While a rematch for the middleweight title seven years in the making headlines this weekend’s Pay-Per-View event in Manchester, England, one of the strongest subplots of this card is that UFC 204 features several promising emerging talents looking to take another step forward in their development and introduce themselves to a larger audience.
Names like Bisping, Henderson, Belfort and Mousasi are the ones that will draw people in, but don’t be surprised if some of the lesser known fighters that step into the Octagon on Saturday night make the biggest impact.
Here are three such fighters to watch out for this weekend.
This is On the Rise.
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If not for a serious knee injury, Bektic would probably already be someone more fans were looking at as one of the future stars of the featherweight division. Instead, the 25-year-old standout is returning for the first time since May 2015, eager to pick up where he left off and resume a rapid climb up the 145-pound ranks.
The undefeated Bektic has posted three consecutive victories inside the Octagon, winning each subsequent fight in more convincing fashion than the last. After edging out Chas Skelly in his debut, the American Top Team product mauled Paul Redmond en route to a unanimous decision before running through Lucas Martins to push his winning streak to 10.
He was scheduled to face Japanese veteran Tatsuya Kawajiri last December, but a blown ACL put him on the shelf. Bektic was tabbed as a championship-level talent as he stormed through opponents on the regional circuit and has only solidified that advanced billing since debuting in the UFC. Healthy and hungry, you can be sure Bektic will be looking to make up for lost time and make a statement in his return to the cage Saturday night in Manchester.
“What happened to Davey Grant?” was one of the first things that would pop up when you would type the British bantamweight’s name into Google, but back in February, Grant returned to action for the first time in more than two years and showed that he’s someone to keep tabs on going forward with a dominant decision win over Marlon Vera.
Despite going 27 months between fights – including weighing in for a bout against Roland Delorme in London, only to have the contest scrapped less than 24 hours before the show - Grant didn’t look like he missed a beat in February, controlling the action from the outset while picking up his first UFC victory.
After beating Vera in London, the 30-year-old Grant will face Damian Stasiak in what amounts to a hometown fight for him, as the Bishop Auckland native trains at SBG Manchester and should get a quality pop from the partisan crowd at the Manchester Arena. With another win on Saturday, Grant will put himself in position to move up the ladder and face bigger names in the deep and intriguing bantamweight division heading into 2017.
When you’re an undefeated 23-year-old that has needed a combined 60 seconds to win your last two fights, people need to be paying attention when you step into the Octagon for the first time. Diakese accomplished that feat in his wins over Rick Selvarajah and Kane Mousah, earning a call up to the big leagues.
Originally scheduled to take on Reza Madadi, the Atherton Submission Wrestling product will instead face Lukasz Sajewski after “Mad Dog” was forced off the card last week due to injury.
While it’s dangerous to look too far into the future based off a pair of blistering finishes and an unbeaten run to begin his career on the regional circuit, those recent outings – and the whole of Diakiese’s career to date – show the kind of potential the still developing fighter brings with him to the cage. Surrounded by a good camp and graced with obvious talent, he’s definitely someone to pay close attention to this weekend and a name to remember for the future.