Rising Stars: UFC 222 Edition

For the first time in 2018, the Octagon is home in Las Vegas for a Pay-Per-View event at T-Mobile Arena.

Despite the featherweight title clash between Max Holloway and Frankie Edgar being postponed, “The Answer” remains on the card in a crucial battle with rising star Brian Ortega, and a championship belt will still be on the line in the main event as featherweight queen Cris Cyborg makes a quick return to action to face off with newcomer Yana Kunitskaya.

For more on this weekend’s title challenger and a pair of other notable upstarts set to enter the Octagon on Saturday.


Yana Kunitskaya

Very seldom do we find a headliner in this space – the last time it happened was when Justin Gaethje was set to debut – but with Kunitskaya’s debut coming in a championship clash, it’s only fitting to profile the new arrival here.

The 28-year-old Kunitskaya came into focus in North America with a trio of championship appearances under the Invicta FC banner, where she ended her run as the promotion’s bantamweight champion, defeating Raquel Pa’aluhi for the interim title back in August. Fighting out of Saint Petersburg, Russia, Kunitskaya was always planning a move back to featherweight, where she began her career, and the chance to fight for the title only expedited the process.

Boasting solid athleticism, a well-rounded skill set and good size for the division, the challenger is an underdog like everyone who steps into the cage against Cyborg, but Kunitskaya has the potential to shock the world and should remain an integral part of the featherweight division going forward, regardless of the outcome here.


Mackenzie Dern

A two-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion and one of the most decorated female jiu-jitsu stylists in the world today, Dern has shifted her focus to mixed martial arts and amassed a 5-0 record to earn a call to the Octagon.

The 24-year-old took a step up in competition last time out and passed with flying colors, earning a third-round submission win over former title challenger Kaline Medeiros in her one and only appearance in the Invicta FC cage. While her striking is still a work in progress, Dern’s grappling is truly world-class, and she’s only going to keep getting better as she continues to gain experience.

Her first foray into the UFC Octagon comes against TUF 23 alum Ashley Yoder in the final preliminary card fight of the evening. Nicknamed “SpiderMonkey,” Yoder prefers to work on the ground, so Dern should get a chance to showcase her grappling skills in this one.

Given her age, the fact that she’s training with a great team at the MMA Lab in Glendale, Arizona, and knows what it takes to be an elite competitor, don’t be surprised if Dern emerges as a legitimate contender and superstar a couple years from now.


Cody Stamann

Last time out, Stamann brought the hype surrounding Tom Duquesnoy to a screeching halt, putting the French bantamweight on the canvas time and again and bullying him around the cage en route to a unanimous decision win. The victory was his second straight in the UFC, ninth straight overall and 16th in 17 fights, and it positioned the Michigan Top Team member for a step up in competition for his third assignment.

This weekend, Stamann gets that bump in a showdown with Bryan Caraway, a seasoned veteran who has been a fixture in the Top 10 for the last several years and has quietly gone 6-2 in the Octagon, entering off a split decision victory over Aljamain Sterling.

Bantamweight is flush with established names and features a ton of emerging talent climbing the ranks and Stamann has a chance to move to the head of that list of up-and-comers with a victory here. Caraway sits at No. 7 in the rankings and pushing his winning streak to double digits by knocking off a veteran of his caliber would force people to sit up and take notice of the surging 28-year-old.


Author: Martin Chavez

You may not know me, but I bet your girlfriend does..

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