Over the next couple years, Rogers Arena, the host venue for Saturday’s UFC 289 fight card, will be the home base for a number of prospects and emerging talents, as the barn’s chief residents, the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks, are at the start of a long-overdue rebuild.
This weekend, a smattering of ascending talents are mixed in with a host of established names and one promotional newcomer as the UFC makes its long-awaited return to Canada with a pay-per-view card that promises to deliver the kind of high-energy excitement that has been absent from the ice the last couple of seasons.
Headlined by a bantamweight title bout between the greatest female fighter of all time, Amanda Nunes, and dangerous Mexican challenger Irene Aldana, Saturday’s event has the potential to be a night of breakout efforts and memorable performances.
Here are three emerging names set to make the walk this weekend to keep tabs on at UFC 289 and beyond in the latest edition of Fighters on the Rise.
One of five Canadians slated to compete in Vancouver this weekend, Malott is one of those competitors who is more experienced than his 9-1-1 record suggests, and someone looking to continue making waves in the welterweight division.
The 31-year-old pressed pause on his career in early 2017, opting to focus on rounding out his game while accepting a coaching role with Team Alpha Male, where he served as a striking coach for the all-star cast at the Sacramento, CA outpost. He returned to action towards the end of 2018 with a first-round submission win over Solomon Renfro, parlaying that into an opportunity to compete on Dana White’s Contender Series, where he quickly dispatched Shimon Smotritsky to earn a UFC contract.
In each of his first two appearances inside the Octagon, Malott has wasted little time earning victories, posting a first-round stoppage win over Mickey Gall in his debut at UFC 273 before submitting fellow Canadian Yohan Lainesse in the opening frame earlier this year to run his overall winning streak to five.
Saturday night, Malott makes his pay-per-view main card debut in a clash with Washington state product Adam Fugitt that could further establish him as an all-action talent to watch in the 170-pound ranks going forward.
Fugitt dropped his short-notice promotional debut in a competitive bout with Michael Morales last summer at UFC 277 in Dallas before posting a first-round stoppage win over Yusaku Kinoshita at the start of February. Like Malott, he faced quality competition on his way to the Octagon, including the aforementioned Renfro, and profiles as a dangerous and willing dance partner for the Canadian this weekend.
It’s difficult to get a full read on where Malott fits in the division, at the moment, as he’s made quick work of each of his first two UFC opponents and has earned each of his nine career wins in the opening round. This weekend’s pairing with Fugitt may not provide complete clarity on where the Ontario native stands in the hierarchy, but if he picks up another first-round finish, it will make him look like even more of an intriguing dark horse heading into the back half of the year.
“I got a highlight reel like Evel Knievel, I got swagger like Elvis Presley, and I’ll be damned if I ain’t handsome,” bellowed Landwehr following his second-round submission win over Austin Lingo back in March. The crowd in San Antonio erupted and a burgeoning star was born, but those that follow the sport closely have been paying attention to “Nate the Train” for quite some time.
The charismatic and aggressive featherweight won and successfully defended the M-1 Challenge featherweight title prior to touching down inside the Octagon, where he’s posted a 4-2 record in six fights, each of which has been absolutely bonkers.
After getting stopped in two of his first three appearances, Landwehr has put together a three-fight winning streak heading into Saturday’s main card clash with Top 15 stalwart Dan Ige, sandwiching a wild majority decision win over David Onama in a chaotic back-and-forth scrap between submission finishes of Ludovit Klein and Lingo. Now 17-4 overall and set to turn 35 on Wednesday, Landwehr heads towards the weekend looking to give himself a belated birthday present by collecting the biggest win of his career.
Through his 13 appearances under the UFC banner, Ige has established himself as a fixture in the featherweight rankings and a tough out for each and every person that shares the Octagon with him. He halted a three-fight slide last time out with a second-round knockout win over Damon Jackson, has only lost to Top 10 talents, and has gone 8-4 since his promotional debut at UFC 220 at the beginning of 2018, making him the most experienced and decorated opponent Landwehr has faced thus far in his UFC run.
Landwehr is a chaos agent, and I mean that in the best way possible — he’s one of those fighters that could finish his opponent or get finished at any point during a fight, and it makes him absolute must-see TV each time he makes the walk to the cage. If he’s able to extend his run of success by getting the better of Ige, who has never been finished in his career, the bombastic featherweight could break into the rankings and earn himself another marquee assignment next time out.
After originally being ticketed to make his promotional debut last month against Clayton Carpenter, Australia’s Erceg tags in for Matt Schnell in a pairing with Top 15 flyweight David Dvorak this weekend in Vancouver.
Brandishing a 9-1 record and eight-fight winning streak that includes victories over Road to UFC finalist SeungGuk Choi and fellow Aussie UFC fighter Shannon Ross, “AstroBoy” is an exciting addition to the 125-pound ranks, bringing an aggressive, dynamic grappling approach that has produced six submission finishes thus far. Erceg returned to action in February following a 15-month hiatus, showing no signs of rust by collecting a first-round submission win under the Eternal MMA banner, and now gets the opportunity to make an instant splash in his short-notice debut on Saturday.
Despite the fact that he enters on a two-fight skid, Dvorak remains one of the top talents in the UFC flyweight division. Currently positioned at No. 10 in the rankings, the “Undertaker” earned victories in each of his first three trips into the Octagon before dropping decisions to Matheus Nicolau and Manel Kape, and surely will be looking to rebound in impressive fashion when he steps in with Erceg.
While facing off with someone as experienced and established as Dvorak is obviously a challenge and a major step up for Erceg, Saturday’s contest is also a tremendous opportunity for the newcomer. Win or lose, a strong showing instantly establishes him as a fighter to pay attention to going forward, and if he were to pull off the upset, the division would instantly have another twenty-something ascending talent making waves and climbing the ranks.
UFC 289: Nunes vs Aldana took place live from the Rogers Arena in Vancouver, Canada on June 10, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!