The best fight card of the year is drawing closer with every day, and while you’re well aware of the marquee names that will be stepping into the Octagon in the twin championship bouts and the pivotal bantamweight contest in the middle of the main card, there are numerous other outstanding talents you should be keeping an eye on this weekend in Abu Dhabi.
Mateusz Gamrot has looked outstanding throughout his UFC run and enters Saturday’s clash with Beneil Dariush on a four-fight winning streak. A former two-division champion under the KSW banner, a victory at UFC 280 could propel the Polish lightweight into the championship conversation as we head towards 2023.
Because he hasn’t fought in nearly a year, Sean Brady has slipped out of the spotlight in the welterweight division a little, but that can all change this weekend. The undefeated “brick house,” as Paul Felder likes to call him, is 15-0 for his career, 5-0 in the UFC, coming off a win over Michael Chiesa, and set to face streaking contender Belal Muhammad, who gets full marks for taking such a difficult fight against an emerging talent stationed behind him in the rankings.
In addition to those two competitors who are potentially closing in on title contention, there are three more athletes, all of whom have appeared in this space before, set to compete this weekend that everyone should be paying close attention to.
This is the UFC 280 edition of Fighters on the Rise.
Referred to as “The French Chick” by Katlyn Chookagian following the perennial No. 1 contender’s win over Amanda Ribas earlier this year, you can be sure that Chookagian will know Fiorot’s name and how skilled she is after they share the Octagon this weekend.
This particular fight was initially slated to take place in Paris at the start of September, but Chookagian was forced to withdraw and replaced by Jessica Andrade. In turn, Andrade pulled out and was replaced by Chookagian, whose injury had healed quicker than anticipated. The bout was shuffled to this weekend when Fiorot suffered a knee injury in advance of their Paris engagement, and now it’s set to kick off Saturday’s UFC 280 pay-per-view.
A former amateur world champion, all Fiorot has done since arriving in the UFC is win. In fact, all she’s done since losing her pro debut to talented Irish fighter Leah McCourt is win, as “The Beast” heads into the weekend with a 4-0 mark in the UFC and a nine-fight winning streak overall. After earning second-round stoppage wins over Victoria Leonardo and Tabatha Ricci in her first two Octagon appearances, Fiorot showed her ability to battle hard for 15 minutes in consecutive victories over Mayra Bueno Silva and Jennifer Maia.
And now she faces Chookagian. The 33-year-old “Blonde Fighter” is 9-3 since the UFC introduced its flyweight division (she’s 15-3 overall at 125 pounds) and over the last four years, the only people to beat her are current champ Valentina Shevchenko and former strawweight titleholder and flyweight title challenger Jessica Andrade.
If Fiorot can join that exclusive list and extend her overall winning streak to double digits, she could very well vault to the top of the list of potential title challengers in the flyweight division heading into next year.
The bespectacled Brazilian was one of the breakout stars from Season 5 of Dana White’s Contender Series last year, hanging around for a second fight two weeks after defeating Aaron Jeffrey but failing to get a contract, confident that he would win the UFC President over with his second effort.
After mauling Jesse Murray, Borralho was invited to join the UFC roster, and this year, the 29-year-old middleweight has continued to impress, taking out a pair of classmates from last season’s DWCS graduating group.
In April, Borralho dominated Gadzhi Omargadzhiev, earning a technical decision win after an accidental foul rendered Omargadzhiev unable to continue. Then, in July, he shared the Octagon with Armen Petrosyan and posted a second consecutive decision win, pushing his overall winning streak to nine and his unbeaten run to a dozen.
Having shown he’s capable of turning back fellow new arrivals to the UFC roster, Borralho gets a step up in competition this weekend in Abu Dhabi, stepping in opposite 32-fight veteran Makhmud Muradov on Saturday.
The 32-year-old Muradov earned three straight victories to begin his UFC tenure, including stoppage wins over Trevor Smith and Andrew Sanchez that ran his winning streak to 14 and gave him an 18-2 record over his last 20 fights. His run of success came to an end last time out against Gerald Meerschaert, as the indefatigable American veteran rallied back following a rough opening frame to secure a second-round submission finish.
Despite the setback last summer, Muradov is easily the most experienced, most skilled, most dangerous opponent Borralho has faced to date in the UFC, and this weekend’s pairing should help further clarify where the streaking DWCS alum fits in the middleweight division.
A victory in Abu Dhabi won’t necessarily hustle Borralho into the Top 15 in the 185-pound ranks, but it should carry him close to cracking the rankings and land him in the Octagon with someone in a comparable position — or maybe a number next to their name — the next time he steps into the UFC cage.
Mokaev was profiled in this space ahead of his promotional debut in March, where he promptly went out and defeated Cody Durden by submission in 58 seconds to kick off the UFC’s return to London.
He was highlighted again prior to his sophomore outing when the company returned to London in July, where he earned a unanimous decision victory over former LFA flyweight champ Charles Johnson.
And now, just in case you didn’t believe me when I told you the 22-year-old standout was one of the absolute best prospects in the sport and someone to keep very close tabs on each of those first two times, I’m going to give you one final chance to tune in and take note of Mokaev as he heads into his third appearance of the year opposite Malcolm Gordon on Saturday.
Mokaev is the real deal — a decorated amateur competitor who held Olympic ambitions (and capabilities) prior to turning pro, and he’s added sharp boxing to his wrestling base to arrive on the scene as a well-rounded talent that is already capable of making waves, but also still clearly has room to grow and develop.
The finishing sequence in his fight with Durden was quick and impressive, and while he wasn’t pleased with his efforts against Johnson, those 15 minutes will surely prove invaluable as he continues to work his way up the competitive ladder in the UFC flyweight division.
Facing Gordon is a good step forward for Mokaev at this point in his career. The 32-year-old was a champion in multiple regional promotions before arriving in the UFC, and after dropping his first two assignments, has rallied to earn consecutive victories. He has more experience than either Durden or Johnson, and is the kind of well-rounded, seasoned fighter that should, in theory, present an interesting test for Mokaev this weekend.
At 22, Mokaev still has tons of time to continue honing his craft and develop his weapons before making a real push towards the top of the flyweight division. But given how impressive he’s looked thus far and his desire to constantly challenge himself against the best the UFC has to offer, taking the “slow and steady” approach might not be an option, especially if he keeps posting multiple wins every year.
UFC 280: Oliveira vs Makhachev took place live from Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi on October 22, 2022. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!