The shift from July to August didn’t slow down the flow of contracts coming out of the Contender Series this season, as last week saw another three fighters earn the opportunity to compete in the Octagon.
Lightweight Omar Morales, featherweight Hebert Burns, and middleweight Andre Muniz all turned stoppage victories into UFC contracts last Tuesday night in Las Vegas, making it five consecutive weeks that at least three competitors have been called to the biggest stage in the sport. So far this season, 23 athletes have earned contracts, matching the total number of UFC deals awarded throughout Season 2 and significantly outpacing the 16 contracts doled out during the inaugural season of the talent search series.
This week, five more pairs of hopefuls head into the cage inside the UFC Apex looking to add their name to the list of Contender Series grads and eventually make waves inside the Octagon.
Here’s a look at what’s in store for Week 8.
Undefeated light heavyweights land in the main event this week as Sweden’s Alacabek squares off with the Northeast product Knight in what should be an entertaining affair.
Each of Alacabek’s last three outings have come under the LFA banner, including a first-round submission win over Antonio Arroyo, who notched a victory last summer on one of the all-Brazilian episodes of the Contender Series before returning to Las Vegas a couple weeks ago and punching his ticket to the UFC with a second-round submission win on Week 4. The 28-year-old has finished all five of his appearances and aims to follow the path blazed by his countrymen Alexander Gustafsson and Ilir Latifi by becoming the next Swedish contender in the UFC’s 205-pound weight class.
Standing across with the same goal of competing at the highest level in the sport in mind will be Knight, who brings a 4-0 record into the Octagon on Tuesday. The 31-year-old had a strong amateur career, amassing an 8-1 record including a win over Week 1 winner and contract recipient Yorgan De Castro, and has carried that over into his time as a pro, collecting four wins in nine months prior to his showdown with Alacabek in Nevada.
The light heavyweight ranks could always use some fresh bodies and if either man delivers the kind of effort they’ve shown on the regional circuit thus far, they could very well find themselves leaving Las Vegas with a UFC contract in hand.
Eight weeks after he was originally set to step into the UFC Apex to compete, Weaver returns to make his Contender Series debut against the surging Smyth in a welterweight clash between promising prospects.
Initially slated to compete on the opening week of the season, Weaver was scratched from the card when his opponent, Leon Shahbazyan, became ill during the weight cutting process. Now, the 27-year-old returns in search of his seventh straight victory and a spot on the UFC roster.
After starting his career with five wins in eight starts, Weaver has rattled off eight wins in his last nine appearances, including victories over Contender Series alums Max Mustaki and Tyler Hill, as well as veteran Charles Bennett.
The 24-year-old Smyth lost the first fight of his professional career, but is unbeaten in 10 starts since, collecting nine victories to go along with one no contest result. Fighting out of East Lansing, Michigan, Tuesday’s matchup with Weaver represents a significant step up in competition for “The Prodigy,” who earned a 74-second victory in last appearance back in March.
Women will grace the Octagon for the third straight week as bantamweights Young and Alpar collide in hopes of securing a victory and the opportunity to continue their careers on the biggest stage in the sport.
After landing on the wrong side of a split decision result in her lone Invicta FC appearance, Young rebounded with a pair of wins under the Valor Fighting Challenge banner earlier this year to earn a call to compete on the Contender Series. The 28-year-old registered a split decision win over newly-crowned Invicta featherweight champion Pam “Bam” Sorenson a couple years back and appears to really be coming into her own now.
Alpar is also 28, and like Young, she too started her career several years ago and is just now starting to find a steady rhythm. She has won four of her last five starts, with her lone setback coming against the significantly more experienced Carina Damm, and last time out, “Too Sweet” secured the vacant LFA bantamweight title with a split decision win over Joselyne Edwards.
Seasoned bantamweights collide in this one as CES champ Gravely squares off with San Antonio’s Rodriguez in what is arguably the most compelling battle on this week’s five-fight card.
Gravely won the CES bantamweight title at the end of last year with a 36-second slam victory over Kody Nordby and has since successfully defended the belt twice to push his overall winning streak to six. The 27-year-old has faced very good competition throughout his career, boasting wins over a host of talented prospects, with his last four losses coming against athletes who have gone on to compete at the next level, including current UFC fighters Manny Bermudez and Merab Dvalishvili.
The 31-year-old Rodriguez is 10-1 over his last 11 fights and coming off a first-round submission win over regional vet Nick Mamalis in April. “The Judge” has shown an ability to mix it up with anyone and find success in various ways, having earned 10 finishes from 15 career wins, while only being stopped once in his career, which came last October against current UFC competitor Chris Gutierrez.
These are two seasoned, skilled and savvy competitors who have been working towards this opportunity for a number of years and you can guarantee they will leave it all in the Octagon in hopes of impressing the brass and earning the chance to compete under the UFC banner.
Business kicks off in the light heavyweight division this week as well with a pair of 6-1 fighters charged with setting the tempo and tenor for the evening.
Reed appeared on Season 1 of the Contender Series, dropping a unanimous decision to Cameron Olson on Week 6. Two years later, it remains the lone blemish on his record, as the former Newberry College wrestler and Upstate Karate representative has rattled off four straight victories since. Last time out, Reed scored a first-round stoppage win over former TUF hopeful and regional vet Adrian Miles, and if he can replicate that performance on Tuesday, “No Worries” could find himself on his way to the Octagon.
In an interesting turn of affairs, the lone blemish on Anglickas’ record also came courtesy of Olson, who got the better of the 28-year-old hopeful in his second professional appearance. Since then, the Lithuanian has collected five straight wins, all by stoppage, culminating in a second-round submission finish of Clayton York in February to claim the vacant LFA light heavyweight strap.
Will Anglickas be the latest LFA titleholder to graduate to the UFC or can Reed redeem himself in Las Vegas and earn a place on the roster?