I watched UFC 222 and felt like it was one great big, living edition of this column – an event where throughout the evening, new talents made the most of their time in the spotlight and a handful of new stars started to emerge.
Jordan Johnson remained unbeaten and Cody Stamann toppled a Top 10 fighter on UFC FIGHT PASS. Alexander Hernandez blitzed a standout lightweight in his promotional debut and Mackenzie Dern arrived in the Octagon for the first time. Ketlen Vieira asserted herself as one of the top contenders in the women’s bantamweight division, “The Sugar Show” continued to draw rave reviews and Brian Ortega delivered a breakthrough effort in the biggest fight of his career.
Nights like that don’t happen all the time, but they illustrate how crucial it is to talk about young fighters and track their progression up the ranks, rather than jumping on board once “they’ve made it.” This weekend represents another opportunity to do just that and, as always, I’m here to introduce you a trio of competitors that could really stand out in London.
This is On the Rise: London Edition.
One of the most exciting Canadian prospects to arrive on the UFC stage in some time, international fans will now get a chance to see why Alberta-based diehards and those that have been watching his rise through the regional ranks have been waiting for this day for some time.
The 26-year-old featherweight striker carries a 7-0-1 record into his Octagon debut, having collected six finishes along the way, including a second-round stoppage win over Marat Magomedov seven months after they battled to a draw. Last time out, “Mean Hakeem” earned a sweep of the scorecards against seasoned TUF alum Steven Siler, who logged nine of his 46 career bouts under the UFC banner.
Saturday in London, Dawodu makes his promotional debut opposite Danny Henry, an 11-2 Scotsman who survived a first-round onslaught against Daniel Teymur to rally and earn a unanimous decision win in his own maiden voyage into the UFC cage last summer. Tall for the division and clearly talented, Henry represents a step up in competition for the confident Canadian, but if Dawodu can maintain his unbeaten run and turn in an entertaining performance, UFC fans worldwide will be looking for room on the talented finisher’s bandwagon.
Just as Johnson used UFC 222 as an opportunity to introduce himself as someone to watch in the light heavyweight division, this weekend’s event in London is Ankalaev’s opportunity to follow suit.
The 25-year-old Dagestani newcomer is a perfect 10-0 after rattling off six consecutive victories to close out his amateur career. The last three of those wins have come by way of stoppage, including triumphs over Russian veteran Maxim Grishin and former UFC competitor Wagner Prado, paving the way for Ankalaev to make his way to the UFC roster.
For his first assignment, Ankalaev will step in with Scotland’s Paul Craig, a submission ace looking to bounce back following the first two losses of his professional career. Despite his recent setbacks, the 30-year-old is the newcomer’s toughest opponent to date and will provide a quality litmus test for determining where Ankalaev fits in the 205-pound weight division.
Third time’s the charm?
After having his debut bout against Justin Ledet rescheduled on two different occasions – once because of a Ledet injury, once because he withdrew – Sosnovskiy is once again on track to make his promotional debut this weekend in a showdown with English heavyweight Mark Godbeer.
The 28-year-old carries an unbeaten 10-0 record into his promotional debut, with eight of those victories coming inside the distance. What makes Sosnovskiy’s first foray into the UFC cage particularly intriguing is that despite his young age (especially for the heavyweight division), he’s been on the sidelines for nearly three years, so while the upside is clearly there, it’s difficult to know what kind of impact that long of a hiatus will have on the Russian newcomer.
Fighting at home in England for the first time in his UFC career, Godbeer enters on a two-fight winning streak and sporting a 13-3 mark overall. He showed his durability and heart over in those victories over Daniel Spitz and Walt Harris and is the kind of savvy, established veteran that will serve as a great barometer for what Sosnovskiy brings to the table at the O2 Arena.