Dana White’s Contender Series 46: Grading the winners

·8 min read

Week 10 of Dana White’s Contender Series (2021) took place on Tuesday in Las Vegas, and we’re grading the winners from the five-fight card, which streamed on ESPN+ from the UFC Apex.

With a simple 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.

Juan Puerta

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – NOVEMBER 02: Juan Puerta prepares to fight Shang Zhifa in a flyweight fight during Dana White’s Contender Series season 5, week 10 at UFC APEX on November 02, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Weight class: Flyweight
Result: Juan Puerta def. Shang Zhifa via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Grade: C

Summary: In what was a bit of a forgettable fight, [autotag]Juan Puerta[/autotag] earns a C for squeaking out a win over Shang Zhifa.

Although I agree with the 29-28 scorecards for Puerta, he did not win rounds by the widest of margins, electing to coast some the third and final frame. Not only is assuming scores a dangerous thing to do in this game, but it’s near inexcusable on this sort of platform (much less for an action-heavy division like flyweight).

I know Puerta is a proven talent on the regional circuit, but I can’t help but agree with the UFC president’s sentiments in regards to not signing him. That said, I do hope that Puerta can work on utilizing his length with more initiative in mind, as I could see him competing in the UFC down the road.

Jonas Bilharinho

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – NOVEMBER 02: Jonas Bilharinho reacts after his knockout victory over Canaan Kawaihae in a featherweight fight during Dana White’s Contender Series season 5, week 10 at UFC APEX on November 02, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Weight class: Featherweight
Result: Jonas Bilharinho def. Canaan Kawaihae via TKO (spinning wheel kick) – Round 3, 4:00
Grade: A

Summary: Despite a bit of a slow start, I found it hard to deny [autotag]Jonas Bilharinho[/autotag] an A for his highlight-reel finish over Canaan Kawaihae.

The first round was a bit of a painful watch as both fighters seemed overly-tentative with the respect they were showing one another. Kawaihae did his best to create action with blitzes in the open and takedowns against the cage, but Bilarinho’s defensive savvy and countering threats seemed to make the Hawaiian a bit self-conscious about the speed differential at play.

Kawaihae had success whenever he went to Bilharinho’s body, but the Xtreme Couture product did not pursue that avenue enough against a fighter so heavily reliant on trunk movement.

Bilharniho appeared to finally shake the ring rust off by the midway point of the second round, landing the harder and cleaner shots of two. And by the third round, the Brazilian thankfully picked up his urgency, drawing Kawaihae into a devastating wheel kick for a finish that I suspect will be used to promote next season.

Perhaps it is because Bilharinho has been on my radar for some time, but I don’t agree with him getting snubbed come contract time (especially with the signings we’ve seen this season). That said, I could see how someone might overlook the fact that Bilharinho was coming off of a long layoff, as Dana White was clearly soured by the early action.

I hope that Bilharinho isn’t too disappointed by this outcome and gets back on the proverbial horse sooner rather than later. The Brazilian fighter has had a bit of a sketchy booking history through the years, but he deserves to be fighting on top-level shows.

Erisson Ferreira de Silva

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – NOVEMBER 02: Erisson Ferreira De Silva reacts after his decision victory over Qiu Lun in a flyweight fight during Dana White’s Contender Series season 5, week 10 at UFC APEX on November 02, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Weight class: Flyweight
Result: Erisson Ferreira def. Lun Qiu via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Grade: B-

Summary: Although I didn’t necessarily agree with the official decision, I still ended up giving [autotag]Erisson Ferreira de Silva[/autotag] a B- for his winning efforts opposite Lun Qiu.

Qiu, who is the best Chinese fighter I’ve graded thus far on this series, was taking it to de Silva early via his more varied southpaw striking arsenal. However, despite being dropped early and stunned multiple times throughout the first round, de Silva was apparently able to steal the round with a late knockdown and flurry.

Qiu got back on the horse in round two and was able to show off some solid wrestling skills in the third (hitting a sweet peak-out to reverse position), but suspect that de Silva finishing the frame with yet another submission attempt was enough to sway the scores his way.

I hate to see judges in MMA consistently neglect counter strikers or back-foot fighters in favor of inaccurate aggression, but have to give credit to de Silva for fighting smart and looking for takedowns in the final round.

I don’t disagree with White passing on the Brazilian, but was hoping that he gave Qiu some more love, if not a contract outright. Hopefully, Qiu made an impression on the UFC matchmakers, as I would love to see him get another shot on the big stage down the line.

Yohan Lainesse

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – NOVEMBER 02: Yohan Lainesse reacts after his knockout victory over Justin Burlinson in a welterweight fight during Dana White’s Contender Series season 5, week 10 at UFC APEX on November 02, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Weight class: welterweight
Result: Yohan Lainessse def. Justin Burlinson via knockout (punches) – round 1, 1:37
Grade: A

Summary: In what was the fastest fight of the night, [autotag]Yohan Lainesse[/autotag] earns an easy A for making quick work of Justin Burlinson.

Burlinson turned things into a ground war quickly, dropping for a guillotine choke within the first 30 seconds of the fight. Though Burlinson was able to quickly transition into other attacks with the vigor of a flyweight submission artist, Lainesse showed solid positional awareness as he followed the flow and landed strikes where he could.

Once the action returned to the feet, Burlinson seemed to have a swagger about him that looked like he knew something that we didn’t.

That said, the English fighter may have been a bit too confident in hindsight, as he elected to extend an exchange by trading hooks with Lainesse. And even though Burlinson changed levels off of his initial cross, he failed to parlay that motion into a proper roll as the Englishman reset his head right into harm’s way.

Lainesse’s finish was a much-needed breath of fresh air for the broadcast, so I’m not surprised to see the Canadian earn a contract from the UFC president. Considering the current pool of availability, I wouldn’t mind seeing Lainesse paired with someone like Sasha Palatnikov or Impa Kasanganay for his first assignment.

Maheshate

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – NOVEMBER 02: Maheshate reacts after his victory over Achilles Estremadura in a lightweight fight during Dana White’s Contender Series season 5, week 10 at UFC APEX on November 02, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Weight class: Lightweight
Result: Maheshate def. Achilles Estremedura via unanmious decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Grade: A

Summary: Although [autotag]Maheshate[/autotag] had a rough first round, I had a hard time denying him an A for showing some real durability and grit in order to come through as the biggest underdog of the card and become China’s first Contender Series winner.

Despite getting a ton of opportunities as of late, the Chinese fighters haven’t exactly been set up for success from more perspectives than just the betting odds. So, even though Maheshate is still a bit green for what is a historically talent-rich division, the context of his achievement should not be overlooked.

In his defense, Maheshate displayed some solid skills and creative striking once getting more comfortable in the fight. From sneaky inverted and reverse elbows to an effective skipping front kick off his lead side, I can tell that Maheshate makes for a deceptively awkward fighter to get a feel for.

Nevertheless, the Chinese fighter appears to have some solid size and athleticism to attach more skills to, as I’ll be curious to see how the UFC brass go about matching him up.

Given the greenness in tow, I wouldn’t mind seeing Maheshate matched up with another contract winner like Manuel Torres. Not only is it a matchup of two tall strikers, but I still think that Torres needs to earn his contract considering the circumstances of his very short fight.

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