Hot on the heels of one of the best shows of the year, the UFC roars into Los Angeles with a Pay-Per-View event topped by twin championship rematches.
UFC 227 is headlined by a bantamweight title fight between current champ TJ Dillashaw and former titleholder Cody Garbrandt, with flyweight kingpin Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson looking to make it a dozen straight successful title defenses when he takes on Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo in a co-main event rematch.
While a couple key matchups were lost in recent weeks due to injuries, Saturday’s fight card from Staples Center still features a host of intriguing contests up and down the card, as well as a host of relative newcomers looking to use this weekend’s fight card as an opportunity to introduce themselves to a wider audience and start making a move up the divisional ladder.
Here’s a closer look at three of those fighters.
This is On the Rise: UFC 227 Edition.
Seven weeks after picking up a unanimous decision win in the opening bout of Season 2 of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, the 25-year-old Holland gets the chance to inject himself into the thick of the chase in the middleweight division with a short notice showdown against Brazilian veteran Thiago Santos.
Riding a six-fight winning streak and owning a 13-3 record overall, Holland looked sharp in dispatching Will Santiago back in June, going to the cards for the first time since his loss to current welterweight rising star Curtis Millender. That was the last time Holland competed at 170 pounds and he’s unbeaten since, creating an interesting angle to track heading into his official Octagon debut this weekend.
Santos has made 14 appearances under the UFC banner and is entrenched as a Top 15 talent in the middleweight division, but he enters Saturday’s contest off a first-round knockout loss to David Branch and struggled the last time he took a fight on short notice following a setback.
While it’s a tall order for anyone and even more difficult with a condensed camp, this is a huge opportunity for Holland to extend his winning streak and propel himself into the rankings right out of the gate. At the absolutely least, the Fort Worth, Texas native should show everyone that he belongs on big stage and is someone to keep an eye on in the middleweight division.
Another fighter making the quick jump to the Octagon after a successful appearance on DWTNCS, Sayles went from sleeping Yazan Hajeh in under two minutes to booking his UFC debut in no time flat, as the Alliance MMA representative squares off with fellow UFC featherweight neophyte Sheymon Moraes in a contest that should not be missed.
The 24-year-old Sayles is 7-1 overall, with his lone loss coming by split decision against Tiger Muay Thai coach George Hickman. He has clear power, as exhibited by his finish of Hajeh and the fact that all but one of his wins have come by way of TKO stoppage, and he trains with an elite camp, so you know he won’t be hitting the Octagon ill prepared.
Moraes was a bantamweight contender under the World Series of Fighting banner before shifting to featherweight upon signing with the UFC. In his debut appearance, the Brazilian ran into rising superstar Zabit Magomedsharipov and his only previous loss prior to that came against surging contender Marlon Moraes.
Needless to say, the 27-year-old Brazilian will be a stern test for Sayles, but if the newcomer can continue his hot streak and showcase the patient, powerful striking he showed in the TUF Gym a few weeks back, he’ll get his UFC career off on the right foot.
Chinese fighters have been making noise over the last few months, with Yan Xiaonan, Song Yadong and Liu Pingyuan amongst the group collecting impressive victories inside the Octagon. Now Zhang wants to add her name to the growing list of emerging talents coming out of China and having an immediate impact in the UFC.
After dropping a decision in her professional debut back in November 2013, the 28-year-old Zhang has rattled off 16 consecutive victories heading into her promotional debut opposite Danielle Taylor on Saturday. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that 15 of her 16 victories have come by way of stoppage and that she has only seen the third round once during her current blistering hot streak.
Taylor has fewer fights on her resume, but she’s already stepped into the Octagon four times, going 2-2 with wins over Seohee Ham and Jessica Penne to go along with regional circuit victories over Maia Stevenson, Jillian Lybarger and Jamie Colleen.
Should Zhang make it 17 straight on Saturday, it will be further proof that China is one of the biggest hotbeds of emerging talent in the sport today and thrust her into the mix at the lower end of the Top 15 in the women’s strawweight division.