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On The Rise: January 20 Edition

Three Can't-Miss Combatants To Watch For On Wednesday's UFC FIGHT ISLAND 8 Card

Following a three-week break at the end of the year, the UFC makes a quick turnaround for the second show of 2021, bringing the action back to the Octagon on Wednesday with designs on building on the momentum generated from last weekend’s opener.

Originally headlined by Leon Edwards and Khamzat Chimaev, the bout was scuttled for a second time late last month. With that pairing pushed back again, another welterweight tandem gets the chance to shine, as veterans Michael Chiesa and Neil Magny now get five rounds to work against one another as they battle to see which one will take a solid step forward in the 170-pound weight class to start the year.

While Saturday’s 2021 kick-off card featured an assemblage of veteran talent and familiar names with a smattering of newcomers and emerging competitors added to the mix, this mid-week show is an opportunity to get in on the ground floor with a host of fresh faces making the walk to the Octagon for the first time and a couple of quiet breakout candidates that have flown under the radar thus far.

Here’s a closer look at three up-and-coming competitors to track heading into and coming out of Wednesday’s event.

This is the January 20 edition of On the Rise.

LERONE MURPHY

Not a lot of people saw Lerone Murphy coming, myself included, but two fights into his UFC career, it’s high time people start paying attention to “The Miracle” as he readies to make the walk for the third time.

After battling Zubaira Tukhugov to a draw in his promotional debut at UFC 242 and having a scheduled bout against Gabriel Benitez in March scrapped due to the broadening coronavirus pandemic, the 29-year-old Murphy returned to Abu Dhabi and the Octagon in July, posting an emphatic first-round stoppage win over Ricardo Ramos to extend his record to 9-0-1 overall. The bout offered a glimpse into what the Manchester man brings to the cage, as he exhibited solid takedown defense and scrambling ability, smooth, fluid striking, and punishing power while outworking and ultimately finishing the talented Brazilian prospect.

MORE UFC FIGHT ISLAND 8: The Forces That Shaped Neil Magny | Weigh-In Results | Free Fight: Michael Chiesa vs Diego Sanchez | Dalcha Lungiambula | Fight By Fight Preview | Roxanne Modafferi | Lerone Murphy | Fantasy Stats | Order UFC 257

Wednesday, Murphy gets another stiff test in the form of Douglas Silva de Andrade, a 35-year-old veteran with nearly three-times as much experience who also locked horns with Tukhugov in his UFC debut. Since dropping that contest, the former bantamweight has posted a 4-2 record, with victories over Marlon Vera and Renan Barao, and his setbacks occurring against bantamweight titleholder Petr Yan and current contender Rob Font.

This is a difficult assignment for Murphy, but another pairing that has the potential to catapult the emerging Brit further up the divisional ladder as he looks to start what he hopes will be a breakout campaign.

SUMUDAERJI

Su Mudaerji of Tibet reacts after defeating Malcolm Gordon in their flyweight bout during the UFC Fight Night at UFC APEX on November 28, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Su Mudaerji of Tibet reacts after defeating Malcolm Gordon in their flyweight bout during the UFC Fight Night at UFC APEX on November 28, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

At the end of November, Sumudaerji announced that a new threat in the flyweight division had arrived.

Paired off with Malcolm Gordon for his first appearance in the 125-pound weight class, “The Tibetan Eagle” showed not only that he has continued to make major strides in his development, but also that he has the potential to be a problem in the flyweight ranks going forward. Working behind long, crisp strikes, “The Tibetan Eagle,” who turns 25 on Wednesday, picked apart the Canadian, stinging him with a collection of laser-targeted left hand rockets that found the mark and put him on the canvas in less than a minute.

Because that contest was the second bout of the evening and neither entered with much fanfare, it’s understandable if the performance slipped passed you. That being said, an effort like that cannot be overlooked and should serve to bring far more attention to the very intriguing new flyweight.

Sumudaerji is one of those fighters who accumulated a great deal of experience at a very young age, as he was already 11-3 in his career when he made his UFC debut at age 22. After getting submitted by returning veteran Louis Smolka in his first appearance, the promising young talent scored a unanimous decision win over Andre Soukhamthath in his sophomore outing and returned a little over a year later to deliver a breakout performance in his flyweight debut.

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This week, Sumudaerji squares off with 28-year-old Zarrukh Adashev, who looks to rebound after catching a massive right hand from Tyson Nam on the chin in his debut last summer.

If Sumudaerji turns in another blistering effort like the one he delivered against Gordon when he steps in opposite Adashev, he’ll secure himself a birthday victory and position himself as an intriguing new player in the highly competitive, always entertaining flyweight division very early in the year.

MASON JONES

Mason Jones poses on the scale during the UFC weigh-in at Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 19, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Mason Jones poses on the scale during the UFC weigh-in at Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 19, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

The first two-weight champion from Cage Warriors to matriculate to the Octagon made a whole bunch of noise, so it’s only prudent to introduce you to the second man to accomplish the feat as he readies to make the walk to the Octagon for the first time on Wednesday.

Mason Jones is an undefeated, 25-year-old prospect from Wales. In September, he pushed his record to 10-0 with a first-round stoppage win over Adam Proctor to claim the vacant Cage Warriors welterweight title and, in the process, joined Conor McGregor as the only competitors to ever hold two titles simultaneously in the storied British promotion.

Whenever your exploits can be favorably compared to the Irish superstar, it’s noteworthy and marks you as someone to watch going forward. Add in that Jones has never faced an opponent with a losing record, flashed solid finishing instincts and abilities, and has proven he can go the distance working at a good clip and you have all the makings of a “must-watch” new addition to the stacked lightweight ranks.

RELATED: Mason Jones’ Octagon Debut

Wednesday evening, Jones steps in against former Contender Series competitor Mike “Beast Boy” Davis in what should be an excellent litmus test for the promising Welsh competitor. Though he’s still relatively early in his UFC run, Davis is coming off a third-round stoppage win over Thomas Gifford last time out and has flashed excellent striking throughout his career, meaning we should get an early opportunity to see how Jones handles himself against a crisp, precise boxer.

Jones is an outstanding prospect — you don’t earn 10 consecutive victories and titles in two weight classes without being highly skilled and extremely talented — but the 155-pound waters are filled with sharks.

If he is able to handle business against Davis and maintain his unbeaten record through his debut, don’t be surprised if the newcomer from Wales starts to generate a bit more buzz heading into his sophomore outing.

 

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