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Fighters on the Rise, 'UFC Fight Night 213: Kattar vs. Allen'

Three can't-miss combatants to watch for at Saturday's Las Vegas event.

Coming on the heels of last weekend's epic pay-per-view in Abu Dhabi, this weekend's fight card at the UFC Apex is a chance to reset with some hopefuls aiming to make a little noise, get into a rhythm and put together the kind of victories needed to land on one of those gigantic fight cards like we saw at UFC 280.

Capped by a critical featherweight pairing between Calvin Kattar and Arnold Allen that will rightfully command the lion's share of the attention heading into the weekend, we wanted to highlight a couple of those "on the way up" competitors with the potential to take a big step forward on Saturday night.

This is the UFC Fight Night 213 edition of Fighters on the Rise.

Khalil Rountree Jr.

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Don't look now, but Khalil Rountree Jr. might be figuring out how to be the best version of himself inside the octagon.

Long considered an intriguing prospect in the light heavyweight division, the now 32-year-old Rountree Jr. (10-5 MMA, 6-5 UFC) has worked through inconsistent results, occasionally feeling like he might be done with the sport, and relocating a couple of times to arrive at this home game in Las Vegas against Dustin Jacoby (18-5-1 MMA, 6-2-1 UFC) on a two-fight winning streak.

But this isn't your "run of the mill" two-fight run of success – in each outing, the former Ultimate Fighter finalist has earned second-round stoppage wins, first against Modestas Bukauskas courtesy of a vicious oblique kick, and then against Karl Roberson with a nasty 25-second swarm of offense that wrapped with a punishing kick to the body.

When he's locked in – as he has been over these last couple outings and a handful of fights in the past – there is a meanness to the way Rountree Jr. conducts himself inside the octagon. He's aggressive, assertive, quick, powerful, and looking to do serious damage, and when he lands, opponents question their desire to continue.

Though he's no longer a prospect, Rountree Jr. is a clear dark horse in the light heavyweight division heading into this weekend's clash with Jacoby, a fight that could vault him into the top 15 should he emerge victorious.

The 34-year-old Jacoby has been one of the cooler stories in recent years, returning to the UFC through Dana White's Contender Series after an eight-year absence and building a seven-fight unbeaten streak. He's won each of his last four and is coming off a first-round finish of Da-un Jung on Long Island in the summer, and currently occupies the "divisional dark horse" role Rountree Jr. is gunning for on Saturday.

It's taken getting knocked down and forced to regroup a couple times, but this is the best, most consistent, most dangerous Rountree Jr. has looked in consecutive UFC fights in several years. If he's able to maintain his winning ways through the weekend, the former hyped prospect could find himself with a number next to his name ahead of his first start of 2023.

Roman Dolidze

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In his first two years on the UFC roster, Roman Dolidze has amassed a 4-1 record across two divisions, opening with consecutive victories at light heavyweight before moving to middleweight, suffering a decision loss, and then scoring two more wins.

The Georgian competitor struggled through a pair of tepid efforts in his first two appearances at '85, losing to Trevin Giles in a fight better left forgotten before narrowly defeating Laureano Staropoli in a bout with little action and lots of clinching and grabbing. But he offered fans a glimpse of his greater arsenal and skills last time out, marching across the cage and flooring Kyle Daukaus with a heavy knee to the face that ended their bout in 73 seconds.

With good size and physicality for the division, Dolidze (10-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC) is the kind of well-rounded, still developing fighter that is capable of putting together a solid run to work his way forward in the middleweight ranks. He gets the chance to take another step forward this weekend when he steps into the octagon against Phil Hawes (12-3 MMA, 4-1 UFC).

The 33-year-old Hawes is in a tricky spot right now: he's coming off a one-sided thrashing of Deron Winn in June and, like Dolidze, he's 4-1 in the UFC, including wins over Daukaus, Jacob Malkoun and Nassourdine Imavov. But he got knocked out by veteran newcomer Chris Curtis is his most high-profile fight to date, and that seems to be the result that sticks out the most for most people.

If Dolidze can become the second fighter to turn aside Hawes in the UFC, he'll extend his winning streak to three, shine up his overall record even more, and move another step closer to cracking the top 15 in the perpetually fluid 185-pound weight class.

Chase Hooper

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Chase Hooper, who just turned 23 last month, has already made five appearances inside the octagon, garnering three victories and a wealth of experience at an age when many competitors are still fighting on local shows against folks that sometimes aren't quite sure they want to fight for a living.

He's earned finishes in each of his three victories and gone the distance in each of his defeats, both of which illustrate why some people are high on the Enumclaw, Washington native's upside.

Last time out, Hooper collected a third-round finish over Felipe Colares in a bout that felt like a major step forward. Physically, Hooper has started to put on size and grow into his frame, transforming from a skinny kid with a curly mop of brown hair on his head to an impressive 6-foot-1 prospect that is only going to keep getting better as he keeps developing his skills, garnering experience, and learning how to best play to his strengths.

And he has considerable strengths on the ground.

A legitimate Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt, Hooper is an attacking fighter with a willingness to put himself in tough positions in order to chase opportunities. If he can learn to settle into positions and be a little more patient in dominant positions, the submission finishes are going to start piling up and he could end up being a menace on the canvas.

Saturday night, Hooper (11-2-1 MMA, 3-2 UFC) steps in with Steve Garcia (12-5 MMA, 1-2 UFC), a 30-year-old Dana White's Contender Series alum that has struggled to find a rhythm inside the octagon. The Albuquerque native is coming off a first-round stoppage loss to Maheshate in June, but he racked up a lot of finishes prior to arriving in the UFC and one in his lone promotional victory, which means he'll be bent on keeping this standing and getting after Hooper.

Every assignment is a big test for the developing Hooper, but he's handled everything that has been thrown at him thus far with aplomb – even the setbacks – and there is no reason to think things will be any different this time around.

This story first published at UFC.com.