Saturday night, 12 fights in Fortaleza, Brazil, produced 10 finishes, including nine submissions — two armbars, two arm triangle chokes, a kneebar, a rear-naked choke, a slick triangle, and one “I’m not sure what that was, but it sure was quick” finish.
On a night where the recognizable names were sparse, the string of finishes turned unknowns into trending topics on Twitter, and gave the UFC a collection of fighters to highlight and showcase on future events held in the MMA mad nation. It also gave fans watching at home a few more names to keep tabs on going forward.
Here are five fighters that put together breakthrough performances inside the Octagon on Saturday night.
The welterweight prospect needed little time to dispatch Jason High, ending the former Strikeforce standout’s seven-fight winning streak, and hitting restart on the hype machine at the same time.
After stuffing High’s initial takedown attempt, Silva tried to take High’s back but ended up coiled around his shoulders and head instead, but it didn’t matter. The Team Nogueira product snatched up an arm and torqued, forcing High to tap less than 90 seconds into his second appearance in the UFC.
Silva is the real deal. While he suffered a setback against Jon Fitch last time out, the talented Brazilian showed Saturday night that he’s a legitimate championship threat, and someone in need of a step up in competition next time out. High was a perfect opponent for him here -- the type of guy capable of giving him fits if he wasn’t as good as some believed -- and Silva ran through him with ease, barely breaking a sweat.
Inside of two years, Silva will be challenging for the welterweight title.
In his UFC appearance, Jason struggled to earn a decision win over Godofredo Pepey, overcome by the emotions of competing on the biggest stage in the sport. Two fights later, he looks like a potential threat in the featherweight division.
Squaring off with unbeaten TUF: The Smashes product Mike Wilkinson, Jason locked in an angled triangle choke just over a minute into the first round, putting his British foe out completely. While most fighters look to line up the triangle choke from straight on, Jason took the Paul Sass approach, locking in the hold off the side, leaving little wiggle room for Wilkinson, who went out quickly.
Jason has now won three straight in the UFC and is becoming a superstar in his native Brazil. The UFC will likely continue to feature him on events in his home country, but if he continues to deliver performances like this, Jason could be facing some tougher challenges and taking his show on the road.
Outside of a couple fighters -- Dominick Cruz, Renan Barao, Urijah Faber -- there aren’t a lot of well-known bantamweight fighters in the UFC. Assuncao is one of the best under-the-radar talents in the division and showed that again on Saturday, collecting his fourth straight win in the 135-pound weight class.
Assucao out-muscled Vaughan Lee from the outset, collecting a pair of strong takedowns in the first round before finishing the fight with a quick and technical armbar early in the second frame.
Now 19-4 for his career, Assuncao is unbeaten since switching weight classes and firmly entrenched in the top 10. Though not the biggest name in the bantamweight ranks, Assuncao is a dangerous, well-rounded talent capable of going toe-to-toe with the best in the division. This was his most prominent and impressive performance to date in the UFC, and one that should elevate him to a more high profile opportunity next time out.
After being robbed of a win against Milton Vieira last time out, Arantes kept this one from going to the judges, delivering an eye-opening performance in the process.
The 25-year-old was able to take Godofredo Pepey to the ground early in their bout, only to be swept and mounted. Rather than panic, Arantes kept his composure and hit a sweep of his own, reversing into a dominant position and unloading a torrent of elbows on his purple-haired opponent.
Arantes, who is now unbeaten in his last three appearances in the Octagon, continues to show development between each fight. He dropped his initial UFC appearance to current bantamweight contender Yuri Alcantara and has steadily improved with each subsequent appearance.
This was a very good win that got extra airtime on the main card broadcast, and you can be sure that more people know Arantes’s name today than did before last night.
Antonio Braga Neto
A little less than five years ago, Demian Maia entered the UFC middleweight division and started submitting everybody. Saturday night, Neto made his UFC debut, and it looked very similar to when Maia stormed the 185-pound ranks.
Neto went after Anthony Smith quickly, staggered him with a knee and chased him down looking for a takedown. Smith tried to scramble out, but the multiple-time world champion would have none of it, snatching up a kneebar that left Smith writhing in pain.
Grappling fans have been fond of Neto for some time, and his transition to the MMA big leagues was one that had many looking on in curiousity and the Brazilian didn’t disappoint. Neto is big for middleweight, having started his career fighting at heavyweight and his grappling skills are already among the best in the division. There is a real possibility that he could duplicate the early success Maia enjoyed five years ago to start his UFC career.