Predicting the next UFC champion to come out of DWCS

Here's who we think will be the next fighter from Dana White's Contender Series to earn a UFC title.
Dana White's Contender Series
Dana White's Contender Series / UFC

Dana White's Contender Series has come a long way since it first began in 2017. From a mostly All-American showcase to MMA's most diverse proving ground, it has created a swathe of UFC signees who mainly got in after impressing the titular UFC president with stunning finishes.

However, not every alum succeeds in lasting long in the Octagon. In fact, many wash out quickly after a loss or two. Only a few manage to bring themselves to even ranked fighter status, and just four of them have fought for the title, with just half of them winning.

The first champion to come out of the program was Jamahal Hill, who defeated Glover Teixeira for the vacant light heavyweight title at UFC 283. However, he had to relinquish it after suffering a devastating Achilles injury - not during training camp, but while playing pickup basketball during International Fight Week. He then attempted to reclaim it against Alex Pereira at UFC 300 but was knocked out fast.

The second was Sean O'Malley, who knocked out Aljamain Sterling at UFC 292 to win the bantamweight title. Since then, he avenged a prior defeat against Marlon Vera for his first title defense; and all signs point to Sterling's teammate and friend Merab Dvalishvili challenging him next.

Taila Santos and Mayra Bueno Silva have also each fought for the title, but they came up short. So among the current roster, who has the best chance of emulating the two men above?

Maycee Barber could be the next DWCS alumni to make it to UFC champion status

The first name that comes to mind is Maycee Barber. A Season 2 alum, she initially began her career at strawweight, a division not exactly known for stopping power and killer instinct. Yet she showed just that in her UFC debut in November 2018, pummeling Hannah Cifers into a second-round stoppage.

She went 125 pounds north in her next fight, surprising many at the time. But the extra weight did not seem to bother her, as she utterly destroyed JJ Aldrich in one and a half rounds. Her next fight would prove even more lopsided, as she took just two minutes to crush Gillian Robertson.

With three straight (T)KOs in her ledger, Barber received her biggest assignment yet: a featured prelim clash against highly experienced former title challenger Roxanne Modafferi in the undercard of UFC 246. Analysts deemed this a massive mismatch and predicted yet another quick and brutal (and even career-ending) finish for the prospect en route to a clash with then-champion Valentina Shevchenko and an attempt at history, while bettors had her as the event's biggest favorite - bogger than even headliner Conor McGregor.

What happened instead to begin the fight was Modafferi taking down Barber and controlling her there for the first five minutes - not exactly the most exciting thing to happen to the future contender. But what happened next was even worse.

As the second round began, Modafferi connected on a jab, Barber buckled under her knee and fell awkwardly. It would eventually turn out that she had torn her ACL at that very moment, and it defined the rest of her night perfectly: having had to deal with adversity for the first time, she crumbled under the pressure and lost for the first time in her career.

Surgery, and a lengthy rehab process, followed. Then, at last, she made her return at UFC 258 against Alexa Grasso. But the result was the same as the last: another loss.

Suddenly, Barber was facing doubts about her potential in the UFC. And her next opponent was no pushover: Miranda Maverick, who was coming off five straight wins. But somehow, she finally emerged victorious for the first time in almost two years - even though the media disagreed.

From there, she would not be denied again. Three straight decisions against Montana De La Rosa, Jessica Eye, and Andrea Lee might seem lackluster when compared to her vicious initial streak; but they served to show her development as a fighter. Gone was the reckless mauler who was susceptible to being kept in check, and in its place was a more cerebral all-rounder who would rather look for openings and capitalize on them.

That new strategy paid off in a massive co-main showdown against fellow strawweight convert Amanda Ribas. For the first time in more than three and a half years, Barber finished her opponent. She also received her first-ever bonus.

But the journey was not quite done. At UFC 299, she was pitted against Katlyn Cerminara (nee Chookagian). The veteran had been considered one of the most prominent gatekeepers in the promotion, even if most of her fights were not exactly the most exciting. The notion around her was that if you defeated her, then you were worthy of fighting for a title.

Jessica Andrade had proven that notion right in 2020 with a brutal body shot knockout that led her straight to Shevchenko. But since then, the likes of Cynthis Calvillo, Viviane Araujo, and Amanda Ribas could not get themseves over the hill, hindering their progress. It would not be until Manon Fiorot at UFC 280 that someone would defeat the former title challenger again and use it as a springboard to a bigger fight - Fiorot's next fight would a main-event title eliminator against Erin Blanchfield, which she would win.

Barber passed that test, proving to be quicker and harder-hitting. That would mean a massive ooportunity in her next fight: a main event of her own against former strawweight champion Rose Namajunas. Alas, she fell ill and had to withdraw, being replaced by Tracy Cortez.

Whenever Barber returns, her goal is the same: the title, whether her old foe Grasso still holds it or not. The next months shall provide a clearer picture of where she lies in that pursuit.