The last time the UFC rolled into Buffalo, New York, Marco Ruas defeated Larry Cureton, Remco Pardoel and Paul Varelans to win the UFC 7 eight-man tournament while Ken Shamrock and Oleg Taktarov fought to a 33-minute draw in their Superfight bout because judges weren’t part of the equation back then.
Oh, and Michael Buffer, not Bruce Buffer, handled the introductions and announcements.
More than 20 years later, the UFC is returning to the birthplace of the best bar food in the history of time – buffalo wings – with a Pay-Per-View event headlined by a light heavyweight championship rematch between Daniel Cormier and Anthony Johnson and former middleweight titleholder Chris Weidman looking to halt a two-fight skid against the surging Gegard Mousasi.
While those familiar names jump off the page when you look down the lineup, this weekend’s event also includes a trio of emerging talents with the potential to be contenders a couple years down the line, if not sooner.
Here’s a look at those fighters.
This is On the Rise: UFC 210 Edition.
The unbeaten Team Alpha Male representative made an instant impression in her promotional debut by choking out Ultimate Fighter finalist Amanda Cooper just over three minutes into the opening round of their main card clash at UFC 209.
It wasn’t just the fact that the 29-year-old upstart collected a first-round stoppage win in her opening appearance in the Octagon, but how she did it that truly stood out as Calvillo transitioned to back mount while attacking an anaconda choke when Cooper tried to scramble and defend. Even in a sport where athletes make in-fight adjustments all the time, this was the kind of on-the-fly improvisation that made you sit up and take notice, establishing Calvillo as someone to watch in the strawweight division.
Now the Sacramento-based prospect, who owns a victory over promising Invicta FC competitor Aspen Ladd from back in their amateur days, competes on her second consecutive Pay-Per-View main card in a matchup against newcomer Pearl Gonzalez, who has won six straight since dropping her first pro bout. A second straight eye-opening performance could put the confident Calvillo in the fast lane to contention in the strawweight ranks.
After amassing seven consecutive victories under the Ring of Combat banner to begin his career, Gillespie got the call to the Octagon for an “on the road” assignment against Glaico Franco in Brasilia last September. Shifting to the road after starring at home had no impact on “The Gift,” as the Long Island native maintained his unbeaten record with a unanimous decision win over the former TUF Brazil winner.
For his sophomore assignment in the UFC, the Bellmore Kickboxing Academy product steps in with fellow grappler Andrew Holbrook, who knows a thing or two about beating favorite sons on the road himself, having edged out Jake Matthews in Melbourne back in November.
The lightweight division is always flush with talent, so standing out and getting ahead is difficult. Moving forward takes a number of victories, but a single loss can set an emerging fighter back further in the 155-pound ranks than it does in other divisions, which makes this matchup with Holbrook critical for Gillespie.
UFC 210 MATCHUPS: Calvillo vs Gonzalez | Gillespie vs Holbrook | Bibulatov vs Lausa
I tabbed Bibulatov as one of the top unranked talents on the UFC roster and now the 28-year-old gets the chance to validate my position as he steps into the Octagon for the first time in the opening bout of this weekend’s event at KeyBank Center.
Another standout grappler from the Northern Caucasus, Bibulatov has a legitimate chance to make a rapid climb up the rankings in the flyweight rankings and not just because Demetrious Johnson has been turning back challengers with ease, creating a “sooner than expected” opportunity for the 13-0 up and comer.
First up, Bibulatov has to get through Jenel Lausa, who earned a unanimous decision victory in his UFC debut back in November, in Saturday’s kickoff fight.
Should the Chechen newcomer run maintain his winning ways and do so in impressive fashion, don’t be surprised if he finds himself in the express lane in the flyweight ranks, squaring off with a much more established talent in his sophomore appearance and generating some “how would he do against Mighty Mouse?” conversations right out of the gate.