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Alonzo Menifield poses for a post fight portrait backstage during the UFC 265 event at Toyota Center on August 07, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)
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Sayif Saud Talks Fortis MMA's Success on DWCS

No Team Has Achieved More In The History Of Dana White's Contender Series

No team has enjoyed more success on Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) than Fortis MMA, the Dallas-based outfit helmed by the man affectionately known as “The General,” Sayif Saud.

Through the first four years of the annual talent search series, Fortis MMA athletes have made 13 appearances, emerging with 11 victories and eight UFC contracts.

“I like hearing those numbers,” a proud Saud said on Tuesday morning, just a few days after two members of that group, Miles Johns and Alonzo Menifield, picked up impressive victories at UFC 265 in Houston; the former earning a second straight Performance of the Night bonus for his third-round knockout win over Anderson dos Santos, while the latter dominated unbreakable veteran Ed Herman to earn a unanimous decision victory.

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“These guys have got to win a title,” continued Saud, keeping the greater goal at the forefront, rather than simply being satisfied with what the team has already accomplished. “Some of these guys have dropped the ball in big fights, but that’s part of the game.

“Saturday was a step in the right direction for them (Miles and Alonzo); it was flawless. We’re building towards winning those titles, but honestly, real wins, real percentages in the Octagon?”

He doesn’t finish his sentence as what he’s saying is understood because in addition to being a powerhouse unit coming through the Contender Series, the Fortis MMA crew have parlayed that into a tremendous amount of success upon reaching the biggest stage in the sport as well.

Through last weekend’s event, the eight athletes to earn contracts while representing Fortis MMA have amassed a combined 21-12 record inside the Octagon, with Top 15 talents Geoff Neal and Ryan Spann leading the way with five wins each. JP and Cheyanne Buys are the only two fighters to graduate to the UFC and fail to earn victory while training in Dallas, with the husband-and-wife duo each coming up short on the same card earlier this year before splitting with the team and relocating to Las Vegas.

Their success both under the DWCS banner and upon reaching the UFC are a function of how they prepare down in Dallas, and the approach to each is competition is different.

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“It’s a one-round fight and it is absolutely different preparation,” Saud said of readying his charges to compete on the Contender Series. “In many ways, it’s a harder challenge because the expectation is to finish and to finish brilliantly.

“You can’t just go out there and win a decision — you have to show that you’re willing to do whatever it takes to win inside the Octagon, and that puts fighters under even more pressure than just saying, ‘I have to win this fight.’

Highlight: Miles Johns Scores 3rd-Round Knockout | UFC 265
Highlight: Miles Johns Scores 3rd-Round Knockout | UFC 265
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“With Dana (White) and Sean (Shelby) and Mick (Maynard) there, you’re fighting directly in front of your bosses, and I think it creates an atmosphere that can be really, really competitive, and really, really stressful for these young athletes,” he added. “I’m really proud of how well our team has done there and it has really molded them for their UFC careers because their first couple UFC fights are kind of like, ‘All right — I’m ready for this’ because of that Contender Series experience.”

Largely a collection of homegrown talents that have all risen through the ranks and developed alongside each other, each member of the squad feeds off the others, learning from their successes and failures, with team captain Uriah Hall and savvy veteran Saad Awad serving as experienced hands that can pass along even more knowledge and guidance to their younger, less experienced teammates.

For instance, Menifield and Kennedy Nzechukwu watched Charles Byrd have to compete twice in the first season in order to secure a contract and Spann come back following a quick loss in his first trip to Las Vegas before earning a win and a call to the big leagues, so when they each left the building empty handed after earning victories in their first appearances, neither lost faith.

The following season, each walked into the cage, improved on their previous showing, and walked out with a one-way ticket to the UFC, where both are emerging talents in the light heavyweight division.

“All these guys came up together because we built this team from nothing,” began Saud, who also points to the development of Ultimate Fighter winner and Top 10 bantamweight Macy Chiasson as an indicator of how the tight-knit crew has continually grown together of the last several years. “These guys and girls are around each other, pushing each other, and they feed off that momentum because no one wants to drop the ball.

“The Contender Series has become a part of the team’s history and it’s kind of the trajectory that we take. I think it’s good, too, because the more experience the better. You don’t want to get dropped in the deep end of the pool and not know how to swim.”

The fact that Saud has worked to optimize DWCS as a vehicle for elevating members of the Fortis MMA squad to the next level shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone that track the team’s efforts prior to bursting onto the UFC scene 2017, as it’s simply an extension of the approach he continues to take on the regional circuit, where tough fights in top flight promotions are the norm so that when the call to “The Big Leagues” comes, those athletes are ready to hit the ground running.

“LFA has been instrumental for us in developing fighters,” he said of Houston’s Legacy Fighting Alliance, a regional promotion which operated as Legacy Fighting Championship prior to its 2017 merger with Resurrection Fighting Alliance. “We’ve had six LFA and Legacy champions; six!

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“Miles Johns had to fight Adrian Yanez for the LFA belt,” a fired-up Saud continued, referencing the November 2018 battle between Johns and the white-hot Yanez, who has earned three consecutive stoppage wins and three bonuses since matriculating to the UFC following his own breakthrough effort on DWCS last summer. “That fight is harder than some of the fights he’s had in the UFC.

“We’re really proud of the way we’ve done it,” he added. “We’re proud of building of guys and we’re proud of going through the Contender Series, producing new talent to infuse into the UFC, which is what our gym has done.”

It’s all about building to be ready for next big moment and being ready to capitalize on every opportunity that presents itself, something Saud gives strength and conditioning coach Mike Scaccia a great deal of credit for helping develop in the talent-rich team.

“I tell these guys over and over that everyone thinks they’re ready for the UFC until they get there,” he began with a laugh. “These guys and girls are in tremendous shape, and so on the Contender Series, they can push the pace for that round, and if it keeps going, they’ll be ready for the second and third.

“We want them to be more than ready when they get to the Contender Series,” he added. “That way, when they get to the UFC, they’re ready; they’re not going to question if they’re ready to go or not.”

Catch the next crop of Fortis MMA hopefuls and the rest of the aspiring talents competing for a chance to compete inside the Octagon when Dana White’s Contender Series returns to the UFC APEX on August 31.