Saturday night, the Octagon returns to T-Mobile Arena for the first time since UFC 290 served as an incredible finale for International Fight Week in July as the promotion celebrates Mexican Independence Day with a fight card headlined by a flyweight championship rematch between Alexa Grasso and Valentina Shevchenko.
Earlier this year, Grasso pulled off one of the bigger championship upsets in recent memory, submitting Shevchenko in the fourth round of their UFC 285 meeting to dethrone the long-reigning flyweight queen. Now, the 30-year-old champion looks to solidify her place atop the division by turning back Shevchenko for a second time, while “Bullet” aims to reclaim the title she first captured nearly five years ago in Toronto at UFC 231.
In addition to Grasso, Noche UFC features several other competitors from Mexico and with Mexican heritage, as well as a collection of up-and-coming athletes looking to continue pushing forward in their respective divisions.
In this edition of Fighters on the Rise, we take a closer look at a promising sophomore, a streaking middleweight, and an emerging Canadian that will be paying close attention to the main event.
The 26-year-old Padilla is someone that was on the radar of fight fans for some time, dating back to his 2017 clash with Dan Ige under the CFFC banner.
Over the next four years, the talented featherweight from Chihuahua, Mexico went 8-3, pushing his record to 13-4 overall with a second-round stoppage win over Cameron Graves at a Fury FC event where UFC President Dana White and the Lookin’ for a Fight crew just so happened to be in attendance. Padilla was signed to the promotion, but injuries and visa issues kept him from making his debut until April of this year, when he traveled to Las Vegas and took on divisional stalwart Julian Erosa.
Fighting for the first time in almost two years and facing arguably the toughest opponent of his career, the bout with Erosa was viewed as a tremendous opportunity to get a read on where Padilla stood in his development and make an initial assessment about where he fit within the 145-pound weight class.
The fight ended less than two minutes after it began, with Padilla cracking Erosa with a series of clean, heavy shots that sat him down twice, prompting the stoppage. This weekend, he makes his sophomore appearance inside the Octagon opposite another veteran, Canadian Kyle Nelson, hoping to deliver another statement effort.
Nelson comes in off a quality win over Blake Bilder at UFC 289 in Vancouver where he took full advantage of his considerable size and physicality at featherweight. The 32-year-old from Muskoka was able to out-muscle the Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) graduate en route to a unanimous decision win, advancing him to 1-0-1 this year and 14-5-1 overall.
As burly as Nelson is for the division, Padilla will have two inches in height and five inches in reach on the Canadian veteran, and you can be sure he’ll be looking to use all of it on Saturday. He hurt Erosa with long, straight shots in space before cranking up the intensity when he had him on skates, and will surely look to do the same this weekend in hopes of picking up a second straight UFC victory and pushing his overall winning streak to four.
It’s difficult to make a full assessment of where Padilla stands within the talent-rich division until he’s faced off with some of the more well-rounded competitors at featherweight, but he shined in his debut earlier this year, and if he can build on that effort this weekend, there will be even more buzz surrounding the promising Mexican prospect heading into his third UFC appearance come 2024.
Something seems to have clicked for Kopylov over his last three fights.
While it’s never as simple as that and there are likely myriad things that have fallen into place and changes that have been made by the Russian middleweight over the nearly five years he’s been on the UFC roster, there is no denying that he has looked like a different fighter over these last three outings.
After getting submitted by Karl Roberson in his promotional debut and dropping his UFC 267 bout against Albert Duraev by unanimous decision, the 32-year-old Kopylov enters this week’s fight with Josh Fremd on a three-fight winning streak, having earned finishes in each of those contests.
It began with a third-round stoppage win over Alessio Di Chirico last fall in Paris, continued with a punishing second-round finish of Punahele Soriano in January, and rolled on with a second-round knockout win over Claudio Ribeiro at UFC 291 in July in a fight where Kopylov was getting touched up at the end of the opening stanza. Following the break between rounds, the first real shot the Russian threw in the second round was the high kick that put Ribeiro on the canvas and ended the fight.
Originally slated to face fellow ascending middleweight Anthony “Fluffy” Hernandez, Kopylov now puts his winning streak on the line against Fremd, who steps up on short notice after collecting his second straight UFC victory last month with a unanimous decision win over Jamie Pickett.
Kopylov’s current hot streak is one of the most fascinating quality runs on the go in the UFC right now because on one hand, it feels like it came out of nowhere, but, at the same time, this is a guy that was signed by the promotion after going 8-0 while winning and successfully defending the Fight Nights Global (now AMC Fight Nights) title to start his career.
He went nearly a year between fights before making his promotional debut, dealing with an injury along the way, and then faced another two-year hiatus prior to his sophomore showing against Duraev, as the COVID-19 pandemic and visa issues kept him from competing. What if all he needed was to get comfortable inside the Octagon and the opportunity to compete with regularity?
Saturday’s bout with Fremd is another chance to test that hypothesis and see if Kopylov can add to his impressive run of results as we head towards the final quarter of the 2023 campaign.
It feels important to note right off the bat that Jasudavicius only made her professional debut in July 2019, and just over two years later, she punched her ticket to the UFC with a unanimous decision win over Julia Polastri on Dana White’s Contender Series.
I say that because to have already broken into the Top 15 in one of the most competitive divisions in the UFC and be carrying a 3-1 record with consecutive victories already this year into Saturday’s meeting with Tracy Cortez should have everyone paying closer attention to the affable, gritty St. Catharines, Ontario native.
Jasudavicius won her debut with a unanimous decision win over Kay Hansen, then dropped her sophomore appearance to the debuting Natalia Silva. At the time, it dropped her stock a little, but in the year and change since, as Silva has risen into the Top 10 in the 125-pound weight class, it’s taken on a much different look. And since that outing, Jasudavicius has posted dominant wins over Gabriella Fernandes and Miranda Maverick to run her overall record to 9-2 and take up residence on the doorstep of the Top 15, with the chance to claim Cortez’ spot with a win very much at play this weekend.
The Niagara Top Team member is a grinder who is at her best when making fights look ugly. In both of her previous wins this year, Jasudavicius dominated by dragging her opponents to the canvas, roughing them up along the way, and returning them to the deck with force whenever they managed to scramble back to their feet, and as she continues to gain experience, her ability to dictate the terms of engagement and play to her strengths will only serve to make her a more formidable force in the flyweight division.
Saturday’s pairing with Cortez is an excellent measuring stick opportunity for the Canadian, as the 29-year-old Arizona native enters on a 10-fight winning streak, with a perfect 4-0 mark inside the Octagon, and a comparable skill set. Like Jasudavicius, Cortez is at her best when closing the distance and looking to wrestle, so it’ll be interesting to see which of these two will get the better of things in the inevitable clinch and grappling entanglements.
She’s clearly still figuring things out and learning on the fly, but the initial results have been very good and with a win on Saturday, Jasudavicius could find herself eyeing a place in the Top 10.
UFC Fight Night: Grasso vs Shevchenko 2 took place live from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on September 16, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!