Bubble Busters is a limited series examining each division for on-the-bubble MMA contenders who operate just outside of Top 10 contention and outlining their potential paths to ranked recognition. From skills fighters could improve to possible matches for which they should campaign, we attempt to solve the riddles associated with crossing the contender threshold. Next up, the welterweights.
Geoff Neal: The Fortis MMA representative has been lights-out since he used Dana White’s Contender Series as a springboard to the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 2017, going a perfect 5-0 with four finishes. Neal now finds himself just outside the welterweight division’s upper tier. His striking sets him apart from the competition, as a patient approach and knockout power figure to make him a difficult out for anyone at 170 pounds. Neal’s most recent performance against Mike Perry will likely earn him a shot at a Top 10 contender when the UFC schedule resumes, and a fight with former champion Robbie Lawler would make a lot of sense. Though Lawler has fallen on hard times, he remains one of the big-name players in the welterweight division; and a win over “Ruthless Robbie” could thrust Neal to new heights and draw him ever closer to a No. 1 contender bout.
Vicente Luque: A graduate of “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 21, Luque traveled a long road to elite competition. However, when he finally secured the opportunity for which he had been searching, he fell short against Stephen Thompson. Even so, Luque remains an intriguing and well-rounded talent in the welterweight division. He can finish a fight no matter where it goes, and a potential showdown with Niko Price would provide him with an opportunity to show he has staying power at 170 pounds. Do not be surprised if Luque gets another crack against Top 10 opposition in the not-too-distant future. The 28-year-old Hard Knocks 365 standout acknowledged that his failed encounter with Thompson was a humbling experience from which he can benefit, so expect a revitalized Luque the next time he enters the Octagon.
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Santiago Ponzinibbio: Injuries have sidelined the American Top Team export since November 2018, but the seven-fight winning streak that made him one of the welterweight division’s hottest commodities will not soon be forgotten. Healthy again, Ponzinibbio undoubtedly wants to pick up where he left off—a knockout of Neil Magny in the UFC Fight Night 140 main event. A hypothetical opponent who makes sense for the Argentine: Claudi Henrique da Silva , who has not lost in more than 12 years. The oft-injured Henrique da Silva has rattled off 14 straight wins, the last five of them in the UFC. A victory over “Hannibal” would further strengthen Ponzinibbio’s resume and remind the MMA world what he has to offer. Expect him to become a key player at 170 pounds as the UFC moves into the latter part of its 2020 campaign.
Related Coverage »
• Bubble Busters: The Heavyweights
• Bubble Busters: The Light Heavyweights
• Bubble Busters: The Middleweights
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