After a quick week off to really settle into autumn – or the continually extending summer, as is the case where I reside – the action returns to the octagon on Saturday with an intriguing collection of fights.
Capped by the crucial flyweight clash between Alexa Grasso and Viviane Araujo that was previously expected to take place in August, this weekend's lineup also features the bantamweight debut of veteran Cub Swanson and a pivotal flyweight pairing between Askar Askarov and Brandon Royval.
Before those ranked fighters and experienced veterans hit the cage, a pair of UFC sophomores coming off impressive debuts and a streaking strawweight reaping the benefits of changing camps will all make the walk into the octagon, eager to maintain the form that has them featured here.
This is the UFC Fight Night 212 edition of Fighters on the Rise.
It took 25 fights before Victor Henry finally touched down in the UFC, but the bantamweight veteran made the absolute most of his initial opportunity, collecting a unanimous decision win over Raoni Barcelos to instantly establish himself as a person of interest in the bustling 135-pound weight class.
A disciple of Josh Barnett and Erik Paulson, the 35-year-old Henry has fought both domestically and internationally throughout his career, deploying a "have fists, will travel" approach to plying his trade. Over the years, he's amassed a 22-5 record that includes wins over veterans like Hideo Tokoro and Masakatsu Ueda, as well as current UFC bantamweight hopeful Kyler Phillips and former UFC competitor Albert Morales.
But it was his fight against Barcelos that finally made everyone sit up and take notice, as he was able to outwork the talented Brazilian on the feet and control the action throughout, registering a clean sweep of the scorecards and a massive victory in his promotional debut.
This weekend, Henry (22-5 MMA, 1-0 UFC) takes on another skilled Brazilian veteran, sharing the cage with Raphael Assuncao (27-9 MMA, 11-6 UFC) in the kind of fight that could potentially elevate him into the thick of the chase if he emerges victorious.
While Assuncao no longer carries a number next to his name and enters on a four-fight slide, those setbacks came against two former title challengers, a former champion, and rising contender Ricky Simon. Previous to his current skid, the Brazilian won four straight, including victories over current champ Aljamain Sterling, former contender Marlon Moraes, and top-10 fixture Rob Font.
If Henry can go out and turn in a performance comparable to his debut, the fighting vagabond could find himself staring down a ranked opponent next time out and holding down a place on the list of 2022's top newcomers at the end of the year.
Tatsuro Taira looked outstanding in his promotional debut in May, earning a unanimous decision win over Dana White's Contender Series alum Carlos Candelario to push his record to 11-0 as a professional.
The former Shooto champion is smooth on the ground and sharp on the feet, showcasing a well-rounded and fundamentally strong game, and at just 22 years old, there is obviously still a ton of room for the Okinawa native to further develop and improve. Beating Candelario was a good baseline effort for Taira (11-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC), who fought solid competition prior to arriving in the UFC, and this weekend's pairing with C.J. Vergara (10-3-1 MMA, 1-1 UFC) should be another good litmus test for the emerging Japanese fighter.
Like Candelario, the 31-year-old Vergara is a graduate of the Contender Series, having earned a first-round stoppage win over Bruno Korea on Season 5 to land a spot on the UFC roster. He dropped his debut to Ode' Osbourne in a fight where he looked unsettled early but rebounded with a split-decision win over Kleydson Rodrigues in May to register his first UFC win.
Vergara is an attacking, heavy hitter who should push Taira and force him to show more of his defensive skills, while also being the kind of tough out the intriguing flyweight prospect needs to face at this stage of his career. The division continues to get deeper with each passing month and the level of competition grows with it, and it will be interesting to see how quickly Taira is able to ascend the ranks and turn himself into a contender in the 125-pound weight class.
Sam Hughes' career in the UFC thus far has been a tale of two different situations.
Her first three fights came when she was training in Washington state, working with the same crew that helped her go 4-1 to start her pro career and earn a short-notice call-up to face Tecia Torres in the first place. But she struggled out of the chute, losing her debut against Torres as a result of an eye injury before dropping decisions to both Loma Lookboonmee and Luana Pinheiro.
Following her November 2021 loss to the Brazilian DWCS grad, Hughes relocated to the Dallas-Fort Worth area and began training at Fortis MMA. She didn't move in order to change teams – it was a personal decision driven by being closer to family – however switching camps and connecting with Sayif Saud and the crew in Dallas has certainly paid clear dividends.
In her first appearance of this year, Hughes (7-4 MMA, 2-3 UFC) rallied to defeat Istela Nunes by majority decision, bolstered by a confidence-building talk between rounds from "The General." A month later, the former collegiate track athlete collected a second consecutive victory, finishing Elise Reed in the third round to earn her first UFC stoppage win. She's clearly found a home and a group that is helping her unlock her potential at Fortis MMA, and now she returns looking to make it three straight when she takes on Piera Rodriguez (8-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC) on Saturday.
"La Fiera" is an undefeated 29-year-old who has trained at various quality gyms around the globe during her career, including Lilius Barnatt Martial Arts in Malaga, Blackhouse in Los Angeles, and Allstars Training Center in Stockholm, where she prepared for this encounter.
A member of the DWCS Class of '21, Rodriguez out-hustled Kay Hansen in her promotional debut earlier this year, pushing her record to 8-0 and establishing herself as someone to track in the 115-pound weight class in the process.
Hughes enters as the underdog here, but has shown considerable improvement since moving to Texas, and a win over Rodriguez this weekend would show she's finally settled in and ready to make some real waves going forward.
This story first published at UFC.com.