–For those who make it to MMA’s highest stage, the journey starts long before they strap on UFC or Bellator gloves. Modern-era fighters progress through the regional ranks with hopes of accomplishing the highest accolades. Many will try, but few will succeed.

This month, five fighters on the verge of achieving major-promotion notoriety return to the cage for what could be their final stepping-stone fights. There are dozens of fighters inches away from making the jump in the coming weeks, but these five are particularly exemplary.

This month:

  • After a DWCS opportunity fell through, a North Carolinian hopes his regional fight will be an unofficial tryout.
  • One of Canada’s top pound-for-pound fighters travels south of the border to fight for a CFFC title.
  • A young heavyweight training under a former Demetrious Johnson coach makes his 205-pound debut.
  • An integral member of Kings MMA hopes to pave his own UFC path with an LFA title win.
  • Once again a free agent, one of the United States’ top flyweights returns to Titan FC with the hopes of showing out for the UFC.

Adli Edwards

Record: 7-1
Age: 31
Weight class: Lightweight
Height: 5’11”
Columbus, Ohio
Next Fight:
Nov. 6 vs. Lance Lawrence (5-1) at HRMMA 116 in Elizabethtown, Ky. (B2MMA.com)

Background: For half of his life, Adli Edwards has been a mixed martial artist. In high school, he picked up wrestling, which he continued through college and was an All-American in 2012. A couple of weeks after nationals, he joined a local MMA gym and started training. His intent was always to pursue the UFC, however. He wasn’t a wrestler who found MMA. He was an aspiring MMA fighter who wasn’t old enough to compete and found wrestling. After nine amateur fights, Edwards turned pro. He now trains under former UFC lightweight Marcus Davis in North Carolina.

The Skinny: Adli Edwards is one judge’s scorecard away from having a perfect professional record. He’s beaten everyone in his path thus far and has been on the UFC’s radar. In July 2019, Edwards was scheduled to compete on Dana White’s Contender Series but was forced out of the matchup due to injury. The right opportunity hasn’t presented itself since, but the more wins he racks up the higher the likelihood the UFC revisits him for an opportunity. Edwards’ main hindrance has been exposure. It’s been difficult for him to fight willing and worthy opponents on the regional scene, yet he’s remained active. Beating a gritty DWCS veteran on Nov. 6 should catalyze his UFC chances once again.

In his own words: “I love the process. I’m completely in with training, with lifestyles, with discipline. Everything about what I’m doing is trying to be the best I can be. I’m not trying to just get into the UFC. I’m trying to be a champion. I would want to be in the UFC for a long time and have a lot of wins. I study a lot of film constantly. After I win a fight, I’m not trying to go out, party, and celebrate. As much as I want to spend time with all my friends and family after the fight, my biggest priority is to watch the film of what just happened – critique and analyze it.

“I’d get kicked out of my wrestling room when I was in college because I would go train there too much. I’d go in there for a second, third, fourth workout. Coach used to literally lock me out of there. I love everything about it. I think I’ve got a lot of good things going for me.”

“For me, this is almost like my Contender Series fight. I’m hoping if the Contender Series is truly a tryout and I was able to qualify for it as a potential prospect, a good performance in my fight has the same quality to it as the fight in Vegas would’ve.”

Christien Savoie

Photo via Elite 1 MMA

Record: 8-0
Age: 28
Weight class: Welterweight
Height: 5’11”
 Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada
Next Fight:
Nov. 19 vs. Bassil Hafez (5-2-1) at CFFC 89 in Philadelphia (UFC Fight Pass)

Background: Few welterweights in Canada, if any, possess the same abilities these days as Christien Savoie. Undefeated through his first seven professional outings, Savoie is a force to be reckoned with. Savoie has only gone the distance thrice, with his other six victories coming by way of TKO. The UFC offered him a shot on Contender Series, but Savoie turned it down since the fight would have been at middleweight rather than welterweight.

The Skinny: Savoie’s maturity in doing things the right way versus the quickest way is refreshing. He’s taken time in between fights, improved in the gym, and returned in no rush. Additionally, his decision to defer a DWCS offer in order to do things right is unusual – but in a good way. He’s taking the long-term into consideration. Inside the cage, Savoie’s tae kwon do background, power, and brute strength makes him an unusual matchup at 170. Beware of his ground-and-pound.

In his own words: “I think if I go out here, stop this guy, and win this belt, I think it’s tough to deny me at that point. That’s what I want. … (With this fight), basically I got to the point where I asked my management, I was like, ‘What do I have to do? What do I have to do to get in the UFC?’ That’s what I want. I basically suggested probably a couple of weeks before I got a fight, I was like, ‘What if I went and beat the LFA champ or the CFFC champ? Can we make that happen?’ A couple of weeks later I got the call to fight for the CFFC title so I’m very happy.”

“I felt like my last fight was a good technical fight. I’m happy with my performance but this fight definitely gets me more motivated to go out there and get the finish to really show the UFC and Dana White and Sean Shelby that I’m the guy you want. I want to go out there and put on a hell of a show.”

Dylan Potter

Image via Dylan Potter

Record: 9-4
Age: 25
Weight class: Light heavyweight
Height: 6’2″
Next Fight:
Nov. 20 vs. Myron Dennis (17-7) at LFA 95 in Park City, Kan. (UFC Fight Pass)

Background: Dylan Potter played “every” sport growing up but none interested him as much as MMA. As other sports fell by the wayside, his love for fighting intensified. At age 12, Potter started boxing. He then added jiu-jitsu classes. After training with UFC veteran Dennis Hallman, Potter took his first MMA fight and went on to turn professional at age 19. He’s been fighting ever since and now trains under Trevor Jackson, a man who was once coach to former UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson.

The Skinny: Potter is young, big, athletic, and learning. That’s a dangerous combination considering his division, which can always use prospects. Moving down from heavyweight, Potter will compete at light heavyweight for the first time since 2017 in his LFA debut. The exposure of an LFA co-main event slot, in a time in which the UFC is signing short-notice newcomers on the weekly, will likely throw Potter straight into the UFC with a win. If not, perhaps it’ll set him up for a vacant LFA light heavyweight title opportunity.

In his own words: “(I love MMA) for the pure sport that it is. It’s two humans restricted to nothing but shorts and a small pair of gloves and a short list of rules. It’s just about who is the better man. It’s just that kind of competition that I love.”

“I’m a free-flowing fighter. I don’t have one style. I haven’t had just one coach. I’ve picked a little bit here and there from people and made my own style. Like Dominick Cruz said before, he used what worked for him. He created what worked for him. He didn’t stick to a cookie-cutter style. That’s kind of what I bring. I’m explosive. I like my movement. I like unorthodox punches. I like mixing it up in there. I don’t like decisions. I don’t get paid for overtime. I like to go in and I just like to fight.”

“I 100 percent think (this is a tryout). I think this fight to them is the winner goes up because I know I’ve been on the radar for a while. I was one of the youngest pros in Washington besides Chase Hooper now. I’ve been in there with some of the most experienced guys, Ronny Markes (and) Anthony Hamilton, at such a young age that I already have this experience and I’m only 25 years old. I’m only getting better. … I definitely think that this fight will project me up there. I went down to Las Vegas for The Ultimate Fighter heavyweight tryouts, stepped on the scale at 225, but I killed it in the grappling and striking. … They know who I am. I know I’m on their radar, I just need to go prove myself.”

Arthur Estrazulas

Record: 12-4
Age: 31
Weight class: Lightweight
Height: 5’11”
Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
Next Fight:
Nov. 20 vs. Nick Browne (10-1) at LFA 95 in Park City, Kan. (UFC Fight Pass)

Background: Arthur Estrazulas started training when he was 15, but his fighting instincts started long before that. Fighting too much at school, Estrazulas picked up martial arts to improve his skills. However, when he started training, his schoolyard fights ended and his passion to pursue a mixed martial arts career grew. Coming from humble beginnings in Brazil, Estrazulas never considered it possible for him to become a UFC fighter, though he was a fan. After taking his first muay thai fight, Estrazulas was encouraged to give MMA a shot. A few fights later, Estrazulas jumped to the United States and become an integral member of Kings MMA thanks to former UFC heavyweight champ Fabricio Werdum. Estrazulas is the boyfriend of a current UFC fighter, Sabina Mazo.

The Skinny: Estrazulas trains with some of the best strikers in the world under Rafael Cordeiro. It’s one thing to rely on others, but others rely on him. When Kelvin Gastelum fought Israel Adesanya, Estrazulas was in his corner. He’s also cornered Mazo, Giga Chikadze, Beneil Dariush, and others in the UFC. He’s a smart fighter who is always looking to take on challenges. He was offered UFC and Contender Series opportunities on short-notice in the past, so a LFA title-clinching performance will likely solidify his spot on a major promotion’s roster.

In his own words: “I’ve never fought in the UFC but I’m fighting for the belt right now in LFA and feel like I have so much experience already. I’ve been on the biggest stage so many times.”

“I fought in ACB, I fought in Bellator, I fought in PFL, so many great shows. No matter what the results were, they always ended up being great fights but I never had the chance to fight again. I’m not complaining about this because I actually learned a lot. That happened because I wasn’t able to talk about myself. That’s something I’ve learned: how to promote myself. … If you see my face, I’m already too ugly to be a model. I’m a fighter. I’ve broken my nose more than five times. I just want to fight and put on great fights.”

“Since I moved here, I’ve always had the dream to move to the UFC like 99 percent of fighters. I got to a point in my career, though, where I don’t want to beg like, ‘Man, please give me a chance in the UFC.’ I want them to see me and say, ‘I want this guy in my show. Because this guy is good. Because this guy is a show.’ I think I have a lot to prove still.”

Juan Puerta

Record: 19-6
Age: 32
Weight class: Flyweight
Height: 5’6″
Lilburn, Ga.
Next Fight:
Nov. 22 vs. Franklin Mireles (2-5) at Titan FC 65 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (UFC Fight Pass)

Background: It hasn’t been a perfect ride to the top of the regional mountain, but Juan Puerta is better off because of his struggles. “Leadfeather” started off his career with an 11-6 record. Since 2017, Puerta has defeated every opponent put in front of him. His flying-knee knockout of hyped prospect Gustavo Balart put Puerta on the map in February 2018. The American Top Team product’s gutsy D’Arce choke submission of Kazbek Ashimov in December 2018 proved he can take it as well as he can dish it. After signing with Combate Americas in 2019, Puerta’s promotional debut never came to fruition because of the pandemic. No longer with the promotion, he’s set his sights back on the UFC.

The Skinny: Puerta is another lengthy flyweight with a 71.5-inch reach. He uses his range well and presents a versatile attack. For his stature, he has unusual knockout power – especially considering he’s a flyweight. Between winning singular comeback performances, to having turned his career around as a whole, Puerta has exemplified a high fight IQ. With the UFC seemingly having flipped its anti-flyweight division attitude, don’t be surprised if Puerta is added to the roster after a November win. He’s past due.

In his own words: “Everything works out for a reason. I got this deal with Titan and I think maybe it’ll set me up for maybe the UFC after that. The Ultimate Fighter show is coming up and I’m really excited I get a chance to maybe do that.”

“I do feel like I’ve done more on paper and everything than some people that are getting their shots. I don’t know if it’s connections or what it is. It’s just time. People have different times and different journies. But like I said, I’m on an eight-fight winning streak. It’s more fights than some of the people I just signed onto the UFC roster in the flyweight division. They have a kid that’s 3-2. I just feel like I’ve done a little bit more.”

Here are some fighters worth watching who didn’t crack the list, yet are on the verge of something big:

Here are some fighters worth watching who didn’t crack the list, yet are on the verge of something big:

  • Phil Carracappa (9-1) – Nov. 18 vs. Tycen Lynn (7-4) at CFFC 88 in Philadelphia (UFC Fight Pass)
  • Natan Levy (5-0) – Nov. 20 vs. Bruno Silva (7-1) at LFA 95 in Park City, Kan. (UFC Fight Pass)
  • Bruno Silva (7-1) – Nov. 20 vs. Natan Levy (5-0) at LFA 95 in Park City, Kan. (UFC Fight Pass)
  • Victor Altamirano (7-1) – Nov. 20 vs. Lloyd McKinney (14-6) at LFA 95 in Park City, Kan. (UFC Fight Pass)
  • Alex Perreira (2-1) – Nov. 20 vs. Thomas Powell (4-4) at LFA 95 in Park City, Kan. (UFC Fight Pass)
  • Myron Dennis (17-7) – Nov. 20 vs. Dylan Potter (9-4) at LFA 95 in Park City, Kan. (UFC Fight Pass)
  • Nick Browne (10-1) – Nov. 20 vs. Arthur Estrazulas (12-4) at LFA 95 in Park City, Kan. (UFC Fight Pass)
  • Shido Boris Soto Esperanca (5-0) – Nov. 27 vs. Mohamad Ghorabi (6-5) at UAE Warriors 14 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (YouTube stream)
  • Xavier Alaoui (11-3) – Nov. 27 vs. Juares Dea (7-2) at UAE Warriors 14 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (YouTube stream)
  • Juares Dea (7-2) – Nov. 27 vs. Xavier Alaoui (11-3) at UAE Warriors 14 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (YouTube stream)