Over the last several years, there have been a number of promising talents that have enjoyed breakout moments when the Octagon has been stationed in Abu Dhabi, with many of them having been profiled in this space.
The 2020 class included featured an incredible collection of current contenders, including former light heavyweight champion Jiri Prochazka, Khamzat Chimaev, Tom Aspinall, and lightweights Arman Tsarukyan, Rafael Fiziev, and Mateusz Gamrot. A year later brought the arrival of Manon Fiorot, Umar Nurmagomedov, and Michael Chandler, as well as standout performances from Ricky Simon, Amir Albazi, and two each for Lerone Murphy and Amanda Ribas.
Last year at UFC 280, both Muhammad Mokaev and Caio Borralho registered the third wins of his rookie campaign, the former by defeating Malcolm Gordon and the latter by besting Makhmud Muradov, and both Fiorot and Sean O’Malley punched their tickets to title contention with wins over Katlyn Chookagian and Petr Yan, respectively.
This week, before Islam Makhachev and Alexander Volkanovski renew acquaintances and battle once again for the UFC lightweight title, three additional emerging standouts will look to catapult themselves forward in their individual weight classes, aiming to add their names to the growing list of contenders to claim victory at Etihad Arena.
Here’s a closer look at those athletes in the UFC 294 edition of Fighters on the Rise.
It took Aliskerov just over two minutes to make it known that he should be a genuine person of interest in the UFC middleweight division.
Eight months after being a part of the DWCS Graduating Class of 2022, the Russian newcomer waltzed into the Octagon against Phil Hawes at UFC 288, dealt with the shots coming back his way, got his range and timing down, made his reads, and then put his foe on the canvas with a right hand down the pipe.
It wasn’t a clean effort by any stretch for the 30-year-old, who makes his sophomore appearance on Saturday against former TUF Brazil winner Warlley Alves, but that is part of what makes Aliskerov one to watch going forward in the 185-pound weight class.
Hawes was having success out of the chute, landing an array of kicks and several clean punches, at least one of which clearly stumbled the debuting fighter. But despite that — and the pressures and challenges of competing on the biggest stage in the sport for the first time — Aliskerov stayed locked in, found his opportunities, and made the absolute most of them by registering a walk-off knockout in his promotional debut.
The victory extended his winning streak to six and pushed his record to 14-1 overall, with his lone setback coming against fellow UFC 294 combatant Khamzat Chimaev in a catchweight bout at 180 pounds four years ago.
Aliskerov has a good build for the division and the type of well-rounded background we’ve come to expect from ascending Russian talents, brandishing an International Master of Sport designation in Combat Sambo and a quality collection of wins of solid competition prior to his touching down in the UFC.
He was briefly linked to a fight with Paulo Costa in the summer, which tells you how highly the UFC thinks of him, and was initially slated to face Nassourdine Imavov this weekend before the MMA Factory representative was forced to withdraw and replaced by Alves.
It’s difficult to know how the 32-year-old Brazilian will look this weekend, given that it’s his first fight at 185 pounds since his May 2014 win over Marcio Alexandre Jr. to claim victory in the TUF Brazil 3 middleweight tournament. But Alves has delivered surprisingly sharp outings at unexpected times in the past, and has fought strong competition throughout his UFC tenure, so at the very least, he should be another solid test for Aliskerov.
Things in the middleweight division are largely unsettled at the moment, so a showcase opportunity on a card of this size could be just what the talented, ascending sophomore needs in order to further elevate his standing in the division and secure a date with a ranked opponent next time out.
The elder of the bantamweight division’s Basharat Brothers was a year ahead of Aliskerov on Dana White’s Contender Series, matriculating to the UFC following a third-round submission win over Oron Kahlon in late October 2021.
Since then, the 28-year-old “Snow Leopard” has registered unanimous decision wins over Trevin Jones, Tony Gravely, and Mateus Mendonca to push his record to 14-0 overall and remain a couple steps ahead of his younger brother Farid. Saturday night in Abu Dhabi, Basharat takes a step up in competition as he faces off with veteran live wire Victor Henry in a bout that was initially penciled in on the calendar for last month.
Basharat is one of those fighters that doesn’t have one individual skill or area of focus that flies off the screen when you watch him compete — he’s just fundamentally sound and technically proficient in all areas. He has sharp, clean striking from both stances, and mixes in kicks well. He’s a solid wrestler and grappler, having registered six of wins by way of submission, and his conditioning is on point to where he can work at a steady clip for three hard rounds without fading.
The phrase “jack of all trades, master of none” gets thrown around like a pejorative at times, but in a sport like mixed martial arts, it’s often better to be proficient everywhere, than stellar in one area, but lacking in others.
Saturday’s pairing with Henry should be a quality measuring stick opportunity when it comes to assessing where Basharat currently stands in the bantamweight landscape.
The 36-year-old Josh Barnett protege competed around the world before finally touching down in the UFC last January with a unanimous decision win over Raoni Barcelos. After dropping his sophomore appearance in the Octagon to divisional stalwart Raphael Assuncao, “La Mangosta” bounced back with a split decision win over Gravely in May, bumping his record to 23-6 in the process.
Basharat is yet taste defeat in his professional career and quite frankly hasn’t been close at any point through his first three trips into the UFC cage. Is that because he’s an elite talent that will soon be working his way into the Top 15 or just that he’s been better than the trio of opponents he’s faced to date?
How things play out at UFC 294 should help answer that question.
Every couple of months, a new, highly regarded prospect reaches the UFC carrying vast amount of hype and surrounded by all kinds of question marks.
Shara Magomedov is one of those fighters.
Undefeated in 11 professional mixed martial arts contests with an assortment of additional combat sports experience peppered in for good measure, the 29-year-old Russian middleweight makes his promotional debut this weekend in Abu Dhabi, taking on Brazilian veteran Bruno Silva in UFC 294’s opening bout.
All but one of his 11 victories have come inside the distance, with seven of them occurring in the first round, but it’s nigh on impossible to get a real read on just what level of prospect Magomedov is because he’s primarily been competing in smaller organizations against opponents with limited experience or Triple A lifers that have forged shiny records beating marginal competition themselves.
But that’s why this weekend’s matchup with Silva is such a scintillating kickoff to the festivities in Abu Dhabi because win or lose, we’re going to find out a great deal about “Bullet” when he steps in with the proven Brazilian on Saturday.
Silva earned stoppage wins in each of his first three UFC appearances and then gave former middleweight champ Alex Pereira the toughest test of his career on this way to claiming the title. He started quick and faded against Gerald Meerschaert in a losing effort, bounced back with a first-round stoppage win over divisional mainstay Brad Tavares, and most recently ran into surging contender Brendan Allen, leaving him at 4-3 through seven UFC appearances and 23-9 overall.
Silva is by far the most experienced, polished, and talented fighter that Magomedov has faced to date, and how he acquits himself opposite “Blindado” will go a long way to determining what kind of prospect the unbeaten UFC freshman is going forward.