Week 4 of Dana White’s Contender Series (2023) took place 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 the UFC matchmakers can use for future events. With that trend in mind, I once again will be taking a look at the winning fighters, regardless of whether or not they won a UFC contract, and grading their performances in regard to their probability of returning to a UFC stage.
Weight class: Lightweight
Result: Bolaji Oki def. Dylan Salvador via TKO (punches) – Round 1, 2:46
Summary: Setting a strong tone for the night was a one-round barnburner between Bolaji Oki and Dylan Salvador.
I was familiar with Salvador and his striking background heading into this match – which is probably why I came away so impressed with Oki.
Not intimidated by his opponent’s pedigree, Oki did exactly what he needed to do to a fighter who is used to the pacing of a muay Thai/kickboxing bout by pressing the action immediately.
Oki utilized his cross beautifully by both doubling up on it and variating it to the body, which interrupted the kicks and striking rhythms of Salvador. Once Oki attached a solid left hook to the liver, Salvador clearly felt winded and backed up to the cage (crumbling soon after).
Between this being a body-shot stoppage to Oki being a near 2-1 underdog, I couldn’t help but give Oki the ever-elusive A+ for pulling off the upset in impressive fashion. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him paired up with someone like Yanal Ashmouz or Anshul Jubli for his first UFC assignment.
Weight class: Heavyweight
Result: Thomas Peterson def. Chandler Cole via submission (Americana) – round 2, 1:08
Summary: Despite doing basically everything he could’ve done as a fighter in his position, I still couldn’t quite get to an A when grading Thomas Peterson’s winning performance opposite Chandler Cole.
Don’t get me wrong: Peterson showed serviceable southpaw striking on the feet, as well as a fluid enough takedown and top game to stand out in the heavyweight division.
It’s just hard to get a good idea of Peterson’s potential ceiling given the quality of opposition he was against (with all due respect). Still, I don’t blame the UFC president for bringing Peterson aboard given the lack of grappling threats north of 205 pounds.
I say match him up with his British doppelganger, Mick Parkin, for an action-filled affair.
Weight class: Featherweight
Result: Timothy Cuamba def. Mateo Vogel via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Summary: Despite Timothy Cuamba being a fighter who carries a lot of Las Vegas support, I can’t say that I disagreed with Dana White in this spot.
Aside from the fact that Cuamba is still incredibly young, I didn’t like how he both let off the bodywork and the gas overall in regard to his output.
Although I have no issue with Cuamba winning two rounds to one, many (including myself) thought that Mateo Vogel had a solid argument to win on the cards due to the Canadian’s consistent leg kicks in the second frame.
Thankfully for Cuamba, he avoided that costly lesson marking up his resume and will live to fight another day. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cuamba called up on short notice (for hopefully a better contract) on a future UFC card due to his clear skills and athletic potential.
Weight class: Middleweight
Result: Marcos Silva def. Yousri Belgaroui via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
Summary: Even though this ended up being sloppier than a steak at Truffonis, I couldn’t help but award Marcos Silva a B for doing what he had to do to come through as an underdog opposite Yousri Belgaroui.
An accoladed kickboxer who fought the likes of Alex Pereira and Israel Adesanya, it’s safe to say that there were a lot of eyes on Belgaroui.
The former Glory kickboxer actually demonstrated solid takedown defense and clinch fundamentals up against the fence, but he was unable to string together more than one meaningful strike at a time (which left little room for error inside of the smaller cage). And by the end of the first round, Silva was already picking up steam, seemingly sensing a potential momentum shift.
Silva was able to clearly outwork Belgaroui for the rest of the contest, but it wasn’t enough to get Dana White to recruit the Chute Boxe Diego Lima product.
That said, if I were a betting man (which I am), I’d be willing to wager that Silva will get the call to fill in for a short-notice spot somewhere within the next three months given the way the UFC keeps their relentless schedule running these days.
Weight class: Welterweight
Result: Carlos Prates def. Mitch Ramirez via TKO (punch) – round 2, 1:14
Summary: Closing out the night was an impressive performance from Carlos Prates, who took out an ultra-tough Mitch Ramirez.
Even though Prates wooed us with a fully-fledged muay Thai arsenal from multiple ranges, the Brazilian’s ability to effortlessly land long, lethal left-hands reminded me of former UFC featherweight, Kevin Souza.
The UFC president used Anderson Silva as his comparison, and I don’t blame him given the 70 percent accuracy that Prates was working with in that first round.
From mixing straight to circular to his consistent building off the bodywork, Prates was able to push all of the right buttons to get me to pull out another A+ on this card. I agree with White in regard to Prates being UFC-ready, so don’t be surprised to see him thrown on the upcoming Sao Paulo card against someone like Gabe Green or Adam Fugitt.