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On the Rise: Fresno Edition


Hot on the heels of a thrilling night of action at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, the Octagon moves to Northern California for the UFC’s debut show at the Save Mart Center in Fresno.

Headlined by a crucial featherweight clash between divisional stalwart Cub Swanson and surging upstart Brian Ortega, and a boasting a rich collection of supporting acts, Saturday’s fight card should be a strong and entertaining follow-up to the awesomeness that transpired last weekend.

And just as a handful of relatively new names used those events as a chance to introduce themselves to a larger audience, Saturday’s event features another triumvirate of talents who will be looking to do the same.

This is On the Rise: Fresno Edition.

Eryk Anders

Rafael Natal of Brazil in their middleweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event inside the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on July 22, 2017 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)" align="center" />A member of the 2009 National champion Alabama Crimson Tide, Anders has made the same kind of impact inside the cage as he once made on the gridiron. Unbeaten through his first nine fights, the former linebacker turned middleweight prospect is a high-level athlete with serious power who should definitely be on the radar of anyone searching for the next up-and-coming contender in the middleweight division.

After amassing eight wins and six finishes over his first two years as a pro, Anders got the call to the Octagon as a late replacement for Alessio Di Chirico opposite Rafael Natal in July and made the most of his opportunity. He looked perfectly comfortable inside the UFC cage and laid out the Brazilian veteran in just under three minutes to collect his first big league win.

Originally scheduled to face Welsh newcomer John Phillips, Anders will square off with undefeated Brazilian Markus Perez instead as the former Legacy Fighting Alliance champ makes the quick turnaround to take advantage of this opportunity. The 29-year-old is perfect through his first nine fights, including wins over UFC vets Paulo Thiago and Ildemar Alcantara and should provide a stern test for Anders on Saturday night.

Should Anders push his winning streak to double digits, don’t be surprised if “Ya Boi” finds himself in the fast lane to contention when the 2018 campaign kicks off.

Benito Lopez

Another graduate of this summer’s Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender series, the 23-year-old Team Alpha Male representative earned his ticket to the UFC with a hard-fought split decision victory over regional standout Steve Peterson on the penultimate event of the season.

Going the distance with Peterson snapped a run of five consecutive finishes for Lopez, who is part of the next wave of young talent to emerge from the elite Sacramento-based fight team. This weekend, he should have a chance to get back to his finishing ways as he squares off with the always game, always willing to trade Albert Morales in Fresno.

Check out the full card for Fight Night Fresno, airing live on FS1 this Saturday at 10PM/7PM ETPT

This is a perfect initial test for Lopez as “The Warrior” is as tough as they come and has already logged four previous trips into the Octagon. Though he’s had mixed results, Morales has shown flashes of potential and tons of heart and toughness throughout his UFC run and if the “Golden Boy” can glide into the cage and keep his perfect record intact, he’ll put himself on the growing list of young bantamweight talents to watch going forward.

Merab Dvalishvili

A member of the Serra-Longo Fight Team, Dvalishvili has spent the last two years collecting victories on the East Coast regional scene. After running his winning streak to six with a first-round knockout win over previously unbeaten Roufusport prospect Raufeon Stots in June, the bricked up bantamweight will head across the country to make his UFC debut this weekend.

Saturday’s fight card should provide an immediate indication of where Dvalishvili fits in the 135-pound weight class as he steps in with Frankie Saenz, a durable and gritty wrestler with six previous Octagon appearances under his belt. The 37-year-old Arizona native is coming off a Fight of the Night performance and has the kind of savvy and fighting spirit to push the New York-based newcomer this weekend.

After dropping two of his first three bouts before missing an entire year of competition, Dvalishvili seems to have found his footing and if he rolls into Fresno and collects his seventh straight victory, you can be sure his coach Matt Serra will be singing his praises on the next episode of the UFC Unfiltered podcast.