Three UFC signees to watch from record-breaking season of Dana White's Contender Series

It took Phil Hawes a while to find his place in the UFC, but he quickly earned his first Octagon win, an 18-second knockout of Jacob Malkoun on Oct. 24. Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Another chapter of Dana White's Contender Series is officially in the books, as the fourth season of the show wrapped up Tuesday in Las Vegas.

For the second consecutive season, the series set a record with the number of contracts offered. Thirty-seven athletes were signed to the UFC's roster based on their DWCS performances in 2020, far eclipsing the total of 30 contestants who joined the promotion from the series one year ago.

"It's a testament to the talent that's out there," White said after awarding four contracts Tuesday.

It's a good week to discuss DWCS alumni, as flyweight Alex Perez will become the first athlete from the show to vie for a UFC championship this weekend at UFC 255.

Here are three of this year's signings to keep an eye on moving forward.

Phil Hawes (9-2), middleweight

This has been a long time coming for Hawes. The 31-year-old was touted as a major prospect as far back as when he went pro in 2012. He's a former junior college national wrestling champion at Iowa Central Community College, the college that produced Jon Jones, and tales of his potential started pouring out of JacksonWink MMA (where he used to train) years ago, when he transitioned to MMA. The hype on Hawes hit a serious wall a few years ago, when the UFC gave him a shot on "The Ultimate Fighter" reality series, and he lost the fight that would have earned him a spot in the house. Later, he was given a shot on the Contender Series, and he was knocked out.

Well, Hawes, who now trains at Sanford MMA in Florida, has turned the hype back on. He earned a contract with a first-round knockout of Khadzhi Bestaev in Week 6 on Sept. 8, and within six weeks, he moved to 1-0 in the UFC, knocking out Jacob Malkoun in 18 seconds in October. It took a little longer than we expected for him to get here, but Hawes is in the UFC, and there is a lot of curiosity about how he'll do in the 185-pound division.

Luana Pinheiro (8-1), strawweight

Look, Pinheiro is young -- 26 years old -- and still raw in her MMA career. Any time you're talking about a DWCS alum, there's a question of whether the UFC is too much, too soon. A lot of the young talent that comes off this show is weighed down by the limitations of the term "young talent." The UFC is a tough place to try to figure out things and grow. It's sink or swim the minute you're in the Octagon.

Pinheiro falls under that classification. Will the UFC be too much, too soon? It's possible. The strawweight division is, by my estimation, the UFC's deepest female weight class. But Pinheiro's potential is obvious. She has finished six consecutive fights, all in the first round, most recently last week's contract-winning finish of Stephanie Frausto. She carries unmistakable power for the weight class. She's also a black belt in judo and a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Her style is not only effective, but it also jumps off the screen for viewers. If she is able to grow in the harsh setting of the UFC, she'll attract plenty of attention before long.

Carlos Ulberg (3-0), light heavyweight

Ulberg, 29, has a built-in luxury going into the UFC in that he is a teammate and close friend of one of the sport's biggest stars, middleweight champion Israel Adesanya. Adesanya, being the good friend that he is, has done a great job of talking up Ulberg in the media. But if you watched Ulberg's performance in Week 8 of DWCS, you know this guy is a lot more than just "Izzy's friend." Ulberg showcased a lot of skill in a first-round knockout of Bruno Oliveira, who was no gimme opponent.

Ulberg is a former professional kickboxer with experience in his native New Zealand and in China. Like Adesanya, he is brimming with confidence, and he trains out of the Auckland powerhouse of City Kickboxing. To borrow a line from "Zoolander," one could argue that Ulberg is "really, really, really, ridiculously good-looking." That won't win him any fights, but it doesn't hurt to be camera-friendly in a sport such as this. If Ulberg makes some noise in 2021, don't be surprised.