Before each UFC event, The Watch List identifies the intriguing prospects on the fight card, and fills you in on some of the fighters flying under the radar you might want to keep an eye on.
Here are the fighters who will step into the cage from outside the spotlight this weekend at Wembley Arena in London, England.
Watch Saturday’s UFC on Sportsnet: Barao vs. McDonald, beginning with preliminary fights on Sportsnet.ca starting at 12:15 p.m. ET and followed by the six-fight main card at 3 p.m. ET on Sportsnet East, Ontario, West and Pacific.
FIGHTERS TO WATCH:
Fighter: Jimi Manuwa
Opponent: Cyrille Diabate
Manuwa made his UFC debut last September as an unbeaten 32-year-old, a little older than your standard up-and-coming prospect. He’ll turn 33 on Monday, and has the ability to start his celebrating early by extending his undefeated streak to 13 this weekend against Diabate.
A devastating striker, Manuwa battered Kyle Kingsbury in his freshman effort in the Octagon, the doctors stopping the fight following the second round as Kingsbury’s swollen eye prevented him from seeing. Each of Manuwa’s 12 wins to date have been stoppages, and though he’s yet to face elite-level competition, the man known as “Poster Boy” has shown enough through his first dozen fights to prove he’s not a man to be trifled with on the feet.
Diabate has put together a two-fight winning streak and 4-2 mark overall since coming to the UFC, and his length and striking ability can be problematic. If Manuwa can stay off the end of Diabate’s reach, he has the power to put a hurting on “The Snake” and put another tick in win column on Saturday evening at Wembley.
Fighter: Gunnar Nelson
Opponent: Jorge Santiago
An injury to Justin Edwards brings an even stiffer challenge for the undefeated Icelandic grappling savant Nelson here, as former UFC and Strikeforce middleweight Santiago makes his first appearance in the Octagon as a welterweight.
Nelson made quick work of DaMarques Johnson in his debut, submitting the former Ultimate Fighter finalist in the first round the last time the UFC landed in England. Long considered one of the top prospects in the sport, this is another opportunity to get a measure of where Nelson’s ceiling rests, and the shift from Edwards to Santiago should provide the 24-year-old Nelson with an even stiffer test.
Though he struggled in his second run in the UFC as a middleweight, Santiago has posted successive first-round finishes since being released, and looks to have rediscovered his aggressiveness as a welterweight. The 32-year-old veteran with 35 fights on his resume represents the toughest test of Nelson’s career, and another impressive showing could have “Gunni” on the fast track to contention.
Fighter: Ryan Jimmo
Opponent: James Te-Huna
The theme of this installment of The Watch List appears to be fighters on a tear, and Jimmo is very much included in that group.
After losing the opening bout of his career — to former CFL defensive lineman Adam Braidwood — Jimmo has rattled off 17 consecutive wins, adding a seven-second knockout victory over Anthony Perosh to his impressive run back at UFC 149 last summer in Calgary. It was an unexpected finish from Jimmo, who built his name piling up decisions in the MFC prior to getting the call to the big leagues at the tail end of 2011.
Now that he’s settled comfortably in his place on the UFC roster — and alongside the likes of Rashad Evans and Alistair Overeem as a member of “The Blackzilians” — expect Jimmo to continue opening up more and showing the willingness to take chances that was often lacking during his MFC run.
Te-Huna is a very dangerous opponent; a hard-hitting New Zealander who has posted three straight wins since losing to light-heavyweight contender Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 127. If Jimmo can extend his winning streak on Saturday, he’ll find himself on the fringes of contention, and should earn himself more time in the spotlight as a result.
Fighter: Andy Ogle
Opponent: Josh Grispi
“The Little Axe” was one of the few memorable contestants from the first (and only) live season of The Ultimate Fighter. After upsetting Team Cruz’ Mike Rio in the preliminary round, Ogle lost to eventual finalist Al Iaquinta in the quarter-finals, and an injury prevented him from taking part in the finale.
He dropped a split decision to Season 14 alum Akira Corassani last September in his post-TUF debut, but showed he belonged in the process. Once he got settled, the Team Kaobon featherweight took the fight to Corassani, and now that he’s got the initial jitters out of the way, he should be even better this time around.
Despite entering on a three-fight losing streak, Grispi is no slouch. At one point, he was tabbed to face Jose Aldo for the featherweight title at UFC 125 before an injury sidelined the champion. Dustin Poirier stepped in, scored the upset, and Grispi has struggled to regain his footing ever since, as injuries and personal matters have hampered his development.
The fact that “The Fluke” rattled off four consecutive first-round stoppages against solid competition during his WEC days wasn’t — ahem — a fluke. He’ll be a solid test for the scrappy 23-year-old fighting out of Sunderland, England.
Fighter: Ulysses Gomez
Opponent: Phil Harris
Gomez was on the wrong side of a one-sided beat-down in his UFC debut, but that ugly loss got a little better looking earlier this week when it was announced that the man who bested him, John Moraga, would be the next man to challenge Demetrious Johnson for the UFC flyweight title.
A former standout with the Tachi Palace Fights organization, Gomez took the bout with Moraga on short notice, and got soundly beaten in the process, but that doesn’t diminish his overall potential. With the benefit of a full camp and free from the “UFC jitters” that accompany many debuting fighters into the cage, Gomez should have a better showing Saturday against Harris.
The Cobra Kai product is a very talented grappler, with seven of his nine career wins having come by way of submission, and he comes from a talented athletic family; his older brother Herculez is a member of the U.S. men’s national soccer team.
The good thing about having such a bad showing in his debut is that it can only get better for Gomez, and it should starting this weekend.