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Joanderson Brito, Michel Pereira, Elves Brener
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Fighters On The Rise | UFC 301

Casting A Spotlight On A Triumvirate Of Ascending Talents Slated To Step Into The Octagon This Weekend In Rio De Janeiro

For the second consecutive year, the UFC touches down in Rio de Janeiro for a pay-per-view event loaded with talent from the host nation and capped by a competitive championship bout.

Following in the footsteps of UFC 283 that kicked off last year’s pay-per-view campaign, this weekend’s slate lines up as a “Brazil vs. Everybody” affair, with every pairing featuring a Brazilian competitor taking on a non-Brazilian foe, culminating in flyweight champion Alexandre Pantoja returning to his hometown to defend his title for the second time against surging Australian Stephen Erceg.

Order UFC 301: Pantoja vs Erceg

Before the championship combatants make the walk to the Octagon, a trio of emerging talents in three increasingly competitive weight classes will cross the threshold into the UFC cage in hopes of continuing their winning ways and taking another step towards fulfilling their own championship ambitions.

Here’s a closer look at those three competitors in the latest edition of Fighters on the Rise.

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Michel Pereira

It’s surprising that there isn’t more buzz surrounding Pereira as a dark horse in the middleweight division because all “Demolidor” has done since moving up to the 185-pound ranks is add a pair of stoppage wins in under 70 seconds to extend his overall winning streak to seven while showing the same type of explosiveness and athleticism that previously made him an intriguing figure in the welterweight ranks.

Pereira earned victories in each of his final five appearances in the 170-pound weight class, but opted to make the move up a division after missing weight for his scheduled bout with Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson last summer at UFC 291. He debuted at middleweight a couple months later, running through Andre Petroski in 66 seconds to announce his arrival in the 185-pound ranks, and then, at the start of March, he did the same to Michal Oleksiejczuk, putting the Polish fighter to sleep in 61 seconds.

UFC 301 COUNTDOWN: Full Episode | Pantoja vs Erceg | Martinez vs Aldo 

Each of those two outings showed that Pereira has not only maintained the speed, power, and overall physicality that made him a person of interest in his previous run at welterweight, but has become even more dangerous, as he now has an even greater speed and athleticism advantage than many of his new contemporaries. How he made the 170-pound limit was always a point of curiosity given his stature, and yet now that he’s fighting in a more fitting division, folks seem a little hesitant to back him as a potential contender.

Originally scheduled to face divisional mainstay Makhmud Muradov this weekend, Pereira will instead step in with Ihor Potieria, who transitioned to the middleweight division for the first time earlier this year, earning a unanimous decision win over newcomer Robert Bryczek, though he did miss weight. The 27-year-old Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) graduate went 1-3 in four starts at light heavyweight prior to his February victory, and will be aiming for a second win in Rio after defeating icon Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in his farewell appearance last January at UFC 283.

Michel Pereira of Brazil reacts after his submission victory against Michal Oleksiejczuk of Poland in a middleweight fight during the UFC 299 event at Kaseya Center on March 09, 2024 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Michel Pereira of Brazil reacts after his submission victory against Michal Oleksiejczuk of Poland in a middleweight fight during the UFC 299 event at Kaseya Center on March 09, 2024 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Middleweight is in a period of change at the moment, and while a victory over Potieria will not resonate the way a victory over a stalwart like Muradov or a Top 15 opponent would, if Pereira adds another rapid finish to his resume to extend his winning streak to eight, people are going to have to start looking at the electric 30-year-old as a genuine threat in his new surroundings.

Joanderson Brito

Brito dropped his promotional debut to cagey veteran Bill Algeo in the opening fight card of the 2022 season, and, since then, he’s taken a “Who Needs Judges?” approach to his activities inside the Octagon.

FIGHT WEEK INTERVIEWS: Pantoja | Erceg | Martinez | Craig | Shore 

Over his last four appearances, the 29-year-old featherweight has posted stoppage wins over Andre Fili, Lucas Alexander, Westin Wilson, and Jonathan Pearce to push his record to 16-3-1 overall ahead of his clash this weekend with Wales’ Jack Shore. While the victories in the middle of that four-fight sandwich came against short-notice replacements, finishing both Fili and Pearce show the level of talent Brito brings to the cage; it also doesn’t hurt that he earned his contract with a technical decision win over Diego Lopes (yes, that Diego Lopes) and bested Chepe Mariscal under the LFA banner before that, too.

Brito showed just how suddenly dangerous he can be last time out, going from being out-grappled for the majority of the contest to catching Pearce in a nasty ninja choke that halted the action in an instant. He’s earned all but two of his wins inside the distance, has a good frame and quality size for the division, and appears to be growing in confidence each time out.

Joanderson Brito Sinks In A Standing Ninja Choke | UFC Fight Night: Allen vs Craig
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Joanderson Brito Sinks In A Standing Ninja Choke | UFC Fight Night: Allen vs Craig
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Shore is an excellent test for the emerging Brazilian on Saturday at UFC 301. The former Cage Warriors bantamweight champ made the successful transition to the featherweight ranks last March at UFC 286 by submitting Makwan Amirkhani in the second round, showcasing the same smothering, suffocating style that helped carry him to 16 consecutive victories to begin his professional career.

The fact that each of these men current reside on the outside of the Top 15 speaks to the depth of talent in the featherweight division at the moment, but another dominant showing from Brito could most certainly elevate him into the rankings. At the very least, it should put him in a position to share the Octagon with someone sporting a number next to their name next time out.

Elves Brener

It’s odd to suggest that someone that garnered a trio of victories on the biggest stage in the sport last year did so quietly and under a cloak of anonymity, but that seems to be where we’re at with Brener as he makes his 2024 debut opposite Myktybek Orolbai this weekend in Rio de Janeiro.

The Chute Boxe Diego Lima representative debuted on short notice at UFC 284, earning a debated split decision win over veteran Zubaira Tukhugov to begin his UFC tenure. Less than five months later, he rallied from the brink of defeat and sporting blood-streaked hair to stop Guram Kutateladze to push his overall winning streak to four, and then wrapped his breakout rookie campaign in the UFC with a first-round stoppage win over fellow Brazilian Kaynan Kruschewsky in November.

Elves Brener of Brazil battles Guram Kutateladze of Georgia in a lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on July 01, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Elves Brener of Brazil battles Guram Kutateladze of Georgia in a lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on July 01, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Just 26 years old, Brener has impressed in each outing, showing grit and tenacity, good power and keen finishing instincts while advancing his record to 16-3 heading into Saturday’s exciting preliminary card pairing at UFC 301.

Like Brener, Orolbai debuted on short notice last year, stepping in opposite Uros Medic in a November welterweight matchup and registering a second-round submission win. The triumph pushed his record to 12-1-1 overall and his winning streak to seven, while maintaining his 100 percent finishing rate.

Brener has looked good through his first three UFC starts and I cannot stress enough how impressive his comeback win over Kutateladze was in July. Surrounded by exceptional coaches and training partners in Sao Paulo, the sophomore profiles as a serious name to track in the 155-pound weight class and has an opportunity to further cement that standing by collecting another win on Saturday night.

Order UFC 301: Pantoja vs Hill

UFC 301: Pantoja vs Erceg took place live from Farmasi Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on May 4, 2024. See the Final Prelim and Main Card Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!