It’s completely understandable that the lion’s share of the attention heading into UFC 260 is being focused on the championship matchup atop the marquee.
The heavyweight main event is an ultra-compelling rematch between the greatest heavyweight in UFC history, reigning champ Stipe Miocic, and an uncommonly dangerous challenger, Francis Ngannou.
But before the two best heavyweights in the game step into the Octagon on Saturday, here’s a closer look at three fighters that could makes some waves this weekend.
This is the UFC 260 edition of Fighters on the Rise.
Fighters You Should Know | UFC 260
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Fighters You Should Know | UFC 260
“It’s the quiet ones you’ve gotta watch out for.”
Vicente Luque certainly wasn’t the impetus for this old George Carlin line that has turned into a recurring, playful quip about those that keep to themselves and don’t say a whole lot, but given what “The Silent Assassin” has done inside the Octagon during his six-plus years on the UFC roster, it’s a pretty fair warning to the rest of the welterweight division.
The 29-year-old Brazilian has gone 12-3 in 15 UFC appearances heading into his main card clash with former champ Tyron Woodley this weekend, having won eight of his last nine, and 12 of his last 14 since dropping a decision to Michael Graves in his promotional debut. Along the way, the mild-mannered, good-natured Luque has earned 11 stoppage victories, including a first-round finish of Belal Muhammad at UFC 205 and back-to-back finishes of Niko Price (for a second time) and Randy Brown last year.
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An all-action fighter who has earned a Fight of the Night bonus in three of his last six outings, Luque is more than willing to wade into the fire and take a shot in order to land one of his own, trusting that his chin will hold up and his blows will carry a greater impact, and more often than not, he’s been right. The only two people to defeat him since that debut loss back in the summer of 2015 are top contenders Leon Edwards and Stephen Thompson, and both were entertaining, competitive fights that went the distance.
This weekend’s bout with Woodley marks another opportunity for Luque to graduate from being a dangerous threat in the middle-third of the Top 15 to a bona fide contender in the 170-pound weight class. Though “The Chosen One” has struggled of late, he’s still hung tough, battling and surviving into the fifth round in each of his three consecutive setbacks, so if Luque can go out and secure a finish in this three-round affair, it should let whoever isn’t already aware of his considerable talents and the threat he poses to the welterweight elite that he really is one to watch out for going forward.
Miranda Maverick is one of the most promising young fighters on the UFC roster and heads into this weekend's meeting with Gillian Robertson looking to take another step forward in the flyweight division.
After a breakthrough campaign in 2019 that saw her win the Invicta FC flyweight Phoenix Rising tournament, she kicked off 2020 by posting a unanimous decision win over Pearl Gonzalez to earn a call to the Octagon. Debuting at UFC 254 in Abu Dhabi, the 23-year-old fighting out of Norfolk, Virginia collected a first-round stoppage win over Liana Jojua to push her winning streak to six and put her on the map as a fighter to watch in the deepening 125-pound weight class.
In that bout, Maverick showed why she has such an intriguing addition to the flyweight ranks, adjusting her approach on the feet in response to Jojua's offerings and landing the hard lead elbow that opened the fight-ending gash on the bridge of her opponent's nose. As impressive as she looked standing, it's her grappling acumen that was her calling card earlier in her career, so the continued development of her overall arsenal of skills only further elevates her upside.
This weekend's matchup with Robertson, which was pushed back due to the Canadian dealing with a non-COVID-related illness prior to UFC 258, serves as a quality measuring stick opportunity to see where Maverick is at in her development and ascent up the rankings, as Robertson has been one of the most active flyweights on the roster since the division's inception and proven to be a tough out while compiling a 6-3 record over her first nine UFC starts.
A victory on Saturday at UFC 260 would not only likely elevate Maverick into the Top 15, but it would also further bolster her standing as one of the top young talents on the UFC roster, positioning her for another step up in competition in the second half of the year.
Competing for the first time in two-plus years, Abu Azaitar remains a massive question mark in the UFC middleweight division.
The 35-year-old is unbeaten in his last 10 (9-0-1), including wins over Martin Zawada and Jack Marshman, and capped by a unanimous decision triumph over Vitor Miranda in his promotional debut in the summer of 2018. He was scheduled to compete twice last year — first in April opposite Alessio Di Chirico, then again in October against Joaquin Buckley — but both bouts were scrapped, which only adds to the intrigue as he readies to return this weekend against Marc-Andre Barriault.
The proud Moroccan fighter has flashed some power in the past and will likely be spurred on by the success of his brother, lightweight Ottman Azaitar, who has earned consecutive first-round stoppage wins in his first two UFC appearances.
Barriault is a former two-division champion under the TKO banner in Quebec who has struggled since graduating to the UFC, having lost three straight to begin his time in the Octagon before having his win over Oskar Piechota overturned after he tested positive for a banned substance through contamination last time out.
This is a legitimate test for the returning Azaitar and should be a more accurate measure of where he fits in the 185-pound ranks than his debut assignment against Miranda.