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Dana White’s Contender Series: Week 9 preview and weigh-ins

We hit the home stretch of this Contender Series season, with a new batch of very talented fresh faces hoping to make a major statement.

Summer’s almost over, and so is the UFC’s flagship for scouting new talent to fill their ranks. And what exactly awaits us this week? Another set of interesting matchups that don’t exactly scream ‘action’ on paper but have potential due to the higher stakes.

We’ve seen a fair amount of fighters go against type on this series this year, so it’s entirely likely we get a heightened sense of urgency from the contestants.

At the top we’ve got Leon Shahbazyan (7-1) facing Philip Rowe (6-2) at welterweight. If the name Shahbazyan sounds familiar, it’s for one of of two reasons: he’s the older brother of former Contender Series contestant and current UFC middleweight Edmen Shahbazyan, and he also trains under Edmond Tarverdyan. Originally scheduled to face Brok Weaver earlier in the year, Shahbazyan had to withdraw for medical reasons and was rebooked for this week, while Weaver went on to fight last week.

Much like his brother, Shahbazyan’s had a good run in the Southern California circuit. He’s had a handful of amateur fights, providing him a bit more experience than his professional record may show. Unfortunately, he’s spent his time as a pro fighting for Gladiator Challenge and CXF, facing opposition with records of 1-7, 18-40 and 9-20. This is not to dump on his opponents, but it’s very difficult to see where someone stands when fighting against pros of this caliber. The kindest thing to be said here is that at least he’s fighting people that are experienced. He has a preference for guillotine chokes and some crisp striking to go with that.

Meanwhile, Rowe is a Certified Finisher™, having never gone to a decision. While his opponents have been less experienced, they’ve been more or less closer to his experience level. Seeing as the Florida circuit is a little less predictable, a lot of the fighters that shine tend to be the better athletes of the region. Rowe has submissions and a lot of pop on his strikes, and back to back guillotine wins as well. We might be seeing a guillotine choke duel here, and both fighters have accurate strikes from range.

Light heavyweight could have another member in the UFC’s ranks with a battle between Jamal Pogues (6-2) and Margos Brigagão (11-0). Pogues has back to back wins including a head kick finish in his last outing, but also has spent most of his time as a pro at Gladiator Challenge. Again, this isn’t a knock against him, but it’s hard go gauge where someone is when this happens, especially at heavyweight and light heavyweight. He’s got hard strikes, good top control, and serviceable cardio. Brigagão has excellent top control and pressure, with a suffocating top game when it comes to strikes on the ground.

Steve Garcia Jr. (9-3) has had bounced around in odd ways to get here, but the Jackson/Winklejohn product will try to show he’s ready for primetime. Garcia’s spent some time in Bellator with some impressive performances including an early win over high-level wrestler Shawn Bunch. After some wins over Cody Walker and Eduardo Bustillos (and an iffish decision against New England’s Kin Moy), he lost a decision to former champ Joe Warren at Bellator 181. That was followed by a loss to Contender Series contestant Aalon Cruz, who just wowed audiences with a sensational finish just a few weeks ago. In retrospect, neither loss really looks that bad, and Garcia’s now riding back to back wins. He’s lanky, but he makes his range game work and is deceptive with his use of distance. His counters are good, his ground game is slick, using more submission defense and positional control.

He’ll be facing Desmond Torres (7-1), who replaces original opponent Alberto Montes, as Montes withdrew due to injury. Torres has won five straight with four submissions in that stretch, including back to back arm triangle chokes like this one. He’s smooth on the ground, and takes a while to find his groove while standing, but this could be fight of the night. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Garcia is another one of the fighters this year that could have (or should have) been signed outright. But here he gets a very stiff test against another very tough opponent, and this should be worth your time.

Mallory Martin (4-2) made some waves with her intense performance at Invicta 22, where she gave one of the most terrifying examples of psychological torture during a fight. Having sharpened her striking in Thailand and spending more time training at elevation in Colorado for her grappling, she’s put it all together now. A strong outing against Linsey Williams and another one against Ashley Nichols in her return to Invicta shows Martin to have improved a lot in her game. When your only losses are to Invicta fireplug Sunna Davidsdottir and current UFC fighter and surging phenom Maycee Barber, her record looks pretty good so far. That and the fact that she’s only 24 should make her an excellent addition to the UFC’s strawweight division.

Her opponent won’t be a walkover, either. Micol de Segni (7-2) was an IMMAF champion in the amateur ranks, losing only to Amanda Ribas. As a pro, she made her debut in South Africa’s EFC, then bounced around until facing and defeating Cory McKenna in Cage Warriors by split decision. Her striking and defense aren’t where they could be, but she more than makes up for it with a frenetic pace and a lot of output. This could be the most chaotic fight of the night, and I mean that in the best way possible. I’m looking forward to this, and you should be, too.

Finally, Phil Caracappa (8-0) meets Ricky Steele (5-0) at bantamweight. Steele comes from Boise, Idaho and has trained with former WEC and UFC fighter Scott Jorgensen, Bellator fighter Veta Arteaga and former WSOF fighter Brandon Hempleman. After alternating between Front Street Fights and LFA, he went on to The Ultimate Fighter, defeating Suman Mokhtarian by unanimous decision. The only problem was that he suffered a foot injury and showed concussion symptoms, leading to Steele not being medically cleared to continue. After over a year, he gets a chance to bypass the tournament completely and make it to the UFC.

On the other side of the cage will be New Jersey’s Phil Caracappa, who has made steady progression through a tough circuit. Moving up through Ring of Combat, his last three wins were against Miguel Restrepo, former UFC fighter Louis Gaudinot and a sensational finish of John Sweeney. While sometimes getting a bit wild, Caracappa hits hard and can really pressure his opponents. His clinch and control game while standing is decent, and his wrestling can get him out of some tight spots.

Weigh-ins can be viewed below (link here if unavailable on page):

And the faceoffs that followed are also below (link here):

Full card is as follows:

Leon Shahbazyan (171) vs Phil Rowe (171)

Marcos Brigagao (202.5) vs Jamal Pogues (206)

Steve Garcia (139.5**) vs Desmond Torres (135)

Micol DiSegni (115.5) vs Mallory Martin (115.5)

Phil Caracappa (135.5) vs Ricky Steele (136)

**Garcia missed weight, leading him to forfeit 35% of his purse to his opponent.

As usual, Dana Whilte’s Contender Series starts this Tuesday at 8:00pm EST, streaming exclusively on ESPN+.