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Claudio Puelles of Peru reacts after his victory over Jordan Leavitt in a lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX
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Fighters On The Rise | UFC 281: Adesanya vs Pereira

Make Sure You Know Which Athletes Have Momentum Heading Into A Star-Studded PPV Show At Madison Square Garden

UFC 281 is a great card from top-to-bottom, and while the names on the poster are understandably going to draw the lion’s share of the attention, there are intriguing prospects set to compete on each portion of this weekend’s fight card.

Here’s a closer look at those athletes in the latest edition of Fighters on the Rise.

Claudio Puelles

Claudio Puelles of Peru reacts after his submission victory over Clay Guida in a lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX
Claudio Puelles of Peru reacts after his submission victory over Clay Guida in a lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on April 23, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Puelles made his UFC debut six years ago as a baby faced 20-year-old, having navigated his way to The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America 3 Finale, where he suffered a second-round stoppage loss to Martin Bravo to close out the lightweight tournament. This weekend, the talented fighter from Peru steps in opposite Dan Hooker on the UFC 281 main card, looking to secure his sixth straight victory and force his way into the Top 15 in the treacherous 155-pound weight class.

Visa issues limited the early years of Puelles’ UFC run, as he went 18 months before competing again following his loss to Bravo. When he did step in the Octagon, he scored a third-round submission win over Felipe Silva via kneebar, showing back then that he had a special affinity for the rarely seen finishing move. More than a year passed before his fight with Marcos Mariano, and then another 21 months between his win over Mariano and his June 2021 triumph opposite Jordan Leavitt.

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That bout was the start of his coming out party, as Puelles had morphed into an impressive physical specimen, and moved to South Florida to train at what is now Kill Cliff FC full-time. In his next two outings, the now 26-year-old “Prince of Peru” forced lightweight veterans Chris Gruetzemacher and Clay Guida to tap to kneebars, attacking the holds quickly and efficiently to where neither man saw it coming and neither could do anything to avoid its application.

Claudio Puelles Fight Week Interview | UFC 281: Adesanya vs Pereira
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Claudio Puelles Fight Week Interview | UFC 281: Adesanya vs Pereira
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Five straight wins in the lightweight division is not something to ever take lightly, regardless of who those wins came against or how many years it took to accumulate them, and three victories since last June show Puelles is on a solid upward trajectory, which is why this fight with Hooker comes at the exact right time.

The City Kickboxing representative returns to the lightweight ranks following a one-fight return to featherweight, where he was run over by rising British contender Arnold Allen. Though his last five fights have produced just a single victory, Hooker has been competing against a different tier of talent than Puelles has ever stepped in with, and he represents a big jump in competition for the Peruvian prospect.

WATCH: Free Fights From The Biggest Stars At UFC 281: Adesanya vs Pereira

Battle-tested and surely chomping at the bit to show he’s still got plenty to offer the division, this should be a massive test for Puelles, which is what makes it such an important fight for the young standout.

If he’s able to turn back “The Hangman,” Puelles could crack the Top 15. At the very least, he’ll put himself in a position to face someone with a number next to their name in his next showing and start garnering the kind of buzz that someone on a six-fight winning streak in the lightweight ranks commands.

Erin Blanchfield

Erin Blanchfield punches Sarah Alpar in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX

Erin Blanchfield punches Sarah Alpar in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on September 18, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)


The 23-year-old Blanchfield might be the best overall prospect in the UFC at the moment, and I don’t say that lightly.

A dangerous Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt who has shown a willingness and ability to bang it out on the feet if need be, Blanchfield enters her clash with Molly McCann on Saturday sporting a 9-1 record with wins in all three of her UFC appearances and six straight victories overall. She beat future UFC competitors Kay Hansen and Victoria Leonardo, as well as TUF 30 finalist Brogan Walker on her way to the Octagon, and her lone setback came by debated split decision against ascending fellow flyweight Tracy Cortez.

UFC 281 Countdown: Full Episode | Adesanya vs Pereira | Esparza vs Weili | Poirier vs Chandler

In her sophomore appearance in the UFC, Blanchfield dominated Miranda Maverick, and last time out in June, she shifted the tenor of her fight with JJ Aldrich on a dime midway through the second round. One second, she’s getting out-struck by the more savvy, more experienced veteran, and the next, she’s capitalizing on Aldrich’s lone mistake and wrapping up her neck.

Those are the kinds of little moments that differentiate great prospects from good prospects, and for Blanchfield to recognize the opportunity, attack, and finish speaks to just how high-level of a talent she is already.

Erin Blanchfield Fight Week Interview | UFC 281
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Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

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Erin Blanchfield Fight Week Interview | UFC 281
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Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, the New Jersey native gets a home game opposite the surging McCann, who parlayed a tremendous knockout win over Luana Carolina in March into a new level of recognition and celebrity, joining with her teammate Paddy Pimblett to become massive fan favorites in North America through their affiliation with Barstool Sports. McCann followed up her breakthrough win in March with a comparable effort in July, finishing Hannah Goldy in similar fashion, but sealing the deal in the opening stanza.

This is a great test for Blanchfield, as “Meatball” rolls in brimming with confidence, riding a three-fight winning streak, with six victories in her last eight appearances, and sporting a number next to her name. She’s the most established name Blanchfield has faced to date, and it will be interesting to see how the New York-based emerging talent deals with a fighter with the confidence and swagger McCann is sure to carry to the Octagon on Saturday.

RELATED: Molly McCann Is Making A Difference With Weapons Down Gloves Up

She’s stationed ahead of McCann in the rankings and enters as the favorite, but this is the highest profile bout of her young career, and it comes on the biggest stage of them all at Madison Square Garden. A big showing here and the “future contender” buzz already surrounding Blanchfield could turn into a full-blown conversation.

Montel Jackson

Montel Jackson reacts after his victory over Jesse Strader in their bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX

Montel Jackson reacts after his victory over Jesse Strader in their bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on March 20, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)


It’s been a slow burn for Jackson since competing on the opening week of Season 2 of Dana White’s Contender Series in the summer of 2018.

That fight — the sixth of his career — came a touch under one year after his professional debut, and over the last four years, the former Olympic wrestling hopeful has steadily put together a 5-2 record inside the Octagon. His losses have come against top talents Ricky Simon and Brett Johns, and in his five victories, “Quik” has shown why many — including yours truly — are very high on his upside.

RELATED: All Access | UFC 281: Adesanya vs Pereira

While he’s finished just two of those fights, he’s been dominant in the others, controlling the likes of Andre Soukhamthath and JP Buys, demonstrating that he understands how to play to his strengths and stay within himself. In that fight with Buys, Jackson set a record for the most knockdowns in UFC bantamweight history (four) which illustrates that his striking is starting to catch up to his grappling, which only makes him more of a potential threat and more intriguing as an emerging talent.

This weekend, the Milwaukee-based bantamweight takes on veteran Julio Arce in a matchup that should further clarify where Jackson is in his development and what to expect from him in 2023 and beyond.

Montel Jackson Scores A 1st-Round TKO | UFC Fight Night: Brunson vs Holland
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Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

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Montel Jackson Scores A 1st-Round TKO | UFC Fight Night: Brunson vs Holland
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Arce has alternated wins and losses over his last seven fights, but is 18-5 overall, and 2-1 since returning to the 135-pound weight class, with his loss coming against Song Yadong. He’s a technically sound fighter with great fundamentals and the ability to outwork the less experienced, less seasoned Jackson, but also not too stiff a test that the 30-year-old up-and-comer is in too deep.

These are the types of matchups every ascending hopeful has to pass at some point in their journey, and how Jackson does this weekend will go a long way in clarifying whether he’s primed to make a push for the rankings or still a couple of fights away.

UFC 281: Adesanya vs Pereira took place live from Madison Square Garden in New York City on November 12, 2022. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards, and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass! 

 

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