Contender Series Week 7 Best Bets: Picks and Leans for All 5 Fights Tonight (Tuesday, September 19)
Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images. Pictured: Contender Series heavyweights Shamil Gaziev and Greg Velasco
Contender Series Week 7 takes place on Tuesday night, and we've got bets and leans for all five bouts, in which UFC hopefuls look to earn their way into the UFC octagon proper.
Season 7 Episode 7 of Contender Series streams tonight on ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET (5 p.m. PT) from the UFC Apex facility in Las Vegas. New Contender Series events take place every Tuesday night and through early October.
As with all UFC Contender Series events, some of tonight's DWCS winners – and even some of the losers – could earn a UFC deal. In fact, the Contender Series events have become one of the UFC's primary feeder systems.
UFC President Dana White is cageside for each show, and after each event, the UFC boss will determine which fighters have earned an official UFC contract.
As a reminder, some sportsbooks can be slow to open Contender Series odds and betting markets – though nearly every major sportsbook eventually does post them.
(Don't forget that you can track your Contender Series bets in the Action App.)
* Odds as of Tuesday and via DraftKings
Contender Series Week 7 Odds and Fight Card
Flyweight: Igor da Silva (-175) vs. Jhonata Silva (+145)
Fighter walkouts: Approx. 8:05 p.m. ET
We kick off tonight's Week 7 Contender Series event with a Silva-on-Silva flyweight matchup with two relatively green prospects set to lock horns. Jhonata Silva is 8-1 as a professional with his only loss coming via split decision while Igor Silva is a perfect 7-0.
Jhonata has fought most of his career in his native country, but he most recently competed for Cage Warriors in England. He picked up a third-round knockout with a knee, though it was a pair of head kicks that marked the beginning of the end for his opponent. He's a fast striker with a diverse range of attacks and power from all angles.
Jhonata's takedown defense was as bad as I've seen from a fighter at this level, though. His Croatian opponent – primarily a striker himself – repeatedly took down Jhonata with sloppy shots from the outside. Jhonata was able to escape back to his feet most of the time, but he could have a lot more trouble against a more committed grappler.
Igor da Silva is still just 20, having made his pro debut at the age of 15 (!) in Brazil. He's finished all seven of his wins with three knockouts and four submissions. All of his fights have been under the Jungle Fight banner, a mid-level Brazilian promotion that leaves some concerns about the quality of his competition.
However, his last opponent was 9-1, and Igor thoroughly outclassed him, getting the better of the standup and defending increasingly desperate takedown attempts. I wish we were able to find more tape of him grappling offensively, but the four submission wins on his record is at least a hint.
I wanted to be on the underdog here, but his lackluster grappling makes it challenging to pull the trigger. Both fighters are very strong in the standup department, but Igor has the ability to change things up and grapple if need be. Especially with the line moving against him over the past day or two, I'll lay the juice on the favorite at -175 at Caesars. I'm also interested in a sprinkle on his submission line when it's avaliable.
Prediction: Igor da Silva defeats Jhonata Silva via Submission
The Bet: Igor da Silva -170 (Caesars)
Lightweight: Kaynan Kruschewsky (-205) vs. Dylan Mantello (+170)
Fighter walkouts: Approx. 8:25 p.m. ET
Next up we have a lightweight tilt featuring another Brazilian (Kaynan Kruschewsky) taking on Weidman-Longo prospect Dylan Mantello.
Kruschewsky is the current Jungle Fight lightweight champion with a 14-1 professional record, but he has also made appearances in French Promotion Ares FC and for LFA.
Kruschewsky also had a unanimous-decision loss overturned due to a failed drug test from his opponent, with Kruschewsky testing positive following that fight as well.
Kruschewsky is a wild and aggressive striker who likes to overwhelm his opponents early. He leaves himself open to takedowns when rushing in, however – a deficiency that's easier to hide on the Brazilian regional scene than when fighting more wrestling-focused opposition.
He's very dangerous on the ground, though, with eight of his professional wins by submission. He's comfortable jumping guillotine and playing off his back when his opponents shoot, a risky strategy that tends to lead to losing minutes.
Mantello is the less experienced fighter at 7-2, turning pro in 2019. He's fought mainly on the East Coast, though he has a pair of fights for Eagle FC as well. At 6-foot-1, he's a massive lightweight, and he should have a significant reach edge over Kruschewsky (though his reach is unlisted). He uses his reach fairly well in the tape I've seen, scoring with leg kicks from range while threatening takedowns.
Of course, representing the Longo-Weidman camp is his best attribute is his grappling. He was hurt by his opponent in his CFFC fight, but he was able to pick up a submission when his opponent rushed in for the kill.
I worry about Mantello early as he prefers a more measured start to his fights than the aggressive Kruschewsky. Kruschewsky may be able to overwhelm him early while Mantello is feeling things out. Mantello is the better overall fighter, though, and comes from the more well-respected camp.
If Kruschewsky in Round 1 is available at plus money, let's take that for half of a unit while looking to jump in on Mantello should he survive the opening flurry.
Prediction: Dyland Mantello defeats Kaynan Kruschewsky by decision
The Bets: Kaynan Kruschewsky in Round 1 (at plus money) | Dylan Mantello Live
Strawweight: Talita Alencar (-218) vs. Stephanie Luciano (+180)
Fighter walkouts: Approx. 8:55 p.m. ET
Talita Alencar is stepping in on somewhat short notice after Stephanie Luciano's original opponent withdrew for unknown reasons. Still, Alencar is a considerable favorite here thanks to her outstanding grappling credentials.
Alencar has a long history of high-level grappling competition, culminating in her championship at the no-gi worlds in 2021. It's a good sign that she's primarily competed without the gi because that type of grappling carries over more directly to MMA. That experience has translated exactly how you'd expect – with a 4-0 professional MMA record and three submissions.
Her striking is a bit underdeveloped, mainly due to her short stature and reach for the division. However, unlike many jiu-jitsu-based fighters, she has solid wrestling and picks up takedowns offensively rather than trying to pull guard.
Once she gets to top position, she doesn't give it up and scores points with strikes while constantly threatening submissions.
"Rondinha" ("Little Ronda") Luciano is more of a striker with a 5-1 record featuring two knockouts. She's also competed in some amateur muay Thai, which is a hint to her background.
Luciano has a puncher's chance here, but her lone professional loss came to another high-level grappler. That's how I see this one going too, with the big question being whether Alencar can finish the fight on the ground or just win a decision. I'm leaning toward the former but would need plus-money on her inside-the-distance line or +200 on her submission line before making a bet.
Prediction: Talita Alencar defeats Stephanie Luciano via Submission
The Lean: Talita Alencar Inside the Distance or Submission (Depending on Price)
Lightweight: Jacobi Jones (-230) vs. Dan Allen (+190)
Fighter walkouts: Approx. 9:25 p.m. ET
LFA lightweight champion and Factory X product Jacobi Jones looks to make the jump to the big show this week, taking on Dan Allen from American Kickboxing Academy. This is a matchup between two of the best camps in America, so we can expect both fighters to be well-prepared for the moment.
Jones is a former Division II All-American wrestler with a 6-1 pro record featuring four finishes. He has the classic boxer/wrestler style, throwing heavy punches with the occasional leg kick. His wrestling background allows him to plant and throw without worrying about takedowns coming back, even against high-level submission fighters as he fought in his last fight.
He's also an excellent athlete with solid power, explosiveness and impressive cardio. Training in the high altitude of Denver, he should be able to take over down the stretch if this one goes long. His striking defense is a bit sloppy, though his wrestling allows him to pick up takedowns if he's uncomfortable during the striking exchanges.
Allen is a bit more raw with just four professional fights under his belt. He's yet to take on an opponent with a winning record, and this is a massive step up in competition. His team at AKA should have him ready for spotlight, but this might be a bit too much too soon against an impressive prospect like Jones.
Jones should find a stoppage at some point here, likely in the later rounds as he wears down Allen with relentless wrestling. My preferred bet is Jones by knockout if we can get even money or better, but if not, I'll split my bets between Jones in Round 2 and Jones in Round 3.
Prediction: Jacobi Jones defeats Dan Allen via Knockout
The Leans: Jacobi Jones KO | Jones in Round 2/Round 3 (Depending on Price)
Heavyweight: Shamiel Gaziev (-600) vs. Greg Valesco (+440)
Fighter walkouts: Approx. 9:55 p.m. ET
We finish the night with the big boys as a pair of undefeated heavyweight prospects cap off the action.
Greg Valeso has a 6-0 professional record, and he is the reigning CFFC heavyweight champion. He defended that title once before getting the call to the big leagues, and he won the title with a four-round unanimous-decision victory. Making it through 20 minutes of action is impressive for a man of his size, but the former D-1 wrestler is obviously in good condition for his fights.
Velasco shoots for takedowns almost immediately in all of the fights I've watched him in, and he has the technical wrestling acumen to work himself out of bad positions when his opponent sprawls.
Velasco will chain wrestle until he gets the fight where he wants it, using multiple attacks to down his opponent more so than pure size or athleticism. He's struggled when put on his back though, as we'd expect from a fighter with a wrestling background.
Of course, a grappling-focused attack might not be the best gameplan against Gaziev, a 10-0 Dagestani-born fighter. He's finished nine of those 10 fights with eight of them coming in the first round. Gaziev also has fought a higher level of competition with his last win coming over UFC vet Darko Stosic.
The likeliest outcome here is Gaziev picking up a dominant win in Round 1. I suspect that prop will be somewhere in the -200 range, though, which I wouldn't take. However, Gaziev's lone decision win was a split, largely due to Gaziev fading down the stretch. Valesco's best path here is to drag this one out and take over late.
If you're watching this one live, wait until the end of the first round and take a stab at Valesco. If not, a pre-fight sprinkle on the underdog is worth it at the long odds.
Prediction: Shamiel Gaziev defeats Greg Valesco via Round 1 TKO
The Bet: Greg Valeso (+440) | Valesco Live After Round 1