Pasar al contenido principal
Tom Nolan of Australia kicks Bogdan Grad of Romania in a lightweight fight during Dana White's Contender Series season seven, week one at UFC APEX on August 08, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Al Powers/Zuffa LLC)
Athletes

Fighters On the Rise | UFC Fight Night: Ankalaev vs Walker 2

See Which Fighters Have Momentum Heading Into The First UFC Event Of 2024

Fighters profiled in this space went a combined 86-33 last year, good for a 0.722 winning percentage, which is pretty darn good if you ask me.

Please enable Javascript to view this content

The reason I start with that isn’t to give myself a very public pat on the back like Barry Horowitz would before invariably getting squashed on WWF Superstars back when I was a kid, but to illustrate that if you’re looking to find out about the lesser known names on each card that exhibit a bunch of upside and could climb the ranks in their respective divisions over the course of the year, all you need to do is drop in here ahead of each event and you’ll be introduced to not one, not two, but three such talents.

Order UFC 297: Strickland vs Du Plessis

It’s been this way for years now, and we’ve successfully highlighted a number of current and former champions, contenders, and all-action favorites, and we’re going to keep doing it this year, and next year, and the year after that, too.

So, welcome back. Here are the names to play close attention to this weekend as the 2024 campaign officially gets underway.

Mario Bautista

Mario Bautista punches Da'Mon Blackshear in a bantamweight fight during the UFC 292 event at TD Garden on August 19, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)
Mario Bautista punches Da'Mon Blackshear in a bantamweight fight during the UFC 292 event at TD Garden on August 19, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)

The 30-year-old Bautista has posted five wins over the last two years, cementing his standing as one of the most intriguing ascending talents in the ultra-competitive bantamweight division.

A member of the MMA Lab, Bautista bested Jay Perrin, Brian Kelleher, and Benito Lopez in 2022, finishing the last two in the opening round, before tapping out Guido Cannetti and out-hustling Da’Mon Blackshear this past year. Five-fight winning streaks are hard to come by in the UFC, and because he’s not a big talker or established name, Bautista has received less praise and acclaim for a couple of those wins than when more popular fighters have accomplished the task.

Mario Bautista's Athlete Profile

Saturday night, the quiet, surging talent gets an opportunity to showcase his skills to a wider audience when he squares off with Top 15 fixture Ricky Simón on this weekend’s main card.

Mario Bautista trains in Boston, Massachusetts, on August 16, 2023. (Photo by Zac Pacleb/Zuffa LLC)
Mario Bautista trains in Boston, Massachusetts, on August 16, 2023. (Photo by Zac Pacleb/Zuffa LLC)

Simon is coming off a main event assignment opposite Song Yadong and has been positioned in the rankings since he embarked on a comparable, slightly elevated run as Bautista, which was capped by finishes of Raphael Assuncao and Jack Shore.

It feels like Bautista has been the third man in a troika including Chris Gutierrez and Jonathan Martinez over the last couple years, and with those two Factory X representatives getting greater opportunities in the final quarter of 2023, it’s only fitting that Bautista gets his to begin 2024.

A victory doesn’t guarantee Bautista a place in the rankings, but six straight wins in the deepest, most competitive division in the UFC will be difficult for fans and pundits to continue overlooking.

Tom Nolan

Tom Nolan of Australia elbows Bogdan Grad of Romania in a lightweight fight during Dana White's Contender Series season seven, week one at UFC APEX on August 08, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Al Powers/Zuffa LLC)
Tom Nolan of Australia elbows Bogdan Grad of Romania in a lightweight fight during Dana White's Contender Series season seven, week one at UFC APEX on August 08, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Al Powers/Zuffa LLC)

Of all the fighters to earn contracts on Season 7 of Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) last year, Nolan was near the top of the list of newcomers I was most looking forward to seeing compete inside the Octagon.

Standing six-foot-three with a tremendous reach, the 23-year-old Australian is huge for the division and uses that size and reach well, working behind long range attacks that force opponents to make tough choices from bad options. He packs power, too, as exhibited not only by his first-round stoppage win over Bogdan Grad in August, but the trio of finishes he collected under the Eternal MMA banner before that.

RELATED: Mario Bautista on UFC Unfiltered

Is Nolan going to follow in the footsteps of another Aussie DWCS grad, Jack Della Maddalena, and force his way into the Top 15 conversation in his first year? Probably not, as lightweight is brimming with talent, and it’s going to take a couple good wins before he gets close to sharing the cage with someone sporting a number next to their name.

Tom Nolan reacts after knocking out Bogdan Grad during Dana White's Contender Series season seven, week one at UFC APEX on August 08, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Al Powers/Zuffa LLC)
Tom Nolan reacts after knocking out Bogdan Grad during Dana White's Contender Series season seven, week one at UFC APEX on August 08, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Al Powers/Zuffa LLC)

However, he has that kind of upside, and it will be fascinating to see how he progresses over the course of his career, beginning with his debut on Saturday, where he’s paired off with Nikolas Motta.

This is an excellent introductory test for “The Big Train,” as Motta is a 30-year-old veteran that had solid overall success on the regional circuit, graduated to the UFC through DWCS, as well, but has struggled to find consistent success inside the Octagon. It’s a quality pairing that should provide an immediate indication of where Nolan stands in the division and how to properly think about his future as a competitor in the UFC lightweight ranks.

Fight By Fight Preview | UFC Fight Night: Ankalaev vs Walker 2

Joshua Van

The flyweight division has been one of the more consistent weight classes in terms of action and excitement over the last couple years, and I’m on record saying that I think 2024 is going to be a massive year for the 125-pound ranks, which is why I’m going to take every opportunity I can to spotlight ascending names in that division.

Joshua Van of Myanmar kicks Kevin Borjas of Peru in a flyweight fight during the UFC 295 event at Madison Square Garden on November 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Joshua Van of Myanmar kicks Kevin Borjas of Peru in a flyweight fight during the UFC 295 event at Madison Square Garden on November 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

One of the other reasons I’m so intrigued by Van heading into this year and this weekend is that he’s taking this opportunity to face Felipe Bunes on short notice, filling in for Denys Bondar. For me, it reads like a kid that wants to continue gaining invaluable experience without trying to race up the divisional ladder too quickly, and that’s a huge positive.

2024 FIGHTERS ON THE RISE: Part 1 | Part 2

Ironically, Van got his first UFC opportunity thanks to Bunes suffering medical issues as he prepared to face Zhumagulov last June. Now they face off here, with Van having already made two appearances and garnered two victories, and the Brazilian once again attempting to make the walk for the first time.

The depth of talent in the division should afford Van the opportunity to keep growing and developing without being thrust in there with fighters that are significantly more experienced and polished. But if he continues impressing and showing improvements, he’s going to force his way into bigger matchups in no time.

Joshua Van of Myanmar walks to the octagon to face Kevin Borjas of Peru in a flyweight fight during the UFC 295 event at Madison Square Garden on November 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)
Joshua Van of Myanmar walks to the octagon to face Kevin Borjas of Peru in a flyweight fight during the UFC 295 event at Madison Square Garden on November 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)

Outside of the two early 20s standouts that are already stationed inside the Top 15, Van might be the most promising youngster in the entire division: a 22-year-old that has already registered a pair of hard-fought decision wins inside the Octagon, earned seven straight wins overall, and has the kind of plus athleticism that makes him must-see TV every time he competes.

Van made his pro debut on October 17, 2021, and rose to the biggest stage in less than two years, learning on the fly and showing tremendous upside while earning wins over Zhalgas Zhumagulov and Kevin Borjas in his rookie year on the roster.

Now, there have been scores of fighters that have gotten the “wait until they put it all together” treatment that never managed to put it all together, but few of them were 22-year-olds with crisp boxing, nine wins in 10 starts, and tons of room to grow.

UFC Fight Night: Ankalaev vs Walker 2 took placelive from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas on January 13, 2024. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!