Contender Series 2023 Tidbits: Week 3

Contender Series 2023 Tidbits: Week 3

Eli Aronov (Israel) v Zachary Reese (USA) (Middleweight)

Hailing from Arad, Israel, Eli Aronov offers a highly decorated background in wrestling. Shortly before leaving the army, Aronov was encouraged to pursue MMA by his brother Rafael, who was training at SPIRIT MMA in Be’er-Sheva, Israel; just four months after leaving the army, Aronov had his first professional bout. Aronov currently resides in Las Vegas, where he has been living since the start of 2023. Training under Dewey Cooper at BKMMA, Aronov also trains at Xtreme Couture, where he has been a sparring partner for a plethora of UFC talent including Marvin Vettori, Roman Dolidze, Brad Tavares, and Sean Strickland. Holding a 6-0 professional record, Aronov most recently competed at Unified MMA 45, where he dominated Contender Series 2020 alumnus Mariusz Ksiazkiewicz; Aronov won the bout via a second-round arm triangle choke.

6’ 3” Zachary Reese built a 3-0 promotional record with Texan-promotion Fury Fighting Championship in just 139 days, a feat that concluded on his 29th birthday at Fury FC 76. Winning all three Fury FC bouts via first-round stoppage (2 KO/TKO, 1 submission), the collective ‘fight- time’ for Reese’s three Fury FC bouts is just 2 minutes and 15 seconds. Currently holding a 5-0 professional record, Reese’s two other professional bouts, competed under Arkansas’ Peak Fighting, also ended via first-round stoppage (both KO/TKO). Just under 11 years ago, Reese matched up with Contender Series 2018 alumnus – and current UFC athlete – Kevin Holland, in his second amateur bout; Reese went the distance, losing the bout via decision.

Kaik Brito (Brazil) v Oban Elliott (Wales) (Welterweight)

In his most recent bout, Kaik Brito sensationally defeated OKTAGON-stalwart (and 6-time OKTAGON welterweight champion) David Kozma at OKTAGON 37, to secure the OKTAGON Welterweight Championship; to date, Brito remains the only athlete to defeat Kozma at OKTAGON. Holding a 4-1 OKTAGON record, the combined professional record of the four OKTAGON opponents Brito defeated is 68-22-1. A product of Black Thai Team, the Brazilian 26-year-old hails from Goiania, Goias. All sixteen victories from Brito’s 16-4 professional record ended via stoppage (13 KO/TKO, 3 submission). The last opponent to defeat Brito via stoppage was Contender Series 2022 contract winner Mateusz Rębecki, in 2019; that bout was with South Korean-promotion Battlefield Fighting Championship, in an event marred by athletes having issues receiving payment for their participation.

In 2020, Oban Elliott’s MMA career was in jeopardy upon the discovery of a heart arrhythmia. Identified shortly after Elliot’s final bout at lightweight, the Welshman was booked in for heart surgery. Remarkably, as Elliot underwent pre-operative tests, his electrocardiograms improved as he returned to his natural weight the further he was removed from that lightweight bout. Ultimately, Elliot no longer required surgery, and was cleared to return to MMA, at a heavier welterweight. A stalwart of Cage Warriors, Elliot enters Contender Series with an 8-2 professional record, and currently rides a 4-bout win-streak. Hailing from Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, Elliot trains out of the renowned Shore Mixed Martial Arts in Abertillery, Wales; if Elliot is awarded a contract on Contender Series, he would become Shore Mixed Martial Arts’ fourth UFC athlete (following Jack Marshman, Brett Johns, and Jack Shore).

Isis Verbeek (Netherlands) v Josefine Knutsson (Sweden) (Strawweight)

A seasoned kickboxer, Isis Verbeek was amongst the first women’s kickboxers signed by GLORY Kickboxing; as 1 of 10 athletes signed for the promotions Women’s Super Bantamweight Grand Prix in 2016, she was the first Dutch women signed by GLORY Kickboxing. Holding a 4-1 professional record, Verbeek’s Head Coach is Michael Babb, who is also Head Coach of UFC Heavyweight Jairzinho Rozenstruik. Verbeek has been training in Colorado ahead of Contender Series, with former UFC Strawweight Champion Rose Namajunas. Verbeek lost her professional MMA debut to Contender Series 2021 alumnus Kathryn Paprocki, but has since built a 4-bout win streak; Verbeek remains the only athlete to beat Mexico’s Dana Yasiri Garcia professionally.

On June 10th 2022, Josefine Knutsson competed on Road to UFC in a non-tournament bout, against then 6-2 South Korean Ye Dam Seo. Despite winning via unanimous decision with scorecards of 30-27, 30-27, & 30-26, Knutsson admitted disappointment in her performance in her post-bout interview. Knutsson returned to competition at UAE Warriors 36 in her toughest bout to date; a matchup with Australia’s Jacinta Austin. With coaches Sanja Trbojevic and Alan Do Nascimento in her corner, Knutsson delivered Austin her first professional defeat, as she won via split decision. With a decorated background in kickboxing and Muay Thai, Knutsson enters Contender Series with a 5-0 professional MMA record. Fighting out of Stockholm, Sweden, Knutsson trains out of the renowned Allstars Training Center.

Luis Pajuelo (Peru) v Robbie Ring (USA) (Featherweight)

With a propensity for KO/TKO victory, just one of 7-1 Luis Pajuelo’s seven professional wins have gone the distance; that bout, however, was at a heavier 155lbs, rather than Pajuelo’s usual featherweight. Training out of FFC Team in the Peruvian capital Lima, “Corazón de León” hails from Tingo María, Peru. Five of Pajuelo’s eight professional bouts have been competed for Peruvian-promotion Fusion Fighting Championship; Pajuelo is undefeated as a professional for the promotion. Pajuelo’s two most recent KO/TKO wins – both with aforementioned promotion FFC – are against Argentines of the same gym; Heber Federico Pereyra, and Matias Ponce, of Breakers MMA in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Fighting out of Wytheville, Virginia, Robbie Ring trains out of Ring Combat Sports, a gym owned by Robbie’s parents; Kimberly and Greg Ring. Robbie also works at the gym, teaching children. Unbeaten as both an amateur and a professional, all six of Robbie’s professional bouts have been fought for Tennessee-based promotions, in Tennessee. Competing for Showcase MMA, Valor Fighting Challenge, and Aries Fight Series, Robbie has finished all of his professional bouts inside the distance. With only two individuals allowed in an athletes corner on this season of Contender Series, Robbie has elected his mother and father to corner him for his matchup with Luis Pajuelo.

Felipe dos Santos (Brazil) v Luciano Pereira (Uruguay) (Flyweight)* – *Note, this matchup was cancelled after the time of writing, due to weight issues with Luciano Pereira. Felipe dos Santos has since been signed by UFC to replace Kai Kara-France at UFC 293, and will matchup with Manel Kape.

In a spectacular bout, Felipe dos Santos delivered a previously undefeated Hugo Paiva his first professional loss at LFA 146; defeating his fellow countryman via 3 x 29-28 unanimous decision, “Lipe Detona” amassed 9 takedowns in the process. A product of the renowned Chute Boxe Diego Lima, 22-year-old dos Santos sports a tattoo of Chute Boxe Diego Lima’s logo on his lower neck/upper back. At the time of writing, dos Santos is the second of five Contender Series 2023 athletes to have competed at LFA 146 in Cajamar, São Paulo; the first was Week 2’s Janaína Silva. 3-0 in 2022, dos Santos enters Contender Series with a 7-0 (1 NC) professional record.

Replacing Edgar Cháirez (who signed directly with the UFC), Luciano Pereira is the first Uruguayan to participate on Contender Series. At the time of writing, ‘El Torito’ is the first of three Contender Series 2023 participants to have held a Samurai Fight House Championship. Unusually, Pereira enters Contender Series on the back of a loss – his only professional loss to date. In the co-main event of Samurai Fight House 11, Pereira rematched Argentinian Gabriel Ziller, whom Pereira previously defeated when securing the Samurai Fight House Flyweight Championship; despite dominating Ziller, Pereira landed an illegal knee, costing the Uruguayan both the bout, and the championship. Fighting out of Salto, Uruguay, Pereira is a product of Salto’s Escuela de Combate Vilamir, and boasts a 13-1 professional record.

(Image courtesy of @AlexBehunin on X, formerly Twitter)

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