Saturday’s UFC 267 fight card is one of the best of the year — a mix of compelling championship fights, critical pairings between emerging contenders, and a host of emerging talents looking to use this highly anticipated event as a chance to catapult themselves into the spotlight and set themselves up for breakthrough success in 2022 and beyond.
On paper, a few days ahead of the event, this feels like one of those cards that will age exceptionally well over time, with the bouts at the top of the lineup having great immediate impact, and those further down the call sheet carrying the potential to have significant divisional impact in the not-too-distant future.
This card is so rich with up-and-coming competitors and future contenders that streaking Top 10 fighters Marcin Tybura and Magomed Ankalaev, whom have won five and six consecutive fights, respectively, and are clearly on the rise, aren’t included in the tetra pack of surging fighters getting an expansive shout out here, because as good as they are and as close to contention as they might be — and they’re both quite good, and rather close — these next three athletes offer even more intrigue, upside, and long-term championship potential.
Here’s a closer look at those competitors.
This is the UFC 267 edition of Fighters on the Rise.
Chimaev stole the show during the UFC’s first foray to Fight Island last summer, competing twice in 10 days, first at middleweight, then at welterweight, registering dominant wins over John Phillips and Rhys McKee while promising to smash everyone and calling for Top 10 opportunities right away. He went back to middleweight in September and floored veteran Gerald Meerschaert in 17 seconds, adding fuel to the raging hype fire that started in July, and was then booked for a return to the 170-pound ranks in a main event pairing that would serve as the final UFC fight of 2020 opposite Leon Edwards.
But the bout never happened.
First Chimaev withdrew after testing positive for COVID-19, and then Edwards followed suit, pushing the bout from December to January. Chimaev was forced out of that pairing and the subsequently rebooked date in March due to ongoing complications from his bout with COVID-19, and all the hype and buzz surrounding the promising unbeaten fighter dissipated.
This weekend, Chimaev is slated to return opposite Chinese veteran Li Jingliang in a fight that will immediately make it clear where he fits in the division and whether he could still become the domineering force most everyone forecasted him to become last year. “The Leech” is a powerful, experienced welterweight coming off a knockout win over Santiago Ponzinibbio in January and sporting an 8-2 record over his last 10 fights, making him the most dangerous foe Chimaev has faced to date.
While the buzz surrounding Chimaev has been dampened by his lengthy stay on the sidelines, another blistering effort on Saturday night would instantly ratchet the excitement surrounding him back up to 11 and once again position him as one of the most intriguing up-and-coming contenders on the roster.
Murphy competes in Abu Dhabi for the fourth time in as many appearances this week, looking to add to his two-fight winning streak and 11-fight unbeaten run when he steps in opposite Makwan Amirkhani in a bout that feels like the entrance exam Murphy needs to pass in order to garner a major step up in competition next time out.
The 30-year-old from Manchester debuted in the UFC a little more than two years ago, battling Zubaira Tukhugov to a draw at UFC 242. He followed that up last summer with a first-round stoppage win over Ricardo Ramos, and then extended his undefeated streak to 11 with a unanimous decision victory over Douglas Silva in January. He was slated to face Canadian Charles Jourdain in September, but visa issues forced him out of the contest and pushed his return back to this weekend’s fight card in the familiar Fight Island surrounds.
Murphy has a real Leon Edwards vibe to him, and not just because they’re both British and started their UFC careers as unheralded talents. Like his countryman from Birmingham, the Manchester-based Murphy is solid everywhere, brandishing crisp, clean striking with more pop than you might expect, and quality grappling abilities, both offensively and defensively, which were on display in his scramble-heavy win over Ramos. He’s gotten better each time out and has a quiet confidence about him, two more traits he shares with Edwards.
After once being viewed as a potential contender himself, Amirkhani seems to have settled in to being a fast-starting litmus test for other hopefuls in the featherweight division; a guy that can catch you early if you make a mistake or you’re out of your depths. He enters on a two-fight slide, and is 3-4 in his last seven after starting his UFC career with three straight wins, but he’s more than capable of showing up locked in and ready to ruin Murphy’s unbeaten record this weekend.
Featherweight is loaded with talent — including a ton of emerging names — so breaking through is always a challenge, but a three-fight winning streak and four-fight unbeaten streak in the 145-pound ranks doesn’t come easy, and if Murphy can get there with a victory on Saturday, he could find himself battling one of those other up-and-coming hopefuls in his first appearance of 2022.