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: Roman Kopylov of Russia reacts after his KO victory over Claudio Ribeiro of Brazil in a middleweight fight during the UFC 291 event at Delta Center on July 29, 2023 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
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Fighters on the Rise | UFC 298: Volkanovski vs Topuria

Highlighting Three Ascending Talents Slated To Step Into The Octagon On Saturday Night in Anaheim

UFC 298 is loaded with talent and features a number of critical, high-stakes pairings leading into the featherweight championship finale between Alexander Volkanovski and Ilia Topuria.

But before the established contenders, former champions, emerging threats, and title fight participants grace the Octagon, a trio of streaking, ascending names looking to use their business trip to Anaheim this week as a means of catapulting themselves to greater opportunities in their respective divisions will make the walk.

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From a middleweight finisher to an undefeated prospect and onto a regrouping prospect, this week’s pack of up-and-coming names to know carries some real breakout potential in 2024.

Here’s a closer look at those competitors in this week’s addition of Fighters on the Rise.

Roman Kopylov

Roman Kopylov of Russia punches Josh Fremd in a middleweight fight during the Noche UFC event at T-Mobile Arena on September 16, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Roman Kopylov of Russia punches Josh Fremd in a middleweight fight during the Noche UFC event at T-Mobile Arena on September 16, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

We talk all the time about competitors needing time to adjust to life in the UFC and get themselves into a rhythm where they’re fighting consistently, and Kopylov’s tenure thus far illustrates why perfectly.

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Touching down in the Octagon with a perfect 8-0 record, he made his debut after 11 months on the sidelines and suffered a third-round submission loss. Nearly two years passed before he returned, and when he did, the Russian middleweight landed on the wrong side of a unanimous decision verdict. It was another 10 months and change before Kopylov made his third trip into the UFC Octagon, but, this time, he came away victorious, knocking out Alessio Di Chirico with a third-round head kick in Paris.

Since then, Kopylov has competed three more times, never going more than six months between appearances, and the results have remained excellent.

Roman Kopylov Gets The Body Shot TKO Win | Noche UFC
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Roman Kopylov Gets The Body Shot TKO Win | Noche UFC
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He followed up the win over Di Chirico by stopping Punahele Soriano on the opening card of 2023, pushed his winning streak to three with a second-round knockout of Claudio Ribeiro, and ran it to three with a similar result — though from a very different attack — against Josh Fremd in September to arrive at this weekend’s main card clash with Anthony “Fluffy” Hernandez on a four-fight winning streak.

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During this run, Kopylov has shown a dynamic striking approach that includes an array of heavy kicks to all levels and a willingness to work the body, as it was a body shot that spelled Fremd’s demise. The Russian southpaw has been willing to wade into the pocket and accept some return fire, trusting that his offensive output is going to be greater than what is coming back his way, and while he’s gotten touched up a little along the way, he’s largely been correct.

Hernandez also arrives in Anaheim on a four-fight winning streak, having most recently defeated Edmen Shahbazyan in May. An early Season 2 graduate of Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS), the 30-year-old NorCal native similarly struggled out of the gates, sandwiching his first win between two losses, but has looked incredibly sharp over his last four outings heading into this one.

 Roman Kopylov of Russia punches Punahele Soriano in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on January 14, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Roman Kopylov of Russia punches Punahele Soriano in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on January 14, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Kopylov stepped into this fight as a replacement for Ikram Aliskerov, and the fact that he was willing to raise his hand less than a month before the contest highlights to me that he understands both what is at stake and the magnitude of this opportunity.

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His last two outings have been preliminary card affairs, and while the results have obviously elevated his profile, being on the main card of this weekend’s pay-per-view against an opponent like Hernandez, who is similarly in the midst of the best run of his career, is a tremendous opportunity to make a statement at a time when the division has been front and center.

Kopylov has looked excellent during his current run of form, and if he maintains that through the weekend, he’ll earn a place in the rankings, along with a fifth straight victory, and continue to serve notice that he’s someone to pay close attention to in the 185-pound ranks.

Rinya Nakamura

Rinya Nakamura of Japan kicks Fernie Garcia in a bantamweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Singapore Indoor Stadium on August 26, 2023 in Singapore. (Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/Zuffa LLC)
Rinya Nakamura of Japan kicks Fernie Garcia in a bantamweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Singapore Indoor Stadium on August 26, 2023 in Singapore. (Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/Zuffa LLC)

Just a couple weeks after three athletes punched their tickets to the UFC by claiming victory in the finals on Season 2 of Road to UFC, the first season’s breakout star Nakamura makes his return to the Octagon.

The 28-year-old Japanese bantamweight ran roughshod through the competition on Season 1, needing 378 seconds combined to dispatch Gugan Guzman, Shohei Nose, and Toshiomi Kazama to win the tournament and establish himself as a person of interest in the 135-pound weight class. He made his official UFC debut in August, out-wrestling Fernie Garcia to run his record to 8-0 overall, and now makes his North American debut this weekend in a clash with late replacement opponent Carlos Vera.

Rinya Nakamura Knocks Out Kazama | UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs Spivac
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Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

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Rinya Nakamura Knocks Out Kazama | UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs Spivac
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Nakamura has both pedigree and an impressive early highlight reel. He won the Under-23 freestyle wrestling world championships and was on an Olympic track before COVID-19 delayed the games and prompted a change of plans. Since transitioning to mixed martial arts, he’s not only shown an ability to utilize his wrestling inside the cage, but displayed a solid submission game and developing power, as well, having earned finishes in six of his eight wins to date.

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Originally scheduled to face Brady Hiestand in what was an intriguing clash of emerging names in the bantamweight ranks, Nakamura will instead welcome Vera to the Octagon for the first time this weekend. A member of Team McGregor on Season 31 of The Ultimate Fighter, Vera lost his opening round bout to eventual winner Brad Katona, and was ticketed to make his debut back in December before that short-notice pairing was scuttled.

The ascending Nakamura has looked like the genuine article thus far, but wisely asked for patience from fans and media as he continues to develop and work his way forward in the loaded bantamweight division. If he keeps looking as good as he has to date, it’s not going to be that long before “Hybred” finds himself getting a significant step up in competition.

Miranda Maverick

Miranda Maverick submits Priscila Cachoeira of Brazil in a flyweight fight during the UFC 291 event at Delta Center on July 29, 2023 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
Miranda Maverick submits Priscila Cachoeira of Brazil in a flyweight fight during the UFC 291 event at Delta Center on July 29, 2023 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

Losing to Erin Blanchfield might have been the best thing to happen to Maverick.

The 26-year-old flyweight was one of the young, emerging stars of the division heading into their UFC 269 pairing, having won her first two appearances inside the Octagon before dropping a debated split decision to fellow hopeful Maycee Barber. Legions lined up on her side following that questionable outcome, and it felt like Maverick was going to get a solid push with a victory, but that’s not how things played out.

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Blanchfield collected a dominant win, Maverick dug in with her new team of coaches in Denver, and was afforded the chance to pause her advancement in the division in favor of developing, growing, and truly settling in.

Since that fight, Maverick has gone 3-1, with her lone setback coming in Vancouver last summer in a bout with Jasmine Jasudavicius where she suffered an eye injury. Frustrated by that result, she jumped at the chance to face Priscila Cachoeira on short notice six weeks later, mauling “Zombie Girl” for the first two rounds before finally submitting her in the third.

Miranda Maverick Sinks In RD 2 Rear Naked Choke | UFC Fight Night: Santos vs Ankalaev
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Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

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Miranda Maverick Sinks In RD 2 Rear Naked Choke | UFC Fight Night: Santos vs Ankalaev
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From the early days of her career, Maverick has always profiled as an explosive athlete with strong grappling and developing striking, and that remains the case now as she readies to take on Andrea Lee this weekend in Anaheim. There is a physicality to Maverick that is somewhat unique for the division, and as she continues to learn how to tie that to her best weapons, it’s easy to see a path to her becoming a contender in the 125-pound weight class.

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Lee has become the veteran ascending fighters like Maverick need to beat in order to advance in the division, having logged her last two appearances against Barber and Natalia Silva, two of the weight class’ brightest young stars. While she’s dropped three straight and struggled since winning her first three UFC starts, the 34-year-old veteran remains a durable, dangerous test for anyone looking to use her as a steppingstone.

This feels like the fight that will tell us whether Maverick is, in fact, going to move forward and gain full membership in the growing pack of under-30 talents making waves in the division at the moment or remain a part-time member that teases with her skills in fits and starts. The upside is obvious, and a path forward is there — now it’s on Maverick to try and put everything together and make a push in the talent-rich flyweight ranks.

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UFC 298: Volkanovski vs Topuria took place live from Honda Center in Anaheim, California on February 17, 2024. See the final Prelim & Main Card Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!