Saturday’s return to the United Center in Chicago is one of the most anticipated cards of the year – a star-studded collection of matchups culminating in a pair of championship clashes, one for the interim welterweight title and the other to determine the undisputed UFC middleweight champion.
Along the way to the twin title fights closing out the show, veteran names and familiar contenders alike will cross the threshold into the Octagon, looking to thrill the crowd at “The Madhouse on Madison,” including title challengers Joseph Benavidez, Ricardo Lamas and Alistair Overeem, as well as former titleholders Andrei Arlovski, Rashad Evans and Holly Holm.
Joining the assortment of established talents competing on the bright lights in “The Second City” is a trio of fighters looking to one day rise to those same heights. Here’s a closer look at those emerging talents.
This is On the Rise: UFC 225 Edition.
People have been anticipating Anderson’s arrival in the Octagon for over a year. After dispatching Charmaine Tweet to claim the interim Invicta FC featherweight title in January 2017, the rangy Australian emerged as a potential opponent for the woman she replaced atop the 145-pound weight class in the all-female promotion, Cris Cyborg.
The duo was scheduled to collide last summer at UFC 214, but personal issues put Anderson on the sidelines. Since then, Cyborg has further solidified her spot atop the featherweight ranks and Anderson is finally returning to action this weekend against Holm.
The 28-year-old from Australia’s Gold Coast has grown by leaps and bounds since dropping her Invicta FC debut to Cindy Dandois. Relocating to Lee’s Summit, Missouri to train under UFC lightweight James Krause, Anderson has developed a striking style that utilizes her length and power and the results have been impressive. She has earned a finish in each of her last four outings, collecting three consecutive performance bonuses prior to claiming the interim title last January, hurting her opponents at range before swarming for the finish.
Holm represents her toughest test to date, by far, but the potential rewards of posting a victory against a former champion and perennial contender are great. If Anderson can keep her winning streak rolling through her UFC debut, that fight with Cyborg she’s been after could follow.
Arriving in the UFC on a five-fight winning streak where each of his opponents fell in the opening frame, the learning curve has been steep for Coulter since stepping into the Octagon for the first time, as the 36-year-old Dallas native has been finished in each of his first two appearances.
But there is more to those performances than just the final results.
His debut opposite Chase Sherman was a wildly entertaining back-and-forth affair that earned the pair Fight of the Night honors at UFC 211, and his follow-up appearance ended in a first-round knockout loss to a debuting heavyweight named Tai Tuivasa, who has since gone on to push his unbeaten streak to nine and steps in against Andrei Arlovski on Saturday’s Pay-Per-View main card.
Originally scheduled to face Allen Crowder, Coulter now squares off with Chris de la Rocha, who similarly touched down in the Octagon for the first time on a tidy winning streak before suffering back-to-back setbacks.
After stumbling out of the gate, this is an opportunity for the “Daywalker” to shine. He’s tough as nails and likes to press forward behind powerful offense, so there is a strong possibility that even on a card as loaded as this weekend’s, Coulter delivers something spicy that makes his performance stand out.
It has been a rough go of things through two Octagon appearances for Santiago, who collected an impressive first-round win on last summer’s Tuesday Night Contender Series to land on the UFC’s radar.
First, he was tapped to replace Nick Hein opposite unbeaten featherweight phenom Zabit Magomedsharipov in his promotional debut. In his sophomore showing, the Melrose Park, Illinois native came out on the wrong side of a close split decision verdict against Mads Burnell, who failed to make weight for the 145-pound contest.
With the early hurdles behind him and fighting close to home, Santiago gets an opportunity to pick up his first promotional victory in front of a partisan crowd when he takes on fellow Contender Series alum Dan Ige in this weekend’s opener. Like Santiago, Ige got called up to the big leagues after a victory in front of the UFC brass, but came up short in his promotional debut.
The featherweight division is flush with talent, making this a crucial fight for Santiago. He’s shown a ton of toughness and grit over his first two efforts and if he can continue that here, the scrappy hometown talent will have things jumping at the United Center right out of the gate.