Dana White’s Contender Series 37 took place Tuesday, and we’re grading the winners from the four-fight card, which streamed on ESPN+ from the UFC Apex in Las Vegas.
With a refreshing but digestible format that has had the MMA fanbase responding, this series has shown to have legs in multiple ways while serving as a crockpot for contenders whom the UFC matchmakers can use for future events. So, with that trend in mind, I will once again be taking a look at the winning fighters regardless of whether or not they won a UFC contract, grading their performances in regards to their probability of returning to a UFC stage.
A.J. Fletcher, right, punches Leonardo Damiani of Italy in their welterweight fight during Dana White's Contender Series. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Weight class: Welterweight Result: A.J. Fletcher def. Leonardo Damiani via knockout (flying knee) – Round 1, 2:24 Grade: A Summary: The opening fight of the season delivered in Dana White's favorite fashion, as it was hard to deny [autotag]A.J. Fletcher[/autotag] an A-grade for his dynamic first-round finish over Italy's Leonardo Damiani. Despite looking like a stalky welterweight wrestle-boxer at first glance, Fletcher is a well rounded fighter who carries some deceptive intelligence and improvisation to go along with his athletic upside. Staying light on his feet and showing an understanding of feints, Fletcher did a decent job of drawing and reading action after eating an early counter from Damiani. Fletcher also was able to show some of his reactive takedown ability in this fight, but it was ultimately the flying knee that got the job done against Damiani along the fence. There's no need to rush the 24-year-old anywhere, as I wouldn't mind seeing Fletcher matched up with another Contender Series veteran in Dwight Grant or a fellow young buck Preston Parsons for his first UFC affair.
Victor Altamirano prepares to fight Carlos Candelario in their flyweight fight during Dana White's Contender Series. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Weight class: Flyweight Result: Victor Altamirano def. Carlos Candelario via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28) Grade: B Summary: Between the official decision of this fight to the historical contract offerings after, there are a lot of ways to feel about [autotag]Victor Altamirano[/autotag]'s battle with [autotag]Carlos Candelario[/autotag]. Although the broadcast seemed to think Candelario may have been up two rounds headed into the third, I believed that Altamirano's consistent striking – even when put on his back – was enough to muddy up scores for the second frame considering the recent trend of judges trying harder to follow the criteria in regards to damage. So, a la Ricky Turcios' win over Brady Hiestand this past weekend, I was not entirely shocked to see Altamirano get his hand raised. Candelario did land some nice left hands in the first half of the second round to go along with his wicked-fast level changes, but his speed came at a price as the 30-year-old American visibly started to slow by the back half of the fight. In Candelario's defense, he did take this opportunity on just two weeks' notice, as I'm sure he will make a much better account of himself on a full camp. If it were up to me, I'd pair Candelario with another southpaw action fighter in Ode Osbourne – while giving Altamirano the fast-starting Su Mudaerji. Those assignment suggestions may come off as steep, but there's not a whole lot of choices considering the current climate of UFC matchmaking and how they utilize their Contender Series talent.
Joanderson Brito of Brazil knees the body of Diego Lopes of Brazil in their featherweight fight during Dana White's Contender Series. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Weight class: Featherweight Result: Joanderson Brito def. Diego Lopes via technical unanimous decision 29-28, 29-28, 29-28) Grade: B- Summary: Despite displaying a ton of potential from both a skills and athleticism perspective, I still had a hard time justifying a higher grade for [autotag]Joanderson Brito[/autotag] due to the amount of fouls the Brazilian fighter produced in this performance. Don't get me wrong: Some of the best fighters in the world aren't beyond getting their fouls in, as I'm not condemning Brito here. However, given the sheer amount of strange fight endings we've had in 2021 alone, I don't exactly feel obliged to reward someone who demonstrated nearly every foul in the book from borderline intentional headbutts to repeated eye pokes. That aside, Brito – who is built like a Brazilian tank – looks to fit the bill in regards to action fighters that I'll be looking out for in the future. Diego Lopes, to his credit, was able to lock up some solid submission catches early on that had us all holding our breath. Nevertheless, Brito was able to demonstrate some solid submission defense to go along with his wrestling ability and power shots standing. I know Brito is still young and developing, but I would like to see him show a bit more defensive wherewithal on the feet to help balance out his aggression given the healthy amount of strikers that the UFC's featherweight stable offers. White seemed excited about the prospects of Brito, so don't be surprised to see him back before year's end, likely against a name like Austin Lingo or Kamuela Kirk.
Azamat Murzakanov of Russia reacts after his knockout victory over Matheus Scheffel of Brazil in their light heavyweight fight during Dana White's Contender Series. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Weight class: Light heavyweight Result: Azamat Murzanakov def. Matheus Scheffel via TKO (punches) – round 1, 3:00 Grade: A Summary: The main event of the evening didn't take long to play out, as [autotag]Azamat Murzanakov[/autotag] earns an easy A for his first-round finish of Matheus Scheffel. Murzanakov, who is a Master of Sport in hand-to-hand combat, demonstrated solid composure and distance management from his southpaw stance. And after some close misses on a couple of well-timed left hands, Murzanakov was able to pressure Scheffel toward the fence for a deceptive follow-up right hook that caught the Brazilian as he tried to fire back. We didn't get to see much of Murzanakov's wrestling this time around, but the Russian fighter is also competent in the grappling department as well. Considering that Murzanakov was initially supposed to debut inside of the octagon opposite of Joachim Christensen back in 2017, then I wouldn't mind seeing him make up for lost time with a quick turnaround this year. Should Murzanakov stick around at light heavyweight, then match the K-Dojo product up with someone like Nicolae Negumereanu or the thick-set William Knight. But if Murzanakov takes the UFC president's advice and drops to middleweight, then I say pair him up in fun fights with names like Anthony Hernandez or Abu Azaitar.