Ever since it began in the summer of 2017, Dana White’s Contender Series has become the best way for a young fighter to graduate onto the UFC’s main roster.
For years, UFC President Dana White had spoken about running a show like boxing’s USA Tuesday Night Fights, and while Dana White’s Contender Series has only been running for a fraction of the time that that show did, it’s certainly been a massive success.
Numerous fighters have been awarded UFC contracts after starring on the show, while others who weren’t granted deals right away have also gone onto make their UFC debuts. And while not all of the graduates of Dana White’s Contender Series have gone onto success, others have proven to be a major hit in the UFC.
Here are the five best UFC fighters to emerge from Dana White’s Contender Series.
#5 Sodiq Yusuff emerged from Dana White's Contender Series
Nigerian-American Featherweight Sodiq Yusuff made his appearance on Dana White’s Contender Series in July 2018, where he outpointed Mike Davis. Davis – who also went onto compete in the UFC proper – simply couldn’t deal with Yusuff’s speed, striking power and raw athleticism.
In previous episodes of the Contender Series, Dana White had tended to hand UFC contracts only to fighters who were able to finish their opponent in violent fashion. However, in this case, it was clear that ‘Super Sodiq’ had too much talent to be ignored. And in the two years that have followed, White’s decision has been vindicated.
Yusuff made his full UFC debut just five months after his win over Davis, knocking out Suman Mokhtarian in just over two minutes. The performance earned ‘Super Sodiq’ a $50k bonus and immediately put him onto the radar of UFC fans worldwide.
Since then, Yusuff has reeled off another three wins, outpointing Sheymon Moraes and Andre Fili and knocking out Gabriel Benitez in ruthless fashion. With such an explosive fighting style – reminiscent of former UFC star Melvin Guillard – it’s unsurprising that he was able to make a fan of Dana White.
Injuries have prevented him from competing since January’s UFC 246, but when he returns, it’s expected that he’ll be given a fight that could potentially propel him into title contention at 145lbs.
#4 Greg Hardy emerged from Dana White's Contender Series
Arguably the most controversial fighter on the UFC’s roster right now, former NFL defensive end Greg Hardy made his professional MMA debut on Dana White’s Contender Series in July 2018. It took him just 57 seconds to dispatch of opponent Austen Lane by knockout, and despite a chequered past that had seen him convicted of domestic violence, it was clear that Dana White was impressed.
Hardy was immediately handed a “developmental contract” with the UFC and returned to Dana White’s Contender Series just a month later, picking up another TKO win. January 2019 saw him make his full UFC debut with a professional record of just 3-0, but things didn’t quite go to plan for ‘The Prince of War’.
Despite dominating opponent Allen Crowder early on, Hardy tired out and was eventually disqualified after stunning Crowder with an illegal knee. Undeterred, the former NFL man bounced back with three straight wins – although his victory over Ben Sosoli was overturned due to an incident that saw him use an asthma inhaler between rounds.
Hardy remained keen to fight and ended up taking his 5th bout of 2019 when he stepped in on late notice to face Alexander Volkov. And although he was defeated by the more experienced Russian, he acquitted himself excellently and showed a dramatic improvement in his overall skills.
The former NFL man’s past transgressions might mean that he isn’t the most popular fighter with fans, but it’s easy to see why Dana White is a fan. Not only does Hardy possess grade A athleticism, but he’s also shown a willingness to work hard to improve his craft.
Like him or not, ‘The Prince of War’ could well become a Heavyweight title contender in the near future.