Dana White's Contender Series returned to our screens yesterday as week one of season six of the show got underway. While it was a rather underwhelming occasion, with just one fighter awarded a contract, a number of current UFC fighters came to prominence on the show.
While not all of them have become world-beaters, there have now been multiple title challengers who came from Dana White's Contender Series. The show has a proven track record of producing stars and fighting at one of these events can be a huge opportunity for up-and-coming fighters.
Some have criticized the show as being a vehicle for the UFC to sign top young talent to one-sided contracts, but the event seems here to stay. Here are five fighters who got their break on Dana White's Contender Series:
Honorable mentions: Alex Perez - Season 5, Antonina Shevchenko - Season 2, Dan Ige - Season 3, Dustin Jacoby - Season 4 & Johnny Walker - Brazil season.
#5. Kevin Holland - Dana White's Contender Series Season 2
Kevin Holland is somewhat of a unique case. While he got his break on Dana White's Contender Series, he wasn't offered a contract right away. Despite that, his winning performance earned him the 'Big Mouth' nickname and he was eventually awarded his full debut against Thiago Santos at UFC 227.
While he lost to Santos, his UFC record currently stands at 10-4 (1 NC). He had a monster year in 2020, tying the record for the most wins in a calendar year with five impressive victories. That led to some big-time fights against Derek Brunson and Marvin Vettori, which ultimately proved a step too soon for Kevin as he faced back-to-back defeats.
But Holland has looked like a changed man since dropping down to the welterweight division. He's 2-0 in the weight class and has become a fan favorite due to his entertaining style, extroversion, and willingness to fight anyone at any time.
#4. Ricky Simón - Dana White's Contender Series Season 1
Ricky Simón didn't do enough on Dana White's Contender Series to immediately secure a contract. His split decision win meant that he had to take on two further fights before eventually making his UFC debut in 2018 which saw him pick up a win over Merab Dvalishivili, which has aged very well.
Simón has suffered two losses inside the octagon, one of which grabbed headlines as it was to a 41-year-old Uriah Faber. However, he has now bounced back from that slip in a big way, most recently handing Jack Shore the first loss of his professional career.
Simón is now riding a five-fight winning streak and has risen to no. 11 in the UFC bantamweight rankings. There are few fighters at 135 lbs currently carrying more momentum than Simón.
#3. Jamahal Hill - Dana White's Contender Series Season 3
Jamahal Hill secured his entry into the UFC with a second-round TKO victory in his appearance on Dana White's Contender Series. Since then, he has suffered just one defeat after falling prey to Paul Craig's renowned BJJ skills. Despite that loss, he is currently one of the hottest prospects at 205 lbs.
Hill bounced back from the loss with a first-round KO of Jimmy Crute to earn himself his first fight night main event. In that bout, he picked up another first-round KO, this time over fellow DWCS alumni Johnny Walker, to put the division on notice and break into the top 10.
He is next scheduled to face another Brazilian in Thiago Santos, where he will likely be a significant favorite. Should he win, it will be time to start matching him up with some of the elites of the division and see just how much he has to offer.
#2. Sean O'Malley - Dana White's Contender Series Season 1
Sean O'Malley is the biggest star Dana White's Contender Series has ever produced. He picked up a first-round KO victory to earn his spot on the roster and has suffered just one defeat since then. He's also become one of the bigger stars in the sport with a loyal following.
O'Malley followed up on securing a UFC contract with four straight wins before suffering the first defeat of his career at the hands of Marlon 'Chito' Vera. However, he rebounded with three straight wins before his most recent bout with Pedro Munhoz that ended in a no contest.
Next up for O'Malley will be the biggest test of his career when he faces former bantamweight champion Petr Yan. If he is able to win, he will establish himself as one of the elite fighters in the sport and could acquire megastar status. But that will be easier said than done against a fighter as talented as Yan.
#1. Taila Santos - Dana White's Contender Series Brazil
Taila Santos got her break on Dana White's Contender Series Brazil when she scored a unanimous decision win to earn a UFC contract. She would then suffer a split decision loss in her first fight on the roster but has looked impressive ever since.
Following that loss, Santos won four fights in a row, including a first-round submission win over Joanne Calderwood which secured her a title shot. While she ultimately lost to dominant champion Valentina Shevchenko, she performed far better than any flyweight challenger has in recent memory. Some even thought that she'd done enough to trounce 'The Bullet' Valentina Shevchenko.
She suffered injuries in that bout that will keep her out of action for some time but the future remains very bright for the 29-year-old. Given how close she came against Shevchenko, it won't take much for Santos to earn a rematch and who knows how that fight might play out.