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Ian Machado Garry of Ireland reacts after his victory over Neil Magny in a welterweight fight during the UFC 292 event at TD Garden on August 19, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)
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Fighters On the Rise | UFC 296: Edwards vs Covington

See Which Fighters Have Momentum Heading Into The Final UFC Event Of 2023

Once more unto the breach, dear friends; once more.

For the final time this year, we’re highlighting the ascending names to pay close attention to this weekend inside the Octagon, and just like every year, it feels a little emotional wrapping up this series for 2023.

Order UFC 296: Edwards vs Covington

More than anything else I write on this site, Fighters on the Rise is my baby — I’ve been doing it for 360 consecutive events (yes seriously) and take great pride in shouting out the newcomers, neophytes, and rising stars that fans need to track each weekend. It feels great to see someone that I was advocating for early in their career go on to have a great deal of success inside the Octagon, and I also enjoy the times when I’m way off the mark — which happens on occasion — because it’s a reminder of the unpredictable nature of this incredible sport.

This week, we’ve got a returning welterweight making his final appearance in this space as he’s on the cusp of contention, a flyweight that has quietly been climbing the ranks, and a streaking heavyweight that could be in line for a big fight next time out if he adds another win to his resume on Saturday.

It’s the UFC 296 edition of Fighters on the Rise.

Thanks for reading this year!

Ian Machado Garry

Ian Machado Garry of Ireland prepares to face Neil Magny in a welterweight fight during the UFC 292 event at TD Garden on August 19, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)
Ian Machado Garry of Ireland prepares to face Neil Magny in a welterweight fight during the UFC 292 event at TD Garden on August 19, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)

The Future” is very much a part of the present conversation in the welterweight division, and he can entrench himself further in those discussions with a win over Vicente Luque on Saturday.

In terms of young talents that I have seen find their way to the biggest stage in the sport and progress up the ranks, the 26-year-old Irishman is among the very best, having reached the UFC after seven straight victories and then posted six more wins without a setback inside the Octagon to run his record to 13-0 ahead of this weekend’s 2023 finale.

How To Watch UFC 296: Edwards vs Covington From Your Country

Machado Garry is technical, dexterous, and huge for the division at six-foot-three. He’s brimming with confidence, has backed up every boastful claim and proclamation he’s made to date about his career goals and ambitions, and as simple as this may sound, the Dubliner just looks the part of a burgeoning superstar that could very well sit atop the welterweight division at some point in the not too distant future.

Yes, I think he’s that good.

Ian Machado Garry of Ireland poses for a portrait after his victory during the UFC 292 event at TD Garden on August 19, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)
Ian Machado Garry of Ireland poses for a portrait after his victory during the UFC 292 event at TD Garden on August 19, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)

And Saturday is a chance to get a better read on the timeline for his potential ascent, as Luque is the kind of battle-tested, dangerous veteran that will surely make Machado Garry pay if he’s too cocky, too loose, or even just hitting this stage a little too early. The Top 10 fixture got things moving in the right direction again with a more patient, more defensive decision win over Rafael Dos Anjos earlier this year, and is the type of competitor that only needs a slight opening in order to snatch up a D’Arce choke or put your lights out with a clean right hand.

Machado Garry has been in the UFC for a tick over two years, having debuted at UFC 269 in November 2021. If he can push his record to 7-0 inside the Octagon by registering his fourth win of the year, and put himself in the thick of the title conversation after completing his sophomore year on the roster, it’s going to be hard for anyone to not give him his due as a dynamic talent with an abundance of upside heading into next year.

Cody Durden

Cody Durden reacts after his victory over Jake Hadley of England in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at Bridgestone Arena on August 05, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Cody Durden reacts after his victory over Jake Hadley of England in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at Bridgestone Arena on August 05, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Durden registered just a single victory in his first four UFC starts, battling Chris Gutiérrez to a draw in his debut up a division before sandwiching a narrow decision win over Aoriqileng between quick submission losses to Jimmy Flick and Muhammad Mokaev.

Since then, however, the 32-year-old from Covington, Georgia has posted four straight victories to claim a place in the Top 15 in the flyweight division ahead of his clash with Tagir Ulanbekov this weekend in Las Vegas.

Preview Every Fight On UFC 296

While his win over JP Buys came when he landed a blistering shot that put the South African down in a hurry, Durden amassed his other three wins during this current run of form deploying the same approach: wrestle, wrestle, and wrestle some more, trusting that his conditioning and his ability to dictate and control positions would be enough to allow him to carry the day.

It’s fitting that the American Top Team representative is from Georgia because he is an absolute bulldog in the Octagon, pressing and pressuring from the jump while constantly finding the energy to maintain that approach for 15 minutes, if need be, and lately, it’s been needed. In each of his last two wins — victories over Charles Johnson and Jake Hadley — Durden has won every round on every scorecard, offering his opponents few opportunities to have any real meaningful success while constantly grinding and grating on them for long stretches.

Cody Durden Stops JP Buys In The First Round | UFC Fight Night: Tsarukyan vs Gamrot
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Cody Durden Stops JP Buys In The First Round | UFC Fight Night: Tsarukyan vs Gamrot
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This weekend’s meeting with Ulanbekov represents an earned stepped up in competition and an opportunity to get a better read on where the American stands within the divisional hierarchy at the moment.

The Russian grappler is 14-2 overall and 3-1 in the UFC, having most recently submitted Nate Maness last November. He’s faced and beaten quality competition through his brief UFC run, and is another student of the late Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, which means you know he can wrestle for days and be an absolute menace from top position himself.

If Durden wants to keep moving forward in the division, these are the kinds of hellish matchups he’s going to have to navigate before getting the chance to face some of the more established names in the 125-pound ranks. He’s looked strong through his current run, and if that continues on Saturday, he’ll head into next year with one of the longer winning streaks in the division and every opportunity to potentially face a Top 10 opponent to kick off his 2024 campaign.

Martin Buday

Martin Buday of Slovakia reacts after his victory over Josh Parisian in a heavyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on August 12, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Al Powers/Zuffa LLC)
Martin Buday of Slovakia reacts after his victory over Josh Parisian in a heavyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on August 12, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Al Powers/Zuffa LLC)

Buday is an intriguing figure to me in the heavyweight division.

A member of the Dana White’s Contender Series Class of ’21, the 32-year-old from Slovakia has posted four consecutive victories since matriculating to the main roster to extend his winning streak to a dozen and his record to 13-1 overall.

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Admittedly, the first three wins weren’t pretty, with a technical decision over Chris Barnett starting things off before Buday won battles of attrition against Lukasz Brzeski and Jake Collier. But last time out, “Badys” showed more aggression and diversity in his skill set, taking the fight to Josh Parisian early, hurting him along the fence with punches and knees before ultimately twisting him to the canvas, attacking a kimura, and securing the first-round finish.

Buday is an absolute Goliath of a man — six-foot-four with a 77-inch reach, and he uses every ounce of the 266-pound weight allotment for heavyweight, yet moves relatively well and has shown an ability, especially last time out, to work at a good clip and maintain that deeper into fights. Regardless of the level of competition he’s faced both prior to arriving in the UFC and since, winning a dozen consecutive fights is no easy task, especially at heavyweight, where all it takes is getting hit with one lunchpail for your night to be over.

Martin Buday of Slovakia reacts after his victory over Josh Parisian in a heavyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on August 12, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Al Powers/Zuffa LLC)
Martin Buday of Slovakia reacts after his victory over Josh Parisian in a heavyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on August 12, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Al Powers/Zuffa LLC)

Saturday night, the Slovakian fighter welcomes Shamil Gaziev to the Octagon for the first time in an early preliminary card pairing. Like Buday, Gaziev is a DWCS grad with a shiny record, having posted 11 consecutive victories to start his professional career, including a first-round stoppage win over former UFC fighter Darko Stosic in February prior to his Contender Series win in September.

Gaziev matches Buday in height and has a slightly longer reach, so it’s going to be interesting to see how he opts to approach this contest — whether he looks to work from the clinch or at range, and how much he wishes to grapple with the Russian-born newcomer who now represents the Kingdom of Bahrain.

Much like Durden, this is a key matchup for Buday with the potential to unlock significantly bigger opportunities going forward should he emerge victorious. Five-fight winning streaks in the UFC aren’t easy to come by, and if he looks anything like he did against Parisian on Saturday, he could find himself graduating into matchups with more established names going forward.

UFC 296: Edwards vs Covington took place live from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 16, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass