Contender Series has worked out great for the UFC in terms of delivering exciting performances, filling programming blocks with broadcast partner ESPN, and snatching up some excellent prospects to round out divisions.
Las week, middleweight standout Joe Pyfer became the first (and only) fighter to get a DWCS contract in 2022 so far, when he defeated Ozzy Diaz with a second round TKO. With any luck, we’ll have another banger of a main fight this week.
LIGHTWEIGHTS: CHARLIE CAMPBELL vs. CHRIS DUNCAN
Ray Longo protege Charlie Campbell (6-1) has an impressive resume with a great amateur run that saw him go undefeated—and has only seen a decision twice in his six wins. To top it all off, his experience has all been on the brutal NY/NJ scene, long known for being a regional shark tank. Campbell’s got a relentless leg kick game and great top control, and all of his finishes have been due to strikes. That’s largely due to his strong positional control and how well he manages to limit the options for his opponent to escape. He fights smart and only gets more difficult to deal with the longer he stays on top.
He’s got a shot at the big time here, but it won’t come easy. He’s up against returning competitor Chris Duncan (8-1), who fought on Contender Series last year and suffered and unfortunate loss at the hands of Team Alpha Male’s Viacheslav Borshchev. It makes sense that he’d be brought back, he had a pretty exciting performance in that first DWCS bout. Prior to his UFC audition, Duncan had racked up a hell of a run in Bellator, fighting for them on their European shows. He’s got a good jab, great knees inside, and really good finishing instincts. His wrestling and takedown game isn’t where it could be, though. He seems to have a habit of muscling his takedowns and mostly starting them as a reaction to the offense of his opponent. He can still put the pressure on and move forward with significant offense.
FYLWEIGHT: VINICIUS SALVADOR vs. SHANNON ROSS
Vinicius Salvador (13-4) is a little bit of a curious addition, fighting for Brazil’s Max Fight, Shooto Brazil, and even Jungle Fight. His finishes are impressive, but his record does appear a bit spotty. He’s a finisher above all else, but three of his losses have been to fighters with a record comparable to his, while his wins are all over the place. His last fight—a fight that he walked into with a 12-4 record—was against a fighter making his professional debut.
How’d that go? I mean, kind of the way things like this should go despite the fact that it shouldn’t really have been booked. In a division as packed with talent and with such a high bar to just stay afloat in such as flyweight, he’s going to struggle massively with a win. And not to disparage him, but he doesn’t look like he’s got much of a shot to win this one, either.
Why? Because he’s up against Queensland’s Shannon Ross (13-5). Ross has been quite inactive since his 2020 victory over World Series of Fighting vet Donavon Frelow, but it’s not his fault. He’s had four fight cancellations between then and now. He’s got a lot of good tools and does a lot of things right, as you can see for yourself in his ACB debut against England’s Steve Nightingale (a phenomenal supervillain alter ego, by the way).
Ross has improved from earlier in his career and would probably prefer to keep it standing. Salvador might be able to get things to the ground at some point, but Ross isn’t helpless there and might actually beat him to the punch on that. Either way, expect action.
FEATHERWEIGHT: FRANCIS MARSHALL vs. CONNOR MATTHEWS
This next one is tough to make heads or tails of. Undefeated featherweights Francis Marshall (5-0) and Connor Matthews (5-0) are set to collide.
Training out of Kurt Pellegrino’s gym, Marshall has some great tools for success. He didn’t seem to start there, as all of his earlier fights were in the Southeast/Gulf region. His body of work isn’t bad, but he’s fought mostly people as inexperienced as himself with the exception of Texas staple Rey Trujillo, who was 24-30 when they fought. That’s not to say he can’t do well over time, just that it’s very, very difficult to get a read on what his ceiling may be and how his experience has served him leading into an opportunity such as this one. I’d personally favor him in this one fairly easily.
But it’s Matthews that really worries me. His pro record consists of fighters that were 0-7, 1-8, 2-1 when he fought them only to face the then 15-97 Jay Ellis, who funny enough just keeps popping up in these previews like some sort of rite of passage to get on the show. After that was Matthews’ last fight, against an opponent that’s 1-2.
Fighters don’t get to pick and choose who they fight all that often. Even with that caveat, this kind of can crushing isn’t a great look. Especially when a guy’s fighting out of the Northeastern/New England area, where there’s a lot of tough opposition and far better experienced fighters to test against. Matthews can win this, but without looking at the odds I can confidently tell you to not bet on this for any reason whatsoever.
HEAVYWEIGHT: WALDO CORTES-ACOSTA vs. DANILO SUZART
Heavyweights are also on the menu. Brazil’s Danilo Suzart (9-1) faces Waldo Cortes-Acosta (6-0). Cortes-Acosta has split his time between MMA and boxing and hits really hard. Recently he seems to have rounded out his skillset to become LFA heavyweight champ. With a lot of pressure and a great instinct to finish fights, he can be a problem for a lot of low-to-mid level heavyweights.
He meets Suzart, who recently captured the ARES heavyweight title. Suzart is also mostly a striker and not the best conditioned fella possible. Chunky heavyweights often face this problem, and it’s exacerbated here by him being somewhat slower than Waldo as well as having a height disadvantage. Cortes-Acosta has faced better competition as of late with his LFA run, but a few haymakers may cut his night short.
WELTERWEIGHT: SHIMON SMOTRITSKY vs. BILLY GOFF
Shimon Smotritsky (8-1) also makes his return to Contender Series after not reaching the success he’d hoped for last year. He lost to Mike Malott, currently in the UFC now and still has a lot of great things going for him as a prospect.
I still have reservations. Here’s what I said about him last year:
Israel’s Shimon Smotritsky (7-0) is a bit tough to get a read on. While undefeated, he’s not really faced any notable opposition. That’s fine, especially given the region he competes in and relatively early stage in his career. To date, Shimon’s opponents have mostly been (and I simply must use this term) can crushers. And those are the ones with winning records. Again, not gonna make much hay out of it, but how ready he is for something more difficult remains to be seen.
Armed with a snappy jab, great karate kicks, and scrambly BJJ and quick backtakes, he can cause a lot of headaches, especially against opponents that aren’t all that athletic. His cardio can be a problem deeper into fights, but he’s got a lot of grit and a chin that’s been reliable up until now.
Seeing how that went, I not only stand by what I said back then, I’m doubling down.
His opponent is Billy Goff, who is a bit of a funky matchup. His finish of Robson Gracie Jr. was bonkers, and his pressure both in wrestling and striking is a problem. He can use his range effectively and really pour it on over time. Can Smotritsky weather that kind of storm and get his game going? Frankly, I’m doubtful. No disrespect to Shimon, but he really might not be ready for this level of competition.
You can check out the weigh-in highlights courtesy of the crew over at MMAJunkie:
Full card is as follows:
Charlie Campbell (155) vs. Chris Duncan (155.5)
Shannon Ross (126) vs. Vinicius Salvador (126)
Francis Marshall (145) vs. Connor Matthews (145.5)
Waldo Cortes-Acosta (259) vs. Danilo Suzart (255)
Billy Goff (170.5) vs. Shimon Smotritsky (170.5)
Dana White’s Contender Series is back to its original airtime of Tuesday nights, starting at 8:00pm EST. The event will be streaming live exclusively on ESPN+.