A three-game homestand at the UFC APEX kicks off this weekend with a fight card headlined by standout lightweights Rafael Fiziev and Mateusz Gamrot.
Each man has worked towards breaking into the Top 5 in the talent-rich 155-pound weight class, only to be rebuffed by one of the division’s best — Fiziev earlier this year at UFC 286 in London by BMF titleholder Justin Gaethje, and Gamrot last October in Abu Dhabi by Beneil Dariush. The former is looking to get back into the win column while the latter already did so with a hard-fought split decision win over Jalin Turner two weeks prior to Fiziev’s trip across the pond, and now they face off here in a five-round main event that should be electric for as long as it lasts.
Before the Top 10 lightweights take to the Octagon, a trio of talents at different stages of their careers will make the walk on Saturday night, two looking to build on recent positive results and the third aiming to recapture the spark that once made her one of the most intriguing prospects in the sport.
Here’s a closer look at those competitors in the latest edition of Fighters on the Rise.
The 32-year-old Hawaiian featherweight entered 2023 on a three-fight skid and having lost four of his previous five fights, prompting many to question whether he’d hit the point where his best days were behind him.
But a closer inspection of those results would show decision losses to four Top 10 fighters, and on the first fight card of the year, Ige made it clear that he has plenty left in the tank, as the Xtreme Couture representative collected a second-round knockout win over veteran Damon Jackson. As a follow-up, “50k” ventured north of the border, garnering a unanimous decision win over durable Tennessee native Nate Landwehr at UFC 289 in Vancouver.
Now riding a two-fight winning streak, Ige returns to action this weekend, fighting forward in the division as he takes on Bryce Mitchell in the co-main event.
There is nothing flashy about what Ige brings to the table — he works behind crisp boxing and sharp fundamentals, brandishing excellent conditioning and a rock-solid mindset that has produced nine UFC victories thus far. One of the hardest workers in a room full of hard workers at the renowned Las Vegas training outpost, Ige is a “truth machine” in the 145-pound weight class: a tough out for literally anyone in the division who is going to force you to be at your absolute best if you want to beat him, and can make you pay if you’re not.
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Currently positioned at No. 10 in the rankings, two spots ahead of Ige, Mitchell competes for the first time since suffering his first loss inside the Octagon last December against Ilia Topuria. That second-round submission defeat snapped a six-fight run of success since coming off Season 27 of The Ultimate Fighter, and it remains to be seen what kind of impact that setback has had on the Arkansas native.
His two victories already this year vaulted Ige back into the rankings, and a win over Mitchell on Saturday would carry him into the Top 10. He’s appeared to turn a corner since that run of setbacks and grown stronger because having gone through it, and it will be interesting to see if he can maintain his sharpness when he steps in with “Thug Nasty” this weekend.
A member of Team Volkanovski on Season 29 of The Ultimate Fighter, Battle won the middleweight competition by submitting Gilbert Urbina in the finale, and then followed it up with a unanimous decision win over the man he was originally supposed to face in the finals, Tresean Gore, a little over five months later. The North Carolina native relocated to welterweight and has since posted first-round stoppage wins on either side of a unanimous decision loss to streaking Russian Rinat Fakhretdinov.
Battle’s two welterweight wins have taken 58 seconds combined, as he blasted Takashi Sato with a head kick in 44 second before sleeping Gabe Green at home, in Charlotte, in just 14 seconds earlier this year. The fact that he’s posted a pair of rapid finishes and made the impressive Fakhretdinov work for all 15 minutes highlights the upside the former TUF winner possesses, and is why he’s featured in this space ahead of his meeting with AJ Fletcher this weekend.
A member of the Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) Class of ’21, Fletcher carried an 9-0 record with eight finishes into the UFC, but tough matchups with Matthew Semelsberger and Ange Loosa saddled him with consecutive losses out of the chute. He rebounded with a grueling second-round submission win over Themba Gorimbo last time out, and is the kind of explosive athlete that should prompt Battle to mind his Ps and Qs, especially early, on Saturday night.
In recapping Battle’s season on TUF, I always viewed him as a Kelvin Gastelum type, and not just because he was the final fighter selected. You could see the raw tools, the desire to learn, and the willingness to soak up as much knowledge as possible from Alexander Volkanovski and the elite squad of coaches the featherweight champ brought with him to Las Vegas.
Through his first five appearances inside the Octagon, we’re seeing the early returns from those experiences and everything he’s done since returning home, and a third straight victory this weekend, back where his UFC adventure got underway, should bring about a step up in competition next time out.
Saturday marks the first time in three years that Mizuki will have stepped into the Octagon, as the now 29-year-old Japanese fighter returns to take on Hannah Goldy.
A professional since 2010 — when she was 16! — Mizuki garnered a great deal of attention when she landed in Invicta FC in 2013, registering a unanimous decision win over Bec Rawlings. She was 6-1, had only lost to the great Ayaka Hamasaki, and would go on to further validate the advanced hype by eventually running her record to 13-5, which included two wins over Emi Fujino, and losses to future UFC standouts Karolina Kowalkiewicz, Alexa Grasso, and Virna Jandiroba.
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She split her first two appearances in the UFC, besting Wu Yanan by split decision in a bout where Wu missed weight by a considerable margin before losing to recent strawweight title challenger Amanda Lemos. She had knee surgery soon after the bout with Lemos and has been out of action ever since while spending time training alongside Kanako Murata at both LAW MMA and Bangtao Muay Thai & MMA.
This weekend, the strawweight returns to action opposite Goldy in the second of back-to-back women’s matchups to open the show.
Goldy earned a win, but not a contract on Season 3 of Dana White’s Contender Series, but was quickly called up to the big leagues for a fight with Miranda Granger. She dropped that one and another to Diana Belbita before garnering a first-round submission win over Emily Whitmire, only to land on the wrong side of the results again when she ventured to London last summer to face Molly McCann.
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It’s going to be fascinating to see what Mizuki brings to the table this weekend, as she always flashed significant upside, but has three years of accumulated rust to deal with on Saturday. She’s still just 29 years old, which means there is still ample time for her to put together a run that carries her forward in the division, with this weekend’s pairing with Goldy serving as a potential starting point for that journey.