Back in the glory days of the National Wrestling Alliance, Charlotte was one of the best territories in the business — home of Jim Crockett Promotions and Mid Atlantic Championship Wrestling, and then remaining a key market when World Championship Wrestling came together in the late ‘80s.
If there was an event in Charlotte, you knew it was a big deal and going to feature some outstanding matchups, and the same has held true with the UFC’s trips to the largest city in North Carolina.
UFC 3 and UFC 5 both took place in Charlotte, with the first of those two shows expected to feature a return meeting between Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock and the second seeing them paired off in the first UFC SuperFight after the bout at UFC 3 never materialized.
Years later, the Octagon touched down at Bojangles Coliseum for a Fight Night event headlined by lightweight contenders Kenny Florian and Takanori Gomi, and then in 2018, Spectrum Center played host to UFC on FOX: Jacare vs. Brunson 2, which featured impressive efforts from Jacare Souza, Gregor Gillespie, and the debuting Cory Sandhagen.
Before the big boys close out the show, a host of hopefuls will make the walk to the Octagon, including the three spotlighted below that have a chance to really stand out.
Here’s the UFC Charlotte edition of Fighters on the Rise.
Ian Machado Garry
Machado Garry carried a great deal of hype after arriving on the UFC shores as an undefeated former Cage Warriors welterweight champion, and he validated his advance billing with a first-round knockout win over Jordan Williams in his promotional debut in Madison Square Garden at UFC 268.
His sophomore year featured a pair of solid, workmanlike wins over Darian Weeks and Gabe Green before the 25-year-old Irishman spent the back half of the year preparing for and eventually welcoming his first child with his wife. He returned to action earlier this year at UFC 285, where he navigated getting knocked down in the opening round before pouring it on to pick up a third-round stoppage win over Song Kenan.
In many ways, that fight with the Chinese veteran was exactly what Machado Garry needed after eight months on the sidelines: a good scrap with an experienced veteran where he was not only forced to show his grit and moxie in making it through the first knockdown of his UFC career, but the poise and confidence that allowed him to right the ship in the second and get Song out of there in the third.
“The Future” gets a significant step up in competition this weekend, stepping in against Top 15 fighter Daniel Rodriguez in his first clash with a ranked opponent.
Rodriguez has been an unexpected success story since touching down in the UFC with a short notice win over veteran Tim Means. The 36-year-old has posted a 7-2 record through nine starts, using sharp fundamentals and a grimy, pressure-based approach to earn a place in the welterweight rankings.
This is the kind of matchup analysts have been dying to see for Machado Garry — a date with a skilled, experienced pro where the outcome of the contest doesn’t seem like a foregone conclusion. He’s proven that he’s ready to mix it up with stiffer competition, but now it’s time to find out if the Irish standout is ready to have a number next to his name.
Ulberg’s UFC tenure didn’t get off on the right foot, as the City Kickboxing representative threw everything including the kitchen sink at Kennedy Nzechukwu in his debut, only for the Fortis MMA man to absorb it all and collect a second-round finish of his own.
But since then, “Black Jag” has been making strides and stacking positive results. He rebounded with a unanimous decision victory over Fabio Cherant in his sophomore appearance inside the Octagon, dropped Tafon Nchukwi with a jab and secured the first-round finish in his next fight, and most recently earned a patient, technical first-round stoppage win over Nicolae Negumereanu at UFC 281.
Because he trains at City and was hyped by his famous teammates, most notably middleweight champ Israel Adesanya, Ulberg touched down in the UFC with tremendous expectations heaped upon his shoulders. But he’s still quite young in his shift to MMA, as this weekend’s bout with Ihor Potieria will be just his tenth appearance, but so far, the progress has been impressive.
Potieria is a fellow Dana White’s Contender Series grad and enters off a stoppage win over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua where he incurred the wrath of fight fans for performing his elaborate post-fight celebration after felling the former light heavyweight champion and retiring legend. “The Duelist” is 19-3 overall, but built that record against marginal competition before arriving in the UFC, and dropped his debut to Negumereanu back at UFC 277.
Ulberg appears to be connecting the dots on how to make his considerable striking skills, tremendous size, and obvious power work for him inside the Octagon, and it’s going to be fascinating to see how he continues to progress over the next few fights. He has the raw tools to blossom into a contender down the line, and my hunch is that we’ll see him with a number next to his name in the not too distant future.
A Muay Thai stylist who shared the ring with reigning UFC flyweight champ Valentina Shevchenko back in the day, Lisboa makes her promotional debut this weekend against Jessica-Rose Clark.
The 31-year-old Brazilian lost her MMA debut to current UFC featherweight Norma Dumont, but has gone 5-1 since, including having won her last three outings inside the distance. She has faced limited competition to this point in her career but, for the most part, Lisboa has handled her business and won convincingly, earning her an opportunity to test herself on the biggest stage in the sport.
Clark is a quality initial assignment for the debuting “Thai Panther” — an experienced veteran who is returning from an absence following an injury, and someone who is capable of testing her in all realms once they get in there on Saturday. We saw more grappling from “Jessy Jess” in win over Joselyne Edwards in late 2021, but she’s a solid striker, as well, so it’ll be interesting to see how she approaches this fight or if Lisboa doesn’t even let her have a say in how things play out.
It’s always interesting to see fighters like Lisboa make the transition to MMA and get catapulted into the UFC relatively early on, because it becomes a sink or swim proposition right out of the chute. She was successful in her first combat sport, and we’ve seen others make a successful move from Muay Thai to MMA in the past, and now Lisboa wants to be the next to join that lineage.
UFC Fight Night: Rozenstruik vs Almeida took place live from the Spectrum Center in Charlotte on May 13, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!