Just like in previous seasons, Season 6 of Dana White’s Contender Series brought in MMA prospects from around the world, giving them a chance to make a name for themselves in UFC.
After 43 of the competitors earned contracts, the most ever in a season, there are plenty of new names for fans to learn. But who stood out among the crowd? Who are the fighters whom fans should be keeping up with?
Could any of the fighters from this season be the next Taila Santos or Alex Perez — the only two DWCS alums who have fought for a UFC title? Could some 2022 signees soon find themselves fighting for a spot on ESPN’s divisional rankings, as Marina Rodriguez did?
Brett Okamoto and Marc Raimondi take a look at the top UFC newcomers from Season 6.
Weight class: Middleweight
What else is there to say about Nickal at this point? After two wins in a combined 114 seconds during this season of Dana White’s Contender Series, Nickal looks like the best prospect to ever earn a contract on the show — and one of the best prospects that any of us have seen in MMA in a long time, period. Nickal is a three-time NCAA Division I national champion out of Penn State University and trains at one of the world’s best gyms, American Top Team, which almost makes things unfair. Nickal’s wrestling is among the best in the UFC, if not the best. And he was able to show his power when knocked down Donovan Beard with a punch last week on Contender Series before submitting him. This guy is a real problem.
The question now for UFC matchmakers is how quickly do they want to push him. Nickal is already booked against Jamie Pickett at UFC 282 on Dec. 10 in Las Vegas and he is projected to be a heavy favorite. If Nickal gets by Pickett, and he should, what does the UFC do with him? If it’s a spectacular finish, there could be some support toward giving him a top-15 contender next. Nickal is already calling out stars such as Khamzat Chimaev. But the truth is, there’s no reason to rush. Nickal is just 3-0 in MMA and 26 years old. He just might be too darned great for the UFC to hold him back very long. — Raimondi
Weight class: Bantamweight
Is Rosas Jr. ready to make an immediate impact in the UFC? As the youngest fighter ever to earn a contract on Contender Series (and if he fights in the first half of next year, the youngest fighter in UFC history), frankly, chances are against that, right? Rosas Jr. says he’s already looking at the best bantamweights in the world and sees holes in their games. You’ve got to love that youthful confidence and optimism, but there are likely going to be some growing pains at some point — just like there have been with other young talents from Contender Series (think Chase Hooper, Maycee Barber and Edmen Shahbazyan).
But, that said, if you don’t expect Rosas Jr. to be perfect right out of the gate, he has a great chance to impress. He’s a well-rounded risk taker with very real talent on the ground and a unique ability to blend different aspects of his game together far better than any 17-year-old should. He’s also incredibly physical for his age. There’s always a chance he runs into some “man strength” issues down the road with a more experienced opponent, but so far it doesn’t look like a huge concern.
Is this all happening too soon for Rosas Jr.? Maybe. But maybe not. His potential is definitely one of the top things to watch coming out of the season. — Okamoto
Weight class: Middleweight
UFC president Dana White might have christened Pyfer with a new catchphrase — “Be Joe Pyfer” — but he did more for the Pennsylvania native. After Pyfer became the first fighter to earn a UFC contract on this season of Contender Series back in July, he told White that he was on the verge of becoming homeless. White took money out of his own pocket to help out, which Pyfer later said amounted to a year’s worth of rent. Pyfer obviously didn’t take any of that for granted. He made his full-fledged UFC debut on Sept. 17 and knocked out Alen Amedovski with a right hand.
The catchphrase stemmed from a lack of action on Week 1 of Contender Series, the show on which Pyfer appeared. Pyfer was the only one to earn a finish on the July 26 episode. So White told interviewer Laura Sanko that if fighters want to get contracts this season, they needed to be better — they needed to “be Joe Pyfer.” He might not have gotten the hype of a Nickal or a Rosas Jr. this season, but Pyfer looks like he’s going to be a factor in the UFC middleweight division. He packs some punch into a 6-foot-2 frame and has recorded a finish in nine of his 10 pro wins. It will be interesting to see how the man nicknamed “Bodybagz” does as the level of competition increases. — Raimondi
Weight class: Lightweight
Rebecki hasn’t even made his UFC debut yet, but he’s already got a nickname from White, who referred to him as Re-Beast-i after his first-round submission finish on Week 6. Obviously, there were a lot of contracts handed out in the 2022 season, and different athletes stood out for a variety of reasons. Rebecki probably isn’t going to be a guy who jumps on a rocket ship up the 155-pound rankings. The Polish fighter speaks English and has good energy on the mic, but don’t expect him to kick down the door with any viral trash talk.
While he’s definitely a finisher, as illustrated by his 87.5% finishing rate, his style is pretty straightforward. He’s a strong wrestler with fantastic submissions, and he has power in his hands. While I think it will take a little bit of time for Rebecki to truly grasp people’s attention, the reason he’s one of my picks as a fighter to watch is that I believe he’s very UFC-ready. Rebecki has been a pro since 2014, and a lightweight champion in Europe since 2018. He’s a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, with ADCC-level experience in grappling contests. He’s legit and more than capable of finishing UFC-caliber opponents. — Okamoto