SEATTLE — In special on-site edition of The Watch List, here are five intriguing prospects and lesser-known fighters you might want to keep an eye on Saturday at the KeyArena in Seattle.
Watch Saturday’s UFC on Sportsnet: Henderson vs. Diaz, starting with the televised undercard at 5 p.m. ET / 2 p.m. PT, followed by the four-fight main card at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT. A bonus early preliminary fight is expected to appear on Sportsnet.ca at about 4:30 p.m. ET / 1:30 p.m. PT.
FIGHTERS TO WATCH
Fighter: Mike Easton
Opponent: Rafael Assuncao
Opponents and circumstances have changed a great deal for this Lloyd Irvin black belt heading into his fourth UFC appearance.
Now matched up with Raphael Assuncao, Mike Easton has notched three consecutive wins in the UFC (and eight straight overall), to climb into contention. With the news that UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz is going to be sidelined for an indefinite period moving forward after a second ACL replacement surgery, the division is now wide open, and a win here would position the 28-year-old Easton as a legitimate title threat heading into 2013.
As skilled as he is on the ground, “The Hulk” prefers to throw hands, and strides forward aggressively, looking to land a handful of heavy shots, rather than focusing on volume and movement like many others in the division. Should Easton come away from Seattle with an impressive finish of the talented Brazilian Assuncao, he could find himself on the short list of contenders for the bantamweight title next year.
Fighter: Dennis Siver
Opponent: Nam Phan
After Donald Cerrone derailed his title hopes in the lightweight division, the diminutive Dennis Siver made the logical move down to featherweight, and has since established himself a dark horse in the title chase.
With a win over perennial contender Diego Nunes in his featherweight debut, Siver has now posted an 8-2 record over his last 10 UFC appearances after starting his career on the big stage by going 1-3. He is a dangerous striker with an arsenal of quick, powerful kicks, and is capable of making some noise in the 145-pound ranks moving forward.
Fighter: Ramsey Nijem
Opponent: Joe Proctor
“Stripper Ramsey” has taken the slow and steady approach since losing to Tony Ferguson in the finals of Season 13 of The Ultimate Fighter. Now back on comfortable ground in the lightweight division, the Pit Elevated product has earned back-to-back wins, and will look to make it three straight when he welcomes TUF 15 alum Joe Proctor to the Octagon on Saturday.
Nijem is a powerful, suffocating wrestler who has excelled by closing the distance, dragging opponents to the ground, and wearing them out on the mat. Despite losing to Ferguson, the 24-year-old was the real breakout star from Season 13. He’s charismatic and engaging, and if he’s able to continue his run of success in the cage, he could be the beneficiary of an organizational push in 2013.
Fighter: Scott Jorgensen
Opponent: John Albert
“Young Guns” has dropped two straight and could very well be fighting to maintain his place on the UFC roster. That’s a far cry from where he was just two years ago when he fought Dominick Cruz for the bantamweight title in the co-main event of the WEC’s final show.
The former Boise State wrestling standout is at his best when he’s coming forward aggressively, throwing hands without hesitation and looking to utilize his wrestling. He hasn’t done that of late and he’s paid for it, but despite his setbacks, Jorgensen is capable of turning it around and once again contending in the 135-pound weight class.
Jorgensen rattled off seven wins in eight fights prior to dropping his last two outings. Along the way, he earned wins over Takeya Mizugaki, Brad Pickett, and Ken Stone. Ready to reset, the 30-year-old heavily inked fighter has a favourable match-up on tap this weekend, and the skill set to be a difficult test for anyone in the division.
Fighter: Tim Means
Opponent: Abel Trujillo
Unbeaten in his last 11 fights and the winner of nine straight, Tim Means is definitely someone you should be paying attention to in the 155-pound division.
Since resuming his career following a four-year hiatus that came as a result of Means being incarcerated, “The Dirty Bird” has posted a 15-1-1 record, most recently scoring a pair of impressive victories inside the Octagon. The lanky lightweight has shown a diverse striking game and very good power, drawing comparisons to Carlos Condit at times.
While it’s too early to tab Means as a contender, he’s definitely an intriguing addition to the lightweight ranks. His size will present problems for a lot of opponents, and if he can continue to show the crisp, varied striking that has carried him to back-to-back UFC wins moving forward, his days of opening the show against newcomers will be a thing of the past.
E. Spencer Kyte is in Seattle all week covering the UFC on FOX show for Sportsnet.ca. Follow him on Twitter @spencerkyte.