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David Onama of Uganda punches Mason Jones of Wales in a lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on October 23, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Fighters on the Rise | UFC Fight Night: Walker vs Hill

Three Can't-Miss Combatants To Watch For On Saturday's Las Vegas Event

Following last weekend’s pay-per-view event in Houston, business shifts back to the UFC APEX in Las Vegas for a deep fight card headlined by a compelling matchup between ranked light heavyweight talents Johnny Walker and Jamahal Hill.

This is the February 19 edition of Fighters on the Rise.

Jamahal Hill

A member of the Class of ’19 on Dana White’s Contender Series, Hill has made steady progress up the light heavyweight rankings since debuting in the Octagon in 2020, posting three wins, one loss, and one no contest verdict in five starts. He enters Saturday’s main event pairing with Walker positioned at No. 12 in the rankings but has the makings of someone destined to climb much higher.

Hill began his 2021 campaign on a down note, suffering a first-round stoppage loss to Paul Craig in a fight where his elbow was dislocated. Thankfully, it looked worse than it actually was, and “Sweet Dreams” returned to action before the end of the year, collecting a 48-second knockout win over Jimmy Crute at the start of December to rebound in emphatic fashion.

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Following his loss to Craig, the rapid knockout of Crute was a sharp, sudden reminder of the power and potential the 30-year-old Michigan native and father of five possesses, and an indication that his best is probably still to come.

This pairing with Walker is another opportunity for Hill to cement his status as the top up-and-coming talent in the division and take a giant step forward in the title chase.

Despite just one win in his last four outings, the flamboyant Brazilian Walker remains a Top 10 fixture. Last time out, he headlined opposite former title challenger Thiago Santos, dropping a unanimous decision to his countryman to drop his record to 18-6 overall and 4-3 inside the Octagon. But Walker has shown an ability to end fights quickly in unconventional ways, which makes him a perpetually dangerous threat, especially when he’s fighting aggressively.

Highlight: Jamahal Hill Gets Jaw-Dropping KO Over Jimmy Crute | UFC Fight Night: Font vs Aldo
Highlight: Jamahal Hill Gets Jaw-Dropping KO Over Jimmy Crute | UFC Fight Night: Font vs Aldo

Should Hill successfully navigate Saturday’s bout and emerge with a second straight victory, he should find himself in a position to take on another Top 10 opponent in his second start of 2022, and with plenty more people talking about him as a dark horse contender in the light heavyweight division.

Jonathan Pearce

Like Hill, Pearce is also a member of the DWCS Class of ’19, graduating a couple weeks ahead of Saturday’s main event combatant following a third-round stoppage win over Jacob Rosales. Three months later, “JSP” made his Octagon debut in Boston, Massachusetts, taking on local favorite Joe Lauzon in a lightweight matchup that he lost in 93 seconds.

Since then, however, Pearce has moved back down to featherweight and posted consecutive victories, collecting a second-round TKO win over Kai Kamaka III in late November 2020 before submitting Omar Morales at UFC 266 last September. This weekend, Pearce looks to make it three in a row against Christian Rodriguez.

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A native of East Tennessee, Pearce trains with the Fight Ready team in Scottsdale, Arizona, which means he’s getting quality work with an assortment of in-house standouts and potentially a number of recent high-profile additions, like flyweight champ Deiveson Figueiredo. The team has enjoyed strong success over the last few years, as has Pearce, who has collected seven victories in his last eight outings, all by submission.

UFC Vegas 15: Jonathan Pearce ground and pounds Kamaka to secure the win
UFC Vegas 15: Jonathan Pearce ground and pounds Kamaka to secure the win

There is always a ton of talent working to make headway in the featherweight division, giving each contest added importance, and if Pearce wants to make a real move up the divisional ladder in 2022, another strong showing on Saturday night is a must. If he can dictate the terms of engagement and avoid getting sucked into an ugly battle, the promising 29-year-old could very well extend his winning streak to three and position himself for another step up in competition next time out.

David Onama

There are times when a fighter elevates their stock, even in defeat.

In Onama’s case, his stock skyrocketed despite coming away on the unhappy side of a unanimous decision verdict in his debut.

The former FAC featherweight standout accepted a short-notice call-up to compete at lightweight two weeks after pushing his record to 8-0 with his eighth consecutive stoppage victory. Paired off with former Cage Warriors two-division champ Mason Jones, Onama went shot-for-shot and scramble-for-scramble with the Welsh bruiser, dishing out plenty, but ending up just a step behind “The Dragon” when it came time to read the scorecards.

While the setback bounced him from the ranks of the unbeaten, the 27-year-old came away from the contest as a must-watch fighter going forward, especially given that he was competing up a division. Now back at featherweight, Onama makes his first full-camp appearance inside the Octagon against divisional stalwart Gabriel Benitez on Saturday.

A competitor on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America, the 33-year-old Benitez has been a fixture on the UFC roster ever since, amassing a 6-5 record while continually engaging in competitive, entertaining fights. He’s struggled to find consistent results as of late, collecting just one victory in his last four appearances, but with 32 fights, Benitez is easily the most experienced foe Onama has faced to date.

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This is another outstanding opportunity for Onama, who is a member of the Glory MMA crew led by James Krause. For those that may not have caught his debut against Jones or forgotten his impressive effort, this weekend’s matchup affords him a chance to share the cage with an established, experienced fighter, back down in his natural weight class.

Wins over Benitez don’t come easy and therefore carry a certain weight, and if Onama can collect one this weekend, he should find himself popping up on more “Fighters to Watch” lists later in the year.

UFC Fight Night: Walker vs Hill took place on Saturday, February 19, 2022, live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas. See the Final ResultsOfficial Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses — and relive all of the action on UFC Fight Pass.