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 is one that 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 number 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.
For this week, the 9th week of the Contender Series for 2023, the Redemption Series will be taking a look at one half of the main event, Rodolfo Bellato.
Rodolfo “Trator” Bellato (10-2 MMA)
Age: 27 years old
Height: 6’3″ / Reach: 75.5″
Weight Class: Light Heavyweight (205lbs.)
First DW’s Contender Series Fight: 2022 (Week 7)
Old DW’s Contender Series Opponent: Vitor Petrino (9-0 MMA)
Second DW’s Contender Series Fight: 2023 (Week 9)
New Opponent: Murtaza Talha (6-0)
First Contender Series Fight
Rodolfo Bellato fought on the Contender Series for the first time in September of 2022.
Rodolfo has an impressive jiu-jitsu pedigree and actively competes, as well as having been a long-time training partner of the famous Nogueira brothers.
Heading into the contest, Rodolfo had never heard the final bell, having finished all eight of his previous opponents with only one opponent managing to survive the opening round. Bellato KO/TKO’d four of his opponents and submitted the other 4 via armbar, kneebar, rear naked choke and triangle choke.
Bellato was bullied most of the first round as his opponent was much more explosive, landing good powerful shots and showing off a speed advantage. However, once Bellato’s opponent began to tire a bit, dropping his hands, Bellato was able to land with a long straight right to drop his opponent.
Rodolfo was able to get the back and sink hooks in, but eventually his opponent escaped landing more damage from on top.
The second round again saw Bellato’s opponent looking slightly lighter on the feet throwing quick strikes. Rodolfo was able to return meaningful shots of his own albeit a little more labored. Bellato showed excellent head movement to slip and lighten the blow of shots but ultimately was caught and finished in a devastating fashion, midway thru the round, thanks to a very poorly timed spinning elbow.
First Contender Series Opponent
Bellato’s appearance on the Contender Series was actually a rematch against Vitor Petrino. Rodolfo was finished in just under 30 seconds in the pair’s first meeting, back in May of 2019, when he was clipped with a punch in the middle of throwing a naked leg kick.
Vitor would obviously receive a UFC contract for his performance along with brothers Ismael and Gabriel Bonfim as well as Karl Williams.
To say Vitor has impressed since coming into the UFC would be an understatement. Vitor would get his UFC debut in March of this year, after suffering a fight cancellation because his opponent withdrew, in December of 2022.
Vitor beat his then 8-1 opponent, Anton Turkalj via unanimous decision.
In his next fight Vitor stepped up and fought then 16-6, seven-fight UFC veteran, Marcin Prachnio at UFC 290 in July. Petrino was able to finish Marcin in the third round of their bout via arm triangle choke showing off his versatility on the ground and capturing the first submission victory of his pro MMA career.
Vitor is now slated to take on 15-5, Modestas Bukauskas in November. Vitor has proved a solid and active addition to the UFC’s shallow light heavyweight roster, and with a few more wins he is a fighter that could make his way into the top 10-15 of the division very soon.
For this reason, Bellato’s two losses against Vitor have aged gracefully.
The Road Back
Since losing to Vitor Petrino last September, Rodolfo Bellato has fought twice and had one bout fall thru. Both of these bouts were under the LFA banner.
Bellato took on then 12-11, Mateus Messaros in March of this year and finished him in just over 90 seconds via knee to grounded punches.
And in his most recent bout back in May, Bellato fought to the very first decision of his career. Rodolfo fought then 15-5, Acacio dos Santos for the vacant LFA Interim Light Heavyweight Championship, winning via unanimous decision in a long, grueling, 25-minute fight.
Gameplan/ New Opponent
For Rodolfo Bellato’s shot at redemption on the Contender Series he will be taking on 6-0 Murtaza Talha.
Talha’s pro MMA record on paper at 6-0 is initially deceiving as he has faced solid competition mostly under the Brave CF promotional banner, out of the Middle East.
The combined record of the opponents that Talha has faced is: 29-6
But Murtaza’s really interesting fight experience comes from his amateur MMA career where he had a flawless 12-0 record. Murtaza competed in all 12 of his amateur MMA fights for the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF), a very solid organization that focuses arranging fights for the next generation of the best and brightest MMA fighters.
Murtaza won the IMMAF World Championship at 205lbs in 2017 and 2018. Talha also won the IMMAF Oceania Open Championship in 2020 to complete his decorated amateur MMA career.
Murtaza is a very well-rounded fighter with great wrestling and is a solid striker. It will be interesting to see if Bellato can successfully capture his shot at redemption as it will be important for him to stay technically sound and look for his opportunity to end the fight.