Another year of action inside the Octagon is set to wrap up this weekend, which means it’s once again time to look back through the previous 41 events to pick out a couple noteworthy names we passed along in this space that had themselves a successful year in 2022.
Every month, there was someone — or more correctly, multiple someones — that showed out, including Dana White’s Contender Series grads Viacheslav Borshchev and Michael Morales in January, Shavkat Rakhmonov, Jonathan Pearce, and Terrance McKinney in February, and Jalin Turner, Alex Pereira, Muhammad Mokaev, and Manon Fiorot in March.
The spring produced spotlight moments for Caio Borralho, Marlon “Chito” Vera, and Tatsuro Taira, as well as Erin Blanchfield, Jack Della Maddalena, and Umar Nurmagomedov. Summer heated up with standout efforts from returning names like Pereira and Turner, plus Sergei Pavlovich, Emily Ducote, and Tyson Pedro, whose joy for being back in the Octagon has been infectious.
Autumn was equally impressive, as fighters like Nathaniel Wood, Javid Basharat, and Roman Dolidze turned in quality efforts before Miranda Maverick, Natalia Silva, and a couple more repeat customers all showed out once the temperature started to drop.
Which brings us to this weekend’s final event for 2022, where a trio of fighters that have all appeared in this space in previous years will each aim to close out this year on a high note and make sure you are paying close attention to them once the action gets under way again next year.
Here is the December 17 edition of Fighters on the Rise.
Matthews had a “Remember Me!?” moment earlier this year, stepping into the Octagon for the first time in well over a year against Andre Fialho at UFC 275 and halting the hyper-active Portuguese freshman’s initial run of success in a touch under a round-and-a-half.
Not only was it the best Matthews has looked at any point in his career, but it was one of those efforts that made you really sit up and re-think whatever position you held on “The Celtic Kid.”
While he’s been on the UFC roster for nine years and counting, the Australian welterweight is still only 28 years old, and is only just now hitting that point where many athletes and competitors start really putting everything together and having the best years. Matthews is 7-2 over his last nine appearances, beating Li Jingliang handily early in that run, but tends to be a forgotten man in the 170-pound weight class because he hasn’t fought as regularly as guys like “The Leech” and some of their contemporaries.
But the dominant stoppage win over Fialho opened some eyes and put him back on the radar, and this weekend, Matthews look to add to his impressive comeback campaign with a victory over Matthew Semelsberger.
A former collegiate football player with dynamite in his hands, “Semi” followed up his 15-second knockout win over Martin Sano Jr. at UFC 266 with a grueling decision victory in his first appearance of 2022. He dropped a decision to Alex Morono in his next appearance and will once again look to rebound in a big way this weekend.
Semelsberger is a dangerous dance partner for anyone, and Matthews will need to be mindful of the power coming his way, but another statement effort like the one he turned in over the summer in Singapore would give him an 8-2 mark over his last 10 and 5-1 record through his last six, and just might be enough to land him opposite someone with a number next to their name in his first appearance of 2023.
Do you know what I really like to see from young fighters? Development from fight-to-fight, and that’s precisely what McKenna showed in her second outing of the year.
The DWCS alum made her first start of the year against Elise Reed in London in March, dropping a split decision in a fight where it took her too long to get out of first gear and into her grappling attacks. She struggled to close the distance, couldn’t get a good read on Reed’s timing, and it cost her.
McKenna returned less than five months later against Miranda Granger and from the word “Go,” she was ready to get inside and play to her strengths. It didn’t matter that Granger had a massive reach advantage — “Poppins” forced her way into the clinch, dragged the fight to the canvas, and ultimately secured a second-round submission win by Von Flue choke to push her record to 7-2 overall.
Now the Welsh strawweight returns for a third 2022 assignment, facing off with Cheyanne Vlismas in a battle of DWCS grads looking to carry a solid winning streak into next year.
After dropping her promotional debut, Vlismas relocated back to Las Vegas and has since collected a pair of victories, defeating Gloria de Paula by knockout and Mallory Martin by unanimous decision to once again build a little buzz. She’s been out of action for the last year, having been forced to withdraw from an October assignment against Tabatha Ricci, but represents a modest step up in competition for the compact powerhouse McKenna.
Still one of the youngest female fighters on the roster, having turned 23 in July, McKenna was a well-regarded prospect heading into her appearance on the Contender Series and has recaptured that standing now that she’s back moving in the right direction again. She’s working with a great team for her skill set at Team Alpha MMA in Sacramento, and a victory over Vlismas this weekend would further elevate her stock as the UFC closes out its 2022 campaign on Saturday.
When Kape touched down in the UFC, he arrived with great fanfare and expectations, having closed out his time competing in Japan with consecutive stoppage wins over Takeya Mizugaki and Kai Asakura. His expectation was that he would rise to the top of the flyweight division in rapid fashion and without issue, but things didn’t work out as he’d anticipated.
The talented newcomer dropped each of his first two appearances by decision — the first to Alexandre Pantoja, and the second to Matheus Nicolau — before collecting consecutive stoppage wins over Ode’ Osbourne and Zhalgas Zhumagulov that got things moving in the right direction again and showcased his abundant talents.
“StarBoy” had a pair of opportunities fall through this year for different reasons, but he finally makes his return to action on Saturday, facing off with David Dvorak in a matchup between Top 15 fighters looking to end the year with a major triumph.
Dvorak was handed his first UFC setback and had his 17-fight winning streak halted by Nicolau in March, but he remains stationed inside the Top 10 in the flyweight division. The Czech standout is 20-4 overall and should be a stern test for Kape on the weekend.
While he’s shown out in his last two appearances, this is the kind of matchup the confident and magnetic Kape needs to win in order to really propel himself into the title conversation in the 125-pound weight class. Although his UFC adventure hasn’t gone as planned just yet, the talent is there for Kape to be a legitimate contender, if not champion; he just needs to show it, and Saturday would be as good a time as any to do just that.
UFC Fight Night: Cannonier vs Strickland took place live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas on December 17, 2022. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!