Alexander Hernandez reacts after defeating Beneil Dariush by TKO in a lightweight bout duirng UFC 222 at T-Mobile Arena on March 3, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)" />(Adopts The Rock’s voice)
Finally – the UFC has come back to Calgary.
When the action hits the Octagon on Saturday at the Scotiabank Saddledome, it will have been 2198 days since UFC 149 took place – I did the math – and while it has been an agonizingly long wait for the passionate fight fans in Cowtown, this weekend’s loaded UFC on FOX event is poised to make it all worth it.
Headlined by a lightweight clash between Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier that not only carries championship implications, but is also a grudge match between the two Top 10 talents, the 13-fight event is packed with familiar names and future contenders across various divisions and should be electric from the jump.
Here’s a closer look at three of those potential future contenders who will look to use their opportunities in Calgary to elevate themselves in their respective weight classes and introduce themselves to a larger audience.
This is On the Rise: Calgary Edition.
Hernandez got the call to make his UFC debut a little more than two weeks prior to UFC 222. Tabbed to step in for the injured Bobby Green against Beneil Dariush, the 25-year-old San Antonio resident made the absolute most of his opportunity, walking into the cage and putting away the Top 15 talent in under a minute.
The victory extended Hernandez’ winning streak to seven and put him on the map as someone to watch in the ultra-competitive lightweight division, as if racking up eight wins in his first nine starts with five finishes weren’t enough.
Now ready for his sophomore appearance in the Octagon, the confident Hernandez draws Olivier Aubin-Mercier in the opening bout of Saturday’s main card in a clash of young fighters looking to continue making waves in the 155-pound waters. “The Canadian Gangster” has won four straight and is coming off a quick stoppage win over a sturdy veteran himself, making this the perfect time to pair the two off together.
It’s hard to get a true read on a fighter when they’re only in the cage for 42 seconds, other than to recognize and acknowledge that Hernandez has serious power, but this pairing with Aubin-Mercier should provide greater insights into how high “Alexander the Great” can climb in the lightweight division.
If he can halt the French-Canadian fighter’s winning streak and post another dominant effort, Hernandez will put himself in a position to potentially challenge some of the more established names in the division when the organization starts booking fights for the fall and winter.
Joachim Christensen in their light heavyweight fight during the UFC 211 event at the American Airlines Center on May 13, 2017 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)" />After a pair of first-round submission wins in his initial two appearances in the Octagon, Antigulov was well on his way to establishing himself as a difficult to pronounce new name in the light heavyweight division. Injuries scuttled his next two scheduled bouts and halted his momentum, but after more than a year on the sidelines, the 31-year-old is set to return this weekend and resume his march up the divisional ladder.
Antigulov carries a 14-fight winning streak into his matchup with Ion Cutelaba Saturday evening in Calgary and the Master of Sports in freestyle wrestling hasn’t lost since Pink topped the charts with Nate Ruess and “Just Give Me a Reason,” which remains a terrific song to this day.
The Dagestani grappler, who readies for his fights at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida, isn’t the biggest fighter in the division, but he’s a bear of a man who has shown an outstanding ability to control the terms of engagement inside the cage and put himself in position to execute his game plan swiftly and efficiently.
Through his first two UFC appearances, Antigulov has logged just three minutes and 28 seconds of cage time while tapping out Marcos Rogerio de Lima and Joachim Christensen, and if he continues to make quick work of the opposition, he’ll recapture that paused momentum and return to being a dark horse contender in the increasingly intriguing light heavyweight division.
John Moraga in their flyweight bout during The Ultimate Fighter Finale event at MGM Grand Garden Arena on July 8, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)" />Every so often in this space, I’ll roll out a repeat appearance and it’s almost always because I don’t think people quite got the message the first time around.
This is one of those times.
Nicolau is one to watch in the flyweight division and has been since he edged out former title challenger John Moraga by split decision two summers ago. He was sidelined due to a USADA violation, but returned last December at UFC 219, making an appearance in this column before earning a unanimous decision win over Louis Smolka to extend his winning streak to three and re-establish himself as arguably the top young talent in the 125-pound weight class.
Saturday night in Calgary, Nicolau takes on one of the more unheralded fighters in the division, 29-year-old Dustin Ortiz, who has shared the cage with seven of the nine men currently ranked alongside of him in the Top 10 and enters on a two-fight winning streak.
If Nicolau can earn his fourth consecutive UFC victory this weekend, the 25-year-old Brazilian will vault himself into the thick of the title chase in the flyweight division.