The trio of talents spotlighted here this week feels like a great nod to the various types of fighters that can be highlighted in this space from week-to-week, as all three are clearly moving forward in their respective divisions but arrive in Las Vegas at very different stages of their individual careers.
One is a burgeoning welterweight contender set to tackle the toughest test of his career. Another is an established veteran coming off a blistering finish, hoping to find his way into the fast lane towards contention in the middleweight ranks. And the third is a powerful light heavyweight prospect coming off a dominant effort, accepting a change in opponents and division ahead of his second trip into the octagon.
Each could individually steal the show on Saturday, and all three could become factors in their respective weight classes in the not-too-distant future with another quality result here and continued success in the second half of the year.
These are three fighters you’re likely going to be hearing a lot about during this weekend’s broadcast and in the months to come, so why not further familiarize yourself with them now?
Michel Pereira (27-11 MMA, 5-2 UFC) was a high-profile addition to the UFC roster in 2019, with hardcore fans delighted to see the Brazilian wild man make his way into the octagon, and through his first three appearances, "Demolidor" delivered performances commensurate to their expectations.
He sprung off the fence for Superman punches and threw caution to the wind, looking for spots to land backflips and cartwheels as often as he did clean shots and clear setups, but after a victory in his debut, those big actions and his overall chaotic approach netted him consecutive losses — one by unanimous decision to Tristan Connelly, who currently competes at featherweight, and the other by disqualification after he kneed Diego Sanchez in the head while he was down.
Pereira started dialing things back a little after that, trading some of his trademark wildness for managing his gas tank, scoring more frequently, and generally fighting in a more conventional manner, and the results have been undeniable. Heading into Saturday’s co-main event opposite Santiago Ponzinibbio, the 28-year-old has won four straight, putting him on the cusp of cracking the top 15.
There are still inventive offerings and vintage Pereira moments, but he’s also shown that he can actually fight; that he can use his multitude of weapons effectively and be judicious with his energy expenditure, wrestling when he needs to, and prioritizing winning over being wildly entertaining. Since choking out Zelim Imadaev in September 2020, Pereira has rattled off consecutive unanimous decision wins over Khaos Williams, Niko Price, and Andre Fialho to establish himself as an intriguing dark horse in the welterweight division, and a win in Saturday’s bout with the “Argentine Dagger” could potentially move him beyond that designation and into the rankings.
While he went 1-2 in his first year back in action following two-plus years of medical issues and career uncertainty, Ponzinibbio remains one of the more accomplished and established competitors in the 170-pound weight class. He’s 10-4 overall inside the Octagon and had won seven straight before being sidelined, including victories over Gunnar Nelson, Mike Perry, and Neil Magny, and stands as the toughest test Pereira has faced thus far.
Beating a ranked fighter doesn’t always produce a one-for-one replacement in the rankings, but with Ponzinibbio currently stationed at No. 14, it would make sense for Pereira to move into that position — or perhaps a little higher — should he push his winning streak to five this weekend in Las Vegas.
And if he does, don’t be surprised if you see him fighting someone else with a number next to their name in the late summer or early fall.
Chidi Njokuani (21-7 MMA, 1-0 UFC) was a familiar face to hardcore fans when he turned up on Season 5 of Dana White's Contender Series, as the younger brother of former WEC and UFC competitor Anthony Njokuani had competed in a number of established, respected organizations and fought a solid slate of competition throughout the first 25 fights of his career.
Despite taking a horrific low blow in his Contender Series matchup with Mario Souza, Njokuani still managed to secure a finish and a contract, putting the Brazilian away early in the third round. Five months later, he turned up in the octagon for his promotional debut opposite Marc-Andre Barriault and promptly put a halt to the French-Canadian’s two-fight winning streak by dropping him and stopping him in 16 seconds.
This weekend, Njokuani returns aiming to push his winning streak to four in a clash with fellow DWCS grad (Class of '19) Dusko Todorovic, who enters off a first-round finish of his own.
The 33-year-old Njokuani was already an intriguing addition to the middleweight ranks prior to his debut win in February but cranked the intrigue up a couple notches by getting Barriault out of there in a hurry. He has excellent size for the division and clean, technical striking with obvious power. Plus, he’s been in there with some real quality opposition, including holding victories over current UFC fighters Andre Fialho and Max Griffin.
Todorovic is a powerful Serbian prospect that has struggled to find consistency inside the UFC cage, winning his debut before losing consecutive contests and then rebounding with a first-round stoppage win over Maki Pitolo last time out.
While a win over Todorovic isn’t necessarily going to vault Njokuani into the rankings, this is a chance for the veteran to add another win to his resume, make another statement, and take another step forward. There are greater opportunities for advancement in the 185-pound weight class than in many others, so consecutive wins – and especially consecutive impact finishes – would put him on the radar for a potential date with a ranked competitor in his third appearance of the year.
Running his winning streak to nine with a second-round submission win over Nasrudin Nasrudinov earned Jailton Almeida 15-2 MMA, 1-0 UFC) passage onto the UFC roster, and a first-round mauling of Danilo Marques in February made him an automatic name to track going forward in the light heavyweight division.
This weekend, the 30-year-old Brazilian returns looking to build on his freshman performance, but it’s not the matchup many would be expecting. Originally slated to face veteran Maxim Grishin, Almeida will instead bump up to heavyweight to face off with Parker Porter after Grishin was forced to withdraw.
This is a chance for Almeida to make a huge statement and rocket to relevancy. Porter arrives in Las Vegas on a three-fight winning streak, with his only loss in his last six outings coming against Chris Daukaus.
Almeida is a big, physical fighter on a 10-fight winning streak and brandishing a 15-2 record overall. He looked outstanding against Marques and feels like someone capable of making a quick climb, so putting forth a quality effort against Porter on Saturday would only further expedite his ascent.
This story first published at UFC.com.