, and three months after that, the University of Notre Dame graduate earned a second-round stoppage win over Alexa Conners in her return to the Invicta FC cage, establishing herself as one of the top contenders in the bantamweight division in the process. Before she could challenge for championship gold, Avila inked a deal to compete in the UFC, and last summer, the 32-year-old Oklahoma City resident showed she’s one to keep tabs on in the 135-pound ranks by outworking veteran Pannie Kianzad in her promotional debut.
Saturday night, Avila returns to take on Gina Mazany in her sophomore appearance in the Octagon.
Though she’s still early in her UFC career, it’s not hard to picture Avila as a contender in the bantamweight division. She defeated Top 15 fixture Marion Reneau in her professional debut and added a victory over Nicco Montano in the New Mexico resident’s final fight before entering the Ultimate Fighter house and embarking on her Cinderella run to become the first women’s flyweight champion in UFC history.
Outside of that freak injury against Allen, the “Raging Panda” has rolled through the competition and if she can maintain her momentum through this weekend’s clash with Mazany, Avila should land herself a spot in the rankings and a chance to share the cage with some of the more established names in the division going forward.