As we enter firmly into the latter half of the Contender Series events for the current season, a few more under-the-radar competitors look to face off against one another for a coveted spot on the UFC roster. So just who are these prospective future contenders? What can fans expect to see?
A fair amount of substance, with some caveats.
While there’s still a good handful of fights and fighters to look through, it’s hard to see exactly who the decided, expected favorites might be. And while it’s great that there’s a reliably talented set of competitors, with a higher than average baseline, coming in to try to change their fortunes, not everyone may be ready to make an immediate impact upon arrival.
WELTERWEIGHTS - SHIMON SMOTRITSKY vs. MIKE MALOTT
Israel’s Shimon Smotritsky (7-0) is a bit tough to get a read on. While undefeated, he’s not really faced any notable opposition. That’s fine, especially given the region he competes in and relatively early stage in his career. To date, Shimon’s opponents have mostly been (and I simply must use this term) can crushers. And those are the ones with winning records. Again, not gonna make much hay out of it, but how ready he is for something more difficult remains to be seen.
Armed with a snappy jab, great karate kicks, and scrambly BJJ and quick backtakes, he can cause a lot of headaches, especially against opponents that aren’t all that athletic. His cardio can be a problem deeper into fights, but he’s got a lot of grit and a chin that’s been reliable up until now.
He’s certainly gonna have all of these factors tested against Mike Malott (6-1-1). A professional since 2011, he got his first taste of larger exposure in a lone bout in World Series of Fighting fight, a loss to current UFC fighter Hakeem Dawodu. That loss aged quite well, all things considered. After an MMA hiatus between 2017 and 2020, he notched a submission win against Solomon Renfro under the Cage Fury banner last December.
Malott has a striking background but is also a very, very capable submission grappler. He’s also spent time over at Team Alpha Male, and has sharpened his skillset considerably over time. Even given his long tenure in the cage, he’s just 29 and doesn’t have the same kind of fight miles most would expect. He’s likely the overall better athlete, and has an experience advantage against better opposition. The odds are stacked against Shimon here, so he’s got to come with a very legit gameplan for this one.
FLYWEIGHTS - DANIEL BAREZ vs. CARLOS HERNANDEZ
Spain’s Daniel Barez (12-4) has been making some moves in recent years, picking up wins in UAE Warriors, BAMMA and Combate Americas (now Combate Global). With only three decision wins, he’s got heavy hands and good submission sequences. One of his losses was to former RIZIN champ and current UFC fighter Manel Kape.
His opponent will be Carlos Hernandez (6-1) is a gritty grappler with all but two of his wins being submissions. That flypaper grappling really works out for him, as he wears opponents down and exerts excellent control to work his way through and earn the finish. With an extensive amateur record in his back pocket, he’s got a ton of ring time and excellent composure. Add some quick yet conservative striking that flows nicely into his grappling and you’ve got a possible fight of the night right here plus an excellent addition to flyweight regardless of the winner.
BANTAMWEIGHTS - FERNIE GARCIA vs. JOSHUA WEEMS
Fernie Garcia (9-1) is a prospect out of Texas that’s put in time over at Fortis MMA. Fortis has deservedly earned a reputation for regularly producing competitive prospects, and fighters at the highest levels of the UFC. Still, that 9-1 record of his includes early bouts against opponents who were 6-10-1, 12-29 and 1-5; at bantamweight and featherweight there shouldn’t be any shortage of fighters for him to face that could be a bit better suited on paper.
However, the experience seems to have proven itself to be valuable, and after his lone pro loss he’s improved and dealt with opponents more on his level. And he’s won every one of those since then, racking up a four-fight win streak in LFA.
His opponent is late replacement Joshua Weems (8-1), who has some boxing and bare knuckle experience under his belt. Unfortunately, this was a last minute fill-in and Weems missed weight—forfeiting a portion of his purse in the process. Seems likely that all those factors could be a big knock on the competitiveness of the bout.
MIDDLEWEIGHTS - SHONTE BARNES vs. JOSEPH HOLMES
Shonte Barnes (6-1) is a heavy hitter with some athletic chops. But, at the moment, there’s no avoiding how thin his record is. Facing fighters that are 1-12, 4-21, 0-6, 15-90 and 13-17? How are these wins to be taken as any measure of his skill and quality? He does a few things really well, but there’s no knowing what he’s actually ready for or capable of against opponents that can win bouts—or even how capable he’d be, if he gets thrown in the deeper waters of the UFC.
His opponent Joseph “Ugly Man“ Holmes (5-1) has a very good submission background, and even some Muay Thai experience. He’s also more handsome than his name implies (which leads me to several questions I’m not going to investigate right now). While he sometimes takes a little time to get going, he’s got a lot of tools to succeed and should be the clear favorite here.
LIGHTWEIGHTS - PATRIK WHITE vs. GENARO VALDEZ
Finally, “Primetime“ Patrik White (9-1) has all of his wins via strikes, plying his trade in Alaska’s AFC. He’s up against Entram Gym rep Genaro Valdez (9-0) in what should be a hot opener at lightweight.
You can check out the weigh-ins here:
Full card is as follows:
DWCS SEASON 5: WEEK 6
Shimon Smotritsky (170.5) vs. Mike Malott (170.5)
Daniel Barez (126) vs. Carlos Hernandez (125.5)
Fernie Garcia (136) vs. Josh Weems (139)*
Shonte Barnes (185) vs. Joseph Holmes (186)
Genaro Valdez (155.5) vs. Patrik White (155.5)
Dana White’s Contender Series takes place this Tuesday with the usual start time of 8:00pm, and streams exclusively on ESPN+.