Products You May Like
Week 8 of Dana White’s Contender Series (2023) took place Tuesday in Las Vegas, and we’re grading the winners from the five-fight card, which streamed on ESPN+ from the UFC Apex.
With a simple but digestible format that has had the MMA fanbase responding, this series has shown to have legs in multiple ways while serving as a crockpot for contenders the UFC matchmakers can use to fill their roster for future events. With that trend in mind, I once again will be taking a look at the winning fighters, regardless of whether or not they won a UFC contract, and grading their performances in regard to their probability of returning to a UFC stage.
Weight class: Bantamweight
Result: Vinicius Oliveira def. Victor Hugo Madrigal via knockout (punch) – round 1, 3:02
Summary: Setting a solid tone for the night was a quick finish from Vinicius Oliveira over Victor Hugo Madrigal.
Although the fight didn’t last long, I felt it was hard to deny Oliveira an easy A for calling his shot of a first-round knockout.
Madrigal did his best to corral his Brazilian foe to the fence, while Oliveira initially attempted to counter off the backfoot from a southpaw stance. Oliveira would end up switching to orthodox, where he was able to force an exchange that saw him land a devastating left hook that immediately relieved Madrigal of his consciousness.
The former UAE Warriors champion is an all-action fighter with solid regional experience, so seeing Dana White sign the 27-year-old came as no surprise. You can’t go wrong with whoever you match him up with, but I’d love to see Oliveira get a chance to avenge an early career loss on the regional scene to Christian Quinonez.
Weight class: Flyweight
Result: Ernesta Kerackaite def. Carli Judice via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Summary: Although I personally scored the fight for Carli Judice and her southpaw counters and bodywork, it was the headhunting and volume from Ernesta Kerackaite that won the day with the judges.
Kareckaite definitely had some serviceable striking to go with her long frame, but it was arguably the durability and relentlessness that got it done for the Lithuanian this past Tuesday.
As I often say when it comes to these divisions, having an insane pace and physicality can take you pretty far if you have the durability to support such a style. For that reason, I suspect that Kareckaite will be a handful for a lot of flyweights in the future.
I’m happy that White and the matchmakers also recognized Judice, who had the more diverse skill set and landed the more effective strikes for my money. Even though it would’ve been nice to see more of their ground games, both women have clear, natural aptitudes for the striking game and are clearly built for these types of matchups.
You can’t hate any scores for a fight that close and competitive, but it was nice to see the UFC president acknowledge both women’s efforts by awarding contracts to each side.
Considering that both women are still raw record-wise, don’t be surprised to see them get thrown names like Brogan Walker or Ivana Petrovic early next year.
Weight class: Featherweight
Result: Danny Silva def. Angel Pacheco via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Summary: Despite not being able to get a durable Angel Pacheco out of there, I couldn’t deny Danny Silva anything less than an A for what was one of best fights in Contender Series history.
Silva, who was able to hurt Pacheco in every round, had the defensive swagger of Mads Burnell in the way in which he would shoulder roll with the punches coming his way.
Pacheco kept the native of Santa Ana honest with beautiful elbows and body shots in return, and was even able to weather the storms and briefly rally in the first two frames. That said, Silva’s pressure and bodywork were also relentless – making this as close to a Gatti-Ward-esque offering as we’ve seen on the Contender Series.
I’m not one to shy away from commenting on bad signings or the business structure of this show, but I was very happy to see the UFC president reward both men with contracts, which I believe was the right move.
I say pair Pacheco up with Francis Marshall and give Silva someone like Blake Bilder for their first UFC assignments.
Weight class: Heavyweight
Result: Mario Piazzon def. Alexander Soldatkin via disqualification (Illegal knee) – round 3, 0:20
Summary: Although you can’t hate someone for working with what they have, I have a hard time rewarding Mario Piazzon any letter grade at all for bringing out the ugliness that we know exists on the lower end of these divisions.
Piazzon did his best to wrestle Alexander Soldatkin, who was favored to win this fight. And despite disagreeing with the referee’s ruling of an illegal kick (I don’t think Piazzon was in a downed, weight-baring position), it’s hard to feel bad for a fighter like Soldatkin, who appeared to be attempting to set a record for cage grabs in a Contender Series contest.
I don’t mean to pick on the heavyweights, but this evening of action served as a fantastic reminder as to why many like myself demand more of a spotlight on the lighter weight classes.
Weight class: Welterweight
Result: Danny Barlow def. Raheam Forest via TKO (punches) – round 1, 1:19
Summary: Closing out the night was a quick welterweight finish that earned Danny Barlow an easy A and a UFC contract.
Although Barlow was admittedly trepidatious about facing fellow Southern brother in Raheam Forest, the 28-year-old southpaw seemed to be dialed in from Jump Street.
Barlow initially overswung on his first attempt to counter Forest coming in, which caused him to get knocked down due to being out of position. But after immediately bouncing to his feet and getting back on the clock, Barlow was able to make good with a pinpoint shot the second time around that clearly stunned Forest.
Barlow did a good job of moving in for the kill, beautifully punishing Forest’s body to finish the job.
Aside from Barlow being a savvy southpaw who pop and proprioception, I’m also a fan of anyone who sports a nickname that sounds like they’re constantly being accused of hacking on CounterStriker servers. For that reason, I’m happy to see “LeftHand2God” get rewarded with a contract from White.
I say pair Barlow up with someone like Josh Quinlan for what would be surefire fireworks.