The second quarter of the UFC’s 2018 campaign kicks off in impressive fashion as a loaded card topped by twin title fights arrives at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York this weekend.
Boasting two highly anticipated championship bouts and a host of familiar, established names up and down the bill, Saturday’s 13-fight bill should be an electric affair from start to finish.
Scattered throughout the lineup are a collection of up-and-coming talents who will be looking to use their time in the cage at UFC 223 as a launchpad to greater recognition and bigger opportunities as we move towards the second half of the year.
Here’s a look at three of them.
This is On the Rise: UFC 223 Edition.
With all the movement that has taken place in the featherweight division over the last six months, it’s understandable that the 28-year-old Brazilian has gotten lost in the shuffle, but that should change heading into this weekend.
Boasting an 11-1-1 record, Moicano split a pair of appearances in the Octagon in 2017, edging out Jeremy Stephens before being forced to tap to a guillotine choke against Brian Ortega three months later at UFC 214. Those two have been the chief architects of change in the 145-pound ranks in recent months and Moicano more than held his own with both, which should make it clear that he is a real player in the featherweight division.
This weekend, Moicano squares off with Calvin Kattar in the middle bout of Saturday’s Pay-Per-View main card. Having notched a third-round stoppage victory over Shane Burgos in January to push his winning streak to 10, Kattar enters with his sights set on earning a place in the upper echelon of the division and carrying a ton of momentum.
But Moicano has faced the more established competition to date and if he’s able to halt the Massachusetts native’s lengthy run of success, don’t be surprised if it’s the Brazilian who already boasts a win over the fifth-ranked Stephens that puts himself in the title conversation coming out of UFC 223.
Devin Clark and Mike Rodriguez
Just as the featherweight division has been experiencing some upheaval in recent months, there has been movement in the light heavyweight ranks during that time as well, with familiar names finding new levels of success alongside newcomers announcing their presence as fighters to watch in the 205-pound ranks.
Saturday night at the home of the Brooklyn Nets, Clark and Rodriguez face off against one another in a bout that should introduce both to a wider audience and that could propel the winner into the competitive collective of talent bubbling up just below the elite tier in the division.
For Rodriguez, this weekend’s assignment is his UFC debut and comes on the heels of a standout showing on the fifth week of last summer’s Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. Paired off with Jamelle Jones, “Slo Mike” quickly covered a lot of ground, connecting with a flying knee midway through the opening stanza to earn the stoppage victory.
A staple on the New England regional circuit, the 29-year-old Lauzon MMA product has collected four straight victories and tested himself against the best the area has to offer. Now he’s ready to step up to the biggest stage in the sport and prove he belongs.
Four fights into his UFC tenure, Clark has already done that, rebounding from a debut loss at middleweight to collect consecutive decision wins over Josh Stansbury and Jake Collier upon returning to the light heavyweight ranks.
Back in October, Jan Blachowicz submitted Clark with a standing rear-naked choke, but the setback has aged well in the time since their encounter as the Polish veteran has added additional victories over Jared Cannonier and Jimi Manuwa to his resume to establish himself as a legitimate title contender.
Now the Sioux Falls, South Dakota resident returns to action in hopes of regaining some of the momentum he carried into that road game in Gdansk last fall by spoiling Rodriguez’s Octagon debut.
With the division heating up and plenty of opportunities for fresh names to climb the ranks presenting themselves, expect these two light heavyweight hopefuls to come out primed and ready to make an impression on Saturday night at Barclays Center.