Different divisions end up in the spotlight for different amounts of time over the course of a year in the UFC. Sometimes there is a month featuring a vast number of bouts from the same weight class slated to hit the Octagon over a three- or four-week period, while other times will see a number of critical matchups at the top of a division spread out over six or seven weeks that will help reshape the hierarchy in that particular division.
This weekend, the lightweight division is in full focus, as despite the main event shifting to a catchweight contest, the principals involved still represent the 155-pound ranks.
And before they hit the cage, three other pairs of lightweights will make the walk to the Octagon, as well. Each of those contests is an important matchup for both parties, with the victors taking a step forward in the ultra-competitive division, and the vanquished forced to regroup and look to rebound next time out.
Here’s a closer look at one of the competitors from each of those lightweight contests, all of whom are looking to build on impressive efforts and further prove they are on the rise in the deepest division in the UFC.
The UFC lightweight division is so good at the moment that Joel Alvarez remains on outside of the Top 15 despite entering this weekend’s clash with Arman Tsarukyan on a four-fight winning streak, where all of the victories have come by way of stoppage, the last three in the first round.
Alvarez reached the UFC with a 15-1 record and riding a 10-fight winning streak, but dropped his debut to Damir Ismagulov, another ultra-talented, streaking lightweight hopeful. Since then, “El Fenomeno” has posted consecutive victories over Danilo Belluardo, Joseph Duffy, Alexander Yakovlev, and Thiago Moises, with his victory over Moises coming just four months after the previously ranked Brazilian headlined opposite this weekend’s headliner Islam Makhachev.
Two things that are likely working against the 28-year-old Spaniard as he tries to break into the rankings: (1) he only fought once last year, with more than a year having passed since his previous outing, and (2) he’s missed weight in consecutive contests.
But making weight and adding another impressive performance to his resume this weekend against Tsarukyan would all but assure Alvarez of a place in the Top 15, as his 25-year-old opponent currently sits at No. 13 in the divisional rankings and enters on a four-fight winning streak of his own.
Alvarez, who turns 29 early next month, has tremendous size for the division, standing six-foot-three with a 77-inch reach and long legs, and he uses it all to his advantage inside the cage. He has been especially sharp over his last three outings, but needs to make weight on Friday in order to maximize the value of a potential victory on Saturday night.
If he can do both of those things — hit 156 or below on the scale and earn a victory over Tsarukyan — people will be forced to talk about the tall, streaking Spaniard as a legitimate threat in the lightweight division as we head towards the second quarter of the 2022 fight calendar.
A member of the Class of 2020 on Dana White’s Contender Series, Ignacio Bahamondes split his first two appearances inside the Octagon in 2021, delivering memorable performances each time out.
In April, the 24-year-old from Chile, who trains under Mike Valle in the Chicago area alongside UFC stalwarts like Belal Muhammad and Yair Rodriguez, went shot-for-shot with Canadian veteran John Makdessi, landing on the unhappy side of a split decision verdict. Four months later, “La Jaula” returned and closed out his clash with Roosevelt Roberts by dropping his fellow DWCS grad with a spinning wheel kick in the final seconds of the contest.
This weekend, the kid everyone in the gym refers to as “Nacho” returns against Rong Zhu in an interesting clash of youngsters in the lightweight division. Like Bahamondes, the 21-year-old Chinese hopeful dropped his promotional debut in April before rebounding with a third-round stoppage win in his sophomore appearance inside the Octagon, and Saturday’s clash will determine which of the two takes a step forward to start their 2022 campaign.
Bahamondes would be well served to hustle back to the dressing room or out to the bleachers following his fight, as he would likely benefit from watching how Alvarez uses his size to his advantage inside the Octagon, which is something the six-foot-three striker has yet to master. Some of that is because he’s young, some of it is because he’s largely been successful up to this point in his career, and some of it is because he just likes to get in there and mix it up, but if he really wants to maximize his talents and forge a path towards the Top 15, keeping opponents on the end of long kicks and punches would serve him well.
The lightweight division is flush with talent (as always) and there are numerous young, developing fighters looking to make a push forward this year. Saturday’s contest with Rong Zhu should be another solid test for Bahamondes and help paint a clearer picture of what kind of improvements he’d made, where he’s at in his development, and what to expect from him in his sophomore year on the UFC roster.
Terrance McKinney registered four wins in 2021, yet he spent less than two minutes inside the cage.
After earning impressively quick first-round finishes in March, April, and early June, the Spokane, Washington native hustled into the Octagon for his short-notice promotional debut at UFC 263, and promptly laid out veteran Matt Frevola in seven seconds to extend his winning streak to four and instantly establish himself as someone to watch in the UFC lightweight division. As soon as “The Steamrolla” lifted his foot to throw a range-finding kick, McKinney uncorked a one-two that landed flush and put Frevola on the deck.
The 27-year-old returns on Saturday against Fares Ziam, a tall, rangy youngster on a two-fight winning streak of his own, in a bout designed to see which of the emerging talents continues moving forward and which one is forced to take a step back to close out the year.
What’s most interesting about McKinney’s string of rapid, highlight-reel finishes is that he’s more known for his wrestling than he is his striking, having excelled in high school and pursued the sport collegiately before transitioning to a career in the cage. He hasn’t needed to show it of late, but he earned six of his first seven wins by submission and was wrestling well against Sean Woodson on the Contender Series in the summer of 2019 before eating a flying knee from the towering Missouri native.
McKinney is the kind of dynamic athlete that could very well grow by leaps and bounds based on the time he commits to spending in the gym and the more he tests himself against high-level competition. He’s quick, strong, and clearly has knockout power, and if he’s got any of the tenacity fellow Spokane representatives like Chiesa and Julianna Pena possess, “T. Wrecks” could follow them into the Top 10 in the future.
UFC Fight Night: Makhachev vs Green took place on Saturday, February 26, 2022, live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses — and relive all of the action on UFC Fight Pass.