Saturday night’s Fox card is stacked with interesting match-ups involving some of the promotion’s top ranked fighters and unranked prospects. Anytime a fighter enters the octagon he or she has a chance to put on a performance that’ll ignite fan’s emotions, thus propelling their career. Here are a few of the fighters that have excellent opportunities to distinguish themselves from the current tier they’re in and take that important next step.
#14 Michael Chiesa
Chiesa faces off with seventh-ranked Beneil Dariush in the “prelim main event”.
It’s a battle between two rangy strikers with smothering top games in the lightweight division, arguably the most cut-throat in the promotion. Benny, a training partner of current champion Rafael Dos Anjos at Kings MMA, is riding a five fight winning streak. His last fight was a controversial split decision win over Michael Johnson in August, a win which seemed to earn him more flak from fans and critics than a loss might have in certain circumstances due to the perceived injustice done to Johnson.
Chiesa has won four of his last five, the only loss a doctor’s stoppage due to a cut over the eye courtesy of a surgical knee by the bonus-king Joe Lauzon. In his last fight he became only the second man to submit perennial tough-out Jim Miller, joining Nate Diaz. If Chiesa can impress against Benny Saturday it’s easy to imagine him jumping from 14 to 10 or so in the rankings, placing him ahead of Al Iaquinta whom he submitted for his first UFC victory.
#8 Bethe Correia
The incendiary Brazilian faces eleventh-ranked Raquel Pennington, by far her second toughest opponent. Raquel has choked out tough fighters like #15 Ashley Evans-Smith and the current Invicta champion Tonya Evinger, and gave Holly Holm all she could handle in her UFC debut, fighting her to a split-decision loss.
None of Correia’s UFC wins are over fighters still in the promotion. Her rank seemed to mysteriously leap-frog a tier of fighters she never proved herself against after talking her way into a title shot against Rousey in Brazil. A win over the gritty Pennington would substantiate her place in the division, and give the verbally talented Correia a platform from which to incite another potential opponent. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear her call out Holly Holm, who’s currently awaiting her next dance partner.
#4 Glover Teixeira
Glover faces seventh-ranked Rashad Evans in the main event. The men share two common opponents, Phil Davis and Ryan Bader. Teixeira was controlled by Davis’s wrestling game, while Rashad had little trouble with him. Glover destroyed Bader in one round, while Evans was out-classed by him in a stand-up contest for three rounds, making the mma-math comparison a wash.
Evans hasn’t been very active in recent years due to nagging injuries. A healthy Evans is a dangerous opponent for any man, boasting wins over legends Rampage, Chuck and Tito. His most recent win was a ground and pound mauling of Chael Sonnen, which sent Chael permanently into the broadcast profession.
Evans had switched up his training for the Bader fight and was coming off a long layoff. Glover is coming off of two straight stoppages over OSP and Pat Cummings. If Glover can put together another destructive performance vs a refocused Evans he’ll put himself firmly in the elite group in his division with DC, Gustafsson, Rumble, and Jon Jones.
#4 Tecia Torres and #3 Rose Namajunas
This winner of Saturday’s co-main event will almost certainly face the winner of Claudia Gadelha and Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the title. The ladies are ranked third and fourth in the division just ahead of Letourneau and Penne, the two most recent failed title contenders.
There are two potential circumstances which could derail this being a title-eliminator.
- Tecia and Rose put on a lackluster fight, and the returning former champion Carla Esparza, who has a stoppage against Rose and a win in the TUF house against Tecia, looks amazing in her return fight against Julianna Lima and gets herself back to the front of the line. A historical precedent for this dynamic recently took place when Condit beautifully destroyed Thiago Alves in his return to the Octagon, and he went to the head of the class.
- Claudia beats Joanna Champion in a great fight and the UFC goes with the trilogy option.
Anything can happen in MMA of course. Even if the title match doesn’t imminently take place, the victor will have head to head leverage over a top four fighter in her division concerning match-making down the line.
Islam is a Sambo stylist who trains at AKA, and is a regular training partner of Khabib Nurmagomedov. Cage control and aggression is in his DNA. He was cracked by southpaw Adriano Martins, another top prospect, and suffered his first career loss last October. He gets a great stylistic dance partner in Drew Dober to kick off the Fox prelims. It’s an excellent chance for Makhachev to show his skills to a large audience. If he falters Saturday the perception of him could switch from highly touted prospect who got caught to a guy who withers under the lights of the big stage. He has a lot to gain and lose.
There are excellent storylines up and down this stellar card. Early prelims air on Fight Pass at 4, regular prelims on Fox at 6.