Saturday night at the River Cree Casino in Edmonton, Alberta, Unified MMA rolls out its first event in more than 18 months, with a nine-fight event that also represents the promotion’s debut on UFC FIGHT PASS.
Headlined by title fights in the light heavyweight and featherweight divisions featuring a pair of homegrown champions, this weekend’s return to the cage represents an opportunity for fight fans to get familiar with the next wave of athletes that could one day matriculate to the biggest stage in the sport.
It’s a path that has been traveled by five previous Canadian talents, four of whom wore championship gold before getting the call to the Octagon.
Here’s a closer look at those graduates.
Clarke headlined the first Unified MMA event in October 2009 when the promotion operated as Adrenaline MMA, earning a unanimous decision win over Travis Briere.
Two years and three more wins later, “Danger Zone” debuted in the Octagon, dropping a decision to John Cholish at UFC 140 in Toronto. The Saskatoon native eventually relocated to Glendale, Arizona, joining the team at The MMA Lab, where he trained alongside former lightweight titleholder Benson Henderson and a host of elite talents.
Injuries limited Clarke to just seven appearances in his six years on the roster, which was highlighted by a second-round submission win over Al Iaquinta at UFC 173. Though he was unable to compete on the first UFC event in his hometown of Saskatoon, Clarke made his final walk to the Octagon in Edmonton, calling it a career following a loss to Alex White at UFC 215.
The 35-year-old Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt is still connected to the sport through coaching, including working with reigning Unified MMA light heavyweight titleholder Graham Park.
“Shaolin” only made one appearance inside the Unified MMA cage prior to graduating to the UFC, but he certainly made the most of it, capturing the vacant welterweight title with a second-round submission win over Tim Smith. After logging four more wins over his next five appearances on the regional circuit, the veteran kickboxer made his first walk to the Octagon, facing off with fellow Canadian John Makdessi at UFC 186 in Montreal.
When Campbell’s UFC run came to a close, he quickly made his way back to Unified MMA, picking up a third-round stoppage win in his return. Over his last five appearances with the promotion, the 33-year-old veteran has posted a 5-0 record, winning and successfully defending the lightweight title and most recently claiming the 165-pound catchweight title with a second-round stoppage win in December 2019.
A hyper-active heavyweight that logged 22 appearances before graduating to the UFC, Boser posted a 10-1 record inside the Unified MMA cage during that time, winning and successfully defending the organization’s heavyweight title four times during that stretch.
After splitting his first two UFC appearances in 2019, the Bonnyville, Alberta native emerged as a cult figure thanks to a pair of impressive stoppage wins a month apart last summer and his talent for opening cans of Monster Energy Drink with his front tooth, singular. The 30-year-old got back into the win column back in June, halting a two-fight mini-skid with a second-round stoppage victory over Ovince Saint Preux.
The popular Canadian finisher is now 4-3 inside the Octagon and could very well find himself sharing the cage with a ranked, veteran opponent next time out.
A super-experienced veteran of the Canadian regional scene, Connelly made a pair of championship appearances inside the Unified MMA cage, claiming the lightweight title with a third-round submission win over Garret Nybakken at Unified 30 before dropping the belt to Campbell two-and-a-half months later.
After amassing a 13-6 record over the first decade of his professional career, Connelly experienced an incredible UFC debut, accepting a bout with Michel Pereira at home in Vancouver on short notice, securing a unanimous decision win over the Brazilian wild man and walking away with both halves of the evening’s Fight of the Night bonus after Pereira missed weight.
Though he landed on the wrong side of the results in a clash with Pat Sabatini last time out, “Boondock” remains a veteran talent in the featherweight division and one of two Unified MMA grads still active on the UFC roster.
“The Bengal” went 4-0 under the Unified MMA banner, following three straight stoppage victories with a middleweight title win over Matt Dwyer, with the unanimous decision win over the former UFC competitor earning the undefeated 29-year-old a call to the Octagon.
Things didn’t so as well for Bhullar on the big stage, as he suffered back-to-back losses to Tom Breese and Andreas Michailidis, resulting in his being released by the promotion. This weekend, the former middleweight titleholder makes his return to the Unified MMA cage, moving up to the light heavyweight division for a clash with veteran Anton Tokarchuk.