Redemption: Second (and Third) Chances on Dana White’s Contender Series — Mario Sousa

Mario Sousa, Dana White's Contender Series 54
Mario Sousa, Dana White's Contender Series 54 Credit: Alex Behunin/Cageside Press

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.

Mario “Coracao Valente” Sousa (14-2 MMA)

Age: 25 years old

Height: 6’3″ / Reach: 79″

Weight Class: Middleweight (185lbs.)

First DW’s Contender Series Fight: 2021, Week 2 and 2020, Week 9

Old DW’s Contender Series Opponent: Chidi Njokuani (22-7 MMA) (2021) and Mariusz Ksiazkiewicz (10-2) (2020)

Second DW’s Contender Series Fight: 2022, Week 8

New Opponent: Ikram Aliskerov (12-1 MMA)


Mario Sousa will be making his third appearance on the Contender Series this Tuesday. Sousa competed against Mariusz Ksiazkiewicz in his first appearance on the Contender Series a couple years ago. Sousa won the first and last round in a hard fought standing and grappling battle but did not receive a UFC contract. It’s important to note that coming into the final round Sousa looked absolutely exhausted. Unanimous decision for Sousa (30-27, 29-28 x2)

Second DWCS Fight

Sousa showed off his kicks in this fight (which was his second appearance on the Contender Series) and how explosive he is especially in the first seven minutes of the fight (nine out of Sousa’s ten KO/TKOs are in the first round). Sousa also looked good in the clinch despite losing a point in the first round from landing two groin strikes.

Sousa sometimes throws more looping punches and they take a lot of energy and sometimes leave him exposed. Sousa was rocked by his opponent in the second round but recovered nicely.

Throughout the second and third round Sousa showed that he was really comfortable with being on his back with his opponent in his guard and continually threatened decent submission attempts.

To open the third you could really see the fatigue and damage accumulation in Sousa via his body language. Sousa was hit by a knee in a clinch which sent him to the ground and it was the beginning of the end as he was finished via ground n’ pound strikes. A third round TKO for Sousa’s opponent. 

First/Second Contender Series Opponent

Mario’s actual first Contender Series opponent Mariusz Ksiazkiewicz has been 2-1, with two KOs, since their fight. And Mariusz’s opponent’s combined records since his fight with Mario, have been 25-5, so that win has aged pretty well.

Mario Sousa faced off against Chidi Njokunai in his most recent fight on the Contender Series.

After the third round finish Chidi received a UFC contract.

Njokunai is now 2-0 in the UFC with two finishes and two performance of the night bonuses.

Njokunai took just 16 seconds to finish then 13-4, Marc-Andre Barriault in his UFC debut back in Febuary. Chidi finished then 11-2 fighter, Dusko Todorovic in his next bout with an elbow in the first round.

Now Chidi Njokuani is slated to take on the surging Gregory Rodrigues on the main card of UFC Fight Night: Sandhagen vs. Song later this week.

Needless to say, Mario Sousa’s loss to Chidi Njokunai on the Contender Series has aged marvelously.

The Road Back

Mario Sousa has been busy in the one year since he last appeared on the Contender Series (September 2021). Especially compared to after his first appearance on the Contender Series (November 2020), when Sousa didn’t compete and only had a single cancelled fight in between his next appearance on the Contender Series.

This time around, Sousa has competed in two pro MMA fights, one pro grappling match, and has had three cancelled fights.

Mario finished then 14-3 fighter Antonio Gordillo in the first round back in January.

After that, Sousa took on then 0-1 fighter, Sidney Araujo, back in March and was able to finish him in the first round with a punch.

Gameplan/New Opponent 

For Mario’s third chance on the Contender Series he will be taking on 12-1 fighter Ikram Aliskerov.

Ikram Aliskerov is a vetran of the Brave CF and Eagle FC promotions and has faced good competition with his combined opponents records being 99-48.

Ikram Aliskerov’s lone loss was a KO to a then 4-0 Khamzat Chimaev back in April of 2019. So it has aged probably as well as a loss could.

Obviously, Aliskerov has very good grappling with four submissions on his record including one in both the second and third rounds.

Aliskerov also has very good kickboxing that has been improving throughout his career.

Sousa has ten wins by KO/TKO with all of them but one coming in the first round, and he is very dangerous early.

Unfortunately for Mario Sousa his third shot a redemption on the Contender Series will be against a very tough opponent/match-up once again so it will be important for him to manage his gas tank well and find a powerful shot in the fight to end it and become the 5th Redemption fighter on the 2022 season to earn a UFC contract.