The most effective issues concerning the first two months of the UFC’s 2018 marketing campaign has been the variety of new names that have emerged from the primary eight occasions of the yr.
Whereas some established skills excelled in probably the most excessive profile bouts in January and February, the opening two months of the yr have additionally seen Brian Ortega earn a featherweight title shot, Jeremy Stephens make it clear that he’s a official contender in that very same division and a host of gifted up-and-comers introduce themselves to a bigger viewers.
In some instances, these new arrivals have additionally offered a jolt of electrical energy to weight courses that have been in dire want of recent challengers to shake up the established order. Curtis Blaydes and Tai Tuivasa positioned themselves as fighters to watch in the heavyweight ranks, whereas Tyson Pedro, Ilir Latifi and Jordan Johnson all scored essential victories in the sunshine heavyweight division and this weekend in London, the ultimate two bouts of the night might have a additional impression on these two weight courses.
The penultimate contest on Saturday’s occasion, which might be broadcast solely on UFC Struggle Cross in North America, is a mild heavyweight rematch between Jimi Manuwa and Jan Blachowicz that comes almost three years after their first encounter.
Manuwa gained that preliminary assembly by unanimous determination and has remained simply outdoors the unique higher echelon in the sunshine heavyweight division since, sandwiching knockout wins over Ovince Saint Preux and Corey Anderson between knockout losses to Anthony Johnson and Volkan Oezdemir. Blachowicz has equally had combined outcomes, posting three wins and three losses since having his six-struggle profitable streak snapped by Manuwa in his sophomore look in the Octagon.
However whereas Manuwa comes in wanting to as soon as once more bounce-again from a blistering defeat, Blachowicz arrives in the most effective type of his UFC profession, driving a two-struggle profitable streak that has showcased the complete depth of his numerous offensive recreation and positioned the Polish veteran as a attainable new entrant in the highest tier of the 205-pound ranks. Perhaps that’s merely a perform of dealing with lesser expertise, however the 35-yr-previous had an impressive run underneath the KSW banner and wouldn’t be the primary athlete to falter after signing with the UFC earlier than rebounding and establishing himself as a contender.
In a division the place little or no separates the gathering of expertise assembled past the established elite, a victory over Manuwa to push his profitable streak to three might end result in Blachowicz being catapulted into the combination alongside contenders like Oezdemir, Alexander Gustafsson and Glover Teixeira in the second half of 2018.
The result of the primary occasion might have even nice ramifications on one other division that has lengthy wanted new additions to work their approach into rivalry and break up the all-too-acquainted assortment of expertise that has remained on the prime for much too lengthy.
Saturday’s finale options former heavyweight champ Fabricio Werdum taking over Alexander Volkov, the ex-Bellator titleholder who has gone three-zero since debuting in the UFC in November 2016.
During the last a number of years, the group on the prime of the heavyweight ranks has consisted of present champ Stipe Miocic, former champions Werdum, Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos, and perennial contenders Alistair Overeem and Mark Hunt.
The one actual new addition to the group prior to this yr has been Francis Ngannou, who actually solely ascended to prominence in 2017 earlier than dropping to Miocic at UFC 220 in Boston earlier this yr.
Blaydes inserted his identify into the dialog together with his conquer Hunt in Perth at the beginning of February and his solely different bout towards one of many prime skills in the division got here in his debut loss to Ngannou again earlier than he moved to Colorado and actually began taking issues critically.
Volkov has the potential to do the identical with a victory over Werdum on Saturday.
What’s most interesting about his potential inside the heavyweight ranks — except for the truth that doesn’t flip 30 till October — is that he has but to face a single fighter ranked in the highest 10 in the division. He’s turned again Timothy Johnson, Roy Nelson and Stefan Struve over the course of his first three appearances, however he’s but to share the cage with anybody who’s even shut to rivalry and the potential for including one other youngish fighter into the combination in a weight class that has all the time had issues protecting issues recent is thrilling.
Turnover is essential for protecting divisions shifting and offering followers with new, compelling matchups moderately than unsatisfying squash matches and discovering the one unmade battle that exists amongst a group of 4 or struggle acquainted names.
Each mild heavyweight and heavyweight have struggled with this problem for fairly a while, however the tides appear to be altering. Fresh expertise is rising in every division and that development might proceed this weekend in London.
And if it doesn’t, right here’s hoping the ultimate two fights on the night no less than inform us a little extra about what the extra established halves of these pairings have to supply because the second quarter of the 2018 marketing campaign attracts close to.