How was that for a start to the year, huh?
Three events in eight days starting with a string of upsets and impressive finishes and Max Holloway’s masterful effort, followed by an entertaining mid-week show capped by Michael Chiesa continuing his march to contention in the welterweight division, all closed out by the first pay-per-view of 2021, where Marina Rodriguez scored a breakout victory, Michael Chandler introduced himself to the UFC lightweight division in spectacular fashion, and Dustin Poirier shined brighter than ever before.
It was a whirlwind stretch to kick off the year on UFC Fight Island, and now, after a one-week break to let everything settle in, business resumes with the first event of the year from the Apex in Las Vegas, where heavyweight contenders Alistair Overeem and Alexander Volkov will close out the show.
This is an outstanding card from top to bottom, featuring a handful of bouts that carry serious divisional significance, and a few more that have the potential to have a similar impact one or two fights down the road.
Here’s a closer look at three competitors set to step into the Octagon on Saturday that you should be paying close attention to this weekend and in the future.
This is the UFC Vegas 18 edition of On the Rise.
There has been a ton of attention focused on the very top of the lightweight division over the last nine months, as massive matchups and impactful contests shaped and reshaped the landscape of the Top 10. All the while, Diego Ferreira has been biding his time; patiently waiting for a chance to insert himself into the title conversation.
Currently stationed at No. 10 in the rankings, the 36-year-old Ferreira enters 2021 on a six-fight winning streak, most recently submitting former divisional kingpin Anthony Pettis at UFC 246 last January. Between all the activity from the marquee names in the division and two attempts to make a fight with Drew Dober come together that fell through, the Fortis MMA representative has slipped into the background in the talent-rich division.
This weekend, Ferreira has an opportunity to change that while simultaneously avenging one of his two career losses as he squares off with another streaking member of the lightweight ranks, Beneil Dariush, in what should be an electric affair on Saturday night.
The two met for the first time in October 2014, with Dariush venturing to Brazil and registering a unanimous decision victory. Ferreira dropped his next fight, as well, landing on the wrong side of things against Dustin Poirier in his return to the 155-pound ranks, but he hasn’t lost since, collecting three wins on the cards and three wins inside the distance to climb into the Top 10.
His progress up the divisional ladder may have been slowed by a pair of losses early in his UFC career, but Ferreira regrouped, made improvements, and is now marching towards title contention, and if he can even things out in his personal series against Dariush on Saturday, the talented Brazilian should force his way into an even bigger pairing later in the year.
We shift from a divisional stalwart looking to climb out of the shadows and into contention to a newcomer already viewed as a potential title challenger in the intriguing flyweight division, as Manel Kape finally makes his promotional debut in a dangerous pairing with Brazilian stalwart Alexandre Pantoja this weekend.
The 27-year-old Kape, who hails from Portugal and has been fighting under the RIZIN Fighting Federation banner for the last several years, carries a three-fight winning streak and an impressive 15-4 record into his Octagon debut on Saturday. “StarBoy” holds noteworthy wins over UFC veterans Ian McCall and Takeya Mizugaki and split a pair of fights with standout Kai Asakura.
A proven finisher with fast hands and sharp striking overall, Kape’s debut was delayed twice last year, which has only increased the anticipation to see him make the walk on Saturday night.
Pantoja is a perfect dance partner for the talented newcomer — a seasoned veteran and Top 10 fixture who has an established track record within the division, making it easy to extrapolate where Kape fits in the 125-pound ranks once the smoke clears and the dust settles this weekend.
An impressive showing against “The Cannibal” would inject Kape into the thick of the title chase and position him as one of the most intriguing fighters to track heading into the heart of the 2021 fight calendar.
Just three weeks after making her successful UFC debut, Joselyne Edwards is hustling back into the Octagon, filling in for former champ Nicco Montano opposite Karol Rosa as she looks to kick start a climb up the bantamweight rankings with two victories in under a month.
Edwards tagged in for Bethe Correia against Wu Yanan on Fight Island and made the most of her short-notice opportunity, becoming the first Panamanian fighter to register a UFC win by starting quickly and maintaining her superiority in the striking department over the course of 15 minutes against the young Chinese hopeful. It was a tremendous performance by the 25-year-old, who now sports a 10-2 record overall and is 9-1 over her last 10 appearances.
Now she makes the quick turnaround for her second foray into the UFC cage against Rosa, a 26-year-old Brazilian on a four-fight winning streak, including triumphs in each of her first two Octagon appearances.
This is a tremendously smart low risk, high reward decision by Edwards and her team, as a second victory in three weeks makes her an immediate person of interest in the bantamweight division and puts her in a position to potentially have a massive year in 2021, while a loss does little to diminish her standing as a fighter to watch going forward.
Will “La Pantera” collect her second victory of the year on February 6?