For all the attention that has been focussed on the numerous stars set to feature on this weekend’s UFC 245, history will show us that it’s often the surprise packages that end up stealing the night.
With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at five fighters who seem to be setting up to make a massive splash once the action gets underway on Saturday night.
The aptly-named ‘Handz of Steel’ has been nothing short of a wrecking ball since making his UFC debut back in February of last year and with his latest victory, a second-round finish of Niko Price, he has been pegged for another step up in competition.
A finisher in the most brutal sense of the word, Neal has all of the tools necessary to make a dent on the 170lb division’s top-10 and with eight finishes in his last ten, it’s easy to see why people are looking at him as a future contender.
Now set to face Mike Perry in the UFC 245 featured prelim bout, Neal certainly is the type of fighter who can become the first to crack his stubborn adversary’s rock-solid chin.
If that does happen, though, you can be sure that there will be a bloody battle there to proceed it. Look to this fight as a potential victor in the Fight Of The Night category.
Unbeaten at 10-0 and the proud holder of black-belts in both BJJ and Judo, it’s almost surprising to see Ketlen Vieira, as the #2-ranked bantamweight on the planet, matched up against the #10-ranked Irene Aldana.
A win would undoubtedly be enough to make her claim to a title-shot undeniable but even still, with Amanda Nunes set to defend the 135lb strap on the night’s main-card, the pressure will be on this rising talent to make a statement.
Based on her form and the extent of her skill-set, I’d wager that she’s more than capable of doing just that when the octagon doors close.
This talented Brazilian scored the biggest victory of her career to date last time out as she edged out the veteran Cat Zingano at UFC 222 and now, after a lengthy layoff, she will no doubt be hoping to remind the world exactly how good she is.
Do not be misled by this talented flyweight’s (20-7, 1 NC) record. At 26-years-old, the experience he has managed to earn over the course of his 28-fight career has helped him mature into an extremely solid competitor.
And while the flyweight division has become something of an uncertain home for its inhabitants in recent times, it is looking increasingly likely that the champ Henry Cejudo will be returning to defend his crown sooner rather than later.
Although not yet in possession of a signature win, Kara-France is well and truly in the mix as part of the ongoing wave of Oceanic mixed martial artists that are slowly stamping their authority on the sport.
In my eyes, Kara-France is about one or two big wins away from singling himself out as the weight-class’ top-contender and with a proven opponent like the returning Brandon Moreno in front of him, expect the winner to make a big move into the top four or five.
The 20-year-old Chase Hooper has certainly grown out of his nickname but make no mistake, ‘The Teenage Dream’ will enter the UFC as a deadly finisher and genuine submission threat.
It is quite early in the career of this interesting prospect but seeing as the UFC have set aside a spot on a major PPV event for him, it’s easy to see why people have such high hopes.
As we’ve seen in the past, the promotion’s management of their young, budding stars has been sketchy at times – as Dana and co. push these rising hopefuls too fast in the hopes of generating a compelling narrative.
With a fighter like Hooper, one can only hope that the UFC brass has learnt their lesson and we get to see this guy reach his potential at a rate that is comfortable for him.
Perhaps the most interesting name on this list comes in the form of bantamweight contender Petr Yan – who shall face off against a rebounding Urijah Faber to open the event’s main-card.
Those who know Yan’s talents live in a state of near-certainty of his place as a future UFC champion and while Faber’s veteran savvy should make this an interesting fight, the bookies have this one as an easy victory for the Russian.
Technically diverse and devastating in equal measure, Yan, at 26-years-old, is still very much one to keep an eye on with the future in mind – even with the well-rounded game he brings to the table.
Still, when you consider that the bantamweight division is very open at present, it seems as though it’s only a matter of time before we see ‘No Mercy’ in there with the championship belt on the line.
Elsewhere on the card, there is, of course, a lot to be excited about.
Fighters like Ian Heinisch, Brandon Moreno, Jessica Eye, and Mike Perry will all be feeling the heat as they look to rebound from their respective patches in form of late to regain their momentum.
All of these athletes no doubt possess the tools necessary to take that next step in an upward direction and as always, the UFC matchmakers have done their utmost to present them with matchups that will serve to test them – giving them at least some indication of how their year 2020 will shape up.
And if you’re not excited by the prospect of three five-round title-fights, I’m afraid there’s very little else that can be said to sway you.
UFC 245 is looking set to be one helluva night, folks!