Two of the UFC lightweight division's rising stars clash in the headliner at "UFC on ESPN 38: Tsarukyan vs. Gamrot" for a chance to break into the top 10 of one of UFC's most competitive divisions.
Tsarukyan (18-2 MMA, 5-1 UFC), unaffiliated with UFC up until that point, knew he needed to take advantage of the opportunity to perform at the highest level. In a debut to remember, Tsarukyan went neck-and-neck with one of the division's most feared contenders, displaying excellent wrestling and grit to last 15 minutes inside the octagon with the combat sambo world champion.
Although he wouldn't get his hand raised, Tsarukyan's performance was nothing to be discouraged about. It was one of Makhachev's most difficult fights to date, and to put on a "Fight of the Night" performance against someone who could potentially be next in line for a shot at the vacant lightweight title is quite impressive.
Following the loss, Tsarukyan amassed five consecutive victories, defeating the likes of Olivier Aubin-Mercier and Matt Frevola. Most recently, Tsarukyan earned two successive "Performance of the Night" bonuses with TKOs against Christos Giagos and Joel Álvarez.
His next opponent, and the other half of this weekend's headliner, is Mateusz Gamrot. The current 12th ranked contender at 155 pounds, Gamrot (20-1 MMA, 3-1 UFC) has followed a near identical path to his UFC Fight Night opponent.
Entering UFC a year-and-a-half after Tsarukyan's debut, Gamrot similarly earned "Fight of the Night" honors in a split decision loss against Guram Kutateladze. Since that defeat, Gamrot has won all three of his bouts.
Like Tsarukyan, Gamrot has also received two "Performances of the Night" bonuses since entering UFC. A second-round knockout against Scott Holtzman and a submission victory in just over a minute against Jeremy Stephens earned Gamrot his third bonus check in as many fights.
Taking nearly identical paths to the division's top 15, the two highly respected prospects meet at the UFC Apex with top-10 aspirations on their minds. Tsarukyan, a master of sport in wrestling, vs. Gamrot, a two-time ADCC European Championship Submission Wrestling gold medalist, has the makings of an instant classic.
Meeting in the main event, this will be the first five-round bout of their UFC careers, and each will be given 25 minutes, if needed, to prove why they should break into the division's elite. But with 24 finishes between the two, coincidentally 12 each, it's unlikely that the fight makes it to the judges.
This story first published at UFC.com.