LAS VEGAS – In a rousing clash of middleweight,s Mario Sousa (12-1) earned a hard-fought decision win over a gritty Mariusz Ksiazkiewicz (8-1).

The bout served as the featured contest of Dana White’s Contender Series 35, which took place Tuesday at UFC Apex and streamed live on ESPN+. Three fighters were awarded deals on the night.

Sousa opened with a few high kicks before lacing one to the body that make Ksiazkiewicz wince. Sousa looked very relaxed on his feet, and he went again to the body before attacking the legs, as well. Ksiazkiewicz responded by driving into the clinch and taking the action to the canvas, where he immediately moved to side control. He controlled briefly from the top before Sousa was able to sweep to top.

Working from the bottom, Ksiazkiewicz threatened with an armbar, but Sousa was able to pull free and create a scramble, where he grabbed a guillotine and dropped to his back. He was unable to finish the choke, and the two exchanged blows on the ground until the bell – and even a little beyond, with Sousa scoring with an elbow that was clearly late.

Sousa landed a big left hand early in the second, and it looked as if he might be able to put Ksiazkiewicz away. Sousa unloaded flurries of punches and scored with a big knee to the body, as well. Ksiazkiewicz somehow absorbed it all and stayed upright before clinching and again taking the action to the canvas. Sousa tried to threaten with a triangle, but Ksiazkiewicz shucked the legs aside and moved easily to side control.

Sousa briefly reversed position, but Ksiazkiewicz quickly returned the favor and controlled from the top until the bell. A few triangle attempts from Sousa caused brief concern but never came truly close to finishing the fight.

Both men were breathing heavy at the start of the third, an understandable reality after the high-paced 10 minutes prior. Sousa again landed with a few impressive strikes early, but Ksiazkiewicz was in quickly on a takedown that brought the action to the floor. Sousa continued to land a few big shots from his back, and Ksiazkiewicz wasn’t able to do enough to keep the position, with referee Mark Smith calling for a restart.

As they began again, Ksiazkiewicz went instantly forward and scored another takedown. It was clear he was exhausted while in top position, but he was able to hold the dominant spot. Sousa did tag him with an upkick that seemed to cause real damage, but Ksiazkiewicz then fought out of a triangle choke attempt that followed. With time winding down, Ksiazkiewicz dropped back to attack the left leg, but it backfired. Sousa swept through the attack and delivered a few big hammerfists and straight punches before Ksiazkiewicz swept one last time to the top at the bell.

In the end, judges sided with Sousa, 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28 – though it was ultimately not enough to score him a UFC contract.

In a catchweight contest, late replacement Natan Levy (6-0) looked absolutely scintillating on just two days’ notice, choking out Shaheen Santana (6-1) in the third round.

The taller Santana looked to strike at range early, though he shot in shortly after. Levy didn’t seem to mind, looking first for a guillotine and then banging away with a few powerful knees inside. As they worked from the clinch, Levy was able to take the action to the floor and land in side control and looking to isolate the right arm, though Santana proved very capable in defense, working out of a few bad spots and briefly firing up a triangle attempt.

Santana was active from his back, but Levy’s control was impressive until the end of the frame.

Levy came out firing kicks to start the second, and he drilled a few big right hands behind it. A high kick landed clean and stunned Santana, but he was able to capitalize on an ensuing scramble and slip to his opponent’s back. He was unfortunately a little high on the back and tried to attack the arm as he slipped off, but it was unsuccessful, and Levy took top position once again.

Santana remained active from his back, making it difficult for Levy to really capitalize with any damage from the top. Still, Levy racked up plenty of riding time and kept his opponent honest with submission attempts and scored a few big strikes just before the bell.

Santana went quickly to the clinch in the third, but it was Levy who swept to action and went quickly to the arm-triangle choke. Santana did his best to press down and create space, but Levy moved to mount and continued the squeeze, putting Santana to sleep at the 55-second mark of the final frame, earning a UFC invite in the process.

In lightweight action, “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 4” cast member Nikolas Motta (12-3) impressed over the course of 15 minutes, scoring a clear decision win over an absolutely game Joe Lowry (9-2).

Both men looked ready to strike early, with crisp punches traded up top and kicks exchanged at various levels, as well. Both men found the mark early, though it seemed Motta packed a little more power in his strikes, including a clean left hook that landed over the top. Lowry was often the one striking first, but Motta was crisp in his counters and found the mark repeatedly. Lowry’s face showed the wear as the round wore on, though he was able to show an impressive chin.

The action continued on the feet in the second round, with Motta again scoring with crisp punches up top. However, Lowry certainly didn’t hesitate to engage, and the two teed off frequently in the pocket. Motta picked up the pace in the middle stages fo the frame, clearly breaking his opponent’s nose and seemingly on his way to finish his opponent. Lowry showed incredible durability and refused to quit, and Motta had to steady his pace for the remainder of the frame, though he still landed plenty of concussive blows.

The two continued to engage on the feet in the third, with Motta getting the best of the exchanges, but Lowry always looking to mix it up in the pocket. Lowry found the mark a bit as the round wore on, but Motta was always ready to swing back with clear power. Lowry’s face was bloodied, but his heart was on full display until the very end. Still, it was clear Motta had done enough to win, and he took the contest 30-27 on all three cards and getting a UFC contract.

In a strawweight clash, Brazilian judoka Luana Pinheiro (8-1) showed she has heavy hands, as well, scoring a vicious first-round knockout over Stephanie Frausto (8-7).

Frausto looked to chop at the legs early, and Pinheiro answered back with a few of her own while remaining very active with her movement. The taller Pinheiro rifled out a few long punches, while Frausto used volume to her advantage. It seemed Pinheiro was content with looking for power shots, but it paid off, with a left hook landing clean and a right following behind and sending Frausto to the canvas. Pinheiro followed with additional shots, and referee Jason Herzog waved off the contest at the 2:48 mark of the opening round making it an easy call to award her a UFC deal.

In the night’s first contest, Danny Sabatello (9-1) controlled Taylor Moore (10-5) for nearly the entirety of the bantamweight bout and cruised to a dominant decision win.

Sabatello wasted little time implementing his game, throwing a high kick and then driving forward to take the action to the canvas. Moore was active from his back, looking to turn for options, but Sabatello kept his weight heavy and pounded away from the top. Moore was able to slow things down at times, but he spent the entirety of the round on his back. Sabatello punctuated his performance with a little trash talk after the round expired.

Moore opened the second with a few stinging leg kicks before looking to surprise with his own takedown. It backfired, and Sabatello was able to stuff it and spin to the back, where he started hunting for the choke, forcing Moore to settle onto his back once again. Sabatello took advantage of the dominant position again, racking up control time and striking when he was able to pull his limbs free. Moore continued to look for options, but none ever really materialized, and much like the first frame, the two jawed back and forth a bit at the close of the round.

After a few seconds of striking to open the third, Sabatello shot forward for a takedown once again. Moore resisted briefly, but Sabatello’s second effort got the fight to the floor yet again, and the fight took a familiar pattern. Sabatello backed away with a little more than a minute left, but he immediately took the action back to the floor nearly as soon as Moore worked to his feet. In the end, the winner was clear, and Sabatello took the fight, 30-24, 30-25 and 30-26.

The win wasn’t enough for a UFC contract, though.

Dana White’s Contender Series 35 results:


  • Mario Sousa def. Mariusz Ksiazkiewicz via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
  • Natan Levy def. Shaheen Santana via technical submission (arm-triangle choke) – Round 3, 0:55
  • Nikolas Motta def. Joe Lowry via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
  • Luana Pinheiro def. Stephanie Frausto via knockout (punches) – Round 1, 2:48
  • Danny Sabatello def. Taylor Moore via unanimous decision (30-24, 30-25, 30-26)