This weekend, the UFC makes its second trip to the campus of Old Dominion University and the Chartway Arena for a card headlined by a clash between Joseph Benavidez and Deiveson Figueiredo that will crown a new UFC flyweight champion.
The last time the Octagon touched down in the Hampton Roads metropolitan area, it was Tatiana Suarez who was front and center in this space, as the Ultimate Fighter winner was making her first appearance since claiming victory on Season 23 and an injury-induced absence. Though she went the distance in beating Viviane Pereira that evening, it was clear then that Suarez had championship potential and that within a couple years, she would be one of the dominant forces in the strawweight division.
Fast forward 27 months and Suarez has banked three more victories to establish herself as a top contender in the 115-pound weight class, and the UFC’s return to Norfolk brings another fight card featuring a handful of emerging talents, including one who could very well follow the trail Suarez blazed from Norfolk to contention in the next couple years.
Here’s a closer look at three fighters to keep an eye on this weekend.
This is the UFC Norfolk edition of On the Rise.
Allen is one of a host of fighters to have previously held the LFA middleweight title who has subsequently graduated to the UFC, joining Markus Perez, Eryk Anders, Anthony Hernandez and former interim champ Ian Heinisch in turning success in one of the best regional promotions in the sport into a chance to compete inside the Octagon.
The Roufusport product earned his place on the roster with an impressive first-round submission win over Aaron Jeffery last summer on the Contender Series, but really forced people to sit up and take notice of his potential when he choked out Kevin Holland in his promotional debut three months later. Submitting a fighter on a three-fight winning streak inside the Octagon in your first appearance is impressive enough, but when you add in that Holland was a late replacement for fellow grappler Eric Spicely and that Allen had to work through a nasty cut on his forehead acquired in the first two minutes of the fight, it’s difficult not to be impressed by the 24-year-old middleweight.
Now riding a five-fight winning streak of his own, Allen gets another opportunity to impress this weekend as he welcomes fellow emerging talent Tom Breese back to the cage for the first time in nearly two years. Limited to just a single appearance since suffering the only loss of his career midway through 2016, Breese missed almost two full years due to injuries before returning to the 185-pound weight class and finishing Daniel Kelly in the opening round, but has been sidelined ever since.
Fighting out of The MMA Lab in Glendale, Arizona, the 24-year-old Phillips has already had a couple opportunities to break into the UFC, but come up short each time.
First, he faced off with James Gray on the opening season of the Contender Series, collecting a first-round stoppage win in 46 seconds. Rather than being offered a contract, Phillips was given a spot on Season 27 of The Ultimate Fighter, where he lost a majority decision to eventual winner Brad Katona in the opening round of the eight-man featherweight competition.
After suffering the first loss of his career to Josh Barnett protégé Victor Henry in his first fight post-TUF, Phillips bounced back with another first-round stoppage win last February to earn a short-notice call-up to the UFC. He was forced out of that bout for undisclosed reasons, but returns this weekend in a matchup against fellow youngster Gabriel Silva.
Phillips is one of those fighters who have been on the radar for some time, having earned praise from coaches and teammates as he worked his way through the amateur ranks and into the early days of the pro career. With finishes in five of his six pro wins and his lone loss coming by split decision against a dangerous, underrated fighter in Henry, it’s easy to see why folks who track prospects have long been high on the promising newcomer.
The bantamweight division has never been as deep and competitive as it is now, so standing out is going to be challenging, but giving his propensity for putting on entertaining fights and proven finishing instincts, don’t be surprised if Phillips forces fans to take notice of him in his UFC debut.
The undefeated Brady had a pretty impressive three-year run on the regional scene before making his UFC debut last fall.
From the start of 2017 on, the Daniel Gracie black belt went 5-0 with three finishes, winning the CFFC welterweight title and defending it twice, while mixing in a decision win over former TUF winner Colton Smith and a main event victory over Gilbert Urbina under the LFA banner. When he arrived in the Octagon for the first time last October, the Philadelphia-based fighter kept his momentum rolling with a unanimous decision win over durable veteran Court McGee.
Now the 27-year-old looks to make it a dozen straight to start his professional career in a clash with fellow welterweight up-and-comer Ismail Naurdiev.
Brady started quickly against McGee, getting ahead on the cards before the resilient “Crusher” rallied in the final round, but fading like that is to be expected of a fighter making his first trip into the Octagon, especially against an unrelenting pressure fighter like McGee. He showcased quick hands, solid pop, and upward potential in dispatching the former Ultimate Fighter winner, and if he can carry that over into Saturday’s bout against the equally promising Naurdiev, another victory and another step up the competitive ladder could be in order for the unbeaten welterweight hopeful.