Before each event, The Watch List will identify the intriguing prospects on the fight card, and fill you in on some of the fighters flying under the radar you might want to keep an eye on.
Here are five fighters stepping into the cage from outside the spotlight this weekend at UFC 156 in Las Vegas.
Watch four televised UFC 156 preliminary fights Saturday at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT on Sportsnet East, Ontario, West and Pacific. Prior to that, catch two bonus early prelims on Sportsnet.ca at 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT.
Fighter: Evan Dunham
Opponent: Gleison Tibau
If you’re going to lose, who you lose to, how it happens, and when it happens are all important.
Dunham might be coming off a loss at UFC 152, but that night, he and TJ Grant went toe-to-toe, blow-for-blow, round-for-round in an exciting Fight of the Night-winning turn. Grant has subsequently blasted his way through Matt Wiman to assert himself as a legitimate contender in the lightweight ranks, making the sting of Dunham’s entertaining defeat a little less painful.
Once ticketed for the upper tier of the division himself, the 31-year-old Oregon native looks to inch closer to that level with a win over the Tibau. The durable veteran grappler has long been considered a solid gatekeeper in the lightweight division, and a strong showing on Saturday night should elevate Dunham’s profile and standing in the 155-pound ranks.
Fighter: Jay Hieron
Opponent: Tyron Woodley
The 36-year-old Hieron has wins in every major North American promotion to rise up over the last six or seven years; all except the UFC.
He’s 0-3 inside the Octagon, with an early career loss to Georges St-Pierre, and most recently dropping a decision to Jake Ellenberger back in October. The consummate professional now welcomes former Strikeforce title challenger Tyron Woodley to the big stage in what is a pivotal bout for both men.
Hieron is a technical and tactical fighter who is tremendously respected within the MMA community, and the kind of well-rounded veteran who could settle into a role as the chief litmus test for up-and-comers in the welterweight division moving forward.
Fighter: Yves Edwards
Opponent: Isaac Vallie-Flagg
“The Thugjitsu Master” has been doing his thing for nearly 16 years, and doesn’t appear to be slowing down. He doesn’t look a day over 26 either. As a fellow baby-face, I’m qualified to make such a statement.
Edwards dropped Jeremy Stephens just eight weeks ago, and jumped at the opportunity to get right back in the cage. Equally dangerous on the feet or on the ground, the 36-year-old Houston native remains a tough out in the middle of the lightweight division, and has the skill set to put together a solid late-career run.
If you watch the weigh-ins on Friday, there is a good chance you’ll see Edwards nibbling on a little something sweet as he steps on the scale. You’ve got to like a guy who brings cookies and candy bars to the stage when everyone else is starving.
Fighter: Dustin Kimura
Opponent: Chico Camus
A teammate and training partner of up-and-coming featherweight Max Holloway, Kimura appears to have more than just a great name for fighting.
Unbeaten in his first nine professional appearances (against opponents with a combined 38-32 record), the young Hawaiian gets a chance to follow in his teammate’s footsteps by transitioning into the UFC.
Six of his victories have come by submission (though none by kimura). If his boxing bares any resemblance to the technical style with crushing body shots Holloway has become known for, this UFC newcomer could make a splash in his debut.
Fighter: Francisco Rivera
Opponent: Edwin Figueroa
Rivera returns off a brief suspension after having his first-round TKO win over Roland Delorme at UFC 149 overturned due to a positive test for an over-the-counter stimulant.
Regardless of that situation, it’s hard to overlook the impressive run Rivera has enjoyed since suffering consecutive defeats and being bounced from the UFC in June 2011. “Cisco” has looked dominant in his last four outings, using his powerful striking game to put opponents on their heels, with just one being able to endure the onslaught for more than a round. Of course, surviving the first frame was a Pyrrhic victory for Alex Soto, who proceeded to get battered for another 10 minutes.
Long and powerful, Rivera is capable of delivering a highlight-reel knockout any time he steps into the cage, including this weekend when he and Figueroa face off in the opening online prelim.