The Definitive Guide: Dana White’s Contender Series Season 4 Week 9

Welcome to the Dana White’s Contender Series week 9 predictions: Saturday edition. Join me now as we take a look at the card for Tuesday. Fights change all the time, but this is the card as of publishing the breakdown:

Middleweight: Mariusz Ksiaziewicz v. Mario Sousa

Lightweight: Shaheen Santana v. Landon Quinones

Lightweight: Joseph Lowry v. Nikolas Motta

Strawweight: Luana Pinheiro v. Stephanie Frausto

Bantamweight: Danny Sabatello v. Taylor Moore

We’ve got some pretty solid prospects for this week, and watching their footage almost made me forget I was working.

So far I am 24-12-2 for the 2020 season of Dana White’s Contender Series, and I’m a little nervous about this one. These are some compelling matchups, where each competitor has a reasonable path to victory. That said, I think I’m as close as I could be with the information I have.

So, join me now, and on to the breakdowns!

Bantamweight: Danny Sabatello v. Taylor Moore

Danny Sabatello (8-1-0) is a fighter out of American Top Team and is the current Titan FC Bantamweight Champion. This 27 year-old athlete has been a professional since 2018 and has stayed rather active since he started his campaign; fighting five times in 2019 and twice this year.

Sabatello is the latest in a long line of hard-nosed, high-pace wrestlers who have made the transition from the American Top Team. “The Italian Gangster” is fantastic at quickly taking opponents down from open space and staying super active from the top position. This fighter is either looking to pass, where he likes the scarf-hold position, or use ground and pound that just doesn’t stop.

Sabatello’s striking technique is the weakest part of his game, but it is improving and evolving. Initially in Sabatello’s career, he was flat-footed, didn’t set up his takedowns with strikes, and pretty much only threw overhand-rights while not moving his head. Since his losing effort to Irwin Rivera though, Sabatello has come back in 2020 with renewed footwork and a striking game that relies on good kicks paired with decent boxing.

Taylor Moore (10-4-0) is a fighter out of Michigan’s Scorpion Fighting System, a team that should be familiar to regular viewers of this season’s Contender Series (contract winners Collin Anglin and Josh Parisian call that team home). Moore is riding a three-fight win streak that dates back to 2018. He is the former WXC Bantamweight Champion.

The game of Moore is primarily based on offensive wrestling. That said, his takedowns rely on superb timing rather than chain-wrestling or Greco-Roman techniques. Once he gets top position, he is more than willing to stay in whatever position he finds himself in. He won’t typically try to pass, but he makes up for it with ground and pound that just doesn’t stop; even though, it is not overly impactful.

In the striking department, Moore is a kicker and he doesn’t throw many punches. He likes kicking from a distance, forcing his opponents to rush in, which sets up Moore’s awesome timing on takedowns.

The major hole I see in Moore’s game is his takedown defense. He seems too willing to go to his back, which is the major cause in most of his losses. That said, Moore is able to fight off of his back, and his most recent win, a triangle submission of Josh Robinson, proves that.

Prediction: Danny Sabatello.

The improvements in the striking game of Sabatello are enough to give him the edge here. In addition, he has also been more active as of late, fighting twice this year alone, while Moore has not fought since September 2019.

Taking the newly found striking of Sabatello off the table, his wrestling will prove too much for Moore, who has struggled to fight off takedown attempts from people far less skilled than Sabatello. That said, I think that this fight will most likely go the distance, because Moore is pretty dang tough, and he has never been submitted. However, if Sabatello can get the finish, we’ve got a real prospect on our hands.

Strawweight: Luana Pinheiro v. Stephanie Frausto

Luana Pinheiro (7-1-0) is a Brazilian athlete who fights out of the BH Rhinos team. She is on a five-fight win streak that dates back to 2017, and she has finished all of her seven professional wins. This will be Pinheiro’s first bout since November 2019.

There is not a ton of footage of Pinheiro that is not behind a paywall on Fite.tv, but what I have seen is pretty impressive. The 26 year-old Judo black belt is rather well-rounded for her skill level, and she has shown pretty solid power in her developing striking game. Do yourself a favor and look up her latest win, a stunning KO of Helen Harper at Brave CF 29.

The real strength of Pinheiro’s game is of course her grappling. As stated earlier, she touts a Judo black belt, but she also has a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It shows in her wins, based on the fact that six of her seven wins are by submissions.

Stephanie Frausto (8-6-0) is a ten-year veteran of professional MMA competition, and she fights out of Combat Sports Academy in Dublin, California. She has competed across multiple organizations including Bellator, KOTC, and, most recently, Combate.

Frausto is primarily a grappler, but in her most recent bouts, she has used her striking to win via stoppage. Her striking style is somewhat unorthodox with her switching stances at odd rhythms, almost doing high-knee steps at times to fend off the takedown attempt. She is very active with her kicks, and her punches sneak their way to their target, even though they don’t look very impactful.

Frausto shines in the clinch and is surprisingly strong there. Her takedowns are good, and so is her ground and pound. That said, she does leave herself a bit vulnerable when she is in an opponent’s guard.

Prediction: Luana Pinheiro.

I think that Pinheiro has the tools to best Frausto. Even with the experience edge that Frausto possesses, I think that Pinheiro will be able to use her Judo expertise to nullify the strength of Frausto’s clinch game.

The striking is a bit more intriguing. On paper, Pinheiro and Frausto are not equals in the standup department, but Frausto has a way of upsetting more refined strikers. That said, I think this bout ends on the ground with Pinheiro as the victor.

Lightweight: Joseph Lowry v. Nikolas Motta

Joseph Lowry (9-1-0) is a fighter out of Daddis Mixed Martial Arts Academy in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is a well-rounded finisher having stopped five opponents via strikes and one via submission. He’s been a professional since 2014, but he took two years off following his losing effort in the 2018 season of Dana White’s Contender Series.

As stated earlier, Lowry is a well-rounded striker, showing decent grappling and wrestling. He moves his head well, often dipping before coming up with a jab-cross or just an overhand cross that sails over an opponent’s shoulder. In his most recent bout, a KO win at CFFC 83, Lowry showed an aggressiveness in his striking that bordered on recklessness. That said, that recklessness resulted in an increased striking volume and good accuracy.

Nicolas Motta (11-3-0) is a Brazilian athlete who trains out of Ricardo Almeida Jiu Jitsu in New Jersey. Even though Motta is only 27 years-old, he has been a pro since 2012, even competing in the fourth season of Ultimate Fighter Brazil. He is on nearly a one-year layoff heading into this Contender Series bout.

Motta’s standup is the crux of his game, and even though he gets a bit formulaic at times, he is super effective with the techniques he chooses to use. For example, Motta will most often open with a left hook followed by a right straight. If not that, then he will throw a jab-cross-left hook and finish with a right head kick. He will also sometimes fake the left hook and come in strong with a right straight. These strikes are quick and powerful. Watch his fight at CFFC 77 against Cesar Balmaceda to get an idea of what Motta’s left hook can do.

Defensively, Motta is a mixed bag. He keeps his elbows in tight and his hands up (usually), but he does not move his head much. His footwork often carries him through, but he has been stopped in the past via strikes.

Prediction: Nikolas Motta.

I think that the striking power and experience of Motta will carry him through here. While Lowry does have skills that could get him the win, I think that the power of Motta will prove too much. Both men have trouble defensively, but Motta is quicker and I think he will be the first to tag the chin.

Lightweight: Shaheen Santana v. Landon Quinones

Shaheen Santana (6-0-0) is a fighter out of MMA Masters in Miami, Florida. The 29 year-old athlete has submitted five of his six opponent since he began his professional career in 2016.

Santana is a grappler, and his long limbs help in his pursuit of the submission. Just like his opponent for DWCS, Santana is composed and relaxed inside the cage. I would say a little too relaxed, as he is sometimes a bit passive when he is on bottom position on the ground. Granted, he usually finds success off his back, but he does not aggressively seek the submission. Some might assume that because of his relaxed demeanor, he is able to stay consistent over 15 minutes, but he is known to gas a bit if the fight goes past the first round.

Based on the footage I have available to me, Santana struggles in a couple areas. Most importantly, his wrestling does not match his submission ability. That’s bad, because he needs the fight on the floor, but has historically been unable to insist that it goes there. In addition, his striking is unrefined. He keeps his hands rather low, and he has been especially vulnerable in boxing range. That said, I really like his kicks; he throws front kicks and high kicks to keep range and bait takedowns.

Landon Quinones (5-1-1) is a 24 year-old athlete out of Stanford MMA in Deerfield Beach, Florida. He has been a professional since 2017 and he has stopped four out of his five wins. Quinones features great composure and a huge amount of heart (check out his bout at Titan FC 61; how he stayed in the fight, I have no idea).

What I like most about the game of Quinones is his boxing. He does well when he moves forward, keeping his opponent’s back to the fence. Quinones is a stalking striker, plugging away with pokes and prods until his opponent is worn down, leading to Quinones to open up with power shots. This strategic approach to his striking has allowed him to stay fresh heading into the third round. His striking is not perfect though; he has lacked head movement in the past, which got him into trouble in the aforementioned Titan FC bout.

Quinones has shown good wrestling ability in the clinch and decent defensive grappling.

Prediction: Landon Quinones.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a tough bout for both men. It is a classic striker vs. grappler match, but I do not feel that wrestling that Santana has shown in the past is enough to overcome the defensive abilities of Quinones.

While, Quinones is the shorter man, Santana has been backed up quite easily by strikes in the past, which heavily benefits the Stanford MMA prospect. Also, in boxing range, Quinones’ battlefield of choice, Santana has been quite hittable.

Tapology’s fight prediction poll heavily disagrees with me here. I get it, lanky BJJ guys like Santana get the hardores excited, but I think if Quinones can avoid the floor, he will have the tools to win this bout.

Middleweight: Mariusz Ksiaziewicz v. Mario Sousa

Mariusz Ksiaziewicz (8-0-0) is a fighter out of Winnipeg, Manitoba and trains out of the Winnipeg Academy of Mixed Martial Arts. The 31 year-old Canadian has been a professional since 2011, taking multiple multi-year breaks in competition. He last fought a little over a year ago in November 2019

There is not a ton of recent, relevant footage of Ksiaziewicz, but what I do have access to has shown me a few things. Ksiaziewicz possesses some fantastic wrestling and top control. Once he gets someone down, they do not typically get back up. His long limbs allow him to utilize his fantastic grappling. For example, all of his stoppage wins (7/8 wins) were done on the floor, most coming by submission.

In addition, the ground and pound of Ksiaziewicz is nothing to fool around with. He does not go crazy until he feels he has secured his position, but once he does, he unloads with fast punches and brutal elbows.

Mario Sousa (11-1-0) is a 24 year-old athlete out of Curitiba, Brazil. He made his professional debut in 2016 and has gotten a finish in all of his 11 pro wins. Sousa is powerful, explosive, aggressive, and he takes risks. He last fought over a year ago, but up to that point he was pretty active, averaging about three to four bouts per year.

Sousa has solid muay thai, and he strikes hard, but in the footage I’ve seen, he tends to crowd his punches; by that, I mean he doesn’t maintain his maximum range when he is throwing combinations. This causes him to lose power, but it will prove an issue in his fight on Tuesday; more on that later.

Sousa’s takedown defense and defensive grappling are the main issues in his game. He does have skill from his guard (his last two wins are subs from the guard), but he tends to try to power his way out of other situations. For instance, instead of trying to recover guard off his back, he will try to power his opponent off of him. This results in him actually giving up position to more experienced grapplers.

To add to his strategic errors on the floor, he is very much a submission-over-position BJJ fighter. Sousa is willing to dive for submission holds or go crazy with ground strikes, giving up dominant positions on the ground through lack of control. This is a double-edged sword of course, because sometimes he catches something. But when he doesn’t, he ends up in terrible positions on the ground.

Prediction: Mariusz Ksiazkiewicz.

Ksiazkiewicz has a tough test on Tuesday. He will have to contend with Sousa’s explosive power and hyper-aggressive style. Sousa is going to start quick, so hopefully Ksiazkiewicz is ready for that. The way that Sousa rushes forward could actually benefit Ksiazkiewicz. I don’t think that Ksiazkiewicz will have to force the clinch, because I think Sousa will do it for him.

I think that this fight hinges on positional discipline, because I feel that Sousa will inevitably be on his back. Historically, once Ksiazkiewicz is on top, he is a methodical technician. Ksiazkiewicz makes sure he is positionally secure before opening up with strikes or a submission attempt. I think that will finish Sousa on the mat.

And that’s it! Another week, another set of predictions.

Thanks for reading! Shoot me questions, comments, and/or concerns in the comments below, or shoot me an email at SparringPartnersPodcast@gmail.com.

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