Over the past six years, Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) has cemented itself as the most straightforward path into the UFC.
The spin-off series acts as a middleman, allowing regional prospects, and even champions, to get a taste of the bright UFC lights before officially signing with the promotion.
UFC President Dana White puts an emphasis on issuing contracts to athletes with explosive finishes or dynamic and exciting fighting styles.
Ever since its inception, IMMAF prospects and medallists have steadily made their way through DWCS, into the UFC.
Most MMA fans will be familiar with Raul Rosas Jr., who became the youngest UFC fighter of all time after picking up a dominant decision victory over Mando Gutierrez on season 6 of the Contender Series.
The 2019 IMMAF Youth World Champion has since fought on back-to-back PPV events for the UFC, claiming a slick rear naked choke finish over Jay Perrin on his promotion debut. This was followed up by a decision loss, but considering Rosas’ age and potential, many are still touting him to become a future bantamweight title contender.
Brendan Allen is also a notable name to have progressed to the UFC through the Contender Series. Allen, a 2015 IMMAF World Champion, held a perfect 6-0 amateur record.
He is currently the No.13 ranked UFC middleweight, with a record of 9-2 inside the promotion. “All-In” holds a number of impressive wins over the likes of André Muniz, Kevin Holland and Tom Breese.
Carlos Hernandez also deserves mention, with his third fight for the UFC taking place this weekend at UFC Fight Night: Vettori vs. Cannonier. Hernandez competed in three IMMAF World Championships and was able to take home a gold medal in 2014.
Having turned pro in 2017, he racked up a 6-1 record on the regional scene, earning the DWCS call-up. Hernandez defeated Daniel Barez via decision on the Contender Series, with Dana White seeing enough to warrant a UFC contract.
Anton Turkalj, who holds a host of IMMAF medals, including the 2017 European Championships Gold and the 2017 World Championships Bronze, was not initially signed to the UFC, despite winning on the contender series. He would later offer to step in on short notice to face UFC super-prospect Jailton Almeida, resulting in him signing for the promotion.
There are also several fighters who did not find victory on the Contender Series but were still later signed to the UFC. Muhammad Naimov and Mariya Agapova both came up short, but after returning to the regionals, they would demonstrate that they belong in the upper echelons of the sport. Naimov, in particular, made a big impression recently, when he picked up a technical knockout victory over Jamie Mullarkey, on extremely short notice.
With the next season of DWCS rapidly approaching, a number of IMMAF prospects are once again set to feature. Holding an amateur record of 8-2, and a pro record of 10-0, 2019 IMMAF European Heavyweight Gold Medallist Shamil Gaziev is of particular note. Boasting a 100% finishing rate in both amateur and pro, Gaziev is a must-watch athlete.
2015 IMMAF World Championships Super Heavyweight Gold Medallist, Kevin Szaflarski, is also a fighter to keep an eye on in this upcoming season of the Contender Series. Szarflarski takes on Caio Machado on week 1 of the new season.
Finally, Bogdan Grad is heavily rumoured to feature this year. Despite only holding a European Bronze Medal from his days with IMMAF, Grad did defeat the now highly rated Bellator prospect Ciaran Clark. Currently holding an 11-1 pro record, the Austrian could well be an excellent addition to the UFC’s lightweight roster.