Last weekend’s Friday-Saturday doubleheader delivered 25 fights on two continents, producing 13 finishes, a bunch of prospects to watch, two new Ultimate Fighter winners and at least one potential title challenger in Kamaru Usman.
But after one event in Las Vegas and another down under, it’s time for the UFC Octagon to cross into Canada for the third and final time this year, as UFC 231 takes place at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario.
Headlined by the highly anticipated featherweight title fight between champion Max Holloway and surging challenger Brian Ortega, with Valentina Shevchenko and Joanna Jedrzejczyk battling for the vacant flyweight strap in the co-main event of the evening, Saturday’s fight card at the home of the Leafs and Raptors is flush with Canadian content and compelling fights.
Before the action shifts to television, however, there are three fighters poised to step into the cage on UFC FIGHT PASS who deserve your attention.
Here’s a closer look at those athletes.
This is On the Rise: UFC 231 Edition.
If we’re going to talk about emerging talents in the light heavyweight division, Rakic needs to be one of the first names mentioned in that conversation.
The 26-year-old Austrian is 2-0 in the Octagon, 10-1 overall with 10 consecutive victories and arrives in Toronto coming off the best performance of his career — a three-round drubbing of Justin Ledet in Hamburg back in July. Rakic had been sidelined for 10 months prior to that fight, but controlled the action from the jump, chopping away at Ledet’s lead leg and beating the former heavyweight to the punch every time he looked to exchange.
With excellent size and steadily improving skills, Rakic is someone who bears watching in the 205-pound ranks going forward. While he’s still based out of Vienna, Rakic has been supplementing his training with regular trips to American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida, where he can work with an elite group of coaches and training partners in a facility that has everything he needs to be successful under one roof.
Paired off with South Dakota’s Devin Clark, this is a clash of two promising emerging talents looking to take the next step forward in their careers. Clark has won three of four since venturing up to light heavyweight, so if Rakic can add another win to his resume by knocking off a fighter in a comparable position, he’ll set himself up for a bigger assignment when he starts his 2019 campaign inside the cage.
Winnipeg’s Katona won the featherweight competition on Season 27 of The Ultimate Fighter, pitching a shutout against Jay Cucciniello to gain entry into the elite fighting fraternity. Now back down at his natural bantamweight, the unbeaten Canadian has the opportunity to make an instant impression in a showdown with Matt Lopez on Saturday.
After collecting six straight victories on the Canadian regional circuit, Katona made the decision to pack up shop and train overseas, settling on SBG Ireland as his new base of operations. Already a strong grappler, working with John Kavanagh has clearly paid dividends, as exhibited in his controlling effort against “The Mellow Fellow” back in July.
With his first UFC appearance out of the way and a victory in the bank, this pairing with Lopez will go a long way to showing where the soon-to-be 27-year-old fits in the 135-pound weight class. Sporting a 2-3 record in his first five UFC starts, Lopez has only lost to strong competition — submission ace Rani Yahya, top contender Rafael Assuncao, and surging upstart Alejandro “Turbo” Perez — while getting the better of Mitch Gagnon and Johnny Eduardo.
If Katona can move back down the scale and keep his winning streak intact, he’ll not only set himself up as one of the top newcomers competing below the 155-pound limit, but put himself within arm’s reach of sharing the cage with a Top 15 talent next time out.
Back in the UFC for the first time in more than four years, Ronson jumped at the chance to replace his countryman John Makdessi opposite Carlos Diego Ferreira this weekend just a couple hours up the road from his home in London, Ontario.
“The Bodysnatcher” had a rough go of things in his first run in the UFC, landing on the wrong side of three consecutive split decision losses against Michael Prazeres, Francisco Trinaldo and Kevin Lee — three strong grapplers who have gone on to enjoy tremendous success since sharing the cage with the Adrenaline Training Centre representative.
Ronson has registered nine appearances since he last stepped into the UFC cage, posting a 6-3 record and carrying a four-fight winning streak into this one. Ferreira returned to the Octagon following a two-year layoff in February, collecting a first-round stoppage win over Jared Gordon to push his winning streak to two and his record to 13-2 overall.
This is a huge opportunity for the Canadian to prove not only that he deserves to be competing on the biggest stage in the sport, but that he’s capable of being a factor in the loaded UFC lightweight division.