In just eight episodes, Season 4 of Dana White’s Contender Series has graduated more hopefuls to the UFC than in any other season, as 30 competitors have earned a victory and a UFC contract already this season with tonight's show and next week's remaining.
Middleweight has led the way, with eight fighters from the 185-pound weight class moving to the Octagon, with at least two representatives from each division on the men’s side of the ledger matriculating to the biggest stage in the sport. Additionally, all three victorious women this season — Danyelle Wolf, Cheyanne Buys, and Cory McKenna — have earned contracts as well, with three pairs of females set to do battle in hopes of maintaining that perfect graduation rate.
This evening, five more sets of competitors made the walk to the cage inside the UFC Apex looking to add their name to the record-setting cast of fighters that have used Season 4 of the Contender Series as a jumping off point for reaching the next stage of their mixed martial arts dreams.
After much contemplation, Dana White welcomed handed out three contracts, adding Luana Pinheiro to the strawweight division, TUF Brazil alum Nikolas Motta to the lightweight class, and Natan Levy, who competed at lightweight, but traditionally competes in the featherweight division, to the UFC roster, bringing the total number of contracts awarded this season to 33 and counting.
Here’s a look at what transpired inside the UFC Apex on Episode 9.
DWCS Episode 9: Contract Winners & Interviews
DWCS Episode 9: Contract Winners & Interviews
DANNY SABATELLO VS. TAYLOR MOORE
Business got underway in the bantamweight division as Titan FC titleholder Danny Sabatello took on Michigan’s Taylor Moore in the opening bout of the week.
Sabatello put Moore on his back just 10 seconds into the fight, driving through a beautiful double-leg takedown before immediately starting to unleash body-head combinations from top position. Each time Moore tried to look for openings, Sabatello postured up and punched him a couple more times, forcing Moore to close his guard and defend, with the American Top Team representative maintaining his dominant position throughout the duration of the round.
The brash Sabatello started chirping at Moore late in the first and continued as they broke to their corners between rounds, and he got right back into dominant position at the start of the second, defending a takedown attempt from Moore and landing in back mount. After softening Moore up with punches to the body, Sabatello tried to fish his arm under the neck, prompting the Michigan native to turn onto his back, where the final half of the round played out like a replay of the first.
Sabatello quickly went back to his wrestling at the start of the third, dragging Moore back to the canvas and climbing back into his full guard, peppering Moore from top position once again. Midway through the round, Sabatello stepped over into half guard and looked to advance to mount, but Moore defended it well, ultimately working back to full guard.
With just over a minute remaining, Moore kicked off and got to his feet, but Sabatello swarmed and returned him to the canvas, completing his dominant ground-and-pound effort the same way he started, raining down punches from full guard.
Official Result: Danny Sabatello def. Taylor Moore by unanimous decision (30-24, 30-25, 30-26)
LUANA PINHEIRO VS. STEPHANIE FRAUSTO
Brazilian Luana Pinheiro put her five-fight winning streak on the line against seasoned veteran Stephanie Frausto in this week’s clash in the strawweight division.
The women spent the opening two minutes feeling each other out in the center of the Octagon, trading occasional kicks and punches from range, neither landing anything serious as they circled and looked for points of entry. As they each started opening up a little more, Pinheiro pressed forward behind wide hooks, catching Frausto flush with a blow that sent her crashing to the canvas in a heap.
Quick follow-ups sealed the deal and secured the Nova Uniao standout the biggest victory of her career.
Official Result: Luana Pinheiro def. Stephanie Frausto by TKO (punches) at 2:48 of Round 1
NIKOLAS MOTTA VS. JOE LOWRY
It was a battle of UFC programming alums in the middle of this week’s fight card as TUF Brazil competitor Nikolas Motta clashed with returning Contender Series contestant Joe Lowry in a meeting of the last two CFFC lightweight champions.
There were a lot of feints and range-finding to start the bout, with Motta and Lowry each snapping out quick, sharp punches from the outside. Lowry got comfortable first, offering more variety with his strikes, but Motta quickly responded with big power shots that made Lowry rethink his approach.
Midway through the round, Motta pressed forward, connecting with a couple more heavy shots, but Lowry wore it well and returned fire, attacking with a flying knee and swift punches. Whenever they got in close and traded, it was “power vs. speed” and Motta’s power consistently won out, with the Brazilian taking the Philly native off his feet with a right hand with 90 seconds remaining in the opening stanza and crashing home another thudding left hook right before the horn.
The second began with an accidental eye poke before they got back to trading in the center, with Motta continuing to wait for his opportunity to crash home a power shot. Lowry started upping his output, but again, the Brazilian pressed forward, landing more powerful blows.
Motta seemed to slow down a little, creating an opportunity for Lowry to attack and land his best series of strikes in the second round as the blood streamed from his busted nose. Motta went back on the offensive, hitting Lowry with another series of hard shots that brought referee Mark Smith in for a closer look, but the returning Contender Series competitor was able to weather the storm and make it to the second round.
Right out of the chute to start the third, Motta connected with a strong right hand that again stiffened Lowry up momentarily. The Philadelphian hung tough and continued hunting for openings, wading into the fire, finding some success as Motta started to slow.
Despite Lowry’s toughness and persistence, the difference remained the power of Motta, who wore Lowry’s best offerings and offered heavy responses that had a much clearer impact.
Official Result: Nikolas Motta def. Joe Lowry by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
SHAHEEN SANTANA VS. NATAN LEVY
Lightweights manned the penultimate position on Tuesday night’s fight card as MMA Masters representative Shaheen Santana took on Syndicate MMA product Natan Levy.
Santana came across the cage quickly to start the fight, hitting Levy with a good right hand that he used to close the distance, but the Syndicate product grabbed a front headlock and responded with a series of heavy knees to the dome. After briefly settling into the clinch, Levy hit a slick little foot sweep that put Santana on the canvas with Levy in side control, hunting for a kimura.
Santana tried to create space and offered offense from the bottom, but Levy was able to posture up, avoid taking any damage, and regain control on top, finding his way back into side control, looking for submission opportunities while keeping Santana in place on the edge of the Howler Head logo in the center of the cage through the final 30 seconds of the round.
Levy came out firing off kicks to begin the second before cracking home a left hand as Santana backed into the fence. Levy closed the distance, connecting with a high kick and caused Santana to slip to the canvas, but as he followed to the mat, it was Santana who took control, working his way to Levy’s back. When Santana attacked an armbar, Levy remained patient, shook free, and landed in top position, climbing to half guard and taking a momentary breather.
With 90 seconds remaining in the round, Levy forced Santana’s shoulders back down to the canvas and looked for opportunities to pass, landing short, heavy shots and controlling his opponent’s posture and positioning through to the horn.
Santana took the lead right off the restart, punching his way into the clinch, only to have Levy hit another trip and land back in top position on the canvas. The Las Vegas-based lightweight quickly clamped onto an arm-triangle choke from half guard, putting Santana to sleep with an incredible squeeze.
What an incredible effort on short notice by Natan Levy.
Official Result: Natan Levy def. Shaheen Santana by technical submission (arm-triangle choke) at 0:55 of Round 3
MARIO SOUZA VS. MARIUSZ KSIAZKIEWICZ
Mario Souza and Mariusz Ksiazkiewicz squared off in this week’s main event, both hoping to be the ninth middleweight to earn a contract and a place on the UFC roster this season.
Souza snapped off a high kick to start the bout, showcasing his range and dexterity, chasing a couple more that Ksiazkiewicz blocked before attacking the body and the inside of the lower leg. Ksiazkiewicz pressed forward into the clinch, clasping onto a body lock and twisting the Brazilian to the canvas in the center of the cage, landing in side control.
Ksiazkiewicz peppered Souza with short shots, but the 24-year-old Brazilian was able to create a scramble and find his way to top position, posturing up and throwing heavy blows that prompted the Polish-Canadian to tie him up in defense. Souza quickly worked out of an armbar attempt from Ksiazkiewicz, grabbing a guillotine choke as the two scrambled back to the canvas, with Ksiazkiewicz never being in any real danger.
As the two exchanged in the closing moments of the round, Souza landed a heavy elbow to the side of the head of Ksiazkiewicz well after the bell.
Souza came out slinging to start the second, hurting Ksiazkiewicz with long, powerful shots against the fence, but the steely unbeaten finisher stayed upright, pressed forward, and again initiated a clinch along the cage, taking a moment to get his breath before dumping Souza to the canvas. Working out of half guard, Ksiazkiewicz threw sporadic strikes, transitioning to side control as Souza tried to hunt for a triangle choke from bottom.
As Souza tried to shrimp in, Ksiazkiewicz gave up top position, but quickly swept Souza, again landing in side control. Souza attacked with a triangle choke again, accidentally catching Ksiazkiewicz in the side of the head with his foot to draw another warning, but the Winnipeg resident shook it off and advanced position, finishing the round in control of things on the canvas.
With both men looking tired to start the third, they traded blows in the center, with Souza again getting the better of the exchanges. But just as he did in each of the first two rounds, Ksiazkiewicz worked into the clinch and dumped Souza to the canvas, settling into half guard. Referee Mark Smith stood them back up with three minutes remaining in the round and Ksiazkiewicz again pressed into the clinch and tossed Souza to the floor, once again landing in the Brazilian’s guard.
An upkick from Souza seemed to stun Ksiazkiewicz a little as he postured up. With a minute remaining in the frame, Ksiazkiewicz dropped back looking for a leg lock, attacking an inverted heel hook, but it may have backfired, as Souza climbed through and unloaded heavy ground-and-pound before the two collapsed in a heap in the center of the cage at the final bell.
This was a gruelling, back-and-forth battle between two talented middleweights. When the scores were tallied, it was Souza who came away with the unanimous decision victory.
Official Result: Mario Souza def. Mariusz Ksiazkiewicz by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)