The top two fights on this weekend’s UFC on FOX event in Glendale, Arizona feature familiar, established names, but the deeper draw to this card – at least for me – is that it offers a chance to get another look at a number of promising emerging talents coming off strong showings.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m still psyched for the welterweight clash between Carlos Condit and Alex Oliveira, and Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje will probably end up burning the Gila River Arena down in the lightweight main event, it’s just there are a bunch of interesting neophytes hitting the Octagon as well and I’m curious to see what they bring to the table.
Here’s a closer look at three of them.
This is On the Rise: Glendale Edition.
I tried to tell you heading into his debut at UFC 221 back in February. I gave you the head’s up that Adesanya had the potential to make an instant impact in the middleweight division in his promotional debut opposite Rob Wilkinson, but if you missed out, you’re getting a second chance.
That night in Perth, the unbeaten “Last Stylebender” scored a second-round stoppage win that showcased his poise, polish and panache as he took his time, picked his spots, had some fun and then wrapped things up as soon as the opportunity presented itself. He then cut a scalding promo on the rest of the division, announcing his presence and his intention to become a force in the 185-pound ranks by the end of the year.
For his UFC encore, Adesanya squares off with OTR alum Marvin Vettori in what should be a tremendous test for the talented kickboxer and unbeaten MMA fighter. The 24-year-old Vettori has faced stiff competition over the last several years and shown promise since arriving the UFC while honing his skills under the watchful eye of Master Rafael Cordeiro at Kings MMA.
Should Adesanya keep his unblemished record intact and deliver another exciting performance, expect the buzz surrounding the Nigerian-born New Zealander to continue to get louder and the opportunities to continue coming quickly for the entertaining middleweight upstart.
On a night where all five bouts were entertaining, Mueller came away from her victory on the final week of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series with a UFC contract in hand, and that should tell you something about the undefeated flyweight newcomer.
That night, the Alliance MMA representative outworked Invicta FC alum Kelly Velasco-McGill, stinging her on the feet in several exchanges while avoiding any real dicey moments en route to a unanimous decision win. Now 4-0 in her career, “Princess Tiger” looks to take another step forward in the flyweight ranks in her promotional debut.
Mueller will share the cage in her first Octagon appearance with Shana Dobson, a TUF 26 alum who collected a second-round knockout win over Ariel Beck in her first appearance on the big stage back in December.
Training with one of the top teams in the sport in San Diego and alongside a host of UFC fighters will certainly help prepare Mueller for this moment, and if she’s able to emerge victorious, the 26-year-old will position herself as one to watch in the brand new flyweight division.
One of the biggest narratives to take shape so far this year has been the emergence of new names in the light heavyweight and heavyweight ranks, two divisions where fresh talent has been tough to find. Because his successful debut came last September in Edmonton, Bhullar has been left out of the conversation about newcomers with upside in the big boy ranks, but overlooking the former Canadian Olympian would be a mistake.
The unbeaten wrestler picked up a unanimous decision win over Luis Henrique at UFC 215, taking the best the Brazilian had to offer and finding a way to implement his game plan throughout to maintain his unbeaten record. With a world-class wrestling background and ties to the American Kickboxing Academy, Bhullar is a suffocating grappler with steadily improving striking and the kind of elite international experience that eliminates all the nerves and pressure that can often come with competing at the highest level in the sport.
For his sophomore appearance, the 31-year-old British Columbia native squares off with Adam Wieczorek, who also enters off a unanimous decision win in his first UFC showing. It’s a tough test for Bhullar, but one that provides him with the opportunity to prove he’s another new name to remember in the heavyweight division heading into the second half of 2018.