Well, here we are — Episode 10 of the fourth season of Dana White’s Contender Series.
This year will go down in the history books for a number of reasons — the delayed start, the Fight Island interlude, and most importantly, the record number of contracts that have already been awarded, with five sets of hopefuls still slated to cross the threshold into the cage in hopes of leaving Las Vegas with a UFC contract in hand.
While the season has introduced several intriguing new names to the UFC audience, with a couple of those athletes having already impressed in their initial appearances inside the Octagon, the coolest story to track heading into this final week of the season is the 100-percent graduation rate of victorious females in Season 4.
Last week, Luana Pinheiro collected a first-round stoppage win over Stephanie Frausto to earn a contract, joining fellow strawweights Cory McKenna and Cheyanne Buys, as well as featherweight Danyelle Wolf in securing victories and invites to join the UFC roster.
This week, two more female tandems hit the cage — one in the strawweight division, the other at flyweight — along with male competitors at flyweight, lightweight, and light heavyweight, looking to make the final episode of the season the jumping off point for their respective UFC adventures.
Here’s a closer look at what’s on tap.
JP BUYS VS. JACOB SILVA
Flyweights looking to make the most of their second opportunities on the Contender Series clash here as JP Buys squares off with Jacob Silva.
Buys, the husband of Season 4 grad Cheyanne Buys, competed all the way back on the first season of the talent search program, losing to UFC veteran Joby Sanchez. Since then, the 24-year-old South African has collected four straight victories, to re-affirm his standing as one of the top flyweight prospects in the sport.
Tougher than a three-dollar steak, Silva went shot-for-shot with Jeff Molina earlier this summer in Las Vegas, landing on the wrong end of the results, but impressing enough to get a same-season call back from the UFC brass. The 32-year-old from Houston had won six straight prior to his first appearance at the Apex in August and that initial impression is sure to have him in good standing heading into his second straight fight on the Contender Series.
Silva almost landed a contract despite losing and Buys has rebounded nicely after losing to a far more experienced foe the first time around, so expectations are high as these two flyweights square off in hopes of securing a place on the UFC roster.
NICK MAXIMOV VS. OSCAR COTA
A light heavyweight pairing between Nick Maximov and Oscar Cota sits in the co-main event slot on Tuesday night.
The 22-year-old Maximov trains with the Diaz Brothers out of the Nick Diaz Academy in Chico, California and arrives in Las Vegas with a perfect 5-0 record, having earned each of his five wins inside the distance. He’s already picked up two victories this year, one in January and one in September.
Sporting a 9-1 record over his last 10 fights, the 36-year-old Cota arrives in Las Vegas off a stoppage victory at the end of the first round in his last appearance and sporting a resume dotted with a variety of finishes, including an inverted triangle choke submission. A veteran who has trained with a host of established talents over the years, Cota prepared for this bout alongside UFC flyweight contender Brandon Moreno at Entram Jiu-Jitsu MMA in Tijuana and with the Alliance MMA crew in San Diego.
The light heavyweight division seems to be the hardest weight class to restock with talent, so a strong showing from either man in victory could very well earn them the opportunity to join the UFC roster and compete in the Octagon in the future.
PAULINE MACIAS VS. GLORIA DE PAULA
After being a late scratch from the lineup on Episode 8, strawweights Pauline Macias and Gloria de Paula are once again slated to square up with one another inside the UFC Apex this week.
A former Olympic judo hopeful and longtime friend and training partner of UFC Hall of Famer Ronda Rousey, Macias has made a smooth transition from the mats to the cage, posting a 3-0 amateur record before turning pro and rattling off four straight victories. Each of her last three appearances have come under the LFA banner and she’s gone the distance in her last two, logging critical cage time as the Factory X Muay Thai representative continues her development in hopes of advancing to the next level in the sport.
The 25-year-old Brazilian de Paula enters with a 4-2 record and coming off a third-round stoppage win in her last appearance last September. Each of her two setbacks have come against competitors who have fought in the UFC (Ariane Carnelossi and Isabela de Padua) and she’s finished each of the four fights she’s won, so while her experience is limited, “Glorinha” has fought a solid schedule and shown promise as she heads into the cage opposite Macias in Las Vegas.
TUCKER LUTZ VS. SHERRARD BLACKLEDGE
Tucker Lutz and Sherrard Blackledge earned victories one week apart earlier this season on the Contender Series, now they’re back to face each other with designs on collecting a second victory and a UFC contract.
Lutz outworked veteran Chase Gibson at the start of September, but came away empty handed when contracts were being distributed at the end of the night. The 26-year-old lightweight is now 10-1 and riding a 10-fight winning streak, with his victory over Gibson being only the second time he’s gone the distance during his current run of success.
One week after Lutz opened the show with a decision win, Blackledge did the same, grinding out a victory over a game Cameron Church to push his record to 5-0. He was the lone winning competitor to leave without a contract on Episode 6, and will look to join his teammate Jordan Leavitt as a second Syndicate MMA product to earn a UFC contract this season.
Both men turned in solid efforts in their initial appearances in Las Vegas and the sting of being told “not tonight” will likely send them into the cage with added motivation on Tuesday night. Much like Silva, those first impressions certainly work in their favor heading into this week’s matchup, so a second quality performance could very well seal the deal for either man.
CHELSEA HACKETT VS. VICTORIA LEONARDO
Talented flyweights get the opening assignment of the night as Australia’s Chelsea Hackett takes on Invicta FC alum Victoria Leonardo.
The 21-year-old Hackett made the transition from Muay Thai to MMA midway through last year, arriving in Las Vegas with a 3-0-1 record in the cage and riding a three-fight winning streak. A life-long martial artist, she’s been preparing for this bout alongside UFC vet Bec Rawlings, and stands as one of the top prospects in the sport, regardless of gender or division.
Leonardo enters her matchup with Hackett off a September victory over Liz Tracy at Invicta FC 42 in September that pushed her record to 7-3 overall. The Louisiana native has faced a significantly stronger strength of schedule than her opponent, with her setbacks coming against promising youngsters Miranda Maverick and Erin Blanchfield.
This is an outstanding matchup to kick-off the final week of Season 4 as Hackett carries a ton of buzz into this contest, but faces a stern test in the more seasoned Leonardo. Who will get their hand raised and potentially earn a place on the UFC roster?
You’re going to have to tune in Tuesday evening to find out