Skip to main content
Athletes

Fighters On The Rise | UFC Fight Night: Rodriguez Vs. Waterson

Three Can't-Miss Combatants To Watch For On Saturday's Las Vegas Event

Another week, another strong event — that’s just how things go in the UFC.

Following last weekend’s return to the UFC APEX, the action continues in the smaller Octagon on Saturday with a fight card that has undergone some changes, but remains rich with competitive fights, compelling names, and opportunities to get another look at some of the more exciting newer names on the scene.

Order UFC 262: Oliveira vs Chandler For The Undisputed Lightweight Title

In addition to the established figures making the walk on Saturday evening, a trio of emerging talents with the potential to become factors in their respective divisions in the not-too-distant future will also cross the threshold into the Octagon with designs on elevating their profiles and ascending the divisional ranks heading into the second half of the year.

Here’s a closer look at those competitors.

This is the May 8 edition of Fighters on the Rise.

Fighters You Should Know | UFC Fight Night: Rodriguez Vs. Waterson
Fighters You Should Know | UFC Fight Night: Rodriguez Vs. Waterson
/

LUDOVIT KLEIN

Slovakia’s Ludovit Klein was one of the more intriguing new arrivals in the UFC last year, and now he’s ready to make his sophomore appearance in the Octagon this weekend, as he takes on former TUF winner Michael Trizano.

The 26-year-old featherweight debuted at UFC 253, earning a first-round stoppage win over gritty City Kickboxing representative Shane Young in just 76 seconds. Missing weight for the short-notice assignment dulled some of the excitement surrounding Klein’s effort, but the victory pushed his winning streak to eight and established “Mr. Highlight” as someone to keep close tabs on going forward.

The first Slovak fighter to compete in the UFC, Klein spent a portion of his training camp working with the all-star cast at Sanford MMA in South Florida, and he will look to pick up his 12th win in his last 13 starts when he steps in opposite Trizano this weekend.

Watch Saturday On ESPN+

A southpaw with a kick-heavy approach, Klein’s highlight reel is impressive, and his stoppage win over Young set a baseline for where he fits in the talent-rich featherweight division. The series of blows that ended his debut showcased the variety of clean, effective shots at his disposal and the quick progression from having Young hurt to finishing the fight is a piece of what makes Klein such an intriguing fighter to track heading into his second UFC appearance. 

Trizano is a durable wrestler with something to prove on Saturday, so another quality effort from Klein should move him another step forward in the 145-pound weight class and turn the volume up on his buzz heading into the third quarter of this year’s event calendar.

TAFON NCHUKWI

Born in Cameroon and now fighting out of Maryland, Tafon Nchukwi is one of the top prospects on the UFC roster.

A member of last year’s class of Contender Series grads, Nchukwi moved down to middleweight ahead of his promotional debut in December, where he outhustled Jamie Pickett over 15 minutes to push his record to 5-0 overall. After securing finishes in each of his first four victories, including a first-round technical knockout win over UFC light heavyweight William Knight and head kick finish of Al Matavao to earn his contract, Nchukwi proved he can go the distance and showcased some intriguing technical elements of his game in his win over Pickett.

Tafon Nchukwi reacts after his knockout victory over Al Matavao in a light heavyweight bout during week six of Dana White's Contender Series season four at UFC APEX on September 08, 2020 in Las Vegas, NV. (Photo by Chris Unger/DWCS LLC/Zuffa LLC)
Tafon Nchukwi reacts after his knockout victory over Al Matavao in a light heavyweight bout during week six of Dana White's Contender Series season four at UFC APEX on September 08, 2020 in Las Vegas, NV. (Photo by Chris Unger/DWCS LLC/Zuffa LLC)

Compact and powerful for the middleweight class, Nchukwi is still a work in progress as a mixed martial artist, but thus far, the work has been impressive.

In addition to brandishing heavy hands, he showcased a sound understanding of how to work effectively in the clinch against Pickett, attacking with knees and foot sweeps every time they tied up. Mix in solid takedown defense, improving offensive grappling, and great speed and athleticism and it’s clear why people forecast a high ceiling for Nchukwi once his experience catches up with his explosiveness.

MORE: Day One: Marcos Rogerio De Lima | Angela Hill: Overkill, Overcome

This weekend, the 26-year-old looks to maintain his unblemished record when he takes on “The Iron Turtle,” Junyong Park, who has rebounded from his debut loss to Anthony Hernandez with consecutive victories over Marc-Andre Barriault and John Phillips.

There was a great deal of hype surrounding Nchukwi coming off the Contender Series and it has likely only grown following his debut win, so it will be interesting to see what “Da Don” can do as an encore this weekend in Las Vegas.

KYLE DAUKAUS

Initially slated to make his 2021 debut last month, Kyle Daukaus finally gets to step back into the Octagon this weekend opposite Phil Hawes in a compelling clash of middleweight upstarts.

The former CFFC standout and Contender Series veteran made his promotional debut last summer, battling tooth-and-nail with Brendan Allen over the course of three rounds, landing on the wrong end of the result while giving a good accounting of himself. Just under five months later, Daukaus was back in the Octagon, collecting a unanimous decision victory of his own over Dustin Stoltzfus to get back in the win column and push his record to 10-1 overall.

Much like his fight with Allen, the 28-year-old got better as the fight progressed, upping his striking output and distancing himself further from Stoltzfus with each passing round.

Kyle Daukaus punches Dustin Stoltzfus in their middleweight bout during the UFC 255 event at UFC APEX on November 21, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Kyle Daukaus punches Dustin Stoltzfus in their middleweight bout during the UFC 255 event at UFC APEX on November 21, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Saturday’s contest should be a solid litmus test for Daukaus, as Hawes looked outstanding registering an 18-second stoppage win over Jacob Malkoun in his promotional debut last fall, but had a little more difficulty with Nassourdine Imavov in February, eking out a majority decision win to extend his winning streak to six.

FREE DOWNLOAD: A Cross-Sectional Performance Analysis and Projection of the UFC Athlete

While his big brother Chris has scaled the heavyweight rankings with greater swiftness after logging three consecutive first-round stoppage victories, the younger member of the Philadelphia-based tandem isn’t too far away from joining him as a ranked fighter, and a victory on Saturday would surely bring him one step closer.