Prior to every event, Under the Radar will cast the spotlight on an up-and-coming talent who shows the potential for growth in their division and isn’t getting enough attention as they head into battle.
- Name: Sijara Eubanks
- Record: 3-2 overall, 1-0 UFC
- Division: Flyweight
- Team: Team Ricardo Almeida / Iron Army
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This week is everyone’s chance to get closely acquainted with Sijara Eubanks.
The former TUF finalist — who never fought for the title and came under fire for no fault of her own earlier in October when she saw her opportunity at a world title granted and ripped away in less than a week — is no longer fighting for the belt, but will indeed step into the cage at Madison Square Garden. It’s high time that everyone who said they knew nothing about her pay close attention and do their research because there is a very strong likelihood that, with a win on Saturday, “Sarj” will be fighting for the flyweight title in 2019.
Eubanks came up as a member of Team Lloyd Irvin and enjoyed a highly successful career on the jiu jitsu mats before transitioning into mixed martial arts under the Invicta FC banner. She had split her first four appearances as a professional, alternating wins and losses, before being selected to join the cast on Season 26 of The Ultimate Fighter, where the tough and talented competitor had her coming out party.
Entering as the No. 12 seed, Eubanks rattled off victories over fifth seed Maia Stevenson, fourth seed DeAnna Bennett and top seed Roxanne Modafferi to earn a place opposite Nicco Montano in the finals. Against Stevenson, she showcased her aptitude on the ground. In the bout with Bennett, it was her striking power and diverse offensive arsenal, and in her clash with Modafferi, it was her toughness and resolve that showed through as she gritted out a three-round decision to secure her place in the first women’s flyweight title fight in UFC history.
But it wasn’t meant to be.
The night before weigh-ins, Eubanks was taken to the hospital after experiencing issues during her weight cut. Her official promotional debut would be put on hold and her chance to challenge for UFC gold evaporated.
Following her time on the show, Eubanks switched camps and continued training with the group of coaches that she worked with as a member of Team Alvarez, including Ricardo Almeida and Mark Henry and in June, the 33-year-old made her first trip into the Octagon, defeating fellow TUF alum Lauren Murphy by unanimous decision in Utica, New York.
There were no issues with her weight cut, not questions about the result of the fight and no way to deny that Eubanks was absolutely a player in the flyweight division. By defeating Murphy, Eubanks had secured wins over the fighters seeded first, third, fourth and fifth in the flyweight competition and while she didn’t have a ton of experience prior to taking part on the long-running reality TV competition, her results speak for themselves.
When the UFC was looking for a main event to headline this weekend’s show at Madison Square Garden, it briefly ran with the idea of a flyweight title fight between Eubanks and Valentina Shevchenko, who had previously been paired with former strawweight queen Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 231 in early December.
There was an immediate backlash from people who were unfamiliar with the deserving, but unheralded Eubanks, including UFC broadcaster Joe Rogan, and the bout was ultimately scuttled. Shevchenko was returned to her matchup with Jedrzejczyk in Toronto and Eubanks’ request to remain on the card this weekend’ in NYC was granted.
Saturday night, the suddenly infamous emerging contender will run it back with Modafferi, who replaced her opposite Montano in the inaugural women’s flyweight title fight and rebounded from that loss by earning her first UFC victory this summer by avenging a previous loss to Barb Honchak.
It’s easy to look at Eubanks’ 3-2 professional record and question how she could be considered a legitimate contender, but a closer examination shows it to be true.
Her two losses came against her current teammate and fellow flyweight contender Katlyn Chookagian and bantamweight rising star Aspen Ladd, who pushed her record to 7-0 at the start of October by absolutely mopping the floor with former Invicta FC champ Tonya Evinger, and she’s since showed her weight cutting issues are a thing of the past by making into the cage opposite Murphy without incident before defeating the durable, experienced former Invicta FC titleholder.
As much as being thrown into the middle of a controversy earlier in the month for simply doing what every fighter in her situation would do — accepting a title fight — that drama should ensure that all eyes are on Eubanks heading into Saturday’s bout with Modafferi, and she has the skills to use this opportunity to position herself for a title shot in the first half of 2019.
While she’s short on in-cage experience, Eubanks competed at the elite level in jiu jitsu and showed her overall talents in the cage during her time on TUF and since coming off the show.
The former bantamweight has good size and power for the division, an excellent submission game should the fight hit the floor and the strength and toughness to work as a bully on the feet and along the cage if that’s where things end up. Henry has raved about her improvements since joining the Iron Army and she’s getting training reps in with not only Chookagian, but also the cast of elite lighter weight males who are part of that team like Alvarez, Frankie Edgar and Marlon Moraes.
Additionally, Eubanks has already spent 15 minutes in the cage with Modafferi and emerged victorious, so she should be brimming with confidence and carrying an even larger chip on her shoulder than normal heading into Saturday’s matchup at MSG.
Anyone who wasn’t familiar with Eubanks prior to her one-week stint as one half of this weekend’s main event should have spent the time since then familiarizing themselves with her resume and if they didn’t, they most certainly should be paying close attention this weekend at UFC 230.
Eubanks is a legitimate contender and a legitimate title threat in the UFC’s newest weight class.
After this weekend, no one will be able to question that or act like they don’t know who she is any longer.