Fighters On The Rise | UFC 270: Ngannou vs Gane

    Honestly, this is one of those cards where you could offer me those two championship pairings on pay-per-view and I would buy it in a heartbeat, as each of those fights contains so many different layers of intrigue and division-shaping possibilities, while also having the potential to play out in so many different directions that they alone are worth the price of admission.

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    And that’s what makes the rest of the fight card and the opportunity to catch an assortment of newcomers and emerging competitors stepping into the Octagon ahead of the twin title fights so appetizing. It’s like spending the afternoon nibbling on delicious tapas offerings and picking at a deluxe charcuterie board before sitting down to an outstanding two-course meal, where the flyweight clash between Brandon Moreno and Deiveson Figueiredo is the delectable appetizer with an Ngannou-Gane main course to follow.

    Here’s a closer look at three of the non-title combatants with the potential to make an impact before the gold goes up for grabs at the end of the night.

    This is the UFC 270 edition of Fighters on the Rise.

    Ilia Topuria

    The undefeated featherweight prospect turns 25 the day before his meeting with Charles Jourdain on Saturday, and what better way to celebrate than by registering a fourth straight UFC victory, running your overall winning streak to a dozen and counting, and potentially punching your ticket to the Top 15, all in one fell swoop?

    After impressing with a pair of victories in the final quarter of 2020, Topuria made just a single appearance last year, but he made it count, avoiding the awkward entries and curious attacks of Ryan Hall to knock out the Brazilian jiu jitsu specialist in the waning moments of the opening round.

    It was an effort that highlighted Topuria’s IQ in the cage, as even though he’s a Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt himself and earned his first seven victories by submission, he largely avoided engaging with Hall on the ground for any real length of time. Instead, he extricated himself quickly whenever they got tangled up, landing whatever big shots he could in the scrambles before getting back to range and calling Hall up.

    COUNTDOWN: Ngannou vs Gane | Full Episode | Moreno vs Figueiredo

    Late in the frame, as “The Wizard” dove for another weird entry, Topuria defended and dove in with hammerfists, catching Hall flush and sending him to defeat. Now he gets an early start on his 2022 campaign with an intriguing short notice pairing with the always game Jourdain.

    The 26-year-old French-Canadian earned a unanimous decision victory over Andre Ewell on the final card of 2021, inked a new deal, and quickly raised his hand to replace Movsar Evloev when the undefeated Russian was forced out of this contest. He’s had his best moments in his biggest fights, and this one should be no different.

    Should Topuria emerge victorious on Saturday, he’ll take another step forward in his career and add his name alongside Arnold Allen and Bryce Mitchell as the top young talents climbing the featherweight ranks at the moment. Jourdain is a formidable fill-in opponent and a solid test, so Saturday’s contest should provide more insights into where the streaking Georgian fits in the overall divisional hierarchy.

    Michael Morales

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