Boasting one of the most loaded fight cards in recent memory and capped by not one, not two, but three championship fights, UFC 214 is packed with familiar names and established stars.
But before Saturday’s Pay-Per-View kicks off, a collection of emerging talents will step into the Octagon looking to deliver the kind of performances that earn them a little attention once the dust settles in Anaheim.
Here they are in the UFC 214 edition of On the Rise.
The unbeaten Ortega has become a bit of a forgotten man in the featherweight division as more than a year has passed since his thrilling third-round knockout victory over Clay Gudia at UFC 199 in Los Angeles. This weekend, the 26-year-old looks to remind people that he has the potential to be a major player in the 145-pound ranks when he steps into the cage against fellow undefeated upstart Renato Moicano.
The Gracie Jiu-Jitsu black belt had been making waves prior to his hiatus, picking up three straight stoppage wins in a one-year stretch, capped by his finish of Guida. That performance highlighted why Ortega is considered a high-level prospect, as he rebounded after dropping the opening round to showcase his improved striking and outstanding finishing instincts by putting away “The Carpenter” in the final minute of the fight.
Saturday’s pairing with Moicano should provide another strong indication of where Ortega stands in his development and the division, as the Brazilian is coming off a gutsy split decision win over Jeremy Stephens that vaulted him into the Top 10. If Ortega is able to maintain his winning ways and continue ending fights in exciting fashion, he’ll come away from his Octagon return with renewed momentum moving into the final five months of the year.
Returning for the first time in more than two years, Albu looks to pick up her second UFC victory and push her professional record to 7-0 when she takes on Kailin Curran in Saturday’s UFC FIGHT PASS featured prelim.
The 27-year-old Albu turned in a dominant performance in her promotional debut all the way back in April 2015 when she thoroughly outworked Izabela Badurek on the feet before catching the Polish newcomer in a guillotine choke late in the second round. A physical specimen, Albu maintained a torrid pace and put it on Badurek from the opening bell in her maiden voyage into the UFC cage, but it remains to be seen what a kind of impact a two-year hiatus will have on her performance.
While the Hawaiian has struggled to find consistency over her first five fights in the UFC, Curran is a top level athlete with excellent conditioning and should serve as a quality litmus test for “Stitch” in her return to action. Albu showed promise in her victory over Badurek, and following up on that showing with a similarly dominant effort against Curran would put the unbeaten Russian on the radar in the strawweight division.
“The Monkey God” was set to make his promotional debut at UFC 208 in February, stepping in for the since-retired Neil Seery opposite Ian McCall in Brooklyn. However, “Uncle Creepy” was sent to the hospital with gastrointestinal issues on the day of the bout, scuttling the fight and delaying Brooks’ debut. Five months hence, the unbeaten flyweight is once again set to make his first trip into the Octagon as he squares off with TUF 24 semifinalist Eric Shelton.
A perfect 12-0 for his career, the 24-year-old Indiana native has earned finishes in each of his last three appearances and has made it clear that he sees himself as the future of the flyweight division. When most fighters answer the “What does it mean to you to fight in the UFC?” question on their bio, they talk about the culmination of a long journey to reach this stage and the validation they feel to be fighting at the highest level in the sport. Brooks replied, “Not much until I win a title,” which should make it clear where his sights are set.
The first step in that journey comes Saturday against Shelton, who was a surprise semifinalist on Season 24 of The Ultimate Fighter and then went toe-to-toe with Alexandre Pantoja in the show’s “bronze medal matchup.” The 26-year-old is a high-level prospect and this pairing should establish the winner as the top young talent in the flyweight ranks.