Another week of Dana White’s Contenders Series is upon us, just as another weekend where an alumnus of the series made an impact in the UFC has passed us by.
Andre Muniz (20-4) improved to 2-0 in the UFC and 4-0 total under the UFC banner with a pair of Contenders Series wins, as he submitted Bartosz Fabinski (15-4) in the first round of Saturday night’s UFC Fight Night: Overeem vs. Sakai card.
Muniz continues to get it done on the ground and show that he can hang with the rank-and-file veterans of the division.
This week, the stars of tomorrow return to the APEX Center in hopes of proving to UFC President Dana White that they deserve a chance in the big show.
The card for Tuesday night is as follows:
Aliaskhab Khizriev (12-0) vs. Henrique Shiguemoto (13-3-1) – middleweight bout
Mana Martinez (6-1) vs. Drako Rodriguez (6-1) – bantamweight bout
Phil Hawes (7-2) vs. Khadzhimurat Bestaev (10-3) – middleweight bout
Cameron Church (4-0) vs. Sherrard Blackledge (4-0) – lightweight bout
Tafon Nchukwi (3-0) vs. Al Matavao (8-2) – light heavyweight main event
*Editor’s Note: MMA-Prospects.com is not a betting website, nor can the site guarantee any outcomes or betting successes. The following analysis is information compiled by this author for entertainment purposes. All odds are sourced from BestFightOdds.com, an MMA betting aggregator with whom MMA-Prospects.com is not affiliated in any capacity.*
Aliaskhab Khizriev (-300) vs. Henrique Shiguemoto (+240)
I like Khizriev here. He’s 12-0 and has all sorts of wins to prove that he’s a well-rounded fighter; his last win was a first-round ground and pound KO of controversial submission ace Rousimar Palhares (19-8-1). That tells me that he’s more than willing to go to the ground with a specialist. The downside of Khizriev’s game is that he is a welterweight fighting up at middleweight, and he hasn’t competed in over two and a half years.
The good news for Khizriev is that his opponent, Henrique Shiguemoto, hasn’t faced the same caliber of competition. His las two wins are over middling competition in Won Jun Choi (4-3) and Amilcar Alves (17-14), and his losses have come to .500 fighter Matti Makela (11-11) and 7-4 Mauricio Alonso.
Khizriev opened at -240 and it’s now up to -300. I obviously think that is a good sign for the Russian.
I’m going to take Aliaskhab Khizriev here. He’s more well-rounded and has had better competition.
Mana Martinez (-155) vs. Drako Rodriguez (+125)
Drako Rodriguez has a lot of experience for a 24-year-old. The bantamweight was 12-0 as an amateur, won his professional boxing debut, and is 6-1 total and coming off five straight wins. I like that he can do it anywhere. He has knockouts, submissions, and decisions to his name. He trains in Iowa, which is a wrestling haven. The one thing I don’t like about Rodriguez here is that he hasn’t fought in almost a year after previously being pretty active. That means either he is working on improving his game, or he has had trouble getting fights.
As some fans may remember, Rodriguez was involved in a sticky situation when the promotion under which he was contracted to fight, King of the Cage (KOTC) blocked a short-notice UFC signing for Rodriguez back in 2019.
Mana Martinez is much more of a one-trick pony. He’s 6-1 and all of his wins are knockouts. I’m not sure I want to depend on a knockout in a bantamweight fight against an experienced-beyond-his-record Rodriguez.
I’m going to pick the dog, Drako Rodriguez here.
Phil Hawes (-485) vs. Khadzhimurat Bestaev (+350)
One thing I like to see in prospects is that they have faced, and overcome, adversity. Phil Hawes has three losses to three high-caliber fighters. He lost to UFC veteran Julian Marquez (7-2), Ultimate Fighter champion Andrew Sanchez (12-5), and Professional Fighters League (PFL) million-dollar tournament champion Louis Taylor (18-4-1).
None of those are really marks against him. Nothing about Phil Hawes’ record stands out, but his background certainly does. Hawes was at Iowa Central Community College with two wrestlers-turned-fighters that have certainly made names for themselves in Jon Jones (26-1-1), the consensus best light heavyweight ever, and former interim UFC welterweight champion Colby Covington (15-2), the self-proclaimed best welterweight ever; some fine company, to say the least.
Bestaev seems like a can crusher. His last two wins were over fighters with 1-8 and 4-3 records, respectively, and several others come at the expense of fighters making their debut against him. He does have a notable loss to UFC light heavyweight prospect Alonso Menifield (8-2), however.
Bestaev hasn’t fought in almost two years.
The line has moved drastically in Hawes’ favor. He opened at -325 and it’s now -485.
I’m taking the sizable favorite here in Phil Hawes.
Cameron Church (-155) vs. Sherrard Blackledge (+125)
Two undefeated prospects are set to square off in the UFC’s deepest division, the lightweight class, when Cameron Church and Sherrard Blackledge clash on the card. I like the Syndicate MMA product, Blackledge, here. He’s undefeated as a pro and has one loss as an amateur, which came a whopping five and a half years ago. I think fighting out of a well-established gym, Syndicate, is a nice advantage here for Blackledge. He doesn’t have to worry about journeying to Las Vegas, and he trains with high-caliber fighters daily. I also like that he went the distance in this last fight.
Cameron Church is also undefeated, but doesn’t appear to necessarily train with the same prominence of teammates.
I’m going to take another dog in Sherrard Blackledge here.
Tafon Nchukwi (-485) vs. Al Matavao (+350)
I’ll make this one simple. Nchukwi is listed as a heavyweight and fought his last fight at 222 pounds, and Matavao is listed as a middleweight. Notably, Nchukwi knocked recent Contenders Series grad William Knight in his last fight. And Alaksa, where Matavao fights, isn’t known as a particularly strong scene for MMA talent.
Nchukwi opened at -275, but it’s been smashed. He’s now -485 and with good reason.
I’m taking Tafon Ncukwi by knockout, and I like, again, being on this side of the line movement.