Given how epic UFC 238 was, it felt nice to take a week off from the fights, spend time with the family and focus all of my energy on watching the Toronto Raptors become NBA Champions!
As a Canadian whose earliest memories including dribbling a ball up and down the sidelines in university gyms while my dad referred games, I’m taking a minute to shout out the Raptors because like a like of Canadian kids who have always loved basketball more than hockey, this means more to us than you’ll ever understand or we could ever put into words.
(Wipes tears from eyes)
But now it’s time to get back to business, both for me writing this story and the UFC, which kicks off a run of nine consecutive Saturdays featuring UFC action with its inaugural journey to Greenville, South Carolina.
The card, headlined by a sure-to-be-electric featherweight pairing between Renato Moicano and “The Korean Zombie,” Chan Sung Jung, is one of those “didn’t see this one coming” type of events — the ones that don’t feature a plethora of major names, but instead deliver a ton of well-matched pairings that should produce fireworks into the Octagon.
Included in the collection of fighters who will enter the UFC cage on Saturday night at Bon Secours Wellness Arena are a diverse trio of intriguing names to pay close attention to this weekend.
Here’s a closer look at those athletes.
This is the UFC Greenville edition of On the Rise.
How’s this for a blast from the past?
After nearly five years on the sidelines, Matt Wiman is making his return to the Octagon this weekend, squaring off against fan favorite Luis Pena in a very compelling lightweight clash.
Wiman, who made his promotional debut at UFC 60 in an unforgettable fight with Spencer Fisher, last stepped into the cage in November 2014. That night in Austin, Texas, Wiman returned from a two-year absence to earn a unanimous decision win over Isaac Vallie-Flagg in a fun back-and-forth scrap. It was the 35-year-old veteran’s third win in four appearances and pushed his record to 6-2 over his last eight fights.
And then he disappeared.
A persistent back injury had contributed to Wiman’s first long stretch of inactivity and is the likely culprit here as well, though no one can say for sure because the cast member from Season 5 of The Ultimate Fighter has remained off the radar and tight-lipped heading into his return on Saturday.
With a 10-5 record in the Octagon and wins over tough veterans like Michihiro Omigawa, Thiago Tavares and Cole Miller, Wiman had always been a durable, dangerous figure in the middle of the lightweight ranks. Now that he’s back, he can take up that mantle again and will serve as a very serious test of the popular, but still raw, “Violent Bob Ross” on Saturday.
Kickboxing fans were familiar with “Bigi Boy” when the heavyweight from Suriname signed with the promotion in early January.
UFC fans quickly took notice when he marched into the Octagon and stopped Junior Albini with a beautiful combination of strikes just 54 seconds into the second round of their meeting a month later in Fortaleza, Brazil.
Standing six-foot-four and boasting polished striking with obvious power, the 31-year-old is an intriguing addition to the heavyweight ranks and with a couple more impressive performances, Rozenstruik could be someone who makes a run towards the rankings. Though he’s still inexperienced in some aspects of the game, his overall athleticism and fluid striking automatically makes him someone to pay close attention to this weekend, as he steps in opposite Allan Crowder in search of his second straight UFC win.
Crowder arrives off a disqualification victory over Greg Hardy earlier in the year and has won five of his last six overall. He’s the kind of experienced, game fighter who should push Rozenstruik and force him to show a little more than he needed to opposite Albini.
If the former kickboxer can drop into Greenville and leave with his unbeaten record intact, don’t be surprised if he lands opposite a much more established opponent next time out.
Two of the more fruitful pipelines when it comes to funneling new talent into the Octagon in recent years have been the Legacy Fighting Alliance promotion and Dana White’s Contender series. In many instances, if you win a belt under the LFA banner or put in a good performance during the summer in Las Vegas, you have a pretty good shot at getting called up to the big leagues.
As of June 11, 2018, Aguilar had done both and yet he still remained on the outside looking in. Carrying a six-fight winning streak that included a championship victory and three successful title defenses into his Contender Series showdown with Joey Gomez, a split decision nod wasn’t enough to earn Aguilar an immediate invite to compete under the UFC banner.
But “The Angel of Death” had made himself known to the UFC brass, and when an opponent was needed to face Rick Glenn four months later, Aguilar got the call and made the most of it, collecting a unanimous decision win in an entertaining back-and-forth affair at The Ultimate Fighter 28 Finale. Four months later, he followed it up with another sweep of the scorecards against the underrated Enrique Barzola, extending his winning streak to eight and establishing the 30-year-old as one to watch in the featherweight ranks.
This weekend, Aguilar squares off with Dan Ige in a battle of divisional hopefuls looking to set themselves up for bigger and better in the second half of the year. Like Aguilar, Ige won on the Contender Series, but only graduated to the Octagon as a short-notice replacement. Since losing his debut, he’s rebounded with a trio of wins, including a pair of speedy finishes.
The 145-pound ranks are in a state of flux right now and this fight has the potential to contribute to those shifts and changes. If Aguilar can maintain his winning ways and halt Ige’s run of success in memorable fashion, he’ll move one step closer to cracking the Top 15 and chasing down the big names at the top of the division.