Another round of bright young talents are looking to hit it big this week.
2022 continues to be a good year for UFC recruitment. This week, we have an honest-to-god interesting middleweight fight at the top, and some odd—and hopefully exciting—matchups to fill the rest of the card.
Leon Aliu (10-1) vs Brunno Ferreira (8-0)
The main fight is the beauty here. Italy’s Leon Aliu has six wins by finish, four of those being submissions. His choke game is terrifying for how strong his squeeze can get. While his stance isn’t great, he’s got dynamite in his hands as well. His leg kicks don’t look amazing; he seems to prioritize getting his weight back on his legs to keep punching. His striking defense could use some work as well, but his offense is heavy all the way. His only notable wins are against UFC vet Amilcar Alves (who remains in a career freefall) former prospect Chase Gamble, and his recent win over James Webb in Cage Warriors. What he does has worked great for him in the past and will carry him for a while, but he’s got some work to do to get ahead, win or lose.
Brunno (yes, that’s two “Ns” there) is a very athletic fighter. Big takedowns, big punches from top position, and excellent positional awareness with his grappling. His striking game is also strong, even if he could also use some help with his defense. His resume isn’t extensive, but he’s been fighting more experienced fighters and seems to be the more ready, between these two men, for the rigors of the proper UFC roster. Being a 6-0 fighter and defeating an opponent that is 33-18 with one draw is a pretty good look, and the way he wins fights is going to do him a lot of favors.
Raul Rosas Jr. (5-0) vs Mando Gutierrez (7-1)
One of the most notable talents this week is the 17-year-old Raul Rosas. Get used to that, because UFC shoulder programming has been driving his young age into the ground. After a pair of wins at the amateur level, he turned pro and has all finishes on his sterling record. Given his relative inexperience, there’s no real notable opposition and all of his past opponents had two fights or less at the pro level when he fought them.
Adding all of this up leaves us with too many questions as to how well-equipped he is for this particular step. But he’s got a fantastic highlight reel and clearly the matchmakers/scouts are seeing a lot of upside here. And they should. His grappling game is tight and methodical while he runs a consistent and strong pace. This kid is great, has room to grow, and comes in with a ton of talent. His ceiling isn’t defined at all yet, and there’s a lot to like here.
Gutierrez has six submission wins, five of them are rear naked chokes. He might struggle a bit dealing with the reach of Rosas, but he’s a very capable striker and can hold his own on the ground. He can be pressured with striking, but also has great submission defense and some very heavy ground strikes.
Austen Lane (11-3) vs Richard Jacobi (6-0-1)
Lane is a former NFL player that was previously on Contender Series back in 2018, where he suffered a loss to Greg Hardy. Here’s what I said about him then:
As for Lane? He’s quietly pursued MMA for some time with his first fight being in 2015. During this time, he’s earned himself a nice 5-1 record on the amateur level and moved on to 4-0 as a pro. Four of those amateur wins were knockouts, one a TKO. His amateur career has been mostly against fighters making their amateur debut, as were his first two professional opponents. The last two fighters he’s faced were 6-13 and 4-0. Lane’s got some good straight punches he can fire down the middle and he’s not afraid to get hit. His reactions are a bit slow and his movement is a bit clunky, but he’s got discipline and can be quite spry when he smells blood.
He lost to Frank Tate via strikes as well after that. Since that setback, however? 7-1 and all of them were finishes except for his last bout, where his opponent suffered a leg injury. He’s still a hard-hitter that blitzes opponents and has speed in his feet and hands. It’s defense and ability to take a shot against the heavier guys that are a problem.
But he can probably take this if he’s smart about it. He’s up against Richard Jacobi, a Brazilian heavyweight that has only two of his fights going to a decision. One was a win, the other a draw. While he’s beating the brakes off the opposition, we need to examine that opposition. Some of it ain’t good. Despite being 6-0, he’s got an opponent that was 0-1 and another that was 0-3.
Still, there’s only so much you can ask for a fighter coming up in the heavyweight ranks anywhere in the world. His most experienced opponent was 22-22 when they fought, and in the midst of a four fight losing streak. That guy’s only fought once since, and lost that one. No disrespect to any parties involved, it’s just tough to get a read on the potential for a prospect when he’s dusting husky dudes with iffy records. Jacobi definitely has the firepower to put Lane away, but if Lane keeps his head off the center line and mixes things up while controlling the clinch and outworking Jacobi, it’s his fight to win. This really could go either way.
Nurullo Aliev (6-0) vs Josh Wick (12-5)
Aliev is the rare Contender Series participant that doesn’t have a ton of finishes on his record, but smothers with grappling control and has calculated and smart striking. He’s got all the tools to be a tough test for anyone at this level, and could continue to expand his skills to become a very good addition to the UFC roster.
Wick as suffered some losses to more experienced opposition in the past, but might make still make it very difficult for Aliev to earn his way into the big show. Not to be confused with John Wick or Josh Wink, he brings his own brand of violence to the game. His only notable wins are against former UFC fighter Cain Carrizosa and current UFC talent Vince Morales. While he might spend a chunk of this fight on his back, things should go way smoother for him if he keeps it standing and keeps pivoting to deter takedown attempts.
Jafel Filho (13-2) vs Roybert Echeverria (7-0)
Filho was a mainstay for Shooto Brazil, and racked up most of his wins there and even challenging for the title once. While he wasn’t successful then, he’s continued to use his flypaper grappling approach to fights. That often ends up with him forcing fighters into worse and worse situations on the ground until he gets the opening he wants for his submission attempts. He’s currently got a hot hand with a four-fight win streak that includes a win over Vinicius Salvador, who defeated Shannon Ross earlier this year on Contender Series.
Echeverria may be undefeated, but there’s a lot of holes to poke at here. For starters, he has a past opponent that was 2-5. Not egregious when you’re coming up and have little experience. But then fought Earnest Walls when Walls was 2-15, only to fight him again when Walls was 2-17. That second win against Walls was followed by a win against a fighter that was 0-2 while Echeverria was 5-0. He managed to eke out a split decision against the very tough Wascar Cruz in Titan FC this past December. He does a lot of things right, but has too many question marks around him to trust him fully against an aggressive and precise submission grappler.
Full card is as follows:
Leon Aliu (186.0) vs. Brunno Ferreira (184.0) - Middleweight
Raul Rosas Jr. (134.0) vs. Mando Gutierrez (135.5) - Bantamweight
Austen Lane (240.5) vs. Richard Jacobi (244.5) - Heavyweight
Nurullo Aliev (155.5) vs. Josh Wick (156) - Lightweight
Roybert Echeverria (125.0) vs. Jafel Cavalcante Filho (125.5) - Flyweight
Dana White’s Contender Series takes place this Tuesday night starting at the usual start time of 8:00pm EST. This event streams live and exclusively on ESPN+.