Dana White’s Contender Series, a staple television program in recent years for the UFC, makes its long-awaited return tonight for its 57th installment, and first in what should be an epic seventh season.
Over the next 10 weeks, 100 fighters will compete for a spot in the UFC with weekly fights under the unified rule set. However, the onus will be on the fighters to not only secure victories, but impress UFC President Dana White, who will welcome a select few winners into the promotion at the end of every episode.
A new season of #DWCS starts TONIGHT!
— UFC (@ufc) August 8, 2023
This week’s episode of DWCS is set to get underway at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT and can be streamed on ESPN+.
Almeida vs. Fernando
Brazilians will take top billing in the main event of the first DWCS of 2023. César Almeida and Lucas Fernando are two talented middleweight prospects who could have a future in the UFC regardless of the result of their fight. Almeida is 3-0 in MMA, but has not competed since 2021 as he moonlights in professional kickboxing. As a kickboxer, Almeida is 3-4. He has fought Alex Pereira three times and even beat him once, necessitating his inclusion on DWCS. Pereira’s path to the UFC was similar, after all, and he went on to become the UFC middleweight champion.
Fernando, meanwhile, is a different kind of puzzle to solve. At 6-foot-3, Fernando is massive for the middleweight division. A winner in nine of his first 10 fights, he has also shown an ability to use his reach effectively and play to the weaknesses of his opponents. While Almeida was originally scheduled to compete in LFA earlier this year, Fernando actually has competed in LFA, holding a 4-0 record against fighters with a combined record of 37-7. It certainly seems like his fight to lose, but Almeida’s combat sports experience cannot be discounted.
Nolan vs. Grad
The co-main event of this week’s episode will be a striker’s delight as Tom Nolan battles Bogdan Grad in the lightweight division. Nolan trains out of the Team Compton Training Centre in Brisbane, Australia, and is 5-0 as a professional. He also recently quit his job to train full-time as his prospects have come together in recent months. His aggressive style has led to three consecutive finishes, and he will look to earn a fourth against another talented striker in Austria’s Grad.
Dana White's Contender Series is back TONIGHT‼️
— UFC News (@UFCNews) August 8, 2023
Despite training out of Europe, Grad never competed in any of the top European-based promotions. That said, he has lost just once in a 12-fight career and boasts one quality the UFC loves in their fighters: finishing ability. Grad has knocked out or submitted his opponent in nine out of 11 wins, and all of those finishes have come within the first two rounds. His lone defeat came on the judges’ scorecards, so Nolan’s best chance for victory will be to attack his opponent dynamically and at least tease the takedown to get Grad to drop his hands and open things up on the feet.
Machado vs. Szaflarski
An interesting matchup will take place in the middle of the card, when Brazil’s Caio Machado meets unbeaten Polish heavyweight Kevin Szaflarski. Szaflarski has never lost, but is coming off a massive layoff, having not fought since May 2022. Prior to that, he had not fought since February 2021, so while he has shown an ability to shake off the rust, the lack of activity is a cause for concern.
He will look to make his mark against Machado, a game fighter who trains out of Franco Kickboxing Pankration in Vancouver, B.C. Machado has competed exclusively in Canadian regional promotion Battlefield Fight League (BFL), and has been on a roll as of late with six straight wins, the last two of which have come by armbar. Making it three-consecutive armbars will be a tall task against Szalflarski, who boasts an all-around skillset and fills out his heavyweight frame. However, Szalflarski also lacks any one impressive attribute about his game and Machado could pose problems if he gets top position.
Talbott vs. Cortez
One of the most anticipated fights on the show has to be Payton Talbott taking on Reyes Cortez at 135 pounds. The winner will likely be inserted into perhaps the most talent laden division in the sport, but both have all the tools to put together long, successful UFC careers. “Junior” Cortez is the older brother of UFC flyweight contender Tracy Cortez, and has appeared on the show in the past. He got a tough draw with future training partner Christian Rodriguez when he appeared on the show two years ago, and has since won fights in dominant fashion in 2022 and 2023.
Talbott is the more “projectable” prospect of the two, boasting several physical advantages that will be tough to contend with. At 5-foot-10, Talbott is massive for the bantamweight division, and combines his size with fight-breaking speed on the feet, similar to Sean O’Malley. However, while he has never lost as a professional, Talbott has only five fights to his name. He slowed down significantly before stopping Cristhian Rivas in the third round at a recent Urijah Faber’s A-1 Combat event, with Rivas too damaged and exhausted himself to fully take advantage.
If Cortez can weather the early storm, he has the pedigree to push Talbott to his limits and punch his ticket to the UFC, joining his sister in the process. However, the Talbott hype train could leave the station if he can finish Cortez impressively. There is no way Dana White isn’t going to love everything he brings to the table.
Borjas vs. Dias
Kevin Borjas, 8-1 as a professional, was originally set to take on Joshua Van before Van was pulled from the fight to take on Zhalgas Zhumagulov at UFC on ABC 5 in Jacksonville. Van proved his worth in that fight, and Borjas will now look to do the same against 11-2 Dias.
In spite of their records, both fighters are relatively unproven, making DWCS an optimal proving ground for both. Borjas competes on the Peruvian regional scene, which has only recently begun to produce legitimate MMA prospects. The general level of talent on the scene is thin compared to North American and European regional promotions, but the top Peruvian prospects have thus far proven worthy of the big stage. Claudio Puelles has had some success in the UFC, and the success Jesus Pinedo has seen the current PFL season give plenty of hope to the prospects of Peru.
Dias has proven to be a submission machine with six submissions in 11 career wins. He too has not fought an incredibly tough strength of schedule to this point, but has the benefit of having competed in Titan FC, an excellent proving ground for fighters based in the Southeast United States and the Caribbean.
Dana White’s Contender Series 57 Results
César Almeida* def. Lucas Fernando via Unanimous Decision (30-26, 30-27, 30-27)
Tom Nolan* def. Bogdan Grad via Knockout (Left Hook) at 1:23 of Round 1
Caio Machado* def. Kevin Szaflarski via Unanimous Decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Payton Talbott* def. Reyes “Junior” Cortez via Unanimous Decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Kevin Borjas* def. Victor Dias via Unanimous Decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
* -Selected for UFC Contract by UFC President Dana White