The third season of Dana White’s Contender Series concluded Tuesday, with three more contracts awarded, and after 10 weeks of shows, the UFC has 30 new athletes under contract. That’s the most contracts a single season has produced thus far, though it’s worth noting that this season had two additional episodes after the first two seasons consisted of eight apiece.
Contender Series alumni have gone 92-82-2 so far in the UFC, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Some of the show’s top standouts include Sean O’Malley, Geoff Neal, Greg Hardy, Maycee Barber, Edmen Shahbazyan, Jimmy Crute and Sodiq Yusuff. A Brazilian version of the show in 2018 brought light heavyweight contender Johnny Walker to the UFC.
With 30 new faces in the mix, which names from Season 3 should you keep an eye on moving forward?
Here are three to watch:
At age 23, Aleksa Camur is the youngest fighter to receive a UFC contract on this season of Dana White’s Contender Series. He will require time to reach his potential, but the potential is obvious. Chris Unger/DWCS LLC/Zuffa LLCAleksa Camur (5-0), light heavyweight
The UFC’s return to China features a strawweight division championship fight, one that fans in Shenzhen have been anticipating for several months.
Zhang Weili, who is 19-1 and fights out of Beijing, will look to take the title from Jessica Andrade in Saturday’s main event.
UFC Fight Night: Andrade vs. Zhang
• Saturday, Shenzhen, China
• Prelims: ESPN, 3 a.m. ET
• Main card: ESPN+, 6 a.m. ET
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It should be pointed out that Camur is not the most “UFC-ready” of this year’s group. At the age of 23, he’s the youngest athlete to receive a contract this season. He’s going to require time (and appropriate matchmaking) to realize his potential in the Octagon, but the potential is obvious.
Camur was born in Bosnia and moved to the U.S. when he was 2. He trains out of Strong Style Fight Team in northeast Ohio, home of current heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic. Camur is built like a tank and isn’t afraid to sit on his punches. Five fights into his pro career, he has finished every one of his opponents by knockout.
His win over Fabio Cherant might be one of the most memorable fights in Contender Series history. After getting stunned with a left hand, Camur knocked Cherant out with a flying knee in the middle of a pretty wild exchange. He’s definitely young, but the UFC saw something in Camur that it couldn’t pass up. I see it too.
Tracy Cortez won her way into the UFC with a decision victory over Mariya Agapova during Season 3 of Dana White’s Contender Series. Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC
Cortez had one of the most compelling stories of any fighter this season. Dana White probably spoke for many of us when he said Cortez’s story made him cry, but it was her obvious grappling ability that produced a UFC contract.
Cortez, 25, lost her pro debut two years ago, but she has been perfect since. She went 5-0 as an amateur from 2013 to 2016. She has a good base to further build her skill set. She wasn’t able to finish Mariya Agapova on the show (Agapova, by the way, was a long, technical striker who offered a legitimate challenge), but she ended up dominating the judges’ scorecards.
There’s a lot to like about Cortez. Obvious potential. Heart. She comes from a good camp in Fight Ready MMA in Arizona. Although a compelling backstory isn’t necessary to find success in the UFC, it certainly doesn’t hurt. Cortez is articulate, and I like her chances of developing a fanbase who will find her relatable.
Ode Osbourne shakes up Armando Villarreal with a knee to the head in Round 1. For more UFC, sign up for ESPN+: http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
The self-proclaimed “Picasso of MMA,” Osbourne, 27, is entertaining on the mic and in the cage. His hands-down striking style invites a fight on the feet, and he showcased some slick ground skills in his lightning fast submission of Armando Villareal on the show. He also has collegiate wrestling experience at Division III Carroll University in his back pocket.
Osbourne’s frame will be a weapon at 135 pounds. He’s 5-foot-7 with a 72-inch reach, which, for context, is almost the exact same build as current bantamweight contender Aljamain Sterling.
Osbourne is talented and marketable. In addition to his professional fighting career, he teaches fifth- and sixth-grade math, and he says he never plans to leave that job because he loves his students too much.
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