With the Dana White Contender Series recently wrapping up its 2020 season, the UFC has seen an influx of young talent to its roster in the last four months. During a 10-week slate from August through November, nearly 100 UFC hopefuls stepped into the octagon at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, and 37 contracts were awarded by UFC president Dana White.
In season four of the promotion’s talent-scouting show, more than 75% of the winners earned UFC contracts and 10 of them have already made their UFC debut.
But everyone knows that the Contender Series is mostly all about getting the finish. Whether it’s a flashy knockout, some vicious ground-and-pound, or a technical submission, finishes are what White wants to see and are what almost guarantee a contract.
There were plenty of those and other great performances in season four of DWCS. Here’s a look at some of the most impressive fighters from this season to watch out for in the UFC moving forward (pro record denoted in parentheses).
Grapplers to watch out for…
Jordan Leavitt (7-0): Fighting in the first fight of the season, Leavitt got things started off with a bang. He submitted his opponent Jose Flores with 45 seconds left in the first round with a flawless arm-triangle choke. While Leavitt, who has finished five of his seven wins by submission, is still relatively inexperienced, he has never fought anyone with a losing record and is still unbeaten. He will be making his UFC debut against Matt Wiman at UFC Fight Night on Dec. 5.
Collin Huckbody (8-2): Like Leavitt, Huckbody was also the first fight on his DWCS card. Also like Leavitt, he finished his fight in the first round with an arm-triangle choke. A really tough guy out of Minnesota, Huckbody has a wrestling foundation and can quickly get his opponents to the ground to apply his strong submission game. Eight of his six wins have come as a result of making his opponent tap out. As you can see by this squeeze, he’s country strong.
Collin Huckbody’s first round submission
— Blue Corner Fighting (@blue_fighting) August 26, 2020
Jimmy Flick (15-5): Flick “The Brick” was absolutely a fan favorite from the fourth season of DWCS. Not only was Flick eccentric and outspoken outside of the octagon, but he was also extremely entertaining inside of it, which is not always easy for grapplers to do. A former LFA Flyweight champion, Flick brought plenty of experience into his fight with Nate Smith, which was his 20th pro bout. Smith proved to be extremely tough and fought his way out of a multitude of submission attempts from Flick, but ultimately the Oklahoma native put him away with an arm-triangle. Of his 20 pro fights, Flick has won 13 of them by submission. He enters the UFC as already one of the best submissions artists in the game.
Aliaskhab Khizriev (13-0): Undefeated as a pro and downright scary, Makhachkala, Russia’s own had the second-fastest finish of the season with a 50-second submission via rear-naked choke over Henrique Shiguemoto. The fight was never in doubt, as Khizriev got the takedown, took the back, and put his outmatched opponent out of his misery quickly. Believe it or not, Khizriev’s been known more for his knockouts as a pro fighter, finishing five of his 13 wins by KO/TKO. But don’t be mistaken, this guy can wrestle and grapple with the best of him, staying true to his Russian roots.
2nd fastest submission in #DWCS HISTORY!
Aliaskhab Khizriev came for that contract tonight!! 📝💪 pic.twitter.com/1cmEbsLGl0
— UFC Canada (@UFC_CA) September 9, 2020
Natan Levy (6-0): A rare fighter out of Israel to step into the UFC octagon, Levy choked out Shaheen Santana with an arm-triangle in episode nine of DWCS’s fourth season. It took him until the third round to do so, but Santana was bigger, has very strong BJJ, and was no easy task on the ground. Levy is 6-0 with three submissions to his name, but White said in his interview where he awarded Levy his contract that he (and the UFC’s lawyers) is excited to see Levy show off more of his game against UFC competition soon.
“Natan Levy has our lawyers and our Hollywood agents going crazy right now. These guys have been waiting for a guy from Israel who is really good,” White said to DWCS host Laura Sanko. “He dominated a guy up in weight class on only five days’ notice, subbed a guy who is 6-0 with five submissions. I look forward to seeing his standup in the UFC.”
JP Buys (9-2): “Young Savage” is just that on the ground with five submissions in nine professional wins. He was the headliner of the season finale and didn’t disappoint. Fighting DWCS returnee Jacob Silva, Buys left no doubt and sunk in a guillotine that was so tight that even a guy like Silva, who is known for his toughness, had no choice but to tap. Fighting out of Dallas, Texas, via South Africa, Buys is a world-class wrestler and has plenty of submissions in his arsenal to get finishes in the UFC.
Orion Cosce (7-0): One half of the Cosce brother combination that fought on the third episode of the season, Orion Cosce pushed the pace of his fight with Matt Dixon the entire time and ended it in the third round with some vicious ground-and-pound. With five of his six pro wins prior to the Contender Series coming by way of KO/TKO, most would have expected Cosce to end this fight standing. But he showed strong wrestling and relentless ground-and-pound that could cause problems for many in the UFC. Orion’s younger brother Louis also won his DWCS fight that night and did so impressively with a first-round TKO. But Louis made his UFC debut as a heavy favorite against Sasha Palatnikov on Nov. 21, and after coming out early with a flurry of fists, gassed out and got TKO’d in the third round. The older Cosce already proved in his DWCS fight that he has a better gas tank than that. Orion was supposed to fight Nicolas Dalby on the same card that his brother just lost on, but that fight was canceled.
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) August 19, 2020
William Knight (9-1): Not much to say here. All you have to do is watch the video below to see how nasty Knight’s ground-and-pound is. Knight was actually losing that fight early too and recovered to put his opponent away while in full mount. Knight is ascending quickly in the UFC, having already made his debut with the promotion and another fight with Alonzo Menifield already booked for February.
What a comeback!
— UFC (@ufc) August 14, 2019
Phil Hawes (9-2): Hawes has just been wrecking people so far in the UFC. He ended his DWCS fight and his UFC debut in the first round with vicious knockouts. Hawes could easily be in the next section of this blog — “Most Dangerous Strikers” — but his foundation is wrestling and, as you can see, he’s quick to pounce when he has his opponent hurt. As his level of competition goes up, I expect to see more takedowns and ground-and-pound from him, as opposed to one-punch knockouts. And I think he’ll do just fine with that transition.
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) September 9, 2020
Jared Vanderaa (11-4): Vanderaa already has his UFC debut scheduled for UFC 256: Figueiredo vs. Moreno on Dec. 12, and that’s because he had an impressive showing in his Contender Series fight. Vanderaa has proven that he has a strong chin that allows him to keep moving forward and pressuring his opponent. Once the fight hits the mat, it’s usually because his opponent is rocked and he looks to capitalize.
IN ONE ROUND.@JaredVanderaa opened the night with RELENTLESS finishing shots 😳
— UFC (@ufc) November 5, 2020
Most dangerous strikers…
Adrian Yanez (12-3): Yanez’s striking is slick. He has shown some extremely high-level kickboxing in both his DWCS fight and his UFC debut against Victor Rodriguez on Oct. 31. He’s already got two first-round KO’s in two fights inside a UFC octagon, and the future seems very bright for this dangerous bantamweight.
Adrian Yanez’s round 1 TKO pic.twitter.com/zo4gIVCDzt
— Blue Corner Fighting (@blue_fighting) August 12, 2020
Jamie Pickett (11-4): Pickett will be making his UFC debut on Fight Night Dec. 19 against fellow DWCS alum Tafon Nchukwi (more on him in a second). Pickett has 11 pro wins and eight of those have been by KO/TKO. It took him just 33 seconds into the second round to finish off Jhonoven Pati with punches on the season’s fourth episode. Pickett is 6-foot-2 with an 80-inch reach, so it’s pretty clear why is striking is so dangerous in the middleweight division.
Tafon Nchukwi (4-0): Nchukwi’s fight with Pickett should be a very entertaining one because they both like to stay standing and exchange blows. Nchukwi’s pro fighting career has been absurd so far, as he’s just running through people. He’s a bit raw still at only 4-0, but all four wins have come by way of a first- or second-round KO/TKO, including his DWCS win over Al Matavao. The Cameroon native is an excellent kickboxer and he’s just 26 years old, so his best years seem to be ahead of him.
— Spinnin Backfist (@SpinninBackfist) September 9, 2020
Carlos Ulberg (3-0): Like Nchukwi, Ulberg doesn’t have that many pro fights under his belt. But also like Nchukwi, he is wrecking people. Ulberg is a training partner with Israel Adesanya and has been a hyped prospect for a little while now, but he made a big statement in his DWCS win over Bruno Oliveira, who is a well-respected fighter out of Brazil.
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) November 5, 2020
Ignacio Bahamondes (11-3): All of the aforementioned strikers have me excited to see their next fight, but perhaps none more so than Bahamondes, who has a little bit of Anderson Silva in his fighting style and is still only 23 years old. A native of Chile, Bahamondes entered his DWCS fight as a huge favorite and he lived up to the expectations, knocking Edson Gomez out with a clean front kick to the head. Eight of this welterweight’s 11 pro wins have come by KO/TKO, but two of his three losses are by submission, so he’s certainly no Spider Silva on the ground.
Ignacio Bahamondes’ second round knockout #DWCS
— Blue Corner Fighting (@blue_fighting) November 5, 2020
Potential quick contenders…
Mostly because of the division they’re in — any women’s division or men’s flyweight and heavyweight — there are a few DWCS winners that I could see rising to the top of their weight class’s rankings relatively quickly.
- Jimmy Flick (UFC debut scheduled for UFC Fight Night on Dec. 5)
- Jeffrey Molina (UFC debut scheduled for UFC Fight Night on Jan. 30)
- JP Buys
- Jared Vanderaa (UFC debut scheduled for UFC 256: Figueiredo vs. Moreno on Dec. 12)
- Cory McKenna (Defeated Kay Hansen by unanimous decision at UFC Fight Night on Nov. 14)
- Luana Pinheiro
- Cheyanne Buys
- Victoria Leonardo (UFC debut scheduled for UFC Fight Night on Jan. 30)
- Danyelle Wolf
Pat Donohue has been covering sports for more than 10 years. He is a former Washington Redskins beat reporter and has been covering the University of Maryland football and basketball recruiting and daily beats for Rivals.com since 2013. Pat graduated from Maryland with his master’s degree in journalism and has received bylines in publications such as USA TODAY Sports, The Philadelphia Inquirer, SB Nation, and Yahoo! Sports. As a wrestler for 13 years in Pennsylvania, Pat has a deep appreciation for MMA and a keen understanding of the sport.