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Dana White’s Contender Series Season 7, Week 1 Recap

Dana White's Contender Series DWCS

(David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports)

Dana White's Contender Series DWCS
(David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports)

Dana White’s Contender Series Season 7, Week 1 Recap

Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) Season 7 is underway and week one is in the books. The 2023 edition of the show started off with a bang as we saw some high-quality prospects put their skills on display.

In these Dana White’s Contender Series recaps I evaluate each fighter’s performance and discuss what we can expect from each fighter as they enter the UFC. In this post, I’ll rank each fighter’s UFC potential with the most promising fighter at the top and the least impressive fighter at the bottom.

DWCS Season 7, Week 1 saw five fighters get contracts. In all honesty, I have a lot of positives to say about the top four fighters. With that in mind, fighters one through four are all fairly close so keep that in mind as you read.

Tom Nolan — Lightweight

Tom Nolan was the only fighter to get a finish on DWCS Season 7. Week 1 and it was a good one. Nolan landed a brutal left hook that dropped Bogdan Grad. On top of that, he landed two insane ground-and-pound shots.

Despite only getting to see around a minute and a half of Nolan fighting, the skills were clear. To begin, he is a 6-foot-3 lightweight. That insane height will give him a size advantage for the majority of his mixed martial arts career. It is also good to see that he understands how he can utilize that size.

On the outside, he was throwing heavy kicks that kept Grad at bay. Additionally, he has good straight punches that he can use to punish fighters as they enter the pocket. Lastly, the knockout came when he sat in the pocket, stayed safe, and through a massive counter. All in all, he is good on the outside, on the inside, and in the in-betweens. What more can you ask for?

As far as UFC potential goes, Nolan has a promising future. At just 23-years-old, his skills are evident and he still has years to grow. I do have two questions about Nolan. Can he grapple? What happens if he has to move up to welterweight? I think those are two fair concerns. We did not see much grappling and he is a massive lightweight. Regardless of the answer to either question, he has an outstanding baseline skill set and years to develop. Nolan was a great addition to the outstanding UFC lightweight division.

Payton Talbott — Bantamweight

DWCS Season 7, Week 1 saw several young prospects impress. 24-year-old Payton Talbott was one of those fighters. Talbott earned an impressive decision victory over Reyes Cortez Jr. that netted him a UFC contract.

Talbott started fairly slow in the first round. Talbott and Cortez were trading in the pocket and Cortez was finding a lot of solid shots. As the fight went on, Talbott began to find more success. The shift in momentum was centered around his lead hand as he started to land his jab and lead hook. It also helped that threw kicks more frequently. Talbott slowly poured on damage and was repeatedly landing impactful blows as the fight reared the final bell. If Cortez was not ridiculously durable, Talbott would have gotten a finish win.

I really like Talbott’s potential in the UFC. It is worth noting that his striking is still fairly raw. At 5-foot-10 in the bantamweight division, he is physically gifted. His unique size and varied striking attack make him a solid prospect. I was also impressed with his grappling. In most cases, 24-year-old strikers struggle in the grappling department. I think there are reasons for optimism with Talbott’s defensive grappling. At first glance, Talbott can be taken down, but he does not accept bottom position. He immediately works to get up the second he hits the mat and does not stop until he is up. That is great to see.

Overall, I view Talbott as a raw prospect with some great tools, tendencies and physical attributes. If he can round out the edges of his skillset, he will accomplish great things in the UFC.

Cesar Almeida — Middleweight

Cesar Almedia is the toughest and easiest fighter to evaluate from DWCS Season Seven Week One. On one hand, we know exactly what he will be in the UFC, but he is 35-years-old, which makes him less of a long-term project than the only fighters that earned a contract.

Almedia has just cause for breaking into the UFC at 35. The majority of his career has been spent in kickboxing where he complied a 47-8-1 record with one no contest. In the striking realm, he is a finished product. That finished product is a good one too.

The impressive aspect of Almeida’s DWCS fight was that the majority of it was spent grappling and he still won. All the questions for kickboxers entering MMA surround their grapple. For example, the jury is still out on Alex Pereira’s grappling and he already won a UFC title. Almeida, on the other hand, did a great job grappling and came out on top in a lot of scenarios. This allowed him to throw ground-and-pound and pick up a clear decision win.

It is hard to project how Almeida fairs in the UFC. At the moment, he is the most skilled out of all the fighters that earned a contract, but he has likely hit his ceiling. Now, we are left to figure out how many fights he can win before he ages out of the sport. Ultimately, that comes down to how often he fights and if he will stay healthy. That is impossible to predict.

Kevin Borjas — Flyweight

Kevin Borjas had to go to war to earn a contract on DWCS, but he pulled it off. Borjas, 25, got into a dogfight with Victor Dias and earned himself a spot in the UFC.

I really like Borjas and it feels like a crime to put him in the four spot of this ranking. Although, that is a testament to the talent we saw today. The positives for Borjas were his striking. On the feet, he looked sharp and fast. His right hand landed at will throughout the bout and did a ton of damage. In the later rounds, he hit a tired Dias with insane shots to the body. If Dias did not have a chin of stone and a liver of metal, Borjas would have finished that fight.

The issue for Borjas was his grappling, which is why he slipped this far down the ranking. Borjas was taken down at will. In the first round, he was taken down, controlled and hit with ground and pound. Dias was just too tired to continue that game plan in the second and third rounds.

In all honesty, the UFC might be too much too soon for Borjas. I think a year of regional fights would have been beneficial before throwing him into the UFC. Borjas could see early struggles if he faces sufficient grapplers. That said, the UFC could not afford to let him walk without a contract because a rival promotion would have signed him in a heartbeat. Nonetheless, if he patches the holes in his grappling, his future is awfully bright.

Caio Machado — Heavyweight

As I said in the introduction, the top four fighters from DWCS Season 7, Week 1 were all really impressive. Well, we have gotten to No. 5. To be blunt, Caio Machado and Kevin Szaflarski did not entertain. If I was not writing this post, I would have probably stopped watching. Still, Machado walked away with a decision win and a UFC contract.

Essentially, this bout was three rounds of Machado attempting to be Francis Ngannou. Machado chased Szaflarski with comically sloppy overhands. Meanwhile, Szaflarski barely through any punches and looked to hold Machado up against the fence. At the end of the fight, Machado landed some big shots and got the win.

To be fair, Machado was the more active fighter. If he had a better dance partner, the fight could have been entertaining.

It is interesting to evaluate Machado’s potential. That is more an inditement on the UFC heavyweight division than anything. The skill requirement to be an average fighter in the division is far less than any other. In that regard, Machado could find success. According to the broadcast, he can grapple too. It is possible we see Machado use that to his advantage and pick up some UFC wins.

***

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