Contender Series 2023 Tidbits: Week 2

George Hardwick (England) v Abdul-Kareem Al-Selwady (Palestine) (Lightweight)

Holding a 12-1 professional record, George Hardwick enters Contender Series riding an eight-bout win-streak. Hardwick’s six most-recent bouts have been with English-promotion Cage Warriors Fighting Championship; finishing all six bouts via stoppage (5 KO/TKO, 1 submission), Hardwick secured the Cage Warriors Lightweight Championship during that run, successfully defending it twice. Hardwick started training Muay Thai at 12 years old, and began training MMA at 15 years old. Training under Head Coach Abdul Mohammed out of Middlesbrough Fight Academy in Linthorpe, Middlesbrough, Hardwick now also coaches at Middlesbrough Fight Academy. Hardwick is synonymous with the term ‘body-snatcher’, given his propensity of finishing bouts with strikes to the body; indeed, three of Hardwick’s six most-recent bouts ended via body shots.

Born in Louisiana, USA, Abdul-Kareem Al-Selwady moved to Jordan in 2008 when he was 13 years old; as a 20-year-old, he returned to the States, moving to Dallas, Texas. Training under renowned Head Coach Sayif Saud out of Texas’ Fortis MMA, Al-Selwady currently holds a 14-3 professional record. Al-Selwady featured on the inaugural event of Bahraini promotion Brave Combat Federation in 2016, and later secured the Brave CF Lightweight Championship. During his Brave CF tenure, Al-Selwady was the subject of a BBC documentary titled “Pride of Palestine”, which followed Al-Selwady’s preparation ahead of his Lightweight Championship defence. Currently riding a 4-bout win streak, Al-Selwady secured the Fury Fighting Championship Lightweight Championship in his most recent bout, after defeating Michael Murphy via unanimous decision.

Ibo Aslan (Türkiye) v Paulo Renato Jr (Brazil) (Light Heavyweight)

Eleven of Ibo Aslan’s twelve professional bouts have been with Austrian promotions.  Aslan’s lone professional bout outside of an Austrian promotion was for Brave Combat Federation, against Contender Series 2022 alumnus Anton Turkalj in Sweden; losing via second-round submission, that defeat remains Aslan’s only professional loss. Holding an 11-1 professional record, Aslan most recently competed for Austrian-promotion Vendetta Austria, defeating short-notice opponent Giorgi Kubejashvili via first-round TKO. The referee for that match was Contender Series 2023 Week 1 participant Bogdan Grad.

Paulo Renato Jr is the second athlete of Contender Series 2023 to have previously competed on Contender Series (the first being Reyes Cortez Jr), having participated on Contender Series in 2022. Originally, Renato Jr was matched-up with Contender Series 2023 Week 1 contract winner Caio Machado; however, visa issues for Machado meant Renato Jr had a change of opponent – Jamal Pogues. Renato Jr lost that heavyweight matchup with Pogues via unanimous decision. Since that Contender Series loss, Renato Jr competed in consecutive events of Brazilian-promotion Inside Fighters’ League, winning both bouts. As such, 12-2 Renato Jr returns to Contender Series riding a two-bout win-streak.

Hyder Amil (Phillipines/USA) v Emrah Sonmez (Türkiye) (Featherweight)

Following a two-year hiatus from professional competition, Hyder Amil made his LFA debut on just 2 weeks notice. Winning his promotional debut against Robson Junior via second-round TKO, Amil swiftly built a 3-0 LFA record in less than 9 months, culminating in a victory over Contender Series 2020 alumnus Chase Gibson. A product of El Niño Training Center, Amil remains undefeated as a professional, entering Contender Series with a 7-0 professional record. Amil was born in Cebu, in the Phillipines; he later moved to California when he was 6-years-old, alongside his mother and sisters.

After back-to-back defeats with Cage Warriors across 2020-2021, Emrah Sonmez went undefeated in 2022 to build a three-bout win streak. Two of those bouts were against the same opponent, albeit across separate promotions; Leandro Souza, at Ultimate Fight League 8, and Contenders 32. A product of Great Britain Top Team, Sonmez’s most recent bout was a thoroughly entertaining matchup with Frenchman Adam Meskini at Cage Warriors 148. Sonmez won that bout via unanimous decision, with scorecards of 30-27, 30-27, and 30-26. Holding a 14-4 professional record, Contender Series will be Sonmez’s first professional bout of 2023.

Eduarda Moura (Brazil) v Janaína Silva (Brazil) (Strawweight)

Both a Strawweight and Flyweight champion of Brazilian-promotion Demo Fight, Eduarda Moura only made her professional debut March 27th 2022. In less than one year, Moura built an 8-0 professional record. According to Brazilian newscast Globo Esporte, Moura was bestowed the nickname “Ronda” due to her resemblance to Ronda Rousey.

A product of Fabiana Belai MMA, Janaína Silva boasts an undefeated 5-0 professional record. Born in Fernandopolis, São Paulo, Silva’s nickname – “Jana Popózinha” – is inspired by decorated Brazilian boxer Acelino “Popó” Freitas. The 5’1” strawweight most recently competed at LFA 146 in Cajamar, São Paulo, where she defeated Nayara Hemily via unanimous decision.

Cameron Smotherman (USA) v Charalampos Grigoriou (Cyprus) (Bantamweight)

A stalwart of Fury Fighting Championship, Cameron Smotherman has fought all 11 of his professional bouts with Fury FC; his tenure with the Texan-promotion culminated with the Fury FC Bantamweight Championship following a spectacular knockout of Peter Caballero in his most recent bout, at Fury FC 74. A product of Metro Fight Club, the Houstonian is a teammate of Contender Series 2020 contract winner Adrian Yanez, and also trains alongside Bellator’s Raufeon Stots. Smotherman’s venture into MMA was spurred by a childhood friend; it was only upon attending college, however, that Smotherman would join an MMA gym. Holding an 8-3 professional record, Smotherman enters Contender Series riding a four-bout win-streak.

In the main event of Combat FC 3, Charalampos Grigoriou stopped Chris Disonell in the fifth-round via leg kick; in doing so, Grigoriou secured the inaugural Combat FC Bantamweight Championship. Grigoriou was set to defend the championship against former UFC athlete Kris Moutinho at Combat FC 4 on June 16th 2023; the fight was cancelled, however, due to Grigoriou signing for Contender Series. Born in Cyprus, Grigoriou currently resides in New York, training out the talent-laden LAW MMA. Currently riding a 3-bout win-streak, the 7-3 Cypriot’s most recent defeat was to Contender Series 2021 participant Christian Rodriguez; Rodriguez signed to Contender Series after defeating Grigoriou. If Grigoriou is awarded a contract, he would become the second Cypriot to compete in the UFC; the first Cypriot in the UFC was Constantinos “Costas” Philippou, who held a 6-4 promotional record.

(Image courtesy of @AlexBehunin on Twitter)

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