With the first event of 2018 in the books, it’s time to lock in on the initial Pay-Per-View offering of the year – an explosive, dual-title affair in Boston that also offers an opportunity to catch a glimpse of a collection of new and emerging competitors who could make some noise in the Octagon in the months and years to come.
This is On the Rise: UFC 220 Edition.
The 27-year-old Davis earned his opportunity to compete in the Octagon by earning a victory in the most entertaining back-and-forth fight from the opening season of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contenders Series. Paired off with Austin Arnett, the two went toe-to-toe in a ferocious, bloody battle where both men got their licks in before Davis was able to pull away down the stretch.
Impressed with the Alan Belcher protégé’s performance, White awarded him a contract and now “Killer B” is shipping up to Boston to take on hometown kid Kyle Bochniak in his promotional debut in the final preliminary card bout of this weekend’s event at TD Garden.
The pairing with Bochniak is a perfect litmus test for the Mississippi native, as he’s made a trio of appearances inside the Octagon and acquitted himself well each time out despite managing just a single victory. He’s hard-nosed and happy to slug it out, which should suit Davis’s desires as well. Plus, as the closing act on the televised prelims, this is a prime opportunity to make an immediate impression on the audience heading into a terrific main card.
Two fights into his UFC career, Pantoja is beginning to show why he was the top-ranked competitor heading into the flyweight Tournament of Champions that took place during Season 24 of The Ultimate Fighter. While the Brazilian standout came up short against Hiromasa Ogikubo in the semifinal round, Pantoja has collected a pair of victories since matriculating to the UFC roster and stands on the precipice of contention in the 125-pound ranks heading into this weekend’s fight card in Boston.
Unbeaten in his last 11 bouts dating back to a June 2010 encounter with Jussier Formiga, who is currently ranked fourth in the flyweight division, the 27-year-old Nova Uniao product has eight finishes during his current winning streak, including a third-round submission win over Neil Seery last time out.
Saturday night at UFC 220, Pantoja squares off with Dustin Ortiz in what feels like an unofficial entrance exam he needs to pass in order to be considered amongst the division’s elite. Ortiz is as durable and experienced as they come in the division and enters off one of the best performances of his career – a 15-second knockout victory over Hector Sandoval in Mexico City back in August.
Getting by Ortiz is no easy task, but if Pantoja is able to accomplish the feat, he’ll likely earn a place in the Top 10 and put himself in a position to face some of the more established contenders in the division later in the year.
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Another member of the DWTNCS fraternity, Ige collected a quality third-round submission win over Luis Gomez on the third week of last summer’s runaway hit, but missed out on a contract after Geoff Neal and Karl Roberson turned in impressive first-round knockout wins.
But Ige made a positive impression on the UFC brass and got the call to take on Charles Rosa. While Rosa has since been forced out of the contest with an injury and replaced by another DWTNCS newcomer in Julio Arce, Saturday’s preliminary card assignment remains a golden opportunity for the 26-year-old Hawaiian to further show that he has what it takes to compete on the biggest stage in the sport and the potential to make a splash in one of the deepest, most competitive divisions in the UFC.
Like Ige, Arce earned a victory during the initial season of the Contender series, finishing Peter Petties in the second round during the show’s fifth week, but he missed out on a contract that evening. The East Coast standout and Tiger Schulmann product has earned five straight victories and only lost to current UFC bantamweight Brian Kelleher, so although he’s taking the fight on short notice, Acre will be a tough out for Ige on Saturday.
But should he deliver an impressive performance and push his own winning streak to seven, “Danimal” has the strong fundamentals and required tenacity to be a strong addition to the featherweight ranks in 2018.