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Dear UFC | Does Nelson or Ponzinibbio have higher ceiling at 170?

A closeup of the UFC logo on a fighter's gloves at UFC Fight Night Boston, Sunday, January 18, 2015 in Boston. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)
(AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

Is this too much, too soon for Cynthia Calvillo?

It’s no secret that Calvillo is swiftly on the rise at 115 pounds. After two victories to kickstart her UFC run, both of which came on pay-per-view main cards, Calvillo now finds herself competing in the co-main event of a FOX Sports-televised event. She’s quickly cracked the rankings in the UFC, presently standing as the No. 14 fighter on the roster. That’s bound to change with a win on Sunday in Glasgow, but a win may not come as easily as it did in each of her first two tries inside the Octagon.

Calvillo faces Joanne Calderwood, who, despite losing in her most recent attempt last September, remains one of the best fighters the 115-pound division has to offer. “JoJo” was highly touted upon the division’s inception in the UFC, regarded as one of the best contenders featured on “The Ultimate Fighter 20” in 2014. She hasn’t quite met the expectations so many had for her, but she’s still far and away a better opponent than anybody Calvillo has faced thus far.

Just five fights into her mixed martial arts career, Calvillo’s two UFC wins came against Amanda Bobby Cooper (2-3 MMA, 1-2 UFC) and Pearl Gonzalez (6-2 MMA, 0-1 UFC). They came in a fairly one-sided fashion, prompting most of the sport’s analysts to color her as a future contender in the division. How soon said future was destined to present itself remains to be seen, but it doesn’t appear as though the UFC is willing to wait much longer.

Is it OK to start hyping Gunnar Nelson again?

Introduced to much of the mixed martial arts community as one of the main training partners of UFC superstar Conor McGregor, Nelson quickly became one of the more thrilling fighters to watch at 170 pounds. A talented grappler with a crafty karate base when standing on two feet, “Gunni” kickstarted his UFC career with four straight victories, three of which came via submission.

But then he ran into Rick Story, who had a particularly effective gameplan to stifle Nelson’s then-undefeated career.

Nelson bounced back with a masterful victory over large welterweight Brandon Thatch, but then suffered one of the most surprising one-sided losses in recent memory. As noted, Nelson has been touted as one of the best grapplers in the division. Demian Maia, however, took exception to that, showing the Icelandic fighter what elite grappling truly looks like. Round after round, Nelson could not stop Maia’s takedowns. He didn’t have the know-how to stop the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt from making just about every transition he wanted on the canvas, bloodied to the tune of scorecards that read 30-26, 30-25 and 30-25.

The hype train was officially derailed.

Nelson has since picked up back-to-back wins over Albert Tumenov and Alan Jouban, forcing us all to wonder if a third win in a row will officially place him back under the spotlight he once enjoyed.

Does Santiago Ponzinibbio enter the mix with a win Sunday? 

Unlike his Conor McGregor-aided counterpart on Sunday, Ponzinibbio has gone most of his UFC career without much recognition from the general fan base. All this despite going 6-2 inside the Octagon, regularly entertaining those wise enough to tune in when his music hits.

Ponzinibbio steps into the cage on Sunday riding a four-fight winning streak. He’s won six of his last seven since dropping his UFC debut in 2013, earning a TKO stoppage over a durable Court McGee, and a unanimous decision over a tough Nordine Taleb. None of those victories, however, have come against anybody within the top 15. That hasn’t stopped from finding his way all the way to No. 14.

Whether or not he’s capable of taking out somebody in the rankings remains to be seen, but one can hardly argue that he hasn’t fought his way to this point. He’s clearly still miles away from a title shot, but a victory over Nelson could help propel him toward fights with greater consequence. A win over “Gunni” and Ponzinibbio is arguably a top-10 guy.

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