With a card of this magnitude, I could use this opportunity to deliver another “Last Chance to Get on Board” edition of On the Rise, spotlighting competitors who have been mentioned in his series in the past, are continuing to do big things and aren’t going to be up-and-comers for much longer.
I could let you know that Weili Zhang can establish herself as a dark horse contender in the strawweight division by knocking off Tecia Torres, which would be her third win in eight months inside the Octagon.
I could tell you the Johnny Walker hype train is about to reach runaway speeds if he adds another victory to the ridiculous highlight reel he’s compiled through his first two UFC starts.
I could point out that Zabit Magomedsharipov is taking a major step up in competition against Jeremy Stephens and would put himself on the fringes of title contention with a win on Saturday or how Alejandro Perez might be the most underrated bantamweight on the roster right now as he looks to extend his unbeaten streak to eight in a quality matchup against Cody Stamann, another OTR grad who is keen on bouncing back from his submission loss to Aljamain Sterling back in September.
I could, but I won’t.
Instead, I’ll focus on three UFC prospects aiming to join the growing list of fighters featured in this series over the years who have gone on to make waves in their respective divisions.
This is the UFC 235 edition of On the Rise.
Shahbazyan was one of the youngest fighters to garner a UFC contract from the second season of the Contender Series, literally punching his way into the Octagon with a first-round stoppage win over Antonio Jones. It was his seventh win in as many starts and continued his string of first-round finishes while putting him squarely in the spotlight as he entered the fray in the 185-pound weight division.
The 21-year-old maintained his unbeaten record — though not his string of stoppages — in his promotional debut, edging out British grinder Darren Stewart in a hard-fought battle at the TUF 28 Finale.
Because he fights out of the Glendale Fighting Club and is repped by Ronda Rousey’s One Fight Management, Shahbazyan is going to garner a few more eyeballs than most UFC sophomores, but there is a lot to like about the middleweight hopeful and he gets another chance to showcase his potential this weekend in a tough assignment against fellow Contender Series alum Charles Byrd.
A member of the surging Fortis MMA team, Byrd split a pair of appearances in the Octagon in 2018 after winning two fights on the first season of the Tuesday night series.
Picking up two wins over solid veterans in the span of three months would be a tremendous way for Shahbazyan to kick off his UFC career and put himself in position to get a greater push and bigger opportunities next time out.
Two fights after Shahbazyan pulled out a win over Stewart in Las Vegas, Chiasson became the fifth female winner of The Ultimate Fighter, emerging triumphant from the featherweight competition on Season 28 with a second-round rear naked choke finish of Pannie Kianzad.
Tattooed and talented, Chiasson relocated from her home in New Orleans to the Dallas-Fort Worth area just prior to heading into the TUF house in order to train alongside Byrd and the other emerging threats at Fortis MMA. Head coach Sayif Saud isn’t one for letting just anyone join the developing team, so the fact that Chiasson was able to convince the no-nonsense leader of the talented collective that she would be a good addition to the squad tells you a great deal about her makeup and potential.
Saturday night in Las Vegas, Chiasson squares off with Gina Mazany, a durable veteran who has alternated wins and losses over her last four. It’s an excellent entrance exam for the 27-year-old TUF winner — a gritty vet who won’t go quietly into the night and should help observers get a better read on where the newcomer fits in the bantamweight division.
“Shockwave” made her UFC debut on short notice back in October, stepping in to replace Maia Stevenson opposite super-prospect Maycee Barber less than three weeks before the fight. While the fight didn’t go her way, Cifers showed toughness and tenacity before ultimately getting overwhelmed and finished by the 20-year-old rising star.
With her first foray into the Octagon behind her and a full camp under her belt, Saturday’s bout against Polyana Viana should be a better representation of what the 26-year-old is capable of inside the cage.
She had won five straight prior to stepping in with Barber and her two previous losses had come against current UFC flyweight Gillian Robertson and former UFC fighter Heather Clark, so this matchup will provide a clear indication of where Cifers fits within the division. Viana won her promotional debut without much trouble, submitting Stevenson in the first round, but landed on the wrong side of a unanimous decision verdict last time out against JJ Aldrich.
If Cifers can secure her first UFC victory, she’ll establish herself as a long-range prospect to track going forward — someone without the same buzz as some of her more hyped contemporaries, but the grit, toughness and tenacity to become a fixture in the division who could end up surprising a few people a few years down the road.