Fight cards that fall after pay-per-view events tend to get overshadowed a little, simply because they follow UFC numbered events where titles are on the line and attention is at its highest.
It’s understandable, honestly, but here’s the thing: a number of breakout performances have happened on those shows already this year.
Erin Blanchfield’s submission win over Jessica Andrade followed UFC 284. Brandon Royval punched his ticket to a title shot with a knockout win in Kansas City the weekend after UFC 287. Ian Machado Garry shone against Daniel Rodriguez seven days after UFC 288, Mayra Bueno Silva submitted Holly Holm the week after UFC 290, Diego Lopes did the same to Gavin Tucker at UFC 291, and Rinya Nakamura showed out in Singapore on the Saturday after UFC 292.
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Noche UFC was an absolutely spectacular event with a handful of showcase efforts, and came on the heels of UFC 293 in Sydney.
Following UFC 295 in New York City is difficult, but this weekend’s event at the UFC APEX features a number of outstanding matchups and ascending talents, including the three spotlighted below that you need to be paying close attention to going forward.
Morales earned a pair of stoppage victories over Trevin Giles and Adam Fugitt during his rookie season on the UFC roster to run his record to 14-0 as a pro.
Earlier this year, the 24-year-old from Ecuador, who trains at the Entram Gym in Mexico, registered the biggest victory of his career, collecting a unanimous decision win over Max Griffin to maintain that zero in the loss column and take another step forward in the welterweight division.
This weekend in Las Vegas, Morales stands opposite Jake Matthews, a 10-year UFC veteran that has made 18 previous trips into the Octagon and enters off a second-round submission win in July.
What made Morales such an intriguing prospect heading into his successful appearance on Dana White’s Contender Series and since graduating to the biggest stage in the sport is the combination of skills, power, and poise he shows, despite his youth. He’s looked seasoned and comfortable from the jump, and working through a matchup with a tough out like Griffin to get the nod in a close battle shows he’s comfortable operating in the space just outside the rankings, and eager to try and crack them in the near future.
Saturday’s pairing with Matthews is another quality test for the unbeaten welterweight, as the Australian is a plus athlete with heaps of experience, and the ability to finish the fight standing or on the ground. Although he’s struggled with consistency a little, he’s 8-3 since moving back to the welterweight division and will be keen to hand Morales his first professional loss.
Morales dropped right into the middle of the pack in the 170-pound ranks following his win on DWCS, and he has continued stacking victories without pause. If he adds a fourth straight UFC victory to his resume on Saturday by turning back Matthews, the ascending talent will put himself in position for a pairing with an even more established name to kick off his 2024 campaign.
Like Morales, Brito punched his ticket to the UFC with a victory on Season 5 of Dana White’s Contender Series, where he was outworking the aforementioned Diego Lopes before the bout was halted due to an accidental eye poke and scored as a technical decision.
The Brazilian faltered out of the gate at the start of 2022, dropping a unanimous decision to veteran Bill Algeo, but since then, “Tubarao” has been outstanding, producing three straight first-round stoppage wins heading into his clash with Jonathan Pearce on Saturday.
That run began with a 41-second finish of divisional stalwart Andre Fili, and while the last two have come against short-notice opponents Lucas Alexander and Westin Wilson, all Brito can do is beat the guys that get put across from him, and he’s done that in emphatic fashion, showcasing his grappling, ground-and-pound, and general physicality along the way.
And now comes the step up in competition that everyone has wanted to see, Brito most likely included.
Pearce is another DWCS grad that faltered in his first appearance, realizing he was better suited to compete at featherweight, and hasn’t looked back since changing divisions, posting five straight wins to land on the fringes of the Top 15. He’s slipped under the radar a little as a result of having to withdraw from a high-profile pairing with Bryce Mitchell and therefore being out for just under a year, but the 31-year-old Tennessee native has been ultra-impressive over his last couple starts and stands as a massive litmus test for Brito this weekend.
This is the kind of matchup we need to see Brito in at this point in his progression: a date with an experienced UFC talent in a comparable position in the 145-pound weight class; one that has shown excellent grappling skills, improved striking, and plenty of moxie.
Featherweight is one of those divisions where things in the Top 15 have remained fairly static for the last couple years, but an impressive win over Pearce is the kind of victory that would elevate Brito’s profile and put him in line to face someone with a number next to their name next time out.
Completing the triumvirate of Contender Series grads spotlighted in this space this week is Parkin, who scored an upset win on Season 6, delivered an impressive win in his promotional debut, and will welcome Season 7 winner Caio Machado to the Octagon for the first time on the prelims this weekend.
The 28-year-old Parkin is a natural heavyweight — a sturdy, six-foot-four Brit who clocks in right under the divisional limit, but carries it well and moves with fluidity. He’s also sure to benefit from training alongside similar competitors like Tom Aspinall and Phil De Fries.
He was shepherded through his first UFC Fight Week experience in July by Aspinall, who headlined this year’s second event in London and showed his training partner the ropes. When he stepped into the Octagon, Parkin looked right at home, earning a clean sweep of the scorecards with a win over Jamal Pogues where he showcased an educated jab and more poise than one would expect to see from a newcomer debuting on home soil.
Following his win over Pogues, Parkin takes a lateral step in his second outing, once again sharing the cage with a fellow DWCS alum, which is precisely what you want to see for someone with just seven professional appearances under their belt.
The 29-year-old Machado is an incredibly difficult fighter to analyze in terms of his upside as his stint as Battlefield Fight League heavyweight champ consisted mostly of quick wins over inexperienced opponents or short-notice veterans well into middle age. When he turned up in Las Vegas earlier this year, his dance partner, Kevin Szaflarski, had no interest in dancing, leaving Machado to pick at him from range and chip away in the clinch.
Not to put too much on Parkin’s shoulders in just his second appearance, but this feels like a chance for him to establish himself as the top new talent in the division.
If he can bring the same sharpness and focus he showed against Pogues in July into this one, there is a very real possibility that he’ll collect his second straight UFC victory, push his record to 8-0 overall, and set himself up for a step up in competition in his sophomore year on the roster whenever his 2024 campaign gets underway.
Don't miss a moment of UFC Fight Night: Allen vs Craig, live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada. Prelims start at 2pm ET/11am PT, while the main card kicks off at 5pm ET/2pm PT.