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Fighters on the Rise, 'UFC on ESPN 40: Santos vs. Hill'

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

Saturday's return to the UFC Apex offers a little something for everywhere.

If ranked competitors are your preference, the show is headlined by Thiago Santos (22-10 MMA, 14-9 UFC) and Jamahal Hill (10-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC) battling it out for position in the light heavyweight division, with top-15 welterweights Vicente Luque (21-8-1 MMA, 14-4 UFC) and Geoff Neal (14-4 MMA, 6-2 UFC) going head-to-head in a guaranteed banger before them.

If newcomers get you excited, Saturday's fight card also features the finals from Season 30 of "The Ultimate Fighter," as Team Peña's Zac Pauga and Mohammed Usman face off in the heavyweight division, while Brogan Walker and Juliana Miller compete in the flyweight finale.

In addition to those four bouts, there are three others featuring emerging names that you're going to want to keep tabs on going forward because they've already shown some promise and could keep climbing the ranks in their respective divisions going forward.

Here's a closer look at those competitors.

This is the UFC on ESPN 40 edition of Fighters on the Rise.

Bryan Battle

Bryan Battle (7-1 MMA, 2-0 UFC) was in the same position as Pauga, Usman, Walker, and Miller just 11 months ago, prepping to face Gilbert Urbina in the "TUF 29" middleweight finale. He won that contest by second-round submission and followed it up by out-hustling his originally scheduled opponent, Tresean Gore, five months later to move to 2-0 in the UFC and 7-1 overall.

This weekend, makes his debut in the welterweight division, squaring off with Japanese veteran Takashi Sato (16-5 MMA, 1-3 UFC).

The move down a division makes sense for Battle, who wasn't the biggest guy at '85 in terms of his physical stature and seemed to have the room to make the cut without too many issues. Provided he can make the 170-pound limit safely, his size should help even out the shortfalls he was facing at middleweight.

His first two UFC wins showcased the grit and toughness of the former Team Volkanovski man, who is still very much a work in progress when it comes to skill and technique and experience. I said throughout Season 29 and his initial appearances that he reminds me of Kelvin Gastelum, as you can see the potential he possesses and it's just a matter of whether he and the team he's surrounded himself with can find a way to maximize it going forward.

Sato is a good test for Battle at this stage – a 32-year-old veteran coming off a competitive return to action opposite Gunnar Nelson in London that trains with a great team and has the savvy and skills to push the ascending TUF winner.

Battle has looked good thus far, and it will be interesting to see how he looks down a division this time around.

Josh Quinlan

Josh Quinlan (5-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) was one of the breakout competitors on Season 5 of Dana White's Contender Series, registering a 47-second stoppage win over Logan Urban that had the UFC president singing his praises. Unfortunately, the result was vacated when Quinlan tested positive for a banned substance in his post-fight drug screening.

Now the 29-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt finally makes his return, facing a heap of questions as he steps in against Midwest stalwart Jason Witt (19-8 MMA, 2-3 UFC).

Quinlan went 6-0 as an amateur and had momentarily matched that mark with his win over Urban last fall. He has a perfect finishing rate as a pro after earning five of his six amateur wins inside the distance, including a 19-second knockout of "TUF 29" alum Ryder Newman.

Witt makes for a terrific dance partner in this moment as the Glory MMA & Fitness representative hits like a truck, has a wealth of experience, and is never an easy out for anyone. He will push Quinlan from the word “Fight!” and it will take a quality effort to get him out of there.

The only way to know for sure whether Quinlan is a skilled prospect who made a mistake, but still has promise is to see him step in there opposite Witt on Saturday. What I've seen of him thus far tells me that is the case, but we'll find out more this weekend.

Stephanie Egger

Since dropping her short-notice debut against Tracy Cortez in the fall of 2020, the Swiss judoka Stephanie Egger (7-2 MMA, 2-1 UFC) has collected back-to-back stoppage victories to establish herself as a dark horse in the bantamweight division.

A year after her bout with Cortez, she dispatched Shanna Young with a hail of elbows from top position, and earlier this year, the 33-year-old veteran made quick work of Jessica-Rose Clark, hitting a beautiful uchi mata to get her to the canvas before swiftly transitioning to the armbar. Both bouts have showcased how dangerous Egger can be both in the clinch and once the fight hits the canvas, and the consecutive victories have elevated her record to 7-2 overall.

This weekend, she steps in with Mayra Bueno Silva (8-2-1 MMA, 3-2-1 UFC), who made her successful bantamweight debut in April, edging out Wu Yanan on the scorecards in a bout that earned the duo "Fight of the Night" honors.

Facing the powerful Brazilian will be a good measuring stick opportunity for Egger, who looked phenomenal against Clark in February and has won six of her seven fights inside the distance. Bueno Silva is 8-2-1 overall and has never been finished, while also showing some proficiency on the canvas herself, having submitted both Gillian Robertson and Mara Romero Borrella.

It feels like changes are afoot in the bantamweight division, and a third straight victory – especially if it's another finish – could expedite Eggers' climb toward the top 15 and potentially put her in a position to face a ranked opponent next time out.

This story first published at UFC.com.