The UFC delivers an international pay-per-view date for the third consecutive month, as this year’s annual March trek to London, England gets an upgrade.
While the San Antonio Spurs have entertained the masses at the AT&T Center for the majority of the Gregg Popovich era, the UFC rolls into town this weekend for the third time, looking to build off an electric night in London last Saturday and close out a tremendous eight-week run of events.
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Headlined by a critical bantamweight clash between Marlon “Chito” Vera and Cory Sandhagen, this weekend’s event is a spotlight opportunity for a number of new and emerging names across multiple divisions to propel themselves forward heading into the second quarter of 2023. Though the veteran contenders on the card are poised to close out the night in style, don’t sleep on the emerging set that is ready to make a splash earlier in the evening.
Here’s a closer look at three competitors to pay special attention to this weekend and keep tabs on going forward.
Despite being in the midst of the best run of her professional career, Barber has almost become the forgotten young standout in the flyweight division as fellow rising stars Erin Blanchfield and Casey O’Neill have raced into the contention.
While the 24-year-old Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) grad failed to break Jon Jones’ record as the youngest champion of all-time, Barber has reset well following consecutive setbacks with a major knee injury in between. After edging out Miranda Maverick in a competitive battle of up-and-coming prospects two summers back, she posted consecutive unanimous decision wins over Montana De La Rosa and Jessica Eye in 2022 to run her winning streak to three.
Settled in at Team Alpha Male and learning to play to her strengths more and more with each appearance, Barber has become the kind of tenacious grinder that is a miserable matchup for just about everyone, and she can vault herself further up the rankings with a victory over Andrea Lee on Saturday night.
The 34-year-old Lee has been a fixture in the Top 15 since arriving in the UFC, settling in as a quality litmus test for hopefuls looking to press closer to the upper echelon. She’s gone 5-4 in her previous nine trips into the Octagon, dropped a decision to Viviane Araujo last time out, and is fighting in her home state, all of which is sure to have her at her best this weekend.
Barber has quietly looked very good over her last couple outings, using her physicality and grit to out-hustle and out-tough her opponents, and if she can do that against Lee on Saturday, she’ll take another step towards breaking into the Top 10 and remind everyone that she’s very much someone that intends to be a factor in the championship picture for the foreseeable future.
After earning a UFC contract in the fall of 2021 with a first-round stoppage win over Kolton Englund, Torres announced his presence on the roster with a similarly impressive finish over Frank Camacho in in his promotional debut last May. Currently riding a four-fight winning streak where each of his victories have come inside the opening stanza, “El Loco” looks to continue the run of success enjoyed by Mexican fighters so far this year as he steps in for his sophomore appearance opposite Trey Ogden on Saturday night in San Antonio.
Representing Tijuana’s Entram Gym, Torres is 13-2 overall and operates with a fan-friendly “kill or be killed” approach inside the cage. He’s only been to the scorecards once in his career, and very seldom needs more than three minutes to handle his business, which creates an electric sense of tension and excitement each time he steps into the cage.
In Ogden, he’s facing a second consecutive veteran hand with an edge in experience. The 33-year-old “Samurai Ghost” enters off his first UFC triumph in September, where he halted the undefeated run of another Mexican prospect and Contender Series graduate, Daniel Zellhuber, and you can be sure he’s going to be primed and focused to stop Torres’ ascent as well.
Both his debut appearance against Camacho and this weekend’s clash with Ogden are the perfect type of matchups for Torres at this point in his career — tough pairings against tested, dangerous opponents without being thrown too deep into the lightweight talent pool to where he’s unable to swim. They’re opportunities for the ascending 27-year-old to gain more experience, continue honing his skills, and see how he measures up against a couple stalwarts before taking another step forward in the division.
And given his entertaining all-action style, he’s sure to pick up a load of new supporters and fans along the way.
Altamirano came out on the happy side of a split decision verdict in his Dana White’s Contender Series battle with Carlos Candelario, but landed on the opposite end of things in his promotional debut against Carlos Hernandez six months later in his promotional debut, leaving him with a sour taste in his mouth heading into his sophomore appearance last summer in Salt Lake City.
After getting touched up a little in the opening moments of his UFC 278 bout with Daniel Lacerda, Altamirano quickly rallied, going on the offensive and securing a ground-and-pound stoppage win for his first UFC victory. This weekend, the 32-year-old Mexican veteran lands opposite newcomer and fellow DWCS alum Vinicius Salvador in an early preliminary card contest in San Antonio, looking for a second straight win.
Despite having fewer fights than Salvador, the taekwondo stylist has fought a stronger strength of schedule over the course of his career compared to his 26-year-old counterpart, having spent his entire career competing under the LFA banner (save for one fight) prior to arriving in the UFC, earning solid wins and claiming the promotion’s flyweight title.
This isn’t the first time that he’s been penciled in to share the cage with Salvador, as the two were initially slated to face off in the fall of 2021 on the Contender Series before the Brazilian was forced to withdraw, so it will be interesting to see how that familiarity and his comfort in the Octagon play into things, as this will be Salvador’s first UFC appearance. The Brazilian fights long, but Altamirano has a comparable reach and does a good job of managing distance with his arsenal of kicks and is the far more polished of the two.
Making headway in the flyweight division is difficult these days as the depth of talent in the 125-pound ranks continues to grow, but a second consecutive victory — and a second straight finish — would certainly go a long way to helping carry Altamirano further up the divisional ladder.