Bruno Lopes (Brazil) v Brendson Ribeiro (Brazil) (Light Heavyweight)
Returning from a six year hiatus in 2021, Bruno Lopes built a five-bout win-streak in 377 days; that streak included three bouts with Brazilian-promotion Thunder Fight, and two bouts with LFA. Following a dominant victory over Mailton Azavedo at LFA 136 in Caraguatatuba, São Paulo, “Brunão” headlined LFA 143 in Recife, Pernambuco, winning the LFA Light Heavyweight Championship with victory over Willyanedson Paiva. A product of both China Team and Thiago Miranda Team, Paulista Lopes holds an 11-0 professional record that includes nine victories via stoppage (5 KO/TKO, 4 submission). Prior to his six-year hiatus, Lopes notably won the Jungle Fight Welterweight Championship with victory over Jose Diaz at Jungle Fight 76; Lopes accepted the bout on short notice, after Jungle Fight Welterweight Champion Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos was signed by the UFC. Contender Series 2020 alumnus – and current UFC athlete – Gregory Rodrigues made his 2014 professional MMA debut against Lopes; Lopes won the bout via first-round TKO.
Hailing from Vila Maú, Marapanim, in the Brazilian state of Pará, Brendson Ribeiro enters Contender Series holding a 14-5 (1 NC) professional record. In his most recent bout – at Shooto Brasil 114 in Rio de Janeiro – Ribeiro dethroned Shooto Brazil Light Heavyweight Champion João Paulo Fagundes (then holding a 7-1 professional record) via first-round TKO to secure the Shooto Brazil Light Heavyweight Championship. Two of Ribeiro’s twenty professional bouts have been against athletes who were later victorious on Contender Series – Contender Series 2018 & 2019 alumnus Antônio Arroyo, and Contender Series 2018 alumnus Marcio Alexandre Jr; Ribeiro defeated Arroyo via submission, but was defeated by Alexandre Jr via submission. A product of Evolução Thai MMA, Ribeiro was 2-2 in 2022, and currently rides a two-bout win-streak.
Ramon Taveras (USA) v Serhiy Sidey (Canada/Ukraine) (Bantamweight)
A Combat Night Bantamweight Champion, Ramon Taveras built his 9-1 professional record entirely with Florida-based promotion Combat Night. As such, Taveras’ Contender Series bout will be his first professional bout outside of Florida. From his Combat Night tenure, Taveras holds a notable victory over Contender Series 2017 and four-bout UFC veteran Martin Day, whom Taveras submitted via guillotine choke in the first-round. Taveras trains out of Jacksonville’s Bulldog Boxing, where Contender Series 2022 contract winner Austen Lane also trains. In an article with UFC, written by Thomas Gerbasi, Lane said of the gym – and Taveras – “When we talk about the foundation that is my primary gym, Bulldog Boxing, it’s myself, it’s our head coach, Matt Vona, and it’s my training partner Ramon Taveras… we were really the foundation of that gym”.
In 2021, Serhiy Sidey returned from a 580 day hiatus in professional competition to win the Battlefield Fight League Bantamweight Championship on his BFL debut. Successfully defending that championship three times, Sidey also secured the BTC Fight Promotions Bantamweight Championship this year, following a first-round TKO victory over UFC alumnus Walel Watson at BTC 19 in March. Ahead of his Contender Series bout, 27-year-old Sidey has been training at Aegis MMA, Burlington Training Centre, and Niagara Top Team. The Ontarian currently holds a 9-1 professional record, with his lone professional loss against a Contender Series 2023 athlete; Week 4’s Mateo Vogel. Sidey will be cornered by coaches Lyndon Whitlock and Paul Jalbert for his matchup with Ramon Taveras.
Chad Hanekom (South Africa) v Dylan Budka (USA) (Middleweight)
When former professional rugby player Chad Hanekom made his 2018 promotional debut with Bahraini-promotion BRAVE Combat Federation at BRAVE CF 10 in Amman, Jordan, he became the first South African athlete to compete in professional MMA in Jordan. In that bout, an impressive Hanekom lost an entertaining, close contest by split decision to standout Contender Series 2022 contract winner Ikram Aliskerov. During his seven-bout BRAVE CF tenure, Hanekom also delivered Contender Series 2022 alumnus Leon Aliu his first professional defeat. A member of Fight Fit Militia at Quan Wessels Martial Arts Academy in Sunninghill, Johannesburg, Hanekom currently holds a 9-2 professional record, and enters Contender Series riding a three-bout win-streak. In his most recent bout, Hanekom spectacularly defeated then 11-1-1 In Jae La in the main event of BRAVE CF 66, knocking out the South Korean with a devastating elbow in the first-round.
With Cameron Rowston pulled from Contender Series due to “medical issues”, Dylan Budka steps in on short notice. When Budka made his LFA debut at LFA 129, he shared the card with two Contender Series 2023 contract winners; Week 2’s Hyder Amil, and Week 4’s Thomas Peterson. In 428 days, Budka ascended from LFA debutant, to Championship challenger, contending for the LFA Interim Middleweight Championship at LFA 160 against Azamat Bekoev; in an entertaining, competitive bout, Bekoev defeated Budka via split decision (48-47, 47-48, 48-47). Competing out of Demolition Fight Team in Findlay, Ohio, 23-year-old Budka currently holds a 6-2 professional record. Despite only making his professional debut at the inaugural Jorge Masvidal’s iKON FC event in January 2022, in just over 19 months, Budka has competed at middleweight, light heavyweight, and heavyweight. Budka’s most recent bout was August 26th 2023, against Dan Stevenson at Renegade Rumble 6; following Budka’s original opponent Robert Gidron’s late withdrawal, Budka accepted a bout at heavyweight against short notice replacement Stevenson, who weighed in 42.5lbs heavier than Budka – Budka won via first-round submission.
Jean Silva (Brazil) v Kevin Vallejos (Argentina) (Featherweight)
Following an almost 18 month hiatus from professional competition, Jean Silva returned February 4th 2023 in the main event of Spartacus 28. Fighting out of Florianópolis, Santa Catarina, and representing both Rangel Farias Association and TJJ Matriz Alexandre de Souza, Silva spectacularly knocked out 4-0 Brazilian Valdemir Cardoso in the first-round. Silva returned to competition 49 days later, earning another victory at Spartacus 34; Silva had prepared for that bout, however, with Fighting Nerds. Silva currently holds a 10-2 professional record in which all ten professional victories have ended via stoppage (8 KO/TKO, 2 submission). Silva has never been stopped as a professional, with both losses going the distance.
Across five Samurai Fight House Championship bouts in just under seven months, Kevin Vallejos became the SFH champion at super bantamweight, featherweight, and lightweight. In his most recent championship bout, the 21-year-old stopped then 14-2 UFC alumnus Eduardo Garagorri via second round TKO. Following Uruguayan Luciano Pereira’s withdrawal from Contender Series 2023 in Week 3, Vallejos is now the first of two Contender Series 2023 participants to have held a SFH Championship (the second is Bolivian Light Heavyweight José Daniel Medina, who competes later in the series). Hailing from Mar del Plata, Argentina, Vallejos is currently undefeated as a professional, having won all eleven professional bouts.
Rainn Guerrero (USA) v Dione Barbosa (Brazil) (Flyweight)
Hailing from San Antonio, Texas, Rainn Guerrero began her combat sports journey at San Antonio’s Ohana Academy. During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, Guerrero moved to Houston, and joined WAR Training Center – the gym out of which Contender Series 2023 Week 3 contract winner Zachary Reese also trains. Holding a 5-1 professional record, Guerrero most recently competed at Fury FC 71, in a matchup against The Ultimate Fighter Season 26 alumnus Christina Marks; Guerrero convincingly won the bout via unanimous decision (3 x 30-27). Guerrero is the third Contender Series 2023 athlete to have competed at Fury FC 71; the first was Week 2’s Cameron Smotherman, and the second was Week 3’s Zachary Reese. For her Contender Series bout, Guerrero will be cornered by one of her coaches, Richard Adam Copley, and her boyfriend Christopher Miller, who is also a professional MMA athlete.
With Corinne Laframboise out of Contender Series the week of her matchup, Dione Barbosa steps up on short notice. Born in Recife, Pernambuco, Barbosa currently resides in America, training out of Kings MMA in Huntington Beach, California. Prior to accepting the short notice Contender Series bout, however, Barbosa had been training as a member of Cris Cyborg’s camp at Cris Cyborg Fitness MMA, for Cyborg’s Bellator 300 matchup with Cat Zingano. A black belt in both judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Barbosa was a member of the 2012 Brazilian Olympic Judo Team. Currently holding a 5-2 professional MMA record, Barbosa notably holds a win over Contender Series 2021 contract winner, and surging UFC flyweight, Karine Silva; Barbosa won that 2019 bout against Silva at Katana Fight 9 via unanimous decision, and remains the most recent athlete to defeat Silva in a professional MMA bout.
(Image courtesy of @AlexBehunin on X, formerly Twitter)