Dana White’s Contender Series began back in 2017. Since then, the Contender Series has produced some big-name upcoming stars like Dan Ige, Sean O’Malley, Geoff Neal, Maycee Barber, and Edmen Shahbazyan. In short, it has been a huge success.
A Contender Series fight has stakes like none other, where fighters must showcase their skills to impress the UFC president enough for a contract with the promotional giant. Holding the Contender Series with a smaller cage inside the UFC Apex venue makes for a tense atmosphere, and with only close friends and family of the competing fighters in attendance as spectators. Emotions always run high, as a limited amount of contracts can be given out on any given night, and many fighters can potentially have their dreams snubbed out solely because of bad luck.
In rare cases, however, a fighter gets a second look. This series will examine those.
Canaan Kawaihae (6-1, 1 NC MMA)
Age: 24 years old
Weight Class: Featherweight (145lbs.)
First DW’s Contender Series Fight: 2018, Week 6
Old DW’s Contender Series Opponent: Chase Hooper (10-2-1)
Second DW’s Contender Series Fight: 2021 Week 10
New Opponent: Jonas Biharinho (8-1-1)
First DWCS Fight
Canaan had his first shot on Dana White’s Contender Series back in 2018. Canaan was just 20 years old at the time.
Canaan was able to come out and show within seconds how much more polished he was than his opponent in the striking department. Kawaihae was able to drop his opponent a little over a minute into the fight with a straight left off of a caught kick. Canaan did a great job disengaging with his opponent as his opponent continued to try and clinch up and do anything and everything to get the fight to the ground. Kawaihae landed another blistering combination to rock and freeze his opponent and drop him to the canvas. At the end of the first round, Canaan was able to threaten his foe with multiple, deep submission attempts.
However, when Canaan came out for the second round, he was a completely changed fighter. Kawaihae seemed absolutely gassed and seemed to have suffered from an adrenaline dump. Kawaihae did exactly the opposite of the first round, looking for the clinch, and was eager to go to the ground. Kawaihae was mounted and beat on for the majority of the round until his opponent looking for a couple of submissions.
Between rounds, Canaan looked absolutely done on the stool and even had to be checked by the doctor and in the third round, though he showed heart to get out of submissions, he was extremely gassed. Canaan survived the beating and lost a unanimous decision 29-26×2, 28-26.
First Contender Series Opponent
Canaan’s first Contender Series opponent was then 5-0 Chase Hooper. Though Hooper was just 18 years old at the time of the bout, it’s a loss that didn’t age poorly for Canaan. Hooper wasn’t picked up by the UFC immediately but rather offered a developmental contract where he was expected to improve on the regional level before the UFC would come and pick him up when he was a little more experienced.
Two finish wins against solid opponents later, and Chase was picked up by the UFC in 2019. Now 2-2 in the UFC, Chase got to make his debut on the UFC 245 card (prelims but still) and has not been on a Fight Night card during his career with the promotion. Hooper has finished Daniel Teymur and Peter Barrett but lost unanimous decisions to Alex Caceres and most recently, Steven Peterson.
All in all, even though he was young when Kawaihae fought him and is still a little young, Chase Hooper is a tough fighter, very durable and a tough fight for anyone.
The Road Back
Since losing to Chase Hooper in his first experience on the Contender Series, Canaan has fought two times but also had two more scheduled bouts that were cancelled.
Kawaihae competed in December of 2018 against a then 3-0, Timothy Teves. Canaan was able to win the bout via unanimous decision and received his first win under the Bellator promotional banner.
Canaan also fought earlier this year in April at LFA 105 where he was one half of the co-main event. Kawaihae took on then 8-1 fighter Jake Childers, and was able to finish him in just 20 seconds of the first round with a ninja choke.
Gameplan/ New Opponent
Kawaihae’s opponent for his second Contender Series fight will be Jonas Bilharinho. Jonas currently has an 8-1-1 record and has won three of his last four fights including a couple under the Brazilian-based Jungle Fight promotion. Kawaihae has finished all but one of his professional wins thus far and is a very dangerous striker.
Bilharinho hasn’t competed since the end of 2019 but has gotten some more experience. Part of the issue with Kawaihae coming into his first DWCS appearance was that he had only spent a total of 13 minutes in the cage prior to that. Kawaihae had finished all of his opponents early and didn’t really know what to do when Chase Hooper wouldn’t go away after the first round beating that he put on the 18-year-old.
With another unanimous decision under his belt and four more years of training, I’m optimistic about how he should fare on his second chance on DWCS. But make no mistake this will be a tough fight. Jonas is 31 years old and more experienced but also has just one decision on his record, though it was a hard-fought split decision against a 9-0 fighter. Unlike Kawaihae, Jonas also has multiple finishes outside of the first round. So for his shot at redemption, Kawaihae might very well have to prove that he has worked on his exact weakness from his first DWCS appearance.