The Top 5 Kickboxing Prospects Scheduled for the Upcoming Season of Dana White's Contender Series

Jul 13, 2023
French fighter Dylan Salvador. Photo: BOXEMAG
This season of Dana White's Contender Series will feature a host of high-level kickboxers.

It's no secret that COVID has hit kickboxing exceptionally hard, with many promotions not being able to provide enough fights for their roster. While kickboxing has mostly recovered, a lot fighters made the risky switch to Mixed Martial Arts in hopes of better paychecks in one of the major promotions. Most of those athletes are not enjoying the same fanfare that someone like Alex Pereira has received, but instead are sneaking up on the unknowing MMA fan. So is the case for the upcoming season of Dana White's Contender Series, which boasts a surprising amount of high-level kickboxers, some of whom have have been top contenders in GLORY, K-1 and the Thai stadiums. 



Yousri Belgaroui (5-2) vs. Marco Tulio Silva (9-1) – August 29

Yousri Belgaroui was a former GLORY Middleweight Contender Tournament winner and multiple-time title challenger with wins over Alex Pereira, Jason Wilnis, Ulric Bokeme, and Agron Preteni. The 6'5 Tunisian also has fought the current UFC Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya to a close split decision loss during the finals of the GLORY 34 Middleweight tournament. After working together with Alex Pereira for multiple of his fight camps, he moved to the States to train full-time at Teixeira MMA & Fitness.

While Belgaroui has always been a solid gatekeeper inside the division, his MMA outings haven't been overly impressive. Lacking the technical finesse of Israel Adesanya and the power of Alex Pereira, it remains to be seen if Yousri Belgaroui can follow up their success.



Cesar Almeida (3-0)  vs. Lucas Fernando (9-1) – August 8

Cesar Almeida, 35, was a GLORY Middleweight title contender, having cemented himself as the clear number two in the division with a unanimous decision win over Serkan Ozcaglayan. The Brazilian had a tactical back and forth with GLORY's Middleweight king Donovan Wisse, chopping down at his calves, compromising the legs of the champion in the process. He would lose the fight by unanimous decision, but posed himself as the greatest challenge for Wisse during his run as the Middleweight champion. 

Admittedly, with Middleweight greats of the past such as Alex Pereira, Simon Marcus, Artem Levin and Israel Adesanya gone, the state of the division has been dire, so it's hard to gauge Almeida's skill level despite him being ranked that highly. Nonetheless, the heavy-handed Brazilian fighter has yet to disappoint in the cage, having scored three big first-round knockouts.



Jhonata Diniz (5-0) vs. Eduardo Neves (7-1) – September 12

Jhonata Diniz was a long standing Heavyweight veteran prior to making his switch to MMA, with wins over Igor Jurkovic, Valentin Slavikovski, and the recently ranked Valeriy Bizyaev. He also won the 2021 Tatneft Cup. The Brazilian also fought current GLORY Heavyweight king Rico Verhoeven, prior to Verhoeven winning the GLORY Heavyweight crown in 2013, wherein the Brazilian was knocked down by the future champion in the first round. He weathered the early storm to make it to a unanimous decision loss.

Despite coming short in the big kickboxing leagues, the Brazilian has done all the right things on the local MMA scene to get the attention of the UFC. Five fights into his career, he has yet to make it into the second round. He takes on his fellow countryman Eduardo Neves for a chance at a UFC contract.



Josefine Knutsson (5-0) vs. Isis Verbeek (4-1) – August 22

Josefine Knutsson was a K-1 women's Flyweight challenger. She has wins over K-1 champion Kana Morimoto and Krush champion Kotomi, both of whom have been ranked in our pound-for-pound rankings as of late. In her final kickboxing match for the inaugural women's K-1 Flyweight title, she took Kana Morimoto to an extension round, giving her one of the toughest fights in her career, although ultimately losing the fight by a close split decision despite many thinking that the Swedish fighter should have won. She faces fellow former kickboxer Isis Verbeek on August 22 for a contract on Dana White's Contender Series. Verbeek herself has enjoyed great success in the kickboxing world, most notably with a win over Mingrui Li.

Knutsson has always possessed great physical ability, which without a doubt has helped keep her undefeated record by simply out-muscling her opponents during grappling exchanges. With a solid team at Allstars Training Centre in Stockholm behind her, she's one to look out for.



Dylan Salvador (5-1) vs. Bolaji Oki (7-1) – August 29

Dylan Salvador was a former Featherweight and Lightweight fighter competing under both kickboxing and Muay Thai rules, with wins over all time Lightweight great Sitthichai Sitsongpeenong, Massaro Glunder, and current top 10 UFC Featherweight Giga Chikadze. The 30-year-old veteran has competed in almost all major promotions: GLORY, K-1, Kunlun Fight, Glory of Heroes and even in the prestigious Lumpinee Stadium. For the untrained eye, his record doesn't seem as impressive as other fighters featured here, but he has faced some of the toughest competitors in two of kickboxing's most stacked divisions. 

His MMA career has been near perfect, with his only loss in six fight being a clear robbery. What separates the French fighter from the rest of the crop on this list is how exceptionally well-rounded he is. Salvador is a particularly measured and technical fighter that likes to break down his opponent, before taking the fight to the ground and locking in a quick submission. The Purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Amir Dadovic has finished 4 of his 5 wins with a submission.