With a tumultuous year, Contender Series is in the home stretch of its 2020 with a quintet of fights that could easily go under the radar. There are talents here that can stand out, and there’s also potential for action.
The best part about this card? It’s much more balanced and well-matched than some previous events of this sort. The downside to that, however, is the fact that it’ll be hard to look like a breakout talent when there’s much more even and competitive matchmaking since sensational finishes are harder to come by.
All of this means the quality of the fights themselves should be good, and a fair amount of these fighters have a more legitimate claim to be in the UFC already than some fighters that are currently on the roster.
Middleweight: Mariusz Ksiakiewicz vs Mario Souza
Mariusz Ksiakiewicz (8-0) is one of Canada’s more promising prospects, amassing a perfect 8-0 record so far and sporting some of the best hair in the game this side of BE’s own Zane Simon. He starts a little slow, but lulls opponents in to nail them with precision punches and follow through with great finishing instincts. His takedowns aren’t pretty, his striking can be a bit janky, but he’s getting the job done with only one win via decision.
And his opponent is going to make sure he brings out all the firepower he’s got. Mario Felipe Souza (11-1), has devastating body kicks, long reach, and jumps onto submissions like a barracuda. With a handful of submission victories, he’s confident enough off his back to not worry about where the fight goes. He hasn’t fought a competent wrestler for him to be tested against yet, and maybe Ksiakiewicz isn’t quite that guy right now. Two long guys that move forward and take one to give one will be giving it all in the cage.
Catchweight (160 lbs): Shaheen Santana vs Natan Levy
Santana (6-0) has won every fight except one by submission as a pro, and the same applies to his 5-0 amateur run. Wily and athletic, he’s got a dynamite right hand and great reaction speed to go with a lanky frame.
Levy (5-0) is another product of Syndicate MMA in Vegas and had been a force in LFA, where his aggressive ground game and submission pedigree have served him well. He’s confident in his striking to the point where he neglects defense and keeps his head straight up, but keeps pressuring forward and ends up soaking a lot of control time on the ground. Spry and strong, he’s a pretty tough guy to outgrapple and his takedown defense has been very good so far. He may put sufficient pressure on Santana and control his way to a late submission or decision victory.
Lightweight: Joseph Lowry vs Nikola Motta
A Shooto Brazil veteran, Motta (11-3) was a contestant on Ultimate Fighter Brazil Season 4 with Big Nog and Shogun as coaches back in 2015. He now fights out of NJ under Ricardo Almeida. While he holds a win against current UFC fighter Joe Solecki, his wins in CFFC have put him on the map to get a spot on Contender Series. His ground game is solid, his striking has good fundamentals but he tends to take his foot off the gas in certain moments.
In his brief stint in CFFC, he never crossed paths with Joseph Lowry. Lowry (9-1) won the Cage Fury lightweight title from Richard Patishnock back in 2017 then nabbed the vacant v3 belt a year later. Despite his lone loss to current UFC fighter Devonte Smith later that year, he bounced back with his win over Piankhi Zimmerman this past August. He’s got good boxing and a slick ground game, but may have some problems with larger and more athletic lightweights. Motta’s got physicality and strength, but may fade late as the fight goes on and could struggle with Lowry’s volume.
Strawweight: Luana Pinheiro vs Stephanie Frausto
If the Frausto name is familiar to you, it’s because Stephanie is the sister of former Bellator champion Zoila Frausto. A former King of the Cage strawweight champ, Stephanie has had some rough patches early on but has bolstered her skillset to get to an 8-6 record with three straight wins. Her last two were in Combate Americas against Celine Haga and Charisa Sigala. Much more confident in her striking and much more capable on the ground, Stephanie’s got some serious steam heading into this bout.
Pinheiro (7-1) could be a major addition to the UFC’s strawweight division already, but she’ll be in the Contender Series slot because reasons. A composed and disciplined striker, her submission game is… not merciful (link, not for the squeamish). While some of her opposition may not be of the highest caliber, her skills are still there. She’s talented enough for there to not be much of a question as to whether or not she’s ready for a step up. Frausto should be a worthy adversary with her tenacity and improved overall game, and Pinheiro could truly be tested here in terms of where she might land in the UFC’s pecking order should she win.
Bantamweight: Danny Sabatello vs Taylor Moore
Sabatello (8-1) is an American Top Team rep with great ground control and a mean submission game that banks on exhausting his opponent and then not letting up. An NCAA standout, Sabatello is all about closing the distance any way he can to snatch up an opponent to impose his will, and he’s got certified finisher status having only gone to a decision once.
Moore (10-4) is primarily a striker that’s working out of Scorpion Fighting Systems out of Michigan. While his boxing is crisp and he has good handspeed and movement, he’s prone to being taken down quite a bit. That’s a terrible thing to have against someone like Sabatello, and I’d imagine Moore and his team know this. Yes, he’s got a good looking record in terms of wins and losses, and yes, he’s on a three-fight win streak. Unfortunately some of those wins were against fighters that had records of 1-5, 5-9, 5-8 and his last win against a 12-12 fighter. Moore is a fine talent, but there’s too many red flags and not enough takedown defense for me to trust him to get a win here.
You can check out the weigh-ins here (courtesy of MMAJunkie).
Weigh-in results are as follows:
Mariusz Ksiazkiewicz (184.5) vs. Mario Filipe de Sousa (185.5) – Middleweight
Shaheen Santana (158) vs. Natan Levy (159) – Catchweight
Joseph Lowry (155) vs. Nikolas Motta (155) – Lightweight
Luana Pinheiro (115.5) vs. Stephanie Frausto (115) – Strawweight
Danny Sabatello (135.5) vs. Taylor Moore (135.5) – Bantamweight
Dana White’s Contender Series returns to its usual Tuesday night slot, starting at 8:00pm EST. This card streams live exclusively on ESPN+.
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