Talk about a splashy return!
Last week, Dana White’s Contender Series ended its five-week sabbatical in impressive fashion, as all four bouts ended inside the distance and all four victors took home contracts, bringing this year’s total number of graduates to the UFC roster to 30, establishing a new high water mark for the program.
This week, five more pairs of hopefuls head into the cage at the UFC Apex in hopes of joining this year’s graduating class and landing a spot on the UFC roster.
Here’s a look at what’s on tap for Episode 9 of the Contender Series.
MARIO SOUZA VS. MARIUSZ KSIAZKIEWICZ
Talented middleweight prospects Mario Souza and Mariusz Ksiazkiewicz clash in one of the top pairings of the season on Tuesday night.
Already 11-1 in his professional career, the 24-year-old Souza has won four straight after posting a trio of stoppage wins in 2019. All of his bouts have come in his native Brazil and the quality of competition to this point has been limited, but to his credit, Souza has largely handled his business and done so impressively, earning an assortment of finishes while going the distance in his lone loss to date.
Fighting out of the Winnipeg Academy of Mixed Martial Arts (WAMMA), Ksiazkiewicz arrives in Las Vegas with an 8-0 record that includes seven finishes. A pro since 2011, the 31-year-old has had difficulties finding opponents throughout his career but has gotten the better of a host of Canadian regional staples, including Jo Vallee, Micah Brakefield, and Dejan Kajic.
This is an outstanding matchup between two exciting middleweights who appear primed to make the leap to the next level.
SHAHEEN SANTANA VS. NATAN LEVY
Aspiring lightweights Shaheen Santana and Natan Levy go head-to-head in this intriguing battle being held at a 10-pound catchweight.
The undefeated Santana, who trains with the MMA Masters crew that includes Miguel Baeza and recently retired UFC featherweight stalwart Ricardo Lamas, picked up his sixth straight victory earlier this year, securing a first-round submission win over Ty Kalista.
Levy, who tags in for Landon Quinones, trains at Syndicate MMA in Las Vegas and heads to the UFC Apex with a perfect 5-0 mark as a pro. After starting his career with consecutive submission wins, the 29-year-old has gone the distance in each of his last three.
Lightweight is the most consistently entertaining and competitive division in the sport, so don’t be surprised when this short notice pairing delivers on Tuesday night.
NIKOLAS MOTTA VS. JOE LOWRY
A former Ultimate Fighter contestant and a returning Contender Series competitor clash in this lightweight battle as Nikolas Motta meets Joe Lowry.
Motta was a member of the cast on Season 4 of The Ultimate Fighter Brazil, losing to eventual lightweight winner Glaico Franca in the quarterfinals. The 27-year-old is 5-2 since his time on the reality TV competition, holds a win over current UFC lightweight Joe Solecki, and claimed the vacant CFFC lightweight title with a unanimous decision victory in his last appearance just under a year ago.
Lowry carried an 8-0 record into his first Contender Series appearance in 2018 but got bounced from the ranks of the unbeaten by Devonte Smith. He made his first appearance since that loss earlier this summer, registering a first-round stoppage win in mid-August to push his record to 9-1 while picking up his sixth finish.
Though the title won’t be on the line, this is basically a CFFC lightweight title fight, as Motta is the reigning champion and Lowry is a former titleholder who is 8-0 under the promotion’s banner. Who will take home East Coast bragging rights and more importantly, will they do enough to impress UFC President Dana White and earn a contract?
LUANA PINHEIRO VS. STEPHANIE FRAUSTO
Luana Pinheiro and Stephanie Frausto go head-to-head in what should be a heated contest as each tries to land a place in the UFC strawweight division.
A judo black belt and Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, the 26-year-old Pinheiro is also 7-1 as a professional mixed martial artist and enters Tuesday’s contest on a five-fight winning streak. Last time out, the streaking strawweight stopped TUF alum Helen Harper in three minutes.
The 30-year-old Frausto made her pro debut a decade ago, but pressed pause on her MMA career for a couple years midway through 2017 following a win over Angela Danzig. She returned to action last November with a win over Celine Haga and followed it up with a third-straight victory at the end of February, pushing her record to 8-6 as she ventures heads into battle on Tuesday.
Both of these women have a penchant for finishing fights, with Frausto boasting a tougher strength of schedule and Pinheiro holding an edge in terms of recent results. It will be interesting to see if the younger Brazilian will be able to maintain her winning streak by picking up the biggest victory of her career or if the American veteran can cap her 10th year as a professional fighter by securing an opportunity to compete on the biggest stage in the sport.
DANNY SABATELLO VS. TAYLOR MOORE
A pair of 27-year-old bantamweights looking to secure a contract face off as Danny Sabatello squares off with Taylor Moore.
A former Big 10 wrestler at Purdue, Sabatello has gone 8-1 in his MMA career thus far, with his lone loss coming in a championship bout against current UFC fighter Irwin Rivera under the Titan FC banner. Since that loss, “The Italian Gangster” has bounced back with consecutive victories, claiming the vacant bantamweight belt with a first-round submission win in his most recent appearance in June.
Fighting out of Howell, Michigan and representing the Scorpion Fighting Systems team that includes recent Contender Series competitors Josh Parisian and Cody Brundage, Taylor carries a 10-4 record and three-fight winning streak into Tuesday’s matchup with Sabatello. He’s earned finishes in seven of his 10 victories and only been finished once, way back in his third pro fight when he lost to UFC vet “Brutal” Johnny Bedford.
Both of these men show promise and like to get after it early, so expect action right out of the gate once these two step into the cage on Tuesday.