Another week, another edition of Contender Series. You already know what the game is, fighters vie for a spot on the UFC roster and one singular performance can alter their careers forever.
So this week, we’re starting off with some interesting light heavyweights that are part of the newer crop from the Euro scene. Lucasz Sudolski (8-0) has been putting in work in Poland’s Babilon MMA, with impressive speed and power. He’s got his basic technique down, doesn’t rely exclusively on athleticism and headhunting, and is another great possible addition to the division.
Likewise, Ukranian Igor Poterya (19-2) has his share of dynamic performances. Crisp and technical strikes, speed and good movement are a major part of his game. And yet, a familiar caveat. His record obscures his deficiencies. Six of his wins have come against opponents making their pro debut, the last of which was five fights ago when Poterya was 14-2 himself. Six other opponents were under the .500 mark and another was 17-17. Now, he can look like a million bucks in a highlight reel and be sold to us with a bill of goods for being super legit, but there’s a massive problem when you’ve got a record where your opponents have a combined record of 68-73 (!!). That includes guys that are 1-9, 0-3, 0-2, 1-2 when you’re so far along in your development for this type of fight to be acceptable.
Is Poterya good? Yes. But he’s got the can-crusher stink on him, and anyone telling you to put money on him for this fight or against any truly well-developed prospect has their hand in your pocket.
Albania’s Manuel Gaxhja (7-0) is another spitfire lightweight that has been making waves. Fighting and training out of Holland, he’s got a lot of potential. Blistering strikes, a good jab, and a varied kicking game. There was even a planned bout between Gaxhja and Adam Borics in Bellator back in 2018.
But for this fight, he had some unfortunate last minute visa complications which led to him arriving in Vegas later than anticipated. That also led to him missing weight for this contest, but it will go on as planned.
The other unfortunate part of this is his record is also spotty. He’s got a lovely highlight reel, yet his opponents have a combined record of 2-5. Four of them were making their pro debuts, one of them was 1-1, another 1-2, and yet another 0-2. He hasn’t faced anyone with a significant grappling base, nor does he appear to have faced any major pressure. Not a good recipe.
His opponent will be Scotland’s Chris Duncan (7-0), who also went 8-1 as an amateur before going pro in 2018. A Certified Finisher™, he hasn’t gone to a decision once as a pro so far. With three Bellator wins under his belt, he’s shown he’s got deceptive power and a good set of instincts for the finish, never rushing things. This should be a fun lightweight tilt.
Caio Borralho (8-1) is a middleweight with a wide stance that loves to throw kicks and punish opponents with counters and thudding body kicks. Bouncing around the Brazilian circuit, he’s faced a mixed bag of opponents and has gotten by with some great timing, hard striking, and nice setups for his offense.
But his opponent should be his toughest test to date. Canada’s Aaron Jeffery (10-2) has already faced current UFC fighters Andre Petrosky and Sean Brady (a win against Petrosky, a loss to Brady), as well as other tough prospects such as Bruno Assis and Collin Huckbody. A solid striking base, great sprawls, devastating clinchwork and decent cardio, he’s a prospect whose name has been ringing out here for a bit. There’s a lot to like about his game, and he’s only getting better.
Daniel Zellhuber (11-0) is one of the most talented and consistently fun fighters to emerge from the Mexican scene, gaining notoriety while fighting in Combate Americas (now Global) and Lux Fight League. With a great use of range and space, a sharp striking game and a stable yet improving submission game, he’s got a lot going on. He’ll be up against Lucas Almeida (12-0), a Jungle Fight and MAX Fight vet that’s got some dramatic finishes on his record and a grimy ground game with lots of elbows. He’s also got some rangy striking, but spotty cardio. This should be a very good fight overall.
But it’s the big boys that will open the card, as heavyweights Rizvan Kuniev (10-2, 1 draw) meets Edivan Santos (12-2) to start things off. Santos has most of his fights ending with finishes, while the ursine Kuniev is a chunky puncher with massive overhands and top control that looks to be dreadful for the guy on the bottom.
You can check out the weigh-ins here:
Lucasz Sudolski (205) vs. Ihor Potieria (203.5) - Light heavyweight
Chris Duncan (156) vs. Manuel Gaxhja (160.5)* - Lightweight - UPDATE: Fight cancelled due to Gaxhja withdrawal from the fight
Caio Borralho (185.5) vs. Aaron Jeffery (185.5) - Middleweight
Lucas Almeida (155.5) vs. Daniel Zellhuber (156) - Lightweight
Rizvan Kuniev (265.5) vs. Edivan Santos (234) - Heavyweight
As usual, Dana White’s Contender Series takes place this Tuesday night starting at 8:00pm. The event will be streaming live exclusively on ESPN+.