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Daniel Rodriguez prepares to fight Mike Perry in a welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on April 10, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Fighters On The Rise | UFC 279: Diaz vs Ferguson

Make Sure You Know Which Athletes Have Momentum Heading Into A Star-Studded PPV Show In Las Vegas.

Editor Note: This article was published prior to the UFC 279: Diaz vs Ferguson event change. Nate Diaz will now fight Tony Ferguson in the main event, Khamzat Chimaev will fight Kevin Holland in a catchweight (180) co-main event and Li Jingliang will fight Daniel Rodriguez in a catchweight (180) bout. | Order UFC 279: Diaz vs Ferguson

UFC Announces Updates To UFC 279

Before MMA became my obsession (and career), I spent a great deal of time at the horse races, both thoroughbred and standardbred, which is “the one with the guys in the little carts behind the horses,” as I often had to explain.The UFC will be at home for just the third pay-per-view event of the year on Saturday, as UFC 279 touches down at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

After “road games” in Dallas and Salt Lake City for the last two numbered events, the Octagon returns to familiar surroundings and UFC action returns to The Strip with a fight card capped by Khamzat Chimaev taking on Nate Diaz.

In a way, this feels like the UFC version of a back-to-school event, as the company is returning home after summer vacation, and the fight card consists of a mix of familiar faces everyone has been around for years, plus a smattering of newcomers, including some with difficult to pronounce names.

Hi there, Denis Tiuliulin.

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Saturday’s fight card also features three fighters looking to UFC 279 as an opportunity to catapult themselves to new heights within their respective divisions, with each arriving in the desert with a different amount of Octagon experience, but the same goal to show out this weekend.

Here’s a closer look at those competitors.

This is the UFC 279 edition of Fighters on the Rise.

Daniel Rodriguez

Daniel Rodriguez trains at the UFC Performance Institute (photo by Gavin Porter/Zuffa LLC)
Daniel Rodriguez trains at the UFC Performance Institute (photo by Gavin Porter/Zuffa LLC)

Rodriguez is one of the more underrated fighters on the UFC roster — a 35-year-old veteran with a 16-2 overall record, a 6-1 mark inside the Octagon, and riding a three-fight winning streak into this weekend’s showdown with fellow Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) alum Kevin Holland.

Like Holland, “D-Rod” earned a victory, but not a contract, when he competed on the annual talent search series, collecting a unanimous decision win over Rico Farrington in Season 3. But the effort put him on the UFC radar and he was called up to the big leagues seven months later, debuting with a second-round submission win over Tim Means. Two additional wins followed, pushing his winning streak to nine before a loss to Nicolas Dalby halted his run of success, but since then, the Alhambra, California native has been lights out.

UFC 279 FREE FIGHTS: Tony Ferguson vs Katsunori Kikuno | Li Jingliang vs Muslim Salikhov | Khamzat Chimaev vs Gilbert Burns | Khamzat Chimaev vs Li Jingliang | Nate Diaz vs Cowboy Cerrone | Nate Diaz vs Conor McGregor

Rodriguez followed his lone UFC setback with a decision win over Mike Perry and a first-round finish of short-notice opponent Preston Parson before hustling into the fray on short-notice against Kevin Lee last August. Working behind his clean, smooth boxing, Rodriguez rallied after losing the opening round to collect a unanimous decision victory.

This weekend, he jumps in with Holland, looking to extend his winning streak to four. It’s another matchup against a foe with more buzz and more hype, and a chance for Rodriguez to make another case for a spot in the Top 15.

Melissa Martinez

One of two full-blown “new kids” on the card this weekend, Martinez returns to action following a nearly three-year hiatus, looking to maintain her unblemished record as she takes on Elise Reed in a preliminary pairing in the strawweight division.

An undefeated 25-year-old, Martinez spent the last couple years competing in kickboxing, earning a gold medal at the 2021 World Association of Kickboxing Organizations (WAKO) World Championships, and completing her degree in food chemistry at National Autonomous University in Mexico City. Now, the former Combate Global strawweight titleholder is ready to put her four-ounce gloves back on and her 7-0 record on the line in her UFC debut.

RELATED: Preview Every Fight On UFC 279 | Khamzat Chimaev Is Not Here To Be A Normal Fighter | Key Reasons To Watch UFC 279

Reed is a good test for “Super Mely” — a fellow former titleholder in a quality promotion (CFFC) who has already graced the Octagon a couple of times this year, earning a split decision win over Cory McKenna in London before dropping her most recent outing against Sam Hughes in May.

A martial artist from an early age and member of a fighting family — her brother David is an 8-1 bantamweight, currently fighting under the Combate Global banner, where he’s won four straight — the transition to the UFC has been a long time coming for Martinez, and you can be sure she’ll look to make the most of it on Saturday night.


Alatengheili of China reacts after his TKO victory over Kevin Croom in a bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on April 16, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Alatengheili of China reacts after his TKO victory over Kevin Croom in a bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on April 16, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

It’s taken a few fights, but it feels like Alatagheili is finally settled into his place on the UFC roster and could be poised to emerge as yet another fighter to keep tabs on in the already loaded bantamweight division.

After debuting in the promotion with consecutive victories over Danaa Batgerel and Ryan Benoit, the now 30-year-old fighter from Mongolia went without a victory over his next two fights, raising questions about his ability to compete at this level. But his loss to Casey Kenney and a draw against Gustavo Lopez — in a fight where he was deducted a point for repeatedly grabbing the fence — were quickly forgotten in April when “The Mongolian Knight” marched across the cage and dispatched Kevin Croom in 47 seconds.

In Vegas For UFC 279? Here's What's Going On For Fight Week!

In the moment, the two-fight stretch without a victory looked troubling, but now, coming off a commanding effort against “Crash” earlier this year, Alatangheili arrives at UFC 279 with an 11-2-2 record over his last 15 fights; an impressive overall run, despite a couple stumbles.

Saturday night in Las Vegas, the returning bantamweight takes on Chad Anheliger, a Canadian veteran coming off a third-round stoppage win in his promotional debut that pushed his winning streak to 10.

It’s a competitive fight against an experienced veteran playing with house money, which makes it the perfect type of matchup to determine whether Alatangheili is officially a Fighter on the Rise, or more of a stalwart in the lower half of the division that can be counted on to delivering entertaining fights each time out.

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UFC 279: Diaz vs Ferguson took place live from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on September 10, 2022. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!