Three weeks into the fifth season of Dana White’s Contender Series, it feels like the record for the most contracts awarded in a single season is not only going to be broken, but shattered.
Last season, 37 contracts were awarded over 10 weeks, inching the record forward ever so slightly from the previous season. This year, 15 contracts have already been doled out, with all but one victorious fighter getting the call to join the UFC, while returning flyweight Carlos Candelario became the first competitor to land on the wrong side of the results to get called to the Octagon by the UFC President in Week 1 as well.
This week, another five sets of hopefuls descend on the UFC APEX, eager to add their names to the growing list of new arrivals by impressing the UFC brass and delivering exciting performances inside the cage on Tuesday night.
Here’s a preview of what’s on tap on Week 4 of Dana White’s Contender Series.
HASHEM ARKHAGHA VS. AJ DOBSON
Middleweights man the main event for the first time this season as Jordan’s Hashem Arkhagha squares off with Ohio native AJ Dobson in this clash of unbeaten fighters.
Currently training out of Team Nogueira Dubai, Arkhagha took more than six years off from competing at the end of 2012, returning in April 2019 with a win over Jeremy Smith under the Brave CF banner. Last September, he made his UAE Warriors debut opposite Yuri Fraga, securing a first-round stoppage win in a little less than half a round.
Repping the Immortal Martial Arts Center, the 29-year-old Dobson brings a 5-0 record into his clash with Arkhagha on Tuesday. After beginning his career with victories over largely inexperienced regional talents, Dobson returned from more than two years on the sidelines with a 35-second stoppage win former Contender Series competitor Kailan Hill last November.
Each of these men process powerful striking and keen finishing instincts, so there is a very real chance this one gets hot and heavy right out of the chute and stays that way until one of these athletes is left dealing with the first loss of their respective careers.
MICHAEL MORALES VS. NIKOLAY VERETENNIKOV
Welterweights looking to graduate to the biggest stage in the sport meet here as Michael Morales puts his unbeaten record on the line against Kazakhstan’s Nikolay Veretennikov.
Representing Ecuador and training out of the Entram Gym in Tijuana, Mexico, Morales is a perfect 11-0 to begin his career, earning each of his last eight victories inside the distance. The 21-year-old is an impressive physical specimen and someone with a ton of intriguing potential given what he’s already accomplished thus far and how much more room there is for him to grow and develop.
Veretennikov has already earned a pair of victories this year, pushing his overall winning streak to eight in May with a first-round stoppage win over Anthony Ivy in his first post-UFC appearance at Fury FC 46 with UFC President Dana White and the Lookin’ for a Fight crew in attendance. Training out of Kings MMA in Huntington Beach, the streaking welterweight is surrounded by elite coaches and training partners, and is unbeaten since relocating to the United States following a 1-3 start to his career.
Will the prodigious youngster with tremendous upside secure the biggest win of his career or with the more seasoned, savvier Veretennikov halt his rise and claim a place on the UFC roster for himself?
STEVEN NGUYEN VS. THEO RLAYANG
Steven Nguyen looks to follow in the footsteps of his Fortis MMA teammate Ryan Spann by securing a victory and a contract in his second Contender Series appearances this week. In order to do so, he’ll need to get through unbeaten Theo Rlayang.
Unbeaten in six fights heading into his clash with Aalon Cruz on Season 3, Nguyen held his own for much of the contest before getting caught with a flying knee and finished late in the bout. After more than a year away, the Dallas resident returned to action in February, posting a 30-second win over Jorge Juarez at LFA 100 to push his record to 7-1 heading into Tuesday’s event.
Born in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, Rlayang and his family fled the country when he was eight years old, ultimately settling in Greensboro, North Carolina. A perfect 5-0 as a pro following a 6-0 run as an amateur, the 27-year-old is looking to build off his first-round submission win at Ultimate Battle Grounds 6 in February.
Can Nguyen make the most of his second chance or will Rlayang remain unbeaten and hand him a second loss on the Contender Series?
KLEYDSON RODRIGUES VS. SANTO CURATOLO
It’s a clash between once-beaten hopefuls in this one as Brazil’s Kleydson Rodrigues takes on American Santo Curatolo in what should be a spirited flyweight affair.
The 25-year-old Rodrigues arrives in Las Vegas on a five-fight winning streak, having captured the vacant Jungle Fight flyweight title with a submission win in his last appearance. However, that contest took place nearly two full years ago now, so it will be interesting to see how the relatively untested Brazilian looks after such a lengthy stay on the sidelines as he competes inside the APEX with ambitions of joining the UFC roster dominating his thoughts.
Curatolo has spent his entire seven-fight career competing under the CFFC banner, amassing a 6-1 record, rebounding from his first career defeat earlier this summer with a second-round stoppage win. Fighting out of Nick Catone MMA & Fitness in Brick Township, New Jersey, you can count on Curatolo being well-trained and well-prepared as he makes the walk on Tuesday night.
Each of the first two flyweight fights this season have delivered, with Victor Altamirano and Carlos Candelario battling it out on the first episode, and CJ Vergara making a splash with a 41-second finish on Week 2, so the bar has been set pretty high for these 125-pound hopefuls this week.
JACOB ROSALES VS. VICTOR MARTINEZ
Business kicks off in the lightweight division this week as experienced competitors Jacob Rosales and Victor Martinez face off in the first fight of Week 4.
Rosales returns to the UFC APEX for the second time, looking to rebound from a loss to Jonathan Pearce on Season 3 and punch his own ticket to the UFC this time around. 2-1 since that contest, the 26-year-old “Lil’ Badger” is already 13-6 in his career, having faced a solid slate of competition the entire way.
Training at Fortis MMA, the 30-year-old Martinez heads into this one on a six-fight winning streak, earning each of his last two victories inside the distance. He hasn’t competed since the end of 2019 after being forced to withdraw from a Contender Series assignment last summer, but with a dozen wins in his last 14 appearances, “The Brick” should be ready to roll as soon as the referee says, “Fight!” on Tuesday night.
Can Rosales exorcise the ghosts of his previous Contender Series appearance or will Martinez make up for his missed opportunity last summer with a victory here?
— UFC (@ufc) September 21, 2021