The Definitive Guide: Dana White’s Contender Series Season 4 Week 6

Last week delivered a series of awesome fights that were competitive and action packed. DWCS week 6 should be no different.

The Card

Tafon Nchukwi v. Al Matavao
Cameron Church v. Sherrard Blackledge
Phil Hawes v. Khadzhimurat Bestaev
Mana Martinez v. Drako Rodriguez
Aliaskhab Khizriev v. Henrique Shiguemoto

Join me as we take a look at who these fighters are and who should win. So far this season we have a prediction record of 14-9-1, so lets see if we can keep a winning record at the next Contender Series card.

Middleweight: Aliaskhab Khizriev v. Henrique Shiguemoto

Aliaskhab Khizriev (12-0-0) is an athlete out of Russia. This fight will be his first in over two years, but his last bout was a first round TKO finish of UFC-vet Rousimar Palhares.

Khizriev possesses a well-rounded skill set and he’s aggressive anywhere the fight goes. He showed a lot of gamesmanship is his short fight against Palhares. Even though Palhares was looking for his pattented leg locks, Khizriev stayed with the grappling, and when all else failed, he just started firing away with brutal ground and pound.

His strikes on the ground are quick and powerful, and he does a great job mixing his strikes in while he is advancing position. He is not one to rest when he has dominant position on the floor, and Khizriev mostly looks to inflict damage rather than locking up a submission.

While his standup is serviceable. He moves forward, and throws heat with overhands and hooks. He does have a habit of being sloppy, though.

Khiriev impresses me with his grappling and wrestling. In his 2018 bout against Enomoto, the Russian fighter was able to land takedowns at will. His grappling is without a doubt world class. He will just float in top position and continually work to do damage and make his opponent uncomfortable. All the while, passing and advancing position. He’ll even sometimes just straight up do this smashing jump on top of his opponents to get the damage going.

Henrique Shiguemoto (13-3-1) is a fighter out of Japan and he is affiliated with Shock Combat. He has wins over athletes who have had stints in the UFC and Bellator.

What impresses me about Shiguemoto is the consistency of his movement and striking style. He is relaxed in a way that is usually found in something like K-1 or Glory. No fancy footwork here. His strikes are powerful and intentional. Composed is an apt descriptor for Shiguemoto.

On the outside, Shiguemoto slowly marches forward, and fires off straight punches with powerful kicks to the body. On the inside, he will throw hooks, and use his strength to fight off the clinch. I will say though, that he definitely has a killer instinct, and he will turn up the pace if he senses a finish.

Groundwork is not something Shiguemoto utilizes often. He will control an opponent until he can get to a position to unload punches. In fact, his last two wins have used this strong-man tactic. For example, his latest win, a 28-second knockout at Road FC 56, he fired off relentless ground and pound to heavily rock his opponent. Once they got back up, the damage was done, and he was able to connect with a crisp right hand to put his opponent away.

Prediction: Amilcar Khizriev. I don’t think that Shiguemoto has been tested in the way will prepare him for the pressure that Khizriev brings to the table. Shiguemoto likes a relaxed kickboxing-like pace where he can slowly advance, feint, and pick away with strikes. That is not the type of fight he has waiting for him on Tuesday.

Granted, Khizriev will have to avoid the powerful strikes coming his way, but if he can stay out of danger long enough, he’ll be able to overwhelm his opponent on the floor.

Bantamweight: Mana Martinez v. Drako Rodriguez

Mana Martinez (6-1-0) fights out of Metro Fight Club in Texas.

The boxing is the star of the show for this young athlete. He switches stances, and mixes punches to the body and head of his opponents with great skill.

Martinez really shines when his opponents are pressured against the cage. He has this ability to slip just out of the way of punches coming his way, and then dipping back in to rip hooks to the head and body.

He really goes all out when his opponents are hurt, sometimes just throwing his body into them in order to stay in his punching range.

On the outside, Martinez is good with kicks and straight punches, switching angles and moving his head well in the process.

Drako Rodriguez (6-1-0) is a fighter out of Iowa, and he represents One Combat Academy.

There is not too much footage for this fighter available. If King of the Cage would like to make their newer shows a bit more available, this MMA writer sure would appreciate it.

What little I have seen leads me to believe that Rodriguez is a part of the new breed of MMA fighter. He is not overly specialized in any one area. He has wins by knockout, submission, and decision.

I was impressed with the grappling ability that I saw in his bout against Shaine Moffitt at KOTC. He was taken down with a slam, but stayed in it, eventually getting an armbar finish in the first round.

He will need to put his wrestling to use against his opponent on Tuesday, because I did not see the speed neccessary to deal with the striking of Martinez.

Prediction: Mana Martinez. This is based primarily on data. I simply have more of it on Martinez. I think his striking looks good, his aggression and speed are fantastic. I like what I’ve seen in the footage that’s available.

Rodriguez can win, and his record shows that he can win in a variety of ways. That said, I’m going with my gut on this one. I think Martinez gets it done via stoppage.

Middleweight: Phil Hawes v. Khadzhimurat Bestaev

Phil Hawes (7-2-0) fighter out of Hard Knocks 365 in New Jersey. He has competed in the Ultimate Fighter and Dana White’s Contender Series, but lost both showings.

He is a powerful wrestler, and will control from half-guard to get off ground and pound. Hawes pressure from the top is consistent, but not very dynamic, unless he senses a finish.

Hawes’ standup game has vastly improved since his losing effort at DWCS in 2017. He took two years off after his KO loss to Julian Marquez, and it looks like he focused on the striking aspect of the game during that break.

His standup game is focused on a few basic weapons, but it’s clear that he’s been sharpening those weapons for a while now. Hawes will throw dipping jabs to the body, and will often follow that up with a long straight right if he feels in range. He’s quite good with the inside leg kick, and he will teep kick to keep his range.

His overall game is one of consistency. None of his game is overly dynamic or flashy, but the weapons and tactics he does use are high-percentage, and work for his frame.

Khadzhimurat Bestaev (10-3-0) is a fighter out of California. This will be his first bout in almost two years.

First and foremost, I will let you know that there is little to no recent, relevant footage of Bestaev that I could find. Seriously, if anyone knows where to watch archives of Gladiator Challenge please let me know.

What I can gather about Bestaev’s game is that he is dangerous everywhere, but not a specific threat anywhere. He can finish a fight either with strikes of submissions, but he is not specialized to the point where I can say wat he specifically looks for.

He’s never had a fight go past the second round (win or lose), so we can expect some action. Bestaev’s wins are not very impressive when you look at the records of the people he’s stopping.

Prediction: Phil Hawes. I think this is Hawes’ fight to lose or win. If he shows up looking like the man we’ve seen in his last three outings, then I see him winning in a dominant fashion.

Bestaev has had trouble off of his back, and if Hawes can put him there, I see a ground and pound TKO as entirely likely.

Lightweight: Cameron Church v. Sherrard Blackledge

Cameron Church (4-0-0) is a fighter out of Escobar Training Grounds in California.

Church’s game is one of pressure, and working his way in to deliver powerful strikes in the form of overhooks and stinging leg kicks. He also possesses some nice kicks to the body and head, but most of the time he keeps it to outside leg kicks.

Defensively, Church is great at moving his head and getting under the strikes of his opponents. After a slip, expect him to answer with a punch combination or overhand right.

If he wants to win on Tuesday, he will need to stay off the floor. His grappling is the most underdeveloped part of his game, so he will need to avoid that part of the game.

Sherrard Blackledge (4-0-0), a pro since 2018, fights out of Syndicate MMA in Las Vegas. He also competed as an amateur where he had a record of 6-1-1.

He is a solid talent. Blackledge is a well-rounded striker who likes to to use long strikes from the outside. His kicks are sharp, and he targets them to the legs and body.

His punches are equally sharp and straight.

On the ground, Blackledge has nice top-control and will look to strike from the top. He can advance position reasonably well, but he will, more often than not, stop off at positions to land punches and elbows.

His finish of Brandon Olsen impressed me quite a bit. Blackledge stayed composed and went to work against an opponent that was giving up. Many fighters of his experience level would have gone wild for the finish, but he just plugged away until the referee waved the bout off.

Prediction: Sherrard Blackledge. Even though Cameron Church has better striking credentials (pro kickboxing experience), I think that Blackledge possesses the more varied striking attack.

In addition to being more active with strikes, Blackledge has a solid ground game that far outpaces Church.

Blackledge will need to stay active on his feet, stick and move, because Church is going to pressure forward with power punches. The safest route to victory for Blackledge is on the mat where he can make church uncomfortable and hopefully get the finish.

Light Heavyweight: Tafon Nchukwi v. Al Matavao

Tafon Nchukwi (3-0-0) is a Team Lloyd Irvin product out of Maryland. This bout at the DWCS will be his first at light heavyweight.

In his most recent bout against former DWCS competitor (and current UFC contract holder) William Knight, Nchukwi showed a well-rounded game that far exceeds what you’d expect out of someone who only has three professional fights.

His striking, just like everything else, is powerful. Nchukwi jabs his way in and follows up with an outside leg kick or straight right. He will also set up his power straight with a slapping hook. Reserved, but forward motion sums up his footwork.

Nchukwi’s clinch striking and takedown defense really showed as well in his bout against Knight. He’s just overall a powerful guy, and he backs up that power with what seems to be a pretty great technical base.

Al Matavao (8-2-0) is an Alaskan athlete with Legacy Jiu Jitsu. He is coming up a weight class, as he has traditionally fought as a middleweight.

I Matavao’s style. He’s a striker, but he comes from odd angles. In his fight against Collin Mansanas, Matavao hit an inside leg kick and then drifted away, switched stances, and then launched back in with a pair of overhands that put his opponent to sleep. The fight lasted 16 seconds.

Matavao will also enter quickly with punch combinations, before rolling out and getting out of danger. He particularly likes the lead uppercut to the right straight. The teep kick is also a favorite of his, and he’ll use it on the offense to keep opponents against the cage.

In this fight against Nchukwi, Matavao will need to use his speed, and he will need to stay out of the clinch or grappling exchanges.

Prediction: Tafon Nchukwi. I think he will be able to impose his will on the Matavao. Striking is one thing, but Nchukwi showed in his most recent bout that he can grapple pretty well, and I think that is his surest path to victory.

If Nchukwi decides not to grapple, I still feel that his power and size will prove the difference in this one. That said, he will have to be careful not to be overwhelmed by the speed of Matavao, because there is a real possibility that Nchukwi could get stuck watching his faster opponent work, waiting for the perfect shot, but letting the fight slip away in the process.

And that’s it! Needless to say, I hope we do better with our predictions this week. I keep saying that predicting these bouts is getting harder and harder, and it keeps being true.

The matchmaking is great this season, leading to some of the most entertaining bouts that the Contender Series cage has ever see.

See ya on Tuesday!

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