In my opinion, Dana White’s Contender Series is the premier pathway for an MMA prospect to enter the UFC. One fight in the UFC APEX, in front of Dana White, and viewers from around the world on a Tuesday night has the potential to change a fighter’s life. The exposure may not be as great as a stint on The Ultimate Fighter, but DWCS is not as gruelling as sharing a house with other competitors. For most, one impressive win on DWCS is enough to earn themselves a contract with the UFC. Whereas, other routes sponsored by the UFC such as Road to UFC and The Ultimate Fighter are tournaments, which require more than one win in a short period of time before securing a contract. Of course there are other ways to earn a contract, such as building a name on the regional scene, or accepting a short notice bout. But DWCS guarantees an opportunity to enter the most popular MMA organisation in the world.
Dana White’s Contender Series debuted in 2017, and has since hosted 5 seasons, plus a bonus season named ‘Season Brazil’. 2022 will host the sixth season of the show, with many hungry prospects already signed to fight each other. The first week of the 10 week season will take place on June 26th, with the final week on September 27th.
Many elite fighters have signed to the UFC through Dana White’s Contender Series, including recent title challenger Taila Santos. Other notable fighters from DWCS are: Sean O’Malley, Kevin Holland, Dan Ige, Jimmy Crute, Geoff Neal, Maycee Barber and Sodiq Yusuff. In total, 156 contracts have been handed out over the 5 seasons.
This article will highlight the must-see fighters of this year fighting on Season 6 of Dana White’s Contender Series. These are fighters who have already proven themselves to be amongst the elite, and even fighters who have come up short in the past and have something to prove. This list is in order of when they will be fighting, e.g. number 1 will be from Week 1, number 10 will be from a week later into the season etc.
1. CLAYTON CARPENTER (5-0), Flyweight
Week 1 – Opponent: Steve Erceg (8-1)
CARPENTER may only be 26 years old, but he has extensive combat sports experience. Alongside an undefeated professional record, CARPENTER has a respectable 6-1 amateur record. But this is not what is most impressive about him. He is an amateur USA Junior National Muay Thai Champion, Arizona Golden Gloves State Boxing Champion, IBJJF European Open Gold Medalist, and in 2010 is the Junior European Pankration Gold Medalist. CLAYTON has been able to transition to MMA well, making his amateur debut at the young age of 18. He took his first professional fight in 2019, and has looked unstoppable since then. Yet to be tested on the regional circuit, he fights BJJ specialist Steve Erceg on July 26th.
2. BILLY GOFF (7-2), Welterweight
Week 2 – Opponent: Shimon Smotritsky (8-1)
At the age of 22, BILLY GOFF cashed out as a +400 underdog when he defeated Robson Gracie Jr. at Bellator 254. Since then, he has built a 5 fight win streak which has resulted in him becoming the CES MMA Welterweight, and CES MMA Middleweight champion. In March 2022, GOFF became the Welterweight champ with a win over Gary Balletto Jr. 3 weeks later he stepped in as a short notice replacement to fight DWCS and Bellator alumni Justin Sumter. He won that fight in the second round by KO and got the call to compete in the Contender Series this year. Personally, I am very excited to watch BILLY GOFF fight in August.
3. MATEUSZ REBECKI (15-1), Lightweight
Week 3 – Opponent: Rodrigo Lidio (12-2)
There’s a fair argument that REBECKI doesn’t need the Contender Series to prove that he is UFC level. The UFC’s lightweight division is stacked with talent, and many believe that REBECKi would slot right in. MATEUSZ enters his DWCS fight with a very impressive record, but even more impressive is the level of competition he has faced to build his record. He is the FEN Lightweight Champion, and has been 5 rounds so he has championship round experience. MATEUSZ has ran through the competition that he has fought in Poland, with 8 of his 15 wins coming by finish in the first round. His opponent Rodrigo Lidio also has 5 round experience, as 4 of his last 6 wins came by finish in the first round. The winner of this fight will no doubt be making a splash when they enter the UFC roster.
4. JACK CARTWRIGHT (10-0), Bantamweight
Week 4 – Opponent: Jose Johnson (14-7)
JACK CARTWRIGHT is the Cage Warriors Bantamweight Champion, undefeated with an amateur record of 4-0, and a professional record of 10-0. However, his opponent Jose Johnson could easily make this list himself. Johnson is 8-2 in his last 10 fights, with those two losses coming only to current UFC fighters Mana Martinez and Ronnie Lawrence. His win over former DWCS fighter Mo Miller is what most likely got him his second shot at DWCS. As for JACK, 7 of his wins have come in the first round. He has a well rounded skill set with 5 submissions and 3 KOs to his name. This fight may at first look like a set up for CARTWRIGHT, but a deeper dive into Jose Johnson’s record reveals that is not the truth. Since CARTWRIGHT last fought in March 2021, Johnson has competed 4 times. This matchup will be interesting, but CARTWRIGHT is my prospect to watch in this matchup.
5. JOSH WANG-KIM (5-1), Bantamweight
Week 5 – Opponent: Cameron Saaiman (5-0)
Josh Wang-Kim first came on my radar when he was seen training alongside UFC Featherweight Champion Alexander Volkanovski. JOSH entered professional MMA following an impressive amateur run where he amassed a record of 15-1. Since turning pro, he is undefeated aside from a disqualification loss. In an article, he states that he sees both himself and his brother John becoming big stars in MMA. His brother John also has a 15-1 amateur record, but has only fought once as a pro. WANG-KIM has a tough test ahead as he battles a young and undefeated Cameron Saaiaman for a spot on the UFC’s roster.
6. MATEJ PENAZ (6-0), Middleweight
Week 6 – Opponent: Sedriques Dumas (6-0)
Before the biggest fight of his MMA career, Matej Penaz has a respectable background in kickboxing. His kickboxing record is 22-3, with 4 bouts for GLORY Kickboxing, where his record with the promotion is 3-1. Penaz is also a WAKO Kickboxing World Champion, and has won multiple Muay Thai world titles. What makes him special is that he is a longtime training partner of current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jiri Prochazka, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw Jiri in his corner. Penaz’ level of MMA competition has been gradually improving, and he will meet his toughest opponent in the UFC APEX.
7. AUSTEN LANE (11-3), Heavyweight
Week 9 – Opponent: Richard Jacobi (5-0-1)
At the age of 34, AUSTEN LANE’s journey to DWCS 2022 has been longer than most. In 2018, he was given his first opportunity to enter the UFC when he fought Greg Hardy on DWCS. That opportunity was lost when was knocked out in less than a minute, and since then he has built himself back up to another opportunity with the promotion. At the end of 2021, he defeated Juan Adams, a former UFC fighter who was on a win streak of his own since being released from the promotion. I would say that LANE has something to prove in this bout, and with a 100% finish rate, I expect nothing but fireworks when he fights in September.
Farid Basharat (8-0), Bantamweight
Ozzy Diaz (7-1), Middleweight
Waldo Cortes-Acosta (6-0), Heavyweight
Jose Johnson (14-7), Bantamweight
Viktoriya Dudakova (5-0), Women’s Strawweight
Maria Silva (8-0), Women’s Strawweight
Vitor Petrino (6-0), Light Heavyweight
Rafael Ramos (10-0), Flyweight
Joao Elias (17-3-1), Flyweight