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Fighters on the Rise, 'UFC Fight Night 214: Rodriguez vs. Lemos'

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

With two months and six events left on the 2022 calendar, this weekend's fight card marks the start of the final push for emerging talents to really establish themselves as key names to watch heading into next year.

Similar to September call-ups in Major League Baseball, these last handful of weeks offer a shot for promising competitors gracing the octagon between now and the final show of the year on December 17 to turn in the kind of performance that makes them stand out from the pack as we progress towards that three-week stretch without an event where we reflect on the year that was and look ahead to what's on tap in 2023.

And this week's triumvirate of talents have a real chance to be near the top of the list of names to know in their respective divisions heading into next year, as each has enjoyed quality success inside the UFC cage already and could very well add to those positive results with key victories this weekend.

Here's a closer look at those athletes.

This is the UFC Fight Night 214 edition of Fighters on the Rise.

Nate Maness

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Nate Maness is an intriguing new addition to the flyweight ranks, moving down after a 3-1 run in the bantamweight division where his only setback came by decision against rising star Umar Nurmagomedov.

The 31-year-old Kentucky native arrived in the UFC with an 11-1 record, with his only loss coming against UFC vet Taylor Lapilus in a TKO bantamweight title fight, and swiftly posted consecutive victories over Johnny Munoz, Luke Sanders and Tony Gravely. His victories over Sanders and Gravely, in particular, stood out, as there were moments in each contest where Maness was in trouble or behind, yet he still managed to not only rally to win, but find a finish, as well.

Saturday night, Maness (14-2 MMA, 3-1 UFC) gets a chance to make an instant impression in his new weight class, stepping in with highly regarded Russian Tagir Ulanbekov (13-2 MMA, 2-1 UFC) in what should be an interesting litmus test for the divisional newcomer.

In addition to having success at bantamweight, Maness is an intriguing addition because of his size and proven finishing capabilities. Standing 5-foot-10 and brandishing a 72-inch reach, he's considerably taller than most of the athletes in the 125-pound weight class, and with eight of his 14 career victories coming inside the distance, it's clear that "Mayhem" knows how to capitalize when he has opponents hurt.

Ulanbekov is a skilled grappler with a willingness to trade on the feet. He only recently fell out of the top 15, so clearly, a victory on Saturday would show that Maness has the potential to be a factor in the flyweight division and get him moving in the right direction again.

Mario Bautista

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If you ever needed further proof of how deep the bantamweight division is, all you need to do is look to Mario Bautista (10-2 MMA, 4-2 UFC), who remains under the radar and out of the rankings in the talent-rich 135-pound weight class at the moment.

The 29-year-old The MMA Lab representative made his promotional debut on short notice at the outset of 2019, losing to Cory Sandhagen on the opening card of the year in Brooklyn. Since then, Bautista has gone 4-1, sandwiching a pair of wins on either side of a loss to heavy hitter Trevin Jones as he steps back in on Saturday against the returning Benito Lopez (10-1 MMA, 2-1 UFC).

Bautista is another in a long line of fighters that developed under the watchful eye of John Crouch, earning six consecutive victories on the regional circuit while showing sound fundamentals and keen finishing instincts before getting the call to the UFC. He's continued to develop and progress since touching down in the octagon, as his quick submission win over Brian Kelleher last time out showed, and he has the ability to keep pushing towards the top 15 with additional victories and continued development.

Saturday's fight is one where the majority of the attention will likely be on his opponent, as Lopez hasn't fought in well over three years and was a highly regarded prospect prior to his sabbatical. That should be perfectly fine for Bautista, who never has much to say but makes a point of speaking volumes when he steps into the cage. A third straight win and five victories in six appearances are two quality accomplishments in any division, but doubly impressive while working forward in a weight class as flush with talent as bantamweight is.

If Bautista keeps rolling and spoils Lopez's return this weekend, you're going to hear more people talking about the intriguing upside of the quiet kid from The MMA Lab that just keeps winning fights.

Miranda Maverick

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Right now, Miranda Maverick feels like the "odd woman out" when it comes to discussion about emerging talents in the flyweight division, but that should change in the not too distant future.

Casey O'Neill's impressive start to her UFC career shot her to the head of the pack, and Maverick's losses to Maycee Barber and Erin Blanchfield knocked her behind her fellow twenty-something hopefuls, while victories by Tracy Cortez and Molly McCann have elevated each of them into the rankings as well.

Though she's currently not in the top 15, Maverick (10-4 MMA, 3-2 UFC) showed in her most recent outing that she's still a future force in the division, having rolled through Sabina Mazo, collecting a second-round submission win. This weekend, the 25-year-old, who trains with the collection of female talents assembled in the Denver area and has Eliot Marshall as her head coach, steps in against Shanna Young (8-4 MMA, 1-2 UFC) for a second time, looking to build on her dominant showing in March.

Maverick defeated Young during her breakout performance in the Invicta FC Phoenix Series in the fall of 2019, defeating the veteran in the semifinals before avenging her previous defeat to DeAnna Bennett to win the tournament. Initially scheduled to take place in late August, the bout was rescheduled and will now take place this weekend.

This story first published at UFC.com.