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Loopy Godinez of Mexico reacts after defeating Tabatha Ricci of Brazil in a strawweight fight during the UFC 295 event at Madison Square Garden on November 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
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Fighters on the Rise | UFC Fight Night: Blanchfield vs Fiorot

Shining A Spotlight On Three Ascending Talents Looking To Break Out Saturday Night On The Jersey Shore

Atlantic City was an early hub for the UFC, with the promotion bringing six events to the Jersey Shore between the end of 2000 and the summer of 2005.

Three more trips followed over the years, and this weekend, the Octagon returns to Boardwalk Hall, marking the promotion’s 10th trip to the “Las Vegas of the East Coast” and its first since the spring of 2018, bringing a card headlined by a critical flyweight clash between New Jersey’s own Erin Blanchfield and French standout Manon Fiorot.

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But before “Cold Blooded” and “The Beast” grace the UFC cage, there are three ascending talents looking to build off recent successes poised to compete that fight fans should be paying close attention to on Saturday evening.

Here’s a closer look at those competitors in the latest edition of Fighters on the Rise.

Nursulton Ruziboev

Nursulton Ruziboev of Uzbekistan reacts after his victory over Brunno Ferreira of Brazil in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on July 01, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Nursulton Ruziboev of Uzbekistan reacts after his victory over Brunno Ferreira of Brazil in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on July 01, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

A largely unknown commodity to most heading into his short-notice promotional debut last July, Ruziboev made an immediate impact in the middleweight ranks by rocking and knocking out Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) grad Brunno Ferreira in just over a minute.

The 30-year-old UFC sophomore is hyper-experienced, carrying a 33-8-2 record with two no contests into his main card clash with Sedriques Dumas on Saturday, and trains with the outstanding team at Marquez MMA in Philadelphia. He has tremendous size and a quality reach for the division, and clearly brandishes fight-ending power, having stopped Ferreira with a straight right hand down the pipe after catching a kick.

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Efforts like the one Ruziboev turned in last summer, combined with the quality coaches and training partners he’s surrounded by, makes him one of the archetypal figures for this series: a clearly talented fighter from a great camp that still carries some question marks, which is why his return this weekend is one to watch.

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In Dumas, he’s facing another DWCS grad with limited overall experience, but someone coming off consecutive victories where he’s shown a great deal of growth and improvement since his debut loss. Like Ruziboev, he has good size for the division and an even longer reach, which should make things interesting when they’re on the feet.

The middleweight waters have been choppy and changing for the last year now, creating room for new names to rise up the ranks. While Ruziboev has more work to do before he’s sporting a number next to his name, a second consecutive impressive performance this weekend will have even more people looking at him as one to watch in the 185-pound ranks heading into the summer.

Jamall Emmers

Jamall Emmers celebrates defeating Dennis Buzukja in a featherweight fight during the UFC 295 event at Madison Square Garden on November 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Jamall Emmers celebrates defeating Dennis Buzukja in a featherweight fight during the UFC 295 event at Madison Square Garden on November 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Every so often you come across an experienced hand that finally seems to put things together and go on a little run, which is exactly what is happening for Emmers right now.

The 34-year-old veteran has been in the UFC since early 2020, making six appearances and alternating results each time out. Of his three losses, two are split decisions — the first in his debut opposite Giga Chikadze, and the most recent against Jack Jenkins last June in Jacksonville in a bout where many believe Emmers should have gotten the nod. Prior to that contest, the California-based featherweight out-classed Khusein Askhabov in his promotional debut, and following it, “Pretty Boy” put Dennis Buzukja down in a hurry to kick off UFC 295 at Madison Square Garden.

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Emmers is one of those athletes that people who follow the sport on the regional level have known about and forecasted to be a “big league talent” for some time, as he earned early career wins over Alexander Hernandez and Cory Sandhagen, and fought Thiago Moises for the RFA lightweight title. He went 17-4 overall before finally touching down in the Octagon, and has shown in his last three outings that he’s putting all the pieces together better than he has in the past.

Saturday’s matchup with Nate Landwehr is his biggest opportunity to date in the UFC: a matchup against a popular, respected talent that resides on the fringes of the rankings and is looking to rebound from a loss last time out. It’s the kind of matchup where a win is sure to elevate him further up the divisional ladder, and a finish would raise some eyebrows, as “Nate the Train” is never one that goes away easy.

Loopy Godinez

Loopy Godinez of Mexico looks on against Tabatha Ricci of Brazil in a strawweight fight during the UFC 295 event at Madison Square Garden on November 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Loopy Godinez of Mexico looks on against Tabatha Ricci of Brazil in a strawweight fight during the UFC 295 event at Madison Square Garden on November 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

While the outcome of the main event will likely decide who is next in line to challenge for the flyweight title once TUF 32 coaches Alexa Grasso and Valentina Shevchenko finally resolve their rivalry later this year, it’s not the only bout on the card that carries championship implications.

Godinez enters her matchup with Virna Jandiroba on Saturday on a four-fight winning streak, having most recently edged out Tabatha Ricci in a competitive, entertaining clash at UFC 295. She is 7-1 overall in the strawweight division and has looked increasingly sharp and dangerous since her unanimous decision loss to Angela Hill, with her last three outings elevating her stock a great deal.

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Those efforts — wins over Emily Ducote, Elise Reed, and Ricci — coincide with Godinez moving back to her native Mexico to train with Grasso and the team at Lobo Gym. While she’s always shown tremendous physical strength and unquestioned toughness, her technical skills have leveled up considerably since making the move, and when combined with her athleticism and brawniness, have transformed the Mexican-Canadian standout into a contender in the 115-pound weight class.

Jandiroba has gotten lost in the shuffle a little at strawweight over the last year as a result of knee surgery forcing her to the sidelines. That being said, the Brazilian currently sits at No. 5 in the rankings, is coming off a unanimous decision win over perennial contender Marina Rodriguez, and has proven herself to be a tough test for everyone she’s faced over her first eight UFC appearances.

This is an opportunity for Godinez to register the biggest win of her career and vault herself into the Top 5 heading into the back half of the year. With the strawweight title set to be defended at UFC 300 and no clear No. 1 contender waiting in the wings, a dominant effort could hustle her into the title conversation, if not a championship opportunity later in the year.

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UFC Fight Night: Blanchfield vs Fiorot took place live from Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey on March 30, 2024. See the final Prelims & Main Card Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass