The event following a massive pay-per-view often struggles to draw huge amounts of attention simply because of the excitement that came before it, but Saturday’s debut appearance at The Theater at Virgin Hotels shouldn’t have that problem.
Headlined by a pivotal bantamweight pairing between former champ Petr Yan and surging contender Merab Dvalishvili, and bolstered by the quick re-booking of the delayed recent main event matchup between Nikita Krylov and Ryan Spann, this weekend’s event features a bunch of contests with divisional ramifications and huge opportunities for some ascending names.
Tucked in before the more familiar ranked competitors hit the Octagon, a troika of talents looking to keep building off recent success will make the walk. The first two competitors are travelling parallel paths in the ultra-competitive bantamweight ranks, while the third is a returning flyweight looking to pick up where he left off in the spring of 2021, making Saturday a potentially big day for all three.
Here’s a closer look at those competitors.
Martinez is the perfect embodiment of the kind of fighter that this series is designed to showcase and spotlight — a quiet, unassuming talent who flies under the radar despite owning a four-fight winning streak and being 8-2 over his last 10 fights… which should honestly be 9-1 because he should have earned the nod against Andre Ewell at the start of 2020.
This weekend, “Dragon” steps in with Said Nurmagomedov in a matchup that should introduce him to a larger audience and could result in the 28-year-old having a number next to his name when the rankings update following this event.
Like a lot of fighters in their late 20s that initially got called to the Octagon as a short-notice replacement, Martinez took a minute to settle in to life in the UFC, beginning his career with a 2-2 record, including that loss to Ewell. Since then, the Factory X representative has posted six wins in seven starts, earning victories over Thomas Almeida, Alejandro Perez, and Cub Swanson, with his lone setback coming in the middle stages of a fun clash with Davey Grant.
Last October, Martinez finished Swanson in the second round, chopping down the veteran with leg kicks in the second round to collect his fourth straight win and land this opportunity against Nurmagomedov, who has also earned four consecutive victories to climb to the fringes of the Top 15.
The biggest reason guys like Martinez fly under the radar is because of the depth of talent in the bantamweight division, as each week delivers a new name, another breakout performance, and making serious headway is difficult. But if Martinez can maintain this run of success through this weekend, folks are going to have no choice to recognize is upside and remember his name going forward.
Bautista is another quintessential “Fighter on the Rise,” as the 29-year-old returns to Las Vegas on a three-fight winning streak, having earned back-to-back submission finishes, and victories in five of his last six fights.
The MMA Lab product made his promotional debut on short notice on the first card of 2019, suffering a first-round stoppage loss to current contender Cory Sandhagen. Consecutive victories over Jin Soo Son and Miles Johns got him moving in the right direction, but a knockout loss to Trevin Jones knocked him off track momentarily.
After nearly a year on the sidelines, Bautista bounced back with a victory over Jay Perrin last February, turned around four months later and submitted Brian Kelleher, and then closed out a tremendous 2022 with a first-round submission win over Benito Lopez. This weekend, he looks to make it four straight as he takes on resurgent Argentine Guido Cannetti.
The 43-year-old Cannetti came into 2022 on a three-fight slide, sporting a 2-5 record inside the Octagon. But consecutive stoppage wins over Kris Moutinho and Randy Costa have him in the best form of his career, fighting with confidence and making the most of finishing opportunities when they’re presented.
Saturday’s contest highlights why Bautista is already one to watch in the 135-pound ranks, as he’s signed on the dotted line for a fourth appearance in 13 months, confident that another victory will propel him into a matchup with a ranked opponent next time out.
Silva pulled a bit of a Keyser Söze over the last 18 months, vanishing into thin air after delivering a pair of impressive wins, leaving only tales of his exploits behind.
A long-time training partner of former two-division champion Henry Cejudo, Silva struggled through his first three UFC outings, coming away without a victory. But his second and third bouts came against Top 15 competitors David Dvorak and Tagir Ulanbekov, and in the first quarter of 2021, the Brazilian “Bulldog” showed what he’s capable of when fighting at his best.
Silva battered JP Buys in March to secure his first UFC victory, punishing the South African with heavy shots before the fight was halted in the second round. Two months later, he jumped into a short-notice fight with Victor Rodriguez, replacing Denys Bondar, and topped his last effort, dispatching Rodriguez in a minute flat to secure a second consecutive victory and second straight Performance of the Night bonus.
Since then, however, Silva has been a ghost. There haven’t been any fight bookings that have fallen out or Instagram posts detailing a surgery or obvious reason for his absence; he simply hasn’t been competing.
That hiatus ends this weekend when Silva steps in with Tyson Nam, a veteran banger coming off a first-round knockout win over Ode’ Osbourne last time out who has won three of his last four, each of them inside the distance.
Silva seemed poised to make a run into the rankings after his two wins in three months back in the first half of 2021, but he’s now forced to rebuild that momentum. Those two efforts showed that he’s certainly capable of having success in the Octagon, but Nam is a more seasoned, more dangerous opponent, so it will be interesting to see how the soon-to-be 33-year-old looks in his return.
The depth of talent in the flyweight division has been on the rise for a couple years now, and Silva would definitely be another intriguing addition to that ascending pack if he’s able to pick up where he left off this weekend.