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Fighters on the Rise, 'UFC on ESPN 41: Vera vs. Cruz'

Make sure you know which fighters are on the rise heading into Saturday night's event in San Diego, Calif.

Saturday night, the UFC lands in San Diego for the fourth time, returning for the first time in seven years with a card headlined by surging contender Marlon "Chito" Vera and former bantamweight champion, San Diego's own Dominick Cruz.

Each of the first three trips to the Southern California city have produced main events that ended in the first round and impressive performances from future champions and title challengers, including Diego Sanchez and Josh Koscheck, Charles Oliveira and Jon Jones, and Tony Ferguson, Holly Holm and Jessica Andrade.

Which of this weekend's non-headlining competitors could eventually develop join that group after having a moment in the sun in the sun-kissed home of the Padres?

Here are three athletes with a real good chance.

This is the UFC on ESPN 41 edition of Fighters on the Rise.

Loopy Godinez


Loopy Godinez (8-2 MMA, 3-2 UFC) gets her biggest opportunity to date this weekend, facing off with tenured strawweight veteran Angela Hill in a bout that could catapult her into the rankings.

The 28-year-old Mexican-Canadian had an impressive rookie campaign in 2021, fighting four times in eight months, including on back-to-back weekends, going 2-2 with a split-decision loss to Jessica Penne in her debut and a unanimous decision setback up in weight in the second half of her October doubleheader.

2022 has been comparatively quiet for Godinez, as she's fought just once, turning in a dominant effort opposite Ariane Carnelossi at UFC 274 in May. Now she makes her second appearance of the year, stepping in with a ranked opponent on her home turf, eager to show she's ready to hang with the best in the division.

Stylistically, this is a solid matchup for Godinez, who is a powerhouse with impressive grappling skills, having collected 23 takedowns in her first five trips into the octagon. Hill's takedown defense has been solid throughout her career, and she'll be working with a three-inch reach advantage, but if the Titan MMA representative can work inside, we could see "Overkill" go for a ride once or twice.

This is the right type of assignment for the ascending and clearly talented Godinez, especially coming off such a one-sided win over Carnelossi earlier this year. Hill is one of those fighters that is far better than her record in the UFC suggests and is tough to put away, let alone dominate, so it would be quite a statement for Godinez to roll into her hometown of San Diego and put it on her this weekend.

David Onama


David Onama (10-1 MMA, 2-1 UFC) makes his second appearance in this space heading into his third fight of the year, as he steps in for Zubaira Tukhugov in a clash with Nate Landwehr.

A member of the Glory MMA & Fitness team, the 28-year-old Onama impressed and opened a lot of eyes with a strong showing in his short-notice debut loss to Mason Jones up a division. He returned to featherweight in February and finished veteran Gabriel Benitez in the first round before following it up with a second-round submission win over former amateur opponent Garrett Armfield a month ago in Las Vegas.

While the Armfield outing was his best showing, Onama did show that he can still find a way to secure a victory – and a finish, at that – even when he's having an off-night, which is an important intangible to see from a relatively young and inexperienced fighter as they work their way up the ranks. This weekend, he gets the opportunity to improve on that effort while searching for a third victory in seven months as he steps in against Landwehr.

"Nate the Train" has alternated losses and wins through his first four UFC starts, avoiding the scorecards in all but one of those outings. Win or lose, he is a grimy, in-your-face, difficult opponent to deal with and the type of more seasoned, more experienced guy that should serve as a great measuring stick foe for Onama this weekend.

Featherweight is flush with talent, so there is no reason to rush Onama up the divisional ladder too quickly. That being said, he's flashed upside and earned a pair of stoppage wins, and if both of those things continue happening, it will be difficult to deny him even greater opportunities in the not-too-distant future.

Martin Buday


Martin Buday (10-1 MMA, 1-0 UFC) lost the second fight of his professional career to future "The Ultimate Fighter" winner Juan Espino and hasn't looked back since. Saturday night in San Diego, he looks to run his winning streak to 10 when he takes on Polish newcomer Lukasz Brzeski.

The 30-year-old Slovakian heavyweight punched his ticket to the UFC with a first-round stoppage win over Lorenzo Hood last fall on Dana White's Contender Series. It was a dominant performance that showcased the steady clip and smothering offence Buday is capable of delivering inside the cage, which he replicated in his promotional debut opposite Chris Barnett earlier this year.

While the fight ended in a technical decision after Barnettt was deemed unable to continue following an unintentional illegal blow, all 11 minutes and change of that fight were controlled by Buday. Playing to his strengths, the thick 6-foot-4 fighter closed the distance and made Barnett carry his weight, landing roughly the same amount of strikes from distance as he did in the clinch while amassing more than seven minutes of control time.

The meeting with Brzeski is a solid challenge for his sophomore outing inside the octagon – a date with a fellow DWCS grad with comparable measurements and a solid track record before arriving in the UFC.

Buday isn't someone that is going to wow you with explosiveness or his athletic exploits, but he knows who he is as a fighter and how to best deploy his skills, which is a major positive for any competitor, but especially one in the nascent stages of their UFC tenure. The heavyweight ranks can always use an influx of new names, and with a second consecutive victory on Saturday that pushes his winning streak into double digits, "Badys" could end up getting a good long look as a potential dance partner for more established names next time out.

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