Welcome back, welcome back, wel-come back
Whether you know how to sing those words melodically because of their original incarnation in the John Sebastian-penned theme song to Welcome Back, Kotter or when Mase sampled that song for the debut single off his return album, the two-word sentiment holds up either way: welcome back.
After pressing pause for six weeks, Season 4 of the Contender Series is set to resume this week at the UFC Apex, with another five-fight lineup featuring a cast of hopefuls looking to earn the opportunity to compete on the biggest stage in the sport slated to hit the Octagon.
So far this season, 26 competitors have earned contracts, with no fewer than three athletes from each week getting UFC President Dana White’s seal of approval, including a handful of competitors who have already made at least one appearance inside the UFC cage this year.
Here’s a look at what’s on tap as the fourth season of Dana White’s Contender Series begins its sprint to the finish line this week in Las Vegas.
CARLOS ULBERG VS. BRUNO OLIVEIRA
Looking to join his City Kickboxing mates in the UFC, Carlos Ulberg travels to Las Vegas to take on Bruno Oliveira in this explosive light heavyweight pairing.
Though he’s just 4-0 in his mixed martial arts career, Ulberg is an intriguing prospect with a kickboxing background and a host of established coaches and training partners helping him prepare as he makes the full-time shift into MMA. That unknown element is a big part of what makes this an interesting matchup and Ulberg a name to follow going forward, as City Kickboxing has established itself as one of the top outfits in the game, with Ulberg standing as one of its top emerging talents.
The 36-year-old Oliveira returned to action following an extended layoff in June 2019 with a 53-second stoppage win over Jared Gooden at Titan FC 55. The fact that Gooden has since earned three straight victories to secure a place on the UFC roster should illustrate how dangerous the 8-1 Oliveira is and why he’s an perfect dance partner for Ulberg this week on the Contender Series.
EDSON GOMEZ VS. IGNACIO BAHAMONDES
Aspiring welterweights meet this week, as Edson Gomez takes on Ignacio Bahamondes.
Boasting a 6-1 record overall with three wins on either side of his lone setback, Gomez has been a fixture on the California regional circuit for the last two years, logging six of his seven appearances since April 2018. All six of his victories have come inside the distance, with each of his last three ending inside the first round, making the King of the Cage welterweight champ someone to keep a close eye on here.
Born in Santiago, Chile, the 23-year-old Bahamondes has already logged 13 appearances in a pro career that began in the closing months of 2015. The Valle Flow Striking representative returned to the win column in early September after having his five-fight winning streak snapped in his final appearance of 2019, registering a split decision win over Chris Brown at LFA 90.
This should be an interesting clash of dynamics as Bahamondes will have a considerable height and reach advantage, but Gomez has shown one-punch power throughout his ascent up the regional ranks, which means this one could come down to whether this one is fought at range or in a phone booth.
LUIS SALDANA VS. VINCE MURDOCK
Featherweights looking to take the next major step forward in their respective careers clash here as Luis Saldana squares off with Vince Murdock.
The 29-year-old Saldana enters on a three-fight winning streak and sporting a 13-6 record overall, with all of his victories coming by way of stoppage. He’s shared the cage with some familiar names over the years, including UFC veterans Justin Lawrence, Chris Mickle, Mike Santiago, and Ramiro “Junior” Hernandez.
A long-time member of Team Alpha Male, Murdock’s appearance in the cage this week caps a long road back to competition, as the 29-year-old was initially slated to make his UFC debut last June, but was not medically cleared to do so. He was later diagnosed with moyamoya disease, a rare medical condition that results in certain arteries in the brain being constricted, and underwent a lengthy surgical procedure to address the issues.
Now cleared and ready to compete, Murdock will look to build on a two-fight winning streak and five-fight unbeaten streak that extends back to the start of 2017.
JARED VANDERAA VS. HARRY HUNSUCKER
The action begins in the heavyweight division as Harry Hunsucker and Jared Vanderaa hit the cage looking to punch their ticket to competing in the Octagon in 2021.
Hunsucker began his career with two losses in his first three appearances, including a loss to UFC competitor Don’Tale Mayes. Since then, however, “The Hurricane” is unbeaten, rattling off five straight wins heading into this one. Each of those victories have been of the first-round stoppage variety, with four of the five coming in less than 90 seconds.
The 28-year-old Vanderaa, who trains out of Dan Henderson’s Athletic Fitness Center and Team Quest, has gone 4-1 over his last five outings and enters off a unanimous decision win over regional fixture Tony Lopez. Vanderaa recently received his black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but hasn’t had a submission finish in a number of years, preferring to sling hands and resolve things with strikes instead.
The potential for someone getting sparked in this one is high, so be sure to have your snacks and beverages filled and at your disposal before this one kicks off because you won’t want to miss a second of the action in this Contender Series heavyweight clash.