Chidi Njokuani (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Contender Series: Season 5, Ep. 2 Preview and Predictions

Dana White’s Contender Series is back for its fifth season.

The show, which continues on its home on ESPN+, aims to give top prospects a chance to impress the UFC brass in an attempt to earn a contract with the company. The show’s second episode of the new season takes place on Sept. 7 and streams live at 8 p.m. ET.

The Lineup

WW: Josh Quinlan (5-0, Milestone Martial Arts, USA) vs. Darian Weeks (5-0, Hulett House MMA, USA)


MW: Chidi Njokuani (19-7, Saekson Janjira Muay Thai, USA) vs. Mario Sousa (12-1, Caes de Ringue, Brazil)

FlyW: Bruno Rodrigues (12-3-1, Tata Fight Team, Brazil) vs. C.J. Vergara (8-2-1, Pete Spratt Muay Thai, USA)

BW: Muin Gafurov (17-3, Xtreme Couture, Tajikistan) vs. Chad Anheliger (10-5, Champions Creed Martial Arts, Canada)

FW: Saimon Oliveira (17-3, Astra Fight Team, Brazil) vs. Javid Basharat (10-0, London Shootfighters, England)

Best Prospect: Gafurov

If you have followed global MMA for a while, you may find it as hard to believe as I did that Muin Gafurov is only 26 years old, yet has 20 pro fights. A pro since 2013, Gafurov has long been a top prospect and has competed in some top organizations. That’s why it’s surprising to see him on the Contender Series.

He fought a half dozen times under the ONE Championship banner, including sharing the cage and fighting to decision with John Lineker. Despite having some speed bumps earlier in his ONE career, he’s come back to show he is a truly a top prospect and a guy to look out for on this show. He’s well-rounded, powerful and has a chance to make a difference in the UFC bantamweight division.

Best Fight: Rodrigues vs. Vergara

The flyweights often provide the best fights on any card they are on, and this fight is no different as Bruno “Korea” Rodrigues meets C.J. Vergara. Rodrigues has mesmerizing striking and is a guy that has fought some very high-level talent. His style lends well to the viewing audience. Vergara is a tough-as-nails fighter that loves getting into dog fights. This will play well into the style of Rodrigues. Expect this to be wild while it lasts.

The Dark Horse: Weeks

The main event sees two of the most inexperienced, raw talents on the card. But there is a good reason behind it; they are both excellent prospects. One of those men is Darian Weeks. Weeks had an extensive amateur career, where he went 15-4 against strong competition. Since turning pro, Weeks has gone undefeated and has even had pro boxing bouts. All of Weeks’ wins have come by finish as a pro, four by knockout and one by submission. The combined records of those opponents is 15-7-1. Not bad for a guy with five pro fights.

The Long Shot: Anheliger

Sometimes, the Contender Series puts a guy on the show to test another fighter. Said fighter is experienced with a so-so record, but has legitimate skills. On this episode, that man is Chad Anheliger. On the plus side, Anheliger is on an eight-fight winning streak after starting his career at 2-5, including a win over TUF finalist Brady Hiestand.

Anheliger is a finisher and exciting, but his competition level has not been the best. He also draws the top fighter on the show in terms of talent and experience in the aforementioned Gafurov. Anheliger has a tall hill to climb here.

Signing Predictions: Njokuani, Rodrigues, Gafurov

The main event winner will be given the opportunity to gain further experience before they sign to the UFC, so the winner of that bout will not be signed. The three that will be signed are Gafurov, Rodrigues and Chidi Njokuani.

Gafurov will score an impressive finish. Rodrigues has UFC experience and the style that Dana White likes. So he’s a perfect candidate (especially being a flyweight). Lastly, Njokuani is a longtime veteran with name recognition. A win over the one-time Contender Series winner Sousa gets him the nod (on the flip side, Sousa would get a contract if he wins).

Fight Pick
WW: Josh Quinlan vs. Darian Weeks Weeks
MW: Chidi Njokuani vs. Mario Sousa Njokuani
FLY: Bruno Rodrigues vs. C.J. Vergara Rodrigues
BW: Muin Gafurov vs. Chad Anheliger Gafurov
FW: Saimon Oliveira vs. Jose Alday Oliveira