The Contender Series pipeline shows no sign of slowing, as UFC Vegas 60 this weekend (Sat., Sept. 17, 2022) inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada, can attest. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where hand-filmed fights are an under-appreciated gift, we look at a trio of impressive-looking graduates from the program.
As always, recent seasons of Contender Series can be found on ESPN+.
Joseph “Bodybagz” Pyfer
Weight Class: Middleweight
Record: 9-2 (6 KO, 2 SUB)
Notable Victories: Ozzy Diaz, Austin Trotman
Pyfer’s first Contender Series opportunity came to an abrupt and unfortunate end when he suffered a nasty arm injury from a Dustin Stoltzfus slam. Undaunted, he returned to the program two years later to violently knockout Ozzy Diaz and secure a UFC contract.
On the feet, the 6’2” Pyfer relies on a thudding jab, heavy low kicks, and big, single power punches. He’s not one for combinations outside of the trusty one-two combination, but he puts real heat behind his shots, whether they be uppercuts, body hooks, or overhand rights. He’s not too shabby with his counters, either, as Ozzy Diaz learned when he ran headlong into a vicious check hook.
That said, he does leave himself too open when throwing. Aside from leaning on unsafe leads like long-range uppercuts and bringing his jab back low, he doesn’t move his head that well and tends to drop his left hand when hurling his right. He can also be prone to putting way too much behind his punches, leaving himself in position to be countered and out of position to follow up.
He definitely hits hard, but someone with the wherewithal to stay in range and punch with him is going to have an easy time finding his chin.
Luckily for Pyfer, he’s an excellent wrestler and ground artist. He dragged Stoltzfus to the mat from a caught kick, bowled Diaz over with an easy reactive double-leg, and kept recent foe Austin Trotman from getting even close to a takedown. The only reason Stoltzfus managed to get in position for that slam was an ill-advised guillotine from Pyfer, who had been landing solid ground-and-pound beforehand.
There’s a lot to like about Pyfer, and if he can tighten up his defense and combinations, he could be a real problem at 185 pounds. With some aggressive matchmaking, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to see him with a number by his name within the next year.
Opponent: Well, the matchmaking won’t be aggressive right away, as he’s fighting Alen Amedovski. Amedovski has landed a grand total of nine significant strikes in three UFC appearances, defended zero of five takedown attempts, and contrived to get knocked out by the incredibly mediocre John Phillips. In short, Pyfer wins however he wants.
Tape: His CFFC bout in on Fight Pass.
Weight Class: Strawweight
Record: 6-1 (4 KO)
Notable Victories: Rayanne Amanda, Milana Dudieva
Gomes — the latest up-and-comer out of Parana Vale Tudo — burst onto the world stage with a comeback knockout of Milana Dudieva under the Invicta FC banner. This set up a Contender Series shot against Rayanne Amanda, whom Gomes handily out-struck to win a UFC contract.
She steps in for Diana Belbita on less than two weeks’ notice for her second fight in less than one month.
Gomes is a training partner of Jessica Andrade, so it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that she’s a slugger at heart, plodding forward with heavy 1-2s and relentless low kicks. A bottomless gas tank makes her lethal from bell to bell, and if you try to slow her down by tying up, she’s adept at both sneaking in elbows and getting impressive amounts of leverage behind her knees to the body. Her killer instinct is top-tier, as well, and she has the presence of mind to tear into the body
God help you if you try to duck out of danger against the fence, too, because she’s extremely accurate when driving knees into a lowered head.
She can dish out a ton of damage at any point in the fight, but her love of inflicting that damage also holds her back. She really, really loads up on and telegraphs her bigger punches, especially her left hook and the right uppercut she just can’t seem to avoid spamming. Dudieva floored her twice with counter rights, one on the hook and one on the uppercut, and Gomes was still hurling the uppercut as if nothing had happened at all. That hyperfocus on specific strikes also showed up against Amanda when she landed a glancing wheel kick, then proceeded to throw it over and over and over for the rest of the round.
Generally speaking, she’s also very flat-footed and reliant on a high guard rather than head movement. Her catch-and-pitch counters are solid, at least.
As bullheaded as she can be on the feet, she’s actually a surprisingly good grappler. She took recent foe Jeanne Ruas down twice, sat through into a nice shot after getting dropped by Dudieva, and immediately returned to her feet the one time Amanda got her down on four attempts. That said, Dudieva did manage to mount and punish her for an extended period of time before Gomes slipped free and took her back in return, so holding her down might be easier than getting her there in the first place.
Gomes is young, powerful, well-conditioned, and thoroughly entertaining. She desperately needs to fix her defense if she wants to be a contender, but I can easily see her becoming a consistent player at 115 pounds.
Opponent: She squares off with fellow Muay Thai specialist Loma Lookboonmee. Gomes has a shot at outworking and physically overwhelming her smaller foe, but odds are that Lookboonmee’s overall technical superiority carries the day.
Daniel “Golden Boy” Zellhuber
Weight Class: Lightweight
Record: 12-0 (7 KO, 2 SUB)
Notable Victories: Lucas Almeida
Zellhuber cut his teeth on the Mexican circuit, scoring wins in notable promotions like Combate and Lux Fight League, en route to a Sept. 2021 shot on Contender Series. There, he weathered a rough start to wear down and outwork Lucas Almeida for both a unanimous decision win and a UFC contract.
A colossal 6’1” Lightweight with a cast-iron chin and a bottomless gas tank, Zellhuber excels at pulverizing opponents with heavy kicks from both legs. He’s equally adept at launching them from orthodoxand southpaw, and his calf kicks deserve particular notice for their potency. A snappy jab forms the cornerstone of his boxing, though he also possesses solid counters, a sharp right cross, and a hard left hook that he digs to the body in delightful fashion.
He does, however, have two particular issues that hold his striking back. The lesser one is a tendency to lead with kicks from punching distance, which combine with his square stance to leave him open to counters. The other, more serious one is a bizarre defensive habit: his instinct under fire is to drop his left hand to his hip, lean back, and try to shoulder roll his way through it. If you took a shot every time Almeida blasted him with an overhand right as Zellhuber brought his jab back low, you’d be unconscious by the end of the first round.
Zellhuber seemed to do a better job of actually intercepting and/or rolling with punches as the fight progressed, but that can easily be attributed to Almeida slowing down. It’s not just when he jabs, either, as his left hand does not protect his face when he lets his right hand go. This is a habit that needs to be beaten out of him and soon; iron chins don’t last forever.
Good thing, then, that he’s also a quality grappler. He’s shown off some nice throws in the clinch, has good balance on top, and can use those long arms to unleash heavy punches and elbows. He’s educated with his ground-and-pound, too; there was a great moment three fights back where he took mount and used wrist control to make openings for his elbows, and he had a nice sequence with Almeida where he pinned his hand behind his back to drop punches.
I also want to point out the rolling calf slicer from turtle that he landed on Miguel Arizmendi. Love that submission.
Between his various physical gifts and the technique he’s cultivated at a young age, Zellhuber looks to have a bright future ahead of him. That’s assuming, of course, that he learns to keep his left hand up.
Opponent: He meets Trey Ogden, who badly underwhelmed in his UFC debut. Though Ogden is a very strong grappler, the fact that he showed zero knowledge of how to deal with leg kicks bodes very ill for his chances against Zellhuber’s striking offense.
Tape: His recent Lux and iKon fights are on Fight Pass.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 60 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (on ESPN+) at 7 p.m. ET.
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