Diego Lopes is the UFC 303 fighter to watch

Diego Lopes is who we think fans should be paying attention to at UFC 303 on Saturday.
Apr 13, 2024; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Diego Lopes during UFC 300 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 13, 2024; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Diego Lopes during UFC 300 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports / Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

UFC 303's main card has gone through a plethora of changes in recent weeks. After the much-anticipated return of Conor McGregor was put on hold, the originally scheduled co-main event of Jamahal Hill and Khalil Rountree, Jr. has gone through five changes. Rountree, Jr. was replaced by Carlos Ulberg, then Hill was replaced by Anthony Smith, then Ulberg was replaced by Roman Dolidze. The UFC in turn decided to book a featherweight bout between former title challenger Brian Ortega and hot prospect Diego Lopes as the new co-main event.

Lopes has the biggest career opportunity in front of him at UFC 303 when he faces veteran Ortega. Lopes has been active since joining the UFC in 2023 and will be in his fifth fight in just over a year. Lopes is Brazilian but fights out of Mexico, the same camp as women's flyweight champion Alexa Grasso, and represents both countries when he fights. Lopes compiled a 19-3 record with 17 finishes before appearing on season 5 of Dana White's Contender Series, losing a technical decision to current UFC featherweight Joanderson Brito after an eye poke rendered him unable to continue. After a 2-1 record and challenging for the Fury FC featherweight championship, Lopes stepped in on short notice at UFC 288 and has been on a tear ever since.

Lopes would lose a decision to Mosvar Evloev, who is still undefeated at 18-0 and campaigning for a title shot, but would receive his first performance bonus for the fight of the night and has finished his last three fights in the first round. Lopes would dispatch Gavin Tucker, grappler Pat Sabatini, and most recently Sodiq Yusuff at UFC 300, picking up two more performance bonuses in that span. Lopes had asked for a rematch with Evloev on a full camp, but a co-main event slot during UFC International Fight Week with a former title challenger was pretty much impossible to pass up.

Diego Lopes fights Brian Ortega on short notice at UFC 303

Ortega returned from a shoulder injury at UFC Mexico and avenged his loss to Yair Rodriguez a year prior. Ortega had gone unbeaten in 15 straight fights before his first challenge for the featherweight title. With both of his losses to champions Max Holloway and Alexander Volkanovski, Ortega is looking to continue his dominance in the rankings on his way back to a title shot. However, it might not be at featherweight. Ortega has hinted at a move up to lightweight after this fight.

Lopes will hold the height and reach advantage over Ortega as both fighters are black belts in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, though Ortega is a 1st degree BJJ black belt under Rener Gracie. Ortega has been active longer, but Lopes has 10 more fights than the Los Angeles native.

Lopes is hopeful a title shot can come from a win against Ortega at UFC 303 and it's hard to argue his case if he goes out there and takes care of business. As mentioned before, Ortega feels like there isn't another path for him in the featherweight division and will be moving up regardless of the result. Lopes has become a fan favorite in his short but busy time with the UFC, and after the many changes to UFC 303, he can become another bright spot on a stacked card and cause more mayhem in the featherweight title picture.