Best Bets for Contender Series Week 5: Picks for Bruno Lopes vs. Brendson Ribeiro, More (Tuesday, September 5)
Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images. Pictured: UFC octagon set up for a Contender Series at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas
Contender Series Week 5 takes place on Tuesday night, and we've got picks and leans for all five bouts, where UFC hopefuls look to earn their way into the UFC octagon proper.
Season 7 Episode 5 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 5 bets in the Action App.)
Women's Bantamweight: Dione Barbosa (-330) vs. Rainn Guerrero (+240)
Fighter walkouts: Approx. 8:05 p.m. ET
This is the second fight on this week's Contender Series card to feature a bit of shuffling of competitors with Dione Barbosa stepping on on short notice after Rainn Guerrero's original opponent withdrew.
It's telling that the last-minute replacement is the heavy favorite here. This is a fairly low-level fight (even by Contender Series standards) with Guerrero's 5-1 professional record coming against a very low level of opponent. Barbosa is way more battle-tested with a win against UFC standout Karine Silva and a loss to Josiane Nunes, who's 3-0 in the UFC as well.
Guerrero's last fight came against a 36-year-old opponent with an 8-11 record coming in. Guerrero handled her business in that fight, punching her way into range and controlling that fight largely with cage control. She started to rack up takedowns as the fight wore on, but she wasn't able to do much in the way of ground and pound or submissions once she got there until very late in the fight.
That's a dangerous style to bring against Barbosa, a double black belt in judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Her ground game is considerably more developed. She prioritizes top position and passing – a staple of judo-based fighters – while doing damage when she gets to strong positions. She won't sell out for submissions and prefers to hold dominant positions.
I was also considerably more impressed by the standup game of Barbosa, who should have a speed and power edge during the standing exchanges. That makes it hard to see a path to victory for the underdog. However, Guerrero should be able to slow things down enough that this one makes it to the judges.
Method-of-victory props aren't available at the time of writing, but I'll be looking to play Barbosa by decision, or the fight to go to a decision depending on the lines.
Prediction: Dione Barbosa defeats Rainn Guerrero via decision
Lean: Dione Barbosa by decision (-150 or better)
Featherweight: Jean Silva (+140) vs. Kevin Vallejos (-166)
Fighter walkouts: Approx. 8:25 p.m. ET
We've already seen some considerable line movement in this featherweight matchup with the favored Kevin Vallejos opening as more than a -200 favorite, but underdog money has come in steadily on Jean Silva.
Silva is 10-2 with all 10 of his victories coming by finish and both losses via decision. However, there are serious questions about the level of opposition he's faced with his best win arguably coming against a 19-year-old with a 4-0 record. Still, he's passed nearly every test he's been given to this point.
Silva is a dynamic striker with an almost capoeira-esque style. He carries his hands low, moves unpredictably and mixes in plenty of jumping and spinning attacks. He's fun to watch on the feet, but he will need to show more defensive discipline against UFC-level fighters. I couldn't find much tape of him grappling, but he showed excellent takedown defense when needed.
Vallejos has more of a traditional MMA style, with a boxing-based attack that he finishes off with leg kicks. He hides his leg kicks extremely well, disguising them at the end of combinations while his opponent is focused on other attacks. He also has excellent movement and footwork, using angles to circle his opponent into attacks.
That movement comes at a cost, though, and he's potentially open to head kicks while ducking or slipping to the side. There's also a cardio cost, though he's finished most of his fights before it matters.
The last note I made on Vallejos was his excellent takedown entries. Like his kicks, he hides them well and consistently finds his way to his opponents' hips. However, he seems to struggle to finish takedowns, so I'm not banking on him dominating this one with grappling.
My dream scenario here is that we can get under 2.5 rounds or the fight to end inside the distance at plus-money.
Silva's dynamic striking paired with Vallejos' power should see this one end early. However, I also like the value on Vallejos, especially if the line moves any further. Wait until fight time on that one as I'd love the bet at -150 or better.
Prediction: Kevin Vallejos defeats Jean Silva by knockout
Targets: Jean Silva vs. Kevin Vallejos under 2.5 rounds (at plus money) | Vallejos (-150 or better)
Middleweight: Chad Hanekom (-135) vs. Dylan Budka (+114)
Fighter walkouts: Approx. 8:55 p.m. ET
Dylan Budka is one of two last-minute replacements on this week's Contender Series, stepping in for Chad Hanekom's original opponent, Cam Rowston. It's a fun story as Budka fought just two weeks ago – at heavyweight no less.
Budka is a drastically different opponent for Hanekom. Hanekom was originally slated to fight an Australian striker while Budka is a wrestler training out of Ohio. He was a high school all-American and wrestled at the collegiate level before transitioning to MMA in 2020.
He fights how you'd expect a high-level wrestler with limited MMA experience, throwing slow, heavy shots on his way into the clinch. In the tape I saw, he spent most of the standup portion of the fight with his back to the fence, circling aimlessly but never reclaiming any space until he lunged into clinch range.
Hanekom is the far more developed MMA fighter with a 9-2 record. One of those losses was a split decision to current UFC standout Ikram Aliskerov, showing he can handle grapplers effectively. The 6-foot-4 Hanekom should have a massive striking edge here with a diverse attack of kicks and punches to all levels.
Most importantly, Hanekom has far superior footwork and movement, showing good range management as the taller and longer fighter. That will be crucial here, especially in the smaller cage. Finally, his purple belt in jiu-jitsu poses enough of a threat in the grappling that Budka needs to be wary of taking bad shots, giving Hanekom more ways to win here.
Unfortunately, the line has shifted a bit toward Hanekom since I started research on Monday. I'll still take the -130, though, and would be comfortable with his moneyline to -150.
Prediction: Chad Hanekom defeats Dyland Budka via TKO
Bet: Chad Hanekom (-130 at Caesars)
Bantamweight: Serhiy Sidey (-185) vs. Ramon Tavares (+150)
Fighter walkouts: Approx. 9:25 p.m. ET
Canada's Serhiy Sidey is a 9-1 professional with a pair of Canadian regional titles under his belt. He has seven finishes with his lone loss coming via decision. He's fought reasonably tough competition on the regional circuit with some five-round experience, as well.
He's a well-rounded fighter who makes reasonably good use of his height and reach, which are above average for the bantamweight division. He switches stances frequently, throwing powerful kicks to all levels with his rear leg from both stances. There isn't a ton of tape on him grappling, but that's a testament to his takedown defense as his opposition frequently wants to bring him to the canvas.
He's gotten the better of the grappling exchanges I did see despite generally not initiating them. His best skill is his striking, but he's more than capable enough to win minutes on the ground.
Tavares has perhaps the most padded record on this week's card. He's 8-1 but all for the same local Florida promotion. His last two fights were against a 5-5 fighter and the 43-year-old Charles "Krazy Horse" Bennett (who had a 30-41 record at the time.) He also missed weight for this one, another bad sign for his level of preparation.
He's a southpaw with solid boxing, but he's used to overwhelming his opponents with superior athleticism. His takedown defense held up fine in the fights I saw, but the level of opposition was so slow that it's hard to get a read on his true ability.
My favorite betting angle is Sidey live as I expect Tavares to start fast but eventually wear down if he's unable to find the finish. If only betting this prefight, I'm fine with Sidey at -185 or possibly Sidey in Round 3/by decision if those odds are offered.
Prediction: Serhiy Sidey defeats Ramon Tavares by decision
Leans: Serhiy Sidey live after Round 1 | Sidey (-185 at DraftKings)
Light Heavyweight: Bruno Lopes (-660) vs. Brendson Ribeiro (+420)
Fighter walkouts: Approx. 9:55 p.m. ET
There are two kinds of fights on the Contender Series: fights that are made to find out which fighter has what it takes to compete in the UFC, and fights that are made to build up one fighter.
This fight falls firmly in the latter category with Bruno Lopes deserving his massively favored odds.
Lopes has an 11-0 pro record, is the current LFA light heavyweight champion, and has a knockout victory over the UFC's Gregory "Robocop" Rodrigues. He's been tested against top competition and passed it every time.
Riberio is 14-5 and was knocked out twice in 2022 before putting together a pair of wins to earn his spot on the Contender Series.
While he's fought reasonably challenging opponents, Riberio doesn't have any high-level fights on his resume, and he has been beaten by the tougher fighters he's faced.
The massive odds make this one hard to bet, though I'd take Lopes in Round 1 at -135 or better if that's an option. He's clearly the A-side here, and the UFC is using this fight to get him some exposure to the fans as he fills out a thin 205-pound division.
Prediction: Bruno Lopes defeats Brendson Riberio in Round 1
Lean: Bruno Lopes in Round 1 (-135 or better)