Contender Series gives Ultimate Fighter alum another shot, plus another Dagestani prospect


The wheels kept turning last week as Dana White’s Contender Series continued to be one of the most important parts of the pandemic-mired year for the UFC.

Last Tuesday, three DWCS winners were awarded UFC contracts and two others — plus one of the losing fighters — received an invitation back to the Contender Series at a later date. The fourth season will continue in November after this week’s event brings an end to this stretch.

How will the final card of this summer slate of the Contender Series shake out? If the season to this point is any indication, we’ll see multiple fighters sign UFC contracts.

Episode 6 of Season 4 is on Tuesday from the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. Five fights in five weight classes begin at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN+. Here are three fighters to look for:

Formerly touted prospect Phil Hawes

In 2015, Hawes was just 3-0 as a pro after a dominant amateur career. But he was such a highly touted prospect that the UFC put him on The Ultimate Fighter 23. Hawes had wrestled at Iowa Central Community College, the same place that helped make Jon Jones, Cain Velasquez and Colby Covington UFC championship-caliber fighters. Big things were expected from the New Jersey native. But Hawes dropped his first TUF fight to Andrew Sanchez, went to World Series of Fighting and lost there, too. On the Contender Series in 2017, Julian Marquez knocked Hawes out with a head kick.

Now Hawes is back. He has won three in a row and is training at Sanford MMA alongside the likes of UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman and Gilbert Burns. Hawes is 31 years old. He’s not a prospect anymore, but he still has an upside. On Tuesday, he fights Khadzhimurat Bestaev with a chance at an elusive UFC contract.

As if the UFC’s bantamweight division could get any more stacked, Martinez walks into the Contender Series on Tuesday as a terrific prospect out of Texas. “Manaboi” is 6-1 with five straight wins, all via KO/TKO. Martinez is the Fury FC bantamweight champion and has not lost a bout since 2017. A black belt in karate, Martinez has impressive standup skills. His opponent will be Drako Rodriguez, another prospect out of Iowa.

Ready for another dominant Dagestani up-and-comer in the UFC? One might be on his way on Tuesday. Khizriev, who hails from the birthplace of UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and so many other excellent UFC athletes, faces Henrique Shiguemoto at welterweight. Khizriev trains under kickboxing legend Ray Sefo in Las Vegas and he is fearsome. The 30-year-old is the former Fight Nights Global welterweight champion. In his last fight, Khizriev stopped UFC veteran Rousimar Palhares via TKO in just 58 seconds. “The Black Wolf” is undefeated and has seven finishes in 12 pro wins.

Tuesday’s fight schedule

Light heavyweight: Tafon Nchukwi (3-0) vs. Al Matavao (8-2)

Lightweight: Cameron Church (4-0) vs. Sherrard Blackledge (4-0)

Middleweight: Phil Hawes (7-2) vs. Khadzhimurat Bestaev (10-3)

Bantamweight: Mana Martinez (6-1) vs. Drako Rodriguez (6-1)

Welterweight: Aliaskhab Khizriev (12-0) vs. Henrique Shiguemoto (13-3-1)

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