The Young Guns May Steal the Show at UFC 222

UFC 222 Features The New Kids on The Block

As I scan the UFC 222 card lined up for us this weekend, several fighters stand out. Funny enough, they aren’t the established veterans that i’m looking most forward to seeing. In fact, with the exception of Frankie Edgar, i’d say my sights will be set firmly on the “young-guns” of the UFC.

And they will be well represented in Vegas this weekend.

Stamann, Dern, Vieira, O’Malley and even Ortega all represent the new breed in MMA. Likewise, they’ll also share in the opportunity to take down the more established members in the sport and cement their status as next in line. One may call it, a possible passing of the guard.

This weekend, we’ll get to see how they stack up with those of the old guard. They’re exciting, aggressive and full of potential. Will they take advantage and steal the show? I suspect they will.

Cody Stamann

Alright, let’s work our way up shall we. Cody Stamann is the first example of a new school fighter tangling with the established piece. His opponent, Bryan Caraway, has been a fixture of the sport for roughly 8 years now and has fought 11 times under the UFC’s banner, including bouts inside the TUF house.

Stamann on the other hand, comes into his 3rd fight with the promotion though has looked impressive in his lead-up. Two wins over solid prospects in their own right have allowed him to “skip the line” if you will and challenge the #7 bantamweight in the world for his spot within the division.

And there in lies the stakes. Stamann came into the UFC without a massive amount of momentum behind him. Yes he was on a 7-fight win streak coming in, but the hype was small if present at all. But none of that matters now because the hype will rise to overwhelming levels if a win can be found this weekend. The UFC clearly thinks highly of Stamann considering he remains unranked but has a shot at a top-10 bantamweight in his third trip to the octagon. A win means he’ll find himself in the rankings quickly after and be catapulted towards even bigger names in match-ups that would place him close to the title.

The stage is big and full of possibilities.

Mackenzie Dern

This may be the most anticipated performance of the entire card and probably the biggest debut in years. Mackenzie Dern took the world by storm as she took home jiu jitsu world titles by the truck-load.

That led to a massive amount of traffic to watch her fight when she transitioned to MMA. Dern’s been a star in this game since the moment she stepped foot into the cage and now a year and a half later, she gets her shot. From day one of this journey, the UFC has been her goal. After 4 fights in LFA and a submission in her Invicta debut, the promotion has called her up to the big show. It’s a huge moment for her and the fans waiting with baited breath to see her fight.

But her opponent makes this debut a bit more interesting.

Sure, Ashley Yoder hasn’t had much success in the UFC, 0-2, but her fights in the TUF house have given her a name which makes this bout even bigger. Any cupcake could have been thrown in Mackenzie Dern’s direction at UFC 222 and we all would have been happy. Let her plow through some after-thoughts so she can develop into a complete fighter before making a run at the title. But this match-up has sped up that process. Yoder has a name in the sport just as Dern does which means a win for the debutant would not just yield skeptical pats on the back, but genuine excitement for her skill.

It’s not as if she is fighting an established contender the way Cody Stamann will. But just the simple fact that Dern will not be fighting a 5-3 kickboxer from Argentina is enough to make her potential win both impressive and uplifting. Now, we’ve just got to sit back and watch her work.

Ketlen Vieira

This one has flown under the radar to an extreme magnitude allowing others to shine in it’s midst. But i’d like to bring this one back to mind because it is incredibly intriguing for many different reasons.

Cat Zingano has struggled to remain active since her title fight with Ronda Rousey in February of 2015. We all know the personal struggles she has experienced and it’s great to see her back. The largest story-line here is clearly her return to fighting. But the one i’d like to focus on is the path of her opponent to UFC 222.

Ketlen Vieira entered the UFC over a year ago with a 6-0 record and simmering hype underneath her. However, simmering is the only way we could describe the excitement people felt for her potential. In fewer words, she kinda came out of nowhere. There was no stretch inside Invicta that allowed fans to familiarize themselves with her and no big name on her resume to boost her up. It was simply a talented fighter making her debut inside the octagon.

What followed however, was quite attention-grabbing. 3 wins and a submission victory over bantamweight main-stay, Sara McMann earned Vieira the notice she deserved.

Now, she gets her biggest chance to shine on the main card of UFC 222. Her untainted record being put up against a well-established and widely-loved contender making her return after 20 month layoff is a massive headline grab. And for Ketlen Vieira, it’s a chance to claim disputation of the crown lying atop the head of “The Lioness”.

Sean O’Malley

Look, i’ve made it clear by now i’m a man of biased opinions. Mostly, I put them aside in search of an objective way of viewing things. This will not be a good example of that exercise.

Sean O’Malley may be my favorite prospect within the UFC. For clarity sake, Adesanya and Zabit are not prospects they are contenders regardless of their few fights with the promotion. His debut only confirmed the excitement I had for this guy. Most of the MMA world got their first look at “Sugar” Sean at Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. The show has already produced several legit fighters which means we can all breath a sigh of relief knowing someone like O’Malley, who came out of that show, isn’t just a hype job. Though there are loads of hype.

His win over Terrion Ware proved a couple of things: he’s able to stay composed when in danger, his striking is sharp and his footwork is savvy in the way many 10+ year fight veterans are not. He’s the total package which makes this a big spot for him.

Pay-per view main card slot just before the biggest fight of the UFC 222 card means a lot of eye balls will be on Sean O’Malley. And that’s exactly how the UFC would want it. They are setting O’Malley up to steal the show this weekend and with a performance like the last, he will. This is a big one guys, so pay attention.

Brian Ortega

Last but certainly not least, we’ve got a future title challenger in a #1 contender bout against one of the greatest and most legendary fighters in the history of the UFC.

So, it’s kind of a big deal.

Now, the fighters I have mentioned before now have had 3 fights or less with the promotion. So you may be thrown off a bit that this one is here. But if you’ve got some sense behind those eyes, you’ll understand why I included this. I wanted to highlight the “young-guns” of UFC 222 and no one has a bigger opportunity to represent the new guard against the old than Brian Ortega.

In the entire promotion, there are very few, if any, fighters that have remained this competitive at the highest level for as many years than Frankie Edgar. He won his first UFC title all the way back at UFC 112 and ever since then, Edgar has been a mainstay in the top-10 regardless of division. Since his featherweight debut, the only losses on Frankie’s resume are to the greatest featherweight of all-time Jose Aldo. And the wins include: Cub Swanson, Chad Mendes and Jeremy Stephens. That’s pretty damn impressive.

So he is the established veteran representing the old-guard and looking for a shot at the title.

Ortega on the other hand is the embodiment of the new school. Young and hungry but, laid back and open-minded. There’s no better representation of the “young guns” than “T-City” and in the cage, he’s shown out.

Ortega’s 5-0-1 in the octagon with 6 finishes (1 overturned due to a failed drug test) and holds a recent submission over a common opponent “Killer” Cub. His run has been eye-popping and that has led to this fight right here. Sure, it wasn’t supposed to be his initially. But after Holloway fell out, the only call that made sense to make was to Ortega. And that he earned himself.

This weekend, Brian Ortega, along with the rest of the newbies, has a chance to steal the show.

And THAT is the story of UFC 222.

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