Mitch Ramirez (USA) v Carlos Prates (Brazil) (Welterweight)
Unbeaten as a professional, Mitch Ramirez was set for Season 31 of The Ultimate Fighter this year. However, Ramirez was cruelly withdrawn from the show at the last minute; Ruby Sports & Entertainment owner Daniel Rubenstein posted on X (formerly Twitter) that the removal was to “make room for 3 of Conor [McGregor’s] guy [sic] to be on the show”. Ramirez subsequently competed at XMMA 6 against Jeremie Holloway – his most recent bout. Defeating Holloway via a third-round leg-kick, Ramirez capitalized on the post-bout interview to reference his TUF removal and ask Dana directly for an opportunity. On a recent Damage Plan MMA podcast episode, Ramirez admitted that he has received multiple written offers from other MMA promotions; however, Ramirez passed on these offers to fulfill his dream of being a UFC athlete. Originally from Utah, 7-0 Ramirez currently resides in Las Vegas, training out of Syndicate MMA.
Vale Top Team’s Carlos Prates remains the only athlete to hold a professional victory over the current Welterweight Champion of Australian-promotion Eternal MMA; Joseph Luciano, who currently holds an 8-1 professional record. That win ignited Prates’ current six-fight win streak, during which he became Welterweight Champion of the Brazilian-promotion Standout Fighting Tournament. Fighting out of Taubate, São Paulo, Prates enters the Contender Series holding a 16-6 professional record that includes eleven KO/TKO victories. Following the cancellation of Felipe dos Santos’ Week 3 bout against Luciano Pereira, Prates is now the second of four Contender Series 2023 athletes to have competed at LFA 146 in Cajamar, São Paulo (the first was Week 2’s Janaína Silva); Prates is also the second of five Contender Series 2023 athletes to have competed at LFA 154, also in Cajamar, São Paulo (the first was Week 1’s Lucas Fernando).
Yousri Belgaroui (Tunisia/Netherlands) v Marco Tulio Silva (Brazil) (Middleweight)
Replacing Valentine Woodburn (who UFC signed directly as a short-notice replacement), Yousri Belgaroui enters the Contender Series holding a 5-2 professional record. Six of those seven professional bouts have taken place in Abu Dhabi, with Emirati-promotion UAE Warriors. A seasoned kickboxer, Yousri Belgaroui notably had a trilogy of kickboxing bouts with former UFC middleweight champion Alex Pereira whilst with GLORY Kickboxing; Belgaroui defeated Pereira once – at GLORY 40: Copenhagen – to win the 2017 GLORY Middleweight Contender Tournament. Ahead of UFC 281, Belgaroui was recruited by Teixeira MMA & Fitness to serve as a training partner for Alex Pereira, ahead of Pereira’s Middleweight Championship bout with Israel Adesanya (whom Belgaroui also fought twice in kickboxing). In an interview with FIGHTology, Belgaroui expressed that both Belgaroui and Pereira have evolved from rivals to “brothers”. Belgaroui has been training at Teixeira MMA & Fitness ahead of his Contender Series bout; Alex Pereira posted on X (formerly Twitter) of Belgaroui “There’s a guy arriving who will bring some fire in the middleweight division #contenderseries #ufc”.
A product of Chute Boxe Diego Lima, Marco Tulio Silva opened 2022 defeating 29-bout veteran – and former UFC athlete – Glaico França via strikes. Three bouts later, Tulio opened 2023 defeating 55-bout veteran Well Oliveira via strikes. Holding a 9-1 professional record, Tulio enters the Contender Series riding a five-bout win-streak against opponents holding a combined 71-28-2 professional record. At the time of writing, Tulio is the first of two Contender Series 2023 athletes to have competed at LFA 151 in Cajamar, São Paulo (the second is Contender Series 2021 alumnus Julia Polastri, who competes in Week 6). Hailing from Uberlândia, Minas Gerais, Tulio’s Contender Series bout falls the day before his 29th birthday.
Timothy Cuamba (USA) v Mateo Vogel (Canada) (Featherweight)
Training under renowned head coach Dewey Cooper at BKMMA, Timothy Cuamba enters the Contender Series holding a 6-1 professional record. The Las Vegan was previously approached by UFC as a short-notice replacement for UFC 285; with just five days’ notice, Cuamba accepted the bout, but his unnamed opponent withdrew. In an interview with The Mayweather Channel, Dewey Cooper said of Cuamba “Out of all the fighters I’ve ever had, he’s the only one who’s never missed a training session unless [we’ve] made him”. Without a professional bout in 2023, Cuamba most recently competed in December 2022 at Jorge Masvidal’s iKON FC 6, impressively defeating Alexander Schenk in the second round via ground and pound.
Mateo Vogel secured the Featherweight Championship of the British Columbian-promotion Battlefield Fight League via majority decision at BFL 72, following a tremendous five-round bout with fellow countryman Nicolas Oullet; Vogel successfully defended the featherweight championship twice. With an eight-year tenure in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Vogel currently holds an 8-2 professional MMA record that notably includes a victory over a fellow Contender Series 2023 athlete; Serhiy Sidey, who competes in Week 5. Training out of Ottowa’s New Era Combat Sports, Vogel will be cornered by his long-term jiu-jitsu coach Peter Fazekas and teammate Alex O’Neil for his Contender Series matchup.
Thomas Petersen (USA) v Chandler Cole (USA) (Heavyweight)
A decorated wrestler, Thomas Petersen had a remarkable high school wrestling career at Lakeville South High School, amassing 139 wins, and securing two state titles. In 2017, Petersen won the National Junior College Athletic Association wrestling national title whilst at Iowa Central Community College, the alma mater of UFC veterans Jon Jones and Cain Velásquez. A stalwart of LFA, Petersen is a former heavyweight champion with the promotion. Holding a 7-1 professional record, Petersen’s lone professional loss is to Contender Series 2022 contract winner Waldo Cortes-Acosta. Competing out of Minnesota, all seven of Petersen’s professional victories have ended via KO/TKO; six of those seven finishes were inside the first round.
Holding a 10-3 professional record, Chandler Cole has won every professional bout that he has fought in Tennessee. Six of those ten victories were for Tennessee-based promotion Showcase MMA, for which Cole secured the Showcase MMA Heavyweight Championship – a championship he successfully defended twice. Cole’s Contender Series matchup with Thomas Petersen will be his first professional bout competed outside of Tennessee on a full camp, per a recent interview on All Access MMA. Indeed, Cole’s 2021 PFL loss to PFL 2022 Heavyweight Champion Ante Delija was on just a week and a half’s notice. Cole competed on Season 30 of The Ultimate Fighter, losing his lone exhibition bout to then 5-0 Jordan Heiderman; Dana White, however, notably didn’t agree with the judge’s decision to take the bout to a third round, with both White and Forrest Griffin being heard saying that they thought Cole won the bout. Competing out of Coeburn, Virginia, Cole will be cornered by his long-term coaches Nick Jackson and Adam Mays for his Contender Series bout.
Bolaji Oki (Belgium/Nigeria/Zimbabwe) v Dylan Salvador (France) (Lightweight)
An athlete for Valon Team of Brussels, Belgium, Bolaji Oki holds a 7-1 professional record built across Belgium and The Netherlands. In October 2022, Oki notably defeated Nair Melikyan (then undefeated with an 11-0 professional record) via unanimous decision at Belgian-promotion Atomic; previously, Melikyan was set to participate in Contender Series 2022 against Nurullo Aliev, but Melikyan was forced to withdraw due to visa issues. With his victory over Melikyan, Oki secured the Atomic FC Lightweight Championship, which he successfully defended in his most recent bout against Brazilian Jocimar Ferreira in March.
Originally from Lyon, France, 5-1 Dylan Salvador competes out of Atlanta, Georgia, training at Lawrenceville’s Gwinnett Training Academy. With a substantial and decorated background in Muay Thai and kickboxing, Salvador notably holds a 2017 kickboxing victory over UFC featherweight Giga Chikadze. Remarkably, however, Salvador has won four of his five professional MMA victories via submission. Earning his purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu in 2021 under head coach Amir Dadovic, Salvador won via Von Flue choke in his most recent bout; a thoroughly entertaining matchup with Uzbek Jakhongir Jumaev at UAE Warriors 34. When Salvador won the 2016 GLORY Lightweight Contender Tournament at GLORY 36: Oberhausen, he shared the card with Contender Series 2023 week 3 athlete Isis Verbeek.
(Image courtesy of @AlexBehunin on X, formerly Twitter)