Week 5 of Dana White’s Contender Series (2023) 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 the UFC matchmakers can use to fill their roster 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: Bantwamweight
Result: Dione Barbosa def. Rainn Guerrero via submission (armbar) – Round 1, 4:35
Summary: Setting a solid tone for the night was a one-round scrap between Dione Barbosa and Rainn Guerrero.
Although we didn’t get to see too much of Barbosa’s striking, I had a difficult time denying the Brazilian an easy A for stepping in on short notice and submitting her opposition in the first round.
The Judoka didn’t appear to have a strong wrestling urgency, but Barbosa’s Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt bailed her out in the form of some useful butterfly sweeps and submissions from the bottom.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Barbosa eventually get burned for accepting bottom positions, but women’s bantamweight is in need of new blood so I’m not surprised the UFC president elected to bring her on board. Given the card that just happened, do not be shocked to see Barbosa paired up with someone like Jacqueline Cavalcanti or Nora Cornolle.
Weight class: Featherweight
Result: Jean Silva def. Kevin Vallejos via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Summary: In what was easily the fight of the night, I feel good about giving Jean Silva a solid A for his hard-fought win over Kevin Vallejos.
I mean this with respect, but this battle was basically a discounted version of Deiveson Figueiredo’s first fight with Brandon Moreno from a stylistic perspective.
Vallejos, who is a part of the talent waves that are currently coming out of Argentina, was more like Moreno given his boxing abilities and propensity to play on the outside. Despite starting strong with solid bodywork and pressure, Vallejos ended up giving away the initiative to the more creative and diverse offerings of Silva.
Akin to Figueiredo, Silva also likes to work behind long frames that allow him to both counter and launch power shots to the legs and body. Although I wouldn’t be surprised to see Vallejos eventually make it to the big show, Silva appears more than UFC-ready (especially in comparison to other signings made this season).
The UFC typically pairs winners with winners, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Silva matched up with Dennis Buzukja on a full camp.
Weight class: Middleweight
Result: Dylan Budka def. Chad Hanekom via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Summary: Considering that this fight is now the frontrunner for the “worst Contender Series fight in history,” I found it difficult to justify anything north of D for Dylan Budka.
In Budka’s defense, he did take the fight on short notice and his opponent, Chad Hanekom, was intent on forcing a fight up against the fence. That said, I’m still shocked that Dana White decided to sign such a raw and inexperienced fighter after such a poor performance (even in this current era of unabashed roster filling).
I mean, if Joe Silva were dead, he’d be rolling over in his grave right now knowing that White just rewarded a fighter monetarily for being an accomplice in a cage-pushing match (something that the UFC brass of multiple iterations have traditionally despised).
Couple that with the weirdness of White attaching the caveat of a needed lifestyle change in order for Budka to fight at a weight class that he probably hasn’t seen since high school, and who honestly knows where or when we’ll see Budka pop up again. Not to be a jerk, but I could go without seeing either competitor after a fight like that.
Weight class: Bantamweight
Result: Serhiy Sidey def. Ramon Taveras via TKO (punches) – round 1, 2:26
Summary: Given the early and awkward ending to this fight, I found it difficult to get to an A for Serhiy Sidey in his first-round stoppage win over Ramon Taveras.
Taveras’ southpaw styling appeared to give Sidey some slight turbulence early, but the Ukrainian-Canadian kept excellent composure as he steadily applied his long frame via the art of eight limbs.
I liked that Sidey wasn’t afraid to jab a southpaw and was able to threaten with some nice counter knees and elbows in exchanges.
Sidey dropped Taveras with a solid right hand, but referee Kevin MacDonald (whom I do think is one of MMA’s top officials, for whatever it’s worth) made what was arguably a premature judgment call on the stoppage in an effort to protect the downed fighter.
I thought Taveras’ hands were in a defensive posture and that his feet were smartly searching for Sidey’s hips to create space, but that’s the way the proverbial cookie crumbles in this game.
Taveras should get some consideration from the UFC brass down the line, while Sidey makes a solid addition for the much-needed Canadian representation on the roster.
Despite the winner-versus-winner formula, I wouldn’t hate seeing Sidey thrown in there with Brazilian talents like Luan Lacerda or Saimon Oliveira for his first official booking.
Weight class: Light heavyweight
Result: Brendson Ribeiro def. Bruno Lopes via knockout (punches) – round 1, 3:47
Summary: Closing out the night was an impressive performance from Brendson Ribeiro, who took out the formerly undefeated Bruno Lopes.
Although this fight didn’t last long, it was hard to deny Ribeiro an easy A for scoring an emphatic knockout as a near 5-1 underdog.
Lopes comes out pressuring Rebeiro, working the body, legs and head to decent effect. That said, Ribeiro was able to get his timing on his right hand toward the end of the round, which seemingly brought the dog out in Lopes.
Unfortunately for Lopes, he got too aggressive and sloppy trying to answer the Brazilian back and paid heavily for it.
Ribeiro’s athleticism and finishing ability should allow him to fit right into the natural dynamic of the light heavyweight division. Don’t be surprised to see him paired up with someone like Ihor Potieria on the next UFC Brazil card.