October is here, and so is UFC Fight Night: Santos vs Walker!
Well, October is not quite here yet, but it will be here by the time the men and women slated to compete this weekend make the walk to the Octagon for the first of five events during what I believe is the best month of the year.
I mean what’s better the crisp autumnal weather, changing leaves, Halloween, and celebrating my birthday?
The answer, as always, is a smorgasbord of face-punching goodness, which is what is on tap this Saturday and every Saturday throughout the month, with this weekend’s kick-off event capped by an explosive light heavyweight pairing between Brazilians Thiago Santos and Johnny Walker.
But before the gigantic powerhouses take to the Octagon to close out the show, a host of additional talents will make the same walk, looking to use this weekend’s fight card as a chance to secure their position in their respective divisions and set themselves up for bigger and better when the 2022 campaign gets underway in January.
Here’s a closer look at three competitors to keep a close eye on this weekend.
This is the October 2nd edition of Fighters on the Rise.
Chiasson entered the competition on Season 28 of The Ultimate Fighter with just two professional fights under her belt, but that didn’t stop the Louisiana native from running the table to win the featherweight competition behind a trio of stoppages.
She connected with Sayif Saud and the crew at Fortis MMA soon after and has been making steady progress since, earning a pair of finishes in her next two outings before suffering the lone loss of her career in a clash with Lina Lansberg two years ago. Since then, Chiasson has responded with consecutive unanimous decision victories over veterans Shanna Young and Marion Reneau, showing increased poise, improved technique, and more than a few flashes of Top 5 potential.
This weekend, she steps into the Octagon with Aspen Ladd in a re-booking of their fight that was initially slated to take place in July before Chiasson was forced to the sidelines with an injury.
Ladd is one of the top emerging talents in the UFC and currently stationed at No. 3 in the bantamweight division, though this will be her first fight in nearly two years after she suffered a bad knee injury last summer. This is a chance for Chiasson to continue showing her improvements and establish where she fits within the hierarchy in the 135-pound weight class, where fresh challengers for current champion Amanda Nunes are in short supply.
A victory on Saturday would thrust 30-year-old up-and-coming fighter into the thick of the title chase in the bantamweight division, and easily stand as the biggest win of her career. It’s been a steady progression for Chiasson over the last four years and it will be interesting to see how she acquits herself in this marquee matchup on Saturday night.
If you’re looking for an emerging fighter in the rugged lightweight division to hitch your wagon to as a potential dark horse, there aren’t many better choices than Solecki, who returns on Saturday night to take on veteran Jared Gordon.
The 28-year-old Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt has won six straight overall and all three of his UFC appearances to date, sandwiching a first-round submission win over fellow up and comer Austin Hubbard between unanimous decision triumphs over veterans Matt Wiman and Jim Miller.
A member of the Class of ’19 from Dana White’s Contender Series, the John Salter protégé has quietly and methodically handled his business since suffering a third-round loss to fellow UFC lightweight division hopeful and DWCS graduate Nikolas Motta in the summer of 2018, winning a pair of contests on the tough East Coast circuit before submitting James Wallace in the first round to secure his contract.
READ MORE: Joe Solecki's Humble & Present Approach
Solecki is one of those unassuming guys with zero flash to his game, but tons of talent, which he showed when he outworked Miller from start to finish in April. He continues his steady climb up the ranks in this meeting with Gordon, who returns to the 155-pound weight class on a two-fight winning streak, and if he can keep things moving in the right direction, another step up in competition against another more established name should be in order next year.
“King” Casey O’Neill looks to strengthen her case for a Top 5 finish in the Newcomer of the Year competition in December as she goes in search of her third UFC victory in an intriguing matchup with Antonina Shevchenko.
O’Neill has been all kinds of impressive thus far, posting a second-round stoppage win over Shana Dobson in her promotional debut in February before following it up with a third-round submission of Lara Procopio in June, which pushed her record to 7-0 overall.
Born in Scotland and currently training out of Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas after stops in Australia and Thailand, O’Neill has won 12 straight dating back to her amateur career, and has shown both a well-rounded skill set and a unique ferocity through her first two appearances inside the Octagon. I don’t want to sound like I’m gushing, but it’s hard not to be excited about her prospects given the success she’s enjoyed thus far and the tremendous room for growth, development, and maturation she still has given that she will only turn 24 a couple days after the fight.
Saturday’s pairing with Shevchenko is an outstanding litmus test for the young, emerging talent, as the older sister of the division’s dominant champion has gone 3-3 in her first six UFC appearances, alternating between strong showings and setbacks against Top 15 opponents. Despite her inconsistency at the highest level, Shevchenko still has more experience and has faced tougher competition than O’Neill, which makes this a great opportunity to gauge where the unbeaten hopeful stands in the division and get a better read on how quickly she might climb the rankings in the future.