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On the Rise: UFC 221 Edition

February 05, 2018

After easing into the 2018 campaign with a trio of shows in January, February is flush with events and hot on the heels of last weekend’s initial trip beyond the borders of the United States, the Octagon shifts to Australia for the second Pay-Per-View of the year.

This weekend’s initial appearance in Perth was to be headlined by national standout Robert Whittaker making his first defense of the middleweight title he claimed last summer in Las Vegas. Although a string of maladies have sidelined “The Reaper,” UFC 221 still features a standout championship fight atop the marquee as Luke Rockhold faces Yoel Romero for the interim middleweight title, while the host nation is still represented en masse by a collection of the country’s top UFC talents.

Included in that group is an emerging heavyweight fresh off a fabulous debut and seeking a second straight UFC victory, and he kicks off this edition of On the Rise.

Tai Tuivasa

Just 24 years old and sporting an unblemished record, there are a lot of reasons to be excited about Tuivasa’s arrival on the biggest stage in the sport.

The former Australian Fighting Championship (AFC) heavyweight champion, “Bam Bam” offered a glimpse at his potential in his first foray into the Octagon, knocking out Texan Rashad Coulter with a flying knee late in the opening round of their clash in Sydney last November. That performance made everyone sit up and take notice of the new arrival to the UFC’s big boy division and if he keeps turning in efforts like that, it won’t take long for Tuivasa to start making his way up the heavyweight ladder.

After dispatching Coulter in his debut, Tuivasa takes a step up in competition for his sophomore appearance in the Octagon, squaring off with Cyril Asker in the middle of this weekend’s main card. A proven finisher with twice as much experience as Tuivasa, the 32-year-old Frenchman is the type of savvy veteran every up-and-comer must beat before taking the next step forward in their careers.

This is a big test for Tuivasa, but if he looks anything like he did against Coulter in his debut, the Western Sydney resident will stamp himself as one of the most interesting new names to land in the heavyweight division in quite some time.

Israel Adesanya

Before we even talk about pedigree and records and things like that, let’s all agree that “The Last Stylebender” is a tremendous nickname and one that is sure to stick in the minds of fans from here on out.

What makes that a certainty is that Adesanya is a thrilling new addition to the middleweight ranks.

Sporting a combined 66-6 record across three disciplines – boxing, kickboxing and MMA – the 28-year-old who was born in Lagos, Nigeria and moved to New Zealand with his family in 2001 is a battle-tested combat sports competitor. While the majority of his experience has come as a kickboxer, Adesanya has compiled an 11-0 record with 11 knockouts heading into his promotional debut this weekend.

His initial test in the Octagon is a fight that likely would have occurred at some point or another regardless, as he takes on former AFC middleweight kingpin Rob Wilkinson, whose own 11-fight unbeaten run was ended in his first foray into the UFC cage last year.

With a loyal following from his kickboxing days and a resume filled with finishes, the potential is there for Adesanya to make an instant impact in the 185-pound weight class starting this weekend in Perth.

Daichi Abe

After earning a call-up to the UFC following a second-round knockout win over Japanese veteran Hiromitsu Miura in July, Abe kept his unbeaten streak intact with a unanimous decision victory over Hyun Gyu Lim in his Octagon debut two months later.

It was the kind of performance that often gets overlooked because of everything else that happened that night in Saitama, but turning back a fighter with twice as much experience in your first UFC appearance is no easy feat, but that’s precisely what the 26-year-old Abe was able to do.

This weekend, the 6-0 welterweight ventures to Perth to square off with Aussie veteran Luke Jumeau, who is looking to rebound from his first loss in more than four years. Like Lim before him, Jumeau has far more experience than Abe, having squared off with UFC 221 combatants Jake Matthews and Li Jingliang in the past.

Being the less experienced fighter didn’t bother Abe in Saitama and if he’s able to navigate his fight with Jumeau in the same fashion, the Japanese prospect will put himself in position for an even bigger step up in competition next time out.