(Daniel Roberts grappling highlight reel. Props: YouTube.com/ninjaroberts)
Three hungry up-and-comers will be making their Octagon debuts this Sunday, filling some gaps on the "Vera vs. Jones" preliminary card. But who will explode on the scene, and who will blow the biggest opportunity of their careers like total losers? Read on and get acquainted with…
DANIEL "Ninja" ROBERTS (WW)
Experience: 9-0 record (7 wins by submission), mostly in Oklahoma-based promotions. Most recently scored a submission-via-punches over MMA old-schooler Anthony Macias in January.
Will be fighting: John Howard (13-4, 3-0 UFC)
Lowdown: Roberts is filling in for Anthony Johnson, who dropped off the card last month with an injury. He comes from an amateur wrestling background, and as you can see in the video above, his grappling is ferocious. Roberts currently trains at the Cesar Gracie camp with Strikeforce champions Nick Diaz, Jake Shields, and Gilbert Melendez. He’s thrilled to be fighting John Howard: “I have to say that if I were to pick my opponent for the UFC, it probably would be him. Not to say that he’s a bad guy or an easy win — the fact that he’s 3-0 in the UFC is actually a good thing. I checked him out, I saw what he has, and I definitely feel like my grappling is way ahead of his…if he can last through the first and second round, then he’s pretty tough, because I plan on giving it everything I’ve got…I know a lot of people like to stand up and bang, but I think I’m gonna win a lot of fans over with my grappling. I move really well on the ground and there are not a lot of people that can move like me."
DARREN "The Damage" ELKINS (LW)
Experience: 9-1 record (6 wins by first-round stoppage), mostly in midwestern regional leagues. Last fight was a unanimous decision win over Gideon Ray in November 2009.
Will be fighting: Duane Ludwig (19-10, 2-1 UFC)
Lowdown: Elkins comes in as replacement for Spencer Fisher, who had to pull out of his match against Ludwig last month with a back injury. (Are you noticing a pattern here?) A product of Duneland Vale Tudo, the 25-year-old prospect is a former high-school state wrestling champion, and likes to put opponents on their back. Though he now trains in Indiana, he’s a native of Denver, which should make him something of a hometown favorite on Sunday. That’s pretty much all we know about this dude. If only he made his MySpace page public.
JULIO "Dominican Demon" PAULINO (WW)
Experience: 17-2 record (16 wins by stoppage), primarily in the Alaska Fighting Championship league. Holds wins over UFC vets Terry Martin and Rob Yundt, who he faced last month.
Will be fighting: Mike Pierce (10-3, 1-1 UFC)
Lowdown: Yep, it’s another injury-replacement. Paulino is coming in for Rob Kimmons, who was forced off the card with a leg-injury. Paulino has won seven straight matches and currently holds Alaska Fighting Championship’s middleweight title, but is moving back down to welterweight for his UFC debut. Paulino explains his amazing nickname like this: "Ironically I am half Italian and half Dominican but Dominican Demon has a nice snap to it, Italian Stallion had already been taken, and quite frankly the Dominican Stallion or the Italian Demon just don’t sound right, at least not to me." According to The Rumble, Paulino took home a gold medal at the 2008 Pan Am games as a blue belt in BJJ and has since been promoted to purple. His home was once overrun with bulldog puppies.