On Saturday June 28, the UFC heads to Auckland, New Zealand, for UFC Fight Night 43. Although this card may not be too enticing for the casual fan base, MMA elitists know that with wins, two fighters on this card will elevate themselves to contender status.

Oddly enough, though, neither of those fighters are headlining the card. Instead, fans must endure a middleweight bout between James Te Huna and Nate Marquardt, two fighters who have combined to lose their last five fights.The bout will surely be entertaining, but neither fighter is knocking on the door of contender status.

Charles Oliveira, on the other hand, is one good win away from being seen as a contender in the featherweight division. At only 24 years old, Oliveira will be fighting in the Octagon for the 11th time in his career. Even though he is only 5-4 with one no-contest, Oliveira’s future in the sport looks very bright.

All of Oliveira’s UFC victories have come by way of submission, including two wins over two different The Ultimate Fighter champions. Oliveira is bubbling over with potential, and a victory over Hatsu Hioki would catapult him back into the featherweight title mix. It wouldn’t put him at next in line for a shot or anything, but it would put everyone in the division on notice.

Hioki has been one of the best featherweights in the world for a long time now, and he is going to push Oliveira to new heights. It’s not going to be an easy fight, which is a good thing for Oliveira because he needs to show everyone that he belongs in the upper echelon of the division. Oliveira has always showed a lot of promise, but every time he has faced a top-tier guy he has come up short; a win here proves that he is turning the corner in that regard.

The other fighter on the card looking to stamp his ticket to contender town is heavyweight knockout artist Soa Palelei. Palelei is riding an unbelievable 11 wins in a row. What’s more impressive, though, is that all 11 of those victories have come by way of knockout, including nine of them in the first round. Palelei has looked like an animal since losing to Daniel Cormier at Xtreme MMA 3 in November 2010. When you consider that the UFC heavyweight division is thin, it is not hard to imagine that he is two or three wins away from a title shot.

Palelei isn’t getting a walk in the park on the 28th either. He faces Jared Rosholt, a former three-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler. Rosholt is one of the best pure wrestlers in the heavyweight division, and if Palelei wants to compete for the UFC heavyweight title, he is going to have to show that he can deal with a hard-nosed wrestler.

It’s not like Palelei is a slouch in the grappling department, though. After all, he was a member of the 2000 Australian Olympic wrestling team. Add to that the fact that Palelei also holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and you realize that Palelei has all the tools a fighter must have to one day wear UFC gold.

At age 36, Palelei isn’t getting any younger. Even though he is riding an incredible streak, his window for being a true contender is getting smaller with every passing day. Palelei needs to win and he needs to do it in impressive fashion if he wants to get fast-tracked to a heavyweight title shot.

Oliveira and Palelei have a lot to prove come Saturday night. Although Marquardt and Te Huna may share the main-event platform, the spotlight will truly shine on these two potential contenders. The question is whether they can make the most of their opportunities.

About The Author

RJ Gardner
Content Coordinator

RJ Gardner is a rabid sports fan and a long time MMA enthusiast. After watching UFC 1 at ripe old age of 11 RJ was hooked and his passion for the sport has continued to blossom over the years. RJ has been covering MMA since 2007 and has had work featured on Bleacher Report, SI.com, CBSSports.com and UFC.com. RJ is also a Petroleum Transportation Operations Manager during the day.