Tag: dana white

RESULTS | Dana White’s Contender Series: Season 4, Week 4

FOUR more up-and-comers earned UFC contracts in the latest Contender Series instalment, with only one winner missing out on a berth in the top MMA promotion. Jamie Pickett got the nod at the third time of asking with a vicious TKO victory, while Rafael Alves and Collin Huckbody won entry via submissions, and Jeffrey Molina carved out a unanimous decision triumph.

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Third time was truly a charm for Pickett, as he inflicted a 22-punch barrage on Jhonoven Pati to put him away early in Round 2. Of his four career defeats, the 31-year-old middleweight suffered two of them in the Contender Series, but proved he has what it takes with his seventh victory via T/KO. Pati (6-4) was a dangerous opponent having earned finishes across his six professional wins, but was left out on his feet by Pickett’s fight-ending combination.

Earlier in the night, Huckbody (8-2) pulled off the quickest stoppage of the five-fight card, leaning on his patented arm triangle to submit Kyron Bowen at 1:28 in Round 1. The 25-year-old now boasts a five-fight win streak, with four first-round finishes and six submissions (five via arm triangle) on his ever-improving record. He pulled off the move from mount too, showcasing a heck of a squeeze to yield the tap against his lighter opponent.

Alves snared the second submission of the night, with the guillotine choke his MO for putting Alejandro Flores (16-3) away. The Brazilian, who is both a high level grappler and striker, looked powerful from the offset, stalking Flores and threatening with his power. Despite Flores’ movement, and ability to land a takedown, he shot right into an Alves guillotine and in a flash, could find no escape. Alves is another fighter enjoying a five-fight tear at 19-9, while Flores’ impressive run over 10 bouts sees another loss added to the tally. Both men are 29 years old.

In one of two unanimous decisions on the night, Molina and Jacob Silva put on a show across 15 minutes of flyweight action. Despite the loss Silva (6-3) remains on the UFC’s radar having proved his dangerous arsenal and durability. But Molina was the one to earn a contract, controlling the distance and pace well while also landing some nice counter strikers and looking incredibly relaxed overall. It was his first decision victory, but Molina is now 8-2 with seven wins on the trot. He also pulled it off after breaking his foot in Round 1.

The unlucky winner of the lot was Romero, who still has time to prove his case at 8-0 and 23 years of age. The Canadian is well-rounded and technical, proving too slick for Mike Breeden, who is as tough as they come. Romero’s inability to clinch a finish while Breeden was badly compromised by leg kicks, and after dropping him, ultimately proved costly.

CONTRACTS: Collin Huckbody, Jeffrey Molina, Rafael Alves, Jamie Pickett

RESULTS:

Jamie Pickett def. Jhonoven Pati | TKO (punches) 0:33 Rd 2

Rafael Alves def. Alejandro Flores | Submission (guillotine choke) 2:55 Rd 2

Jeffrey Molina def. Jacob Silva | Decision (unanimous) 30-27, 30-27, 29-28

Anthony Romero def. Mike Breeden | Decision (unanimous) 30-26, 30-27, 29-28

Collin Huckbody def. Kyron Bowen | Submission (arm triangle) 1:28 Rd 1

Featured Image: Chris Unger/DWCS LLC/Zuffa LLC

RESULTS | Dana White’s Contender Series: Season 4, Week 3

THE COSCE brothers each earned a UFC berth as Season 4 of the Contender Series rolled on into Week 3, accounting for half of the total contracts handed out. Josh Parisian and Cheyanne Buys were the other worthy prospects to impress Dana White, while Kenneth Cross was the sole winner to leave without his signature required.

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The younger of two brothers to enter the UFC APEX octagon, Louis Cosce impressed in the night’s featured bout, making quick work of the experienced Victor Reyna. Despite an age gap of 10 years and the fact that Reyna had not been finished by opponents such as Kevin Holland, Daniel Rodriguez, and Miguel Baeza, the 24-year-old required just over a minute to get the job done.

The Round 1 TKO finish means Cosce improves to 7-0 as a professional, with all of his wins coming via first round stoppages. He rushed in with thunder from the get-go, with a huge overhand left dropping Reyna, before punishing unanswered blows from the side forced the referee to step in.

His older sibling, Orion Cosce boasts a virtually identical record at 7-0, all by way of stoppages and topped by his Round 3 TKO victory on the night. The 26-year-old faced tough opposition in formerly undefeated ace Matt Dixon, and was the biggest underdog on the card.

After Round 1, that status seemed justified as Dixon imposed his wrestling will on Cosce. But the Team Alpha Male product made some terrific adjustments across the following periods, forcing his opponent to desperately shoot for takedowns and eventually ending the fight in brutal fashion as he reigned down blows from the crucifix position.

The only other finish of the night came via the fists of heavyweight prospect Josh Parisian (13-3), took just under four minutes to put away Chad Johnson by TKO. It was Parisian’s second Contender Series dig after a winning debut in 2018, but the TUF veteran did enough this time to extend his finishing streak to six.

Parisian was the much bigger man at 50lbs heavier than his opponent, making it count with hefty leg kicks and strength to keep the fight standing. A knee and punch on the clinch break spelled the beginning of the end, as Parisian followed Johnson to the mat and eventually closed the show with some nasty ground-and-pound.

In the sole women’s matchup of the night, Cheyanne Buys brought a bit of gangster to the cage, despite requiring all three rounds to get the nod over Hilarie Rose. Both strawweight were 4-1 and looked virtually identical on the tale-of-the-tape, but Buys proved much to powerful on the feet for her quicker opponent.

Buys, whose husband is also a budding MMA prospect, controlled the fight in the clinch and had more answers up top, while managing to escape the tricky grappling prowess of Rose with an emphatic early slam. She now enters a division in need of some fresh contenders, and should bring some good flair with her well-rounded style.

Kenneth Cross was the unfortunate winner not to earn a contract, having edged Kevin Syler via decision in the night’s opening bout. Cross, now 11-3 and on a five-fight win streak simply didn’t do enough to earn his shot, and seemed to gas out late in the grappling-heavy bout.

CONTRACTS: Josh Parisian, Orion Cosce, Cheyanne Buys, Louis Cosce

RESULTS:

Louis Cosce def. Victor Reyna | TKO (punches) 1:12 Rd 1

Cheyanne Buys def. Hilarie Rose | Decision (unanimous) 30-27, 30-27, 30-27

Orion Cosce def. Matt Dixon | TKO (punches) 4:42 Rd 3

Josh Parisian def. Chad Johnson | TKO (punches) 3:43 Rd 1

Kenneth Cross def. Kevin Syler | Decision (unanimous) 30-27, 29-28, 29-28

RESULTS | Dana White’s Contender Series: Season 4, Week 2

UFC president Dana White‘s recent vacation put him in a generous mood, as he handed out a record-equalling five contracts on the latest Contender Series instalment. Each winner on the five-fight card was awarded a shot in the elite MMA promotion, with Impa Kasanganay offered a bout in just 11 days.

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26-year-old Kasanganay again made good in his second Contender Series dig, earning another decision victory to move to 6-0 as a professional. The Congolese-American was forced to make some adjustments after falling behind in Round 1, taking the fight to the ground over the next two periods where he would dominate with vicious strikes from the top and back.

His opponent, Anthony Adams has now lost twice on the UFC feeder show, and boasts an 8-2 record. At 32 years of age, time sadly appears to be running out for the promising American to get his shot at the bigtime.

The first finish of the night came via another dominant showing of ground-and-pound in the very next fight, as Canadian TJ Laramie laid enough damage on Daniel Swain to warrant a doctor’s stoppage at the end of Round 1. White was impressed with his savage nature on the mat.

While it is yet to be confirmed, Swain appeared to have injured his ribs throughout the first five minutes, most likely due to Laramie’s attacks to his midsection from top position. Laramie, now 12-3 with four-straight wins, was the biggest favourite on the card despite his opponent’s notable 30-fight professional career.

The youngest fighter to grace the octagon on the night, Cory McKenna put on her own grappling showcase, edging highly-touted BJJ practitioner, Vanessa Demopoulos via decision. The 21-year-old’s win was made even more impressive by the fact that most of bout was fought on the mat, where the Welsh native’s strength and well-rounded game came to the fore.

McKenna seemed unfazed by the submission threats that Demopoulos posed, savvy to each as she dominated from the top and survived a late triangle attempt. She looked comfortable on the feet too, landing a couple of big head kicks in the face of Demopoulous’ wild aggression. McKenna is now 5-1 with plenty of time to develop, while Demopoulos is likely to remain around the mark having been crowned the LFA strawweight champion in July.

There may have been a couple of TKO’s due to injury on the night, but Adrian Yanez made no doubt about his first round stoppage of Brady Huang with a perfectly executed performance. His 39-second finish was the fifth-quickest in Contender Series history, and ensured he was a lock for a UFC contract.

Yanez also earned comparisons to Jorge Masvidal for his movement and boxing style, which is exactly how he got the job done. He initially slipped out to land a right hand and dropped Huang with the following left hook, before closing the show with an accurate four-punch combo to showcase his killer instinct.

Fans won’t be forgetting his name in a hurry, especially after hearing of his heartbreaking journey to the top, and a tongue-in-cheek plea to his new boss: “help me quit my day job… that was me on part-time”. The 26-year-old is now 11-3 with eight finishes, and riding a four-fight win streak.

In the night’s featured bout, Joe Pyfer‘s unfortunate elbow dislocation brought an early end to his battle against UFC newcomer, Dustin Stoltzfus. Pyfer looked the much larger man and landed a nice single-leg takedown amid the first round action, before Stoltzfus broke free via some submission attempts from bottom.

That was where the beginning of the end ensued, as Stoltzfus shot in for his own takedown with a big lift which saw Pyfer brace for impact, but his arm gave way. It happened just as the fight was heating up, but Stoltzfus had done enough in White’s eyes to earn a contract. At 12-1 with 10-straight wins, he seems to be entering his prime as a fighter.

CONTRACTS: Impa Kasanganay, TJ Laramie, Cory McKenna, Adrian Yanez, Dustin Stoltzfus

RESULTS:

Dustin Stoltzfus def. Joe Pyfer | TKO (injury) 4:21 Rd 1

Adrian Yanez def. Brady Huang | TKO (punches) 0:39 Rd 1

Cory McKenna def. Vanessa Demopoulos | Decision (unanimous) 30-27, 29-28, 29-28

TJ Laramie def. Daniel Swain | TKO (doctor stoppage) 5:00 Rd 1

Impa Kasanganay def. Anthony Adams | Decision (unanimous) 29-27, 29-27, 29-27

RESULTS | Dana White’s Contender Series: Season 4, Week 1

THREE fresh faces are set to enter the UFC after earning contracts on Dana White’s Contender Series, which returned for Season 4 this week. Jordan Leavitt and Uros Medic captured the attention of their new boss with first round finishes, while Dustin Jacoby is set to make his UFC return after taking out a unanimous decision victory.

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While the card was stripped down to four fights due to a late scrapping, those in action took full advantage of their spots to earn passage to the elite MMA promotion. As is often the case, the setting of a smaller UFC APEX octagon made for a bunch of high-pace action, kicked off by Leavitt’s Round 1 submission of Luke Flores.

Having fought as recently as July 17, Leavitt kept his momentum going to improve to 7-0 as a professional and take the next step in his MMA journey. The 25-year-old grappling ace wasted no time in securing a takedown – albeit unconventionally – and got to work with a series of transitions on the mat.

No slouch on the ground himself, Flores looked to stay busy from the bottom, but a poorly judged decision to pull guard spelt the beginning of the end for him. Leavitt snatched up the arm triangle in quick time, and celebrated with his now patented split.

Flores is now 0-2 in his Contender Series digs, which remain the only two losses on his professional record. At 32-years-old, time may be running out on any hopes of a UFC berth.

MMA judging again came under fire after Jerome Rivera got the unanimous nod over Luis Rodriguez, with the former’s volume of kicks and perennial forward movement perhaps sticking in the judges’ minds. Most significantly, two of the judges had him taking out all three rounds, totally discarding Rodriguez’s dominance in Round 2.

It was an incredibly close fight nonetheless, and the LFA vet is now 10-2 as a pro, but still yearns for his UFC contract. 22-year-old Rodriguez, who is now 11-2, was impressive on his flyweight debut and looked strong across each discipline. His wicked hooks, leg kicks, and takedowns all took toll across the bout, but his seven-fight win streak was ultimately broken.

It seems inevitable that we may see both men in the UFC someday though, and there was plenty to like about their well-rounded skillsets.

Arguably the performance of the night belonged to Serbian prospect, Medic, who lays claim to one of the great MMA nicknames – ‘The Doctor’. He put on a clinic too, taking out Mikey Gonzalez via TKO in Round 1 to send a resounding message to all UFC lightweights and welterweights.

As Nick Diaz would put it, Gonzalez began to throw ‘spinning shit’ early, but it proved ineffective in the face of Medic’s slamming body kicks. Medic had him folded with one early, but he snapped up one of his opponent’s legs to survive the incoming onslaught.

It took just a few more moments for Medic to land another though, with the referee stepping in as Gonzalez could only cover up against the fence. Unsurprisingly, the quick and nasty work warranted a ‘Goddamn’ from Uncle Dana.

Now 6-0, Medic has five first round finishes to his name, and a 100 per cent stoppage rate in his fledgling professional career. The rise to the top looks a steep one for the 27-year-old.

After eight years away from the promotion, Jacoby secured the final contract of the night in the featured bout, but required all three rounds to do so against a tough a durable Ty Flores. Having cut his teeth of late in Glory Kickboxing, Jacoby showed a clear striking advantage as he lit up Flores on the feet in Rounds 1 and 2.

The 32-year-old’s punishing straight punches and flurries with Flores backed up against the fence almost had the fight stopped in Round 2, with knees and elbows also thrown into the masterful striking display.

Jacoby seemed to have emptied the tank looking for an early finish though, with both men looking gassed as the pace completely slowed during the ultimate period. It mattered little for White as he granted Jacoby a second shot in the UFC, and he looks poised to make a mark at 205lbs as he enters his fighting prime.

RESULTS

Contracts: Jordan Leavitt, Uros Medic, Dustin Jacoby

Dustin Jacoby def. Ty Flores | Decision (unanimous) 30-26, 29-27, 29-27

Uros Medic def. Mikey Gonzalez | TKO (punches) 2:12 Rd 1

Jerome Rivera def. Luis Rodriguez | Decision (unanimous) 29-28, 30-27, 30-27

Jordan Leavitt def. Luke Flores | Submission (arm-triangle) 4:15 Rd 1

Fallout: UFC 249 – Triple C peaces out, Gaethje banishes El Cucuy

FANS rejoiced when the UFC scheduled its return with UFC 249, and they were not disappointed as a stacked card headlined by a pair of intriguing title fights delivered on all its promise.

An empty VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida set the scene for Justin Gaethje‘s epic dismantling of Tony Ferguson for the interim lightweight belt, Henry Cejudo‘s first and (likely) last bantamweight title defence, and a bunch of all-out wars in what was a phenomenal return to the world stage for mixed martial arts.

Check out all the results below including each scorecard, bout-ending sequence, and the expected fallout from a fun night of fights.

MAIN CARD:

Justin Gaethje [IC] def. Tony Ferguson | TKO (punches) | 3:39 Rd 5

Initial thoughts: Man, what a time to end an eight-year win streak.

A new UFC interim lightweight champion of the world was crowned as Gaethje pulled out the performance of his career to snap Ferguson’s previous promotion-wide record 12-fight winning run and clinch gold.

While the new champ delivered on all the violence his previous fights have us expecting, a more mature and focussed approach – aided by brilliant coach Trevor Wittman – enabled Gaethje to banish the ‘Boogeyman’.

Gaethje looked to be in control for most of the fight and in probability had all four rounds in the bag before the finish, but the most glaring warning of his opponent’s threats came as Ferguson landed a flush uppercut near the end of the second round to sit Gaethje on his rear.

But Gaethje would survive, cracking Ferguson with crisp punch combinations up top and landing punishing blows which would spell the end for any lesser a fighter. He never gave the cardio machine that is Ferguson rest, constantly chopping at his legs and doing enough in the end to finally bring about a stoppage.

Fight-ending sequence – A heavy left hand was the straw which finally broke the camel’s back, staggering Ferguson and yielding the finish as he retreated with Herb Dean taking a long look at the action. Good call.

What’s next? – A fight for the undisputed title is surely next for Gaethje, while Ferguson will have to earn his way back once again among a raft of killers at 155-pounds.

Henry Cejudo def. Dominick Cruz | TKO (knee and punches) | 4:58 Rd 2

Initial thoughts: Wait, is he actually serious?

Retiring on top is a difficult thing to both time and achieve, but that is exactly what Cejudo did after defeating the consensus greatest bantamweight of all time, Cruz in a bizarre co-main event.

The King of Cringe instantly vacated the title upon defending it for the first time, although skeptics believe it could well just be a ploy to squeeze more cash out of the UFC throughout contract negotiations.

Cejudo looked comfortable across the cage from another all-time great, though the two men engaged in a few oddly-timed exchanges within the 10 minutes, as the pace, feints, and level changes saw Cejudo cut open via an accidental headbutt in the second round. It fazed him little, as he finished the bout soon after to successfully defend his crown.

Fight-ending sequence – The bout is momentarily stopped as Cejudo is cut open by a headbutt, but he makes good of the remaining 20 seconds with a beautifully timed knee to meet Cruz’s level change, before putting enough pressure on to warrant the stoppage. Cruz didn’t like it, though – seemed like he was about to stand back up.

What’s next? – The 135-pound strap seems to be up for grabs, with Petr Yan a frontrunner to fill one of the title shot spots. Cruz was posed the question of retirement, but did not bite.

Francis Ngannou def. Jairzinho Rozenstruik | KO (punches) | 0:20 Rd 1

Initial thoughts: That Derrick Lewis fight feels a world away right now.

Ngannou made light work of up-and-coming Surinamese knockout artist, Rozenstruik, handing the previously undefeated contender a taste of his own medicine with a brutal 20-second knockout.

It served as Ngannou’s fourth-consecutive first round finish, with the win surely propelling him right back up into title contention. The man is scary, and Daniel Cormier‘s reaction on commentary tells you all you need to know about just how heavy the number two heavyweight hits.

Fight-ending sequence – Wild. Ngannou looked casual to start with, but absolutely threw the kitchen sink at Rozenstruik in a vicious flurry to peddle him back towards the cage and drop him with just one looping blow. A fire fight, truely.

What’s next? – Surely Ngannou takes no fight other than one for UFC gold, while Rozenstruik will be back in the future, possibly taking a similar route to the foe who downed him here.

Calvin Kattar def. Jeremy Stephens | TKO (elbows and punches) | 2:42 Rd 2

Initial thoughts: Kattar could be the real deal.

Kattar sounded a stern warning to the top five UFC featherweight with an impressive stoppage victory over promotional staple, Stephens. The two took no time at all to begin throwing leather – hard – in what was an entertaining bout while it lasted.

Stephens looked to have started the better of the two against the typically patient Kattar, chopping at his legs given the success previous opponents had in that area. But a booming straight right hand from Kattar late in the first round put the durable Stephens on notice.

Kattar’s crisp and powerful boxing combinations would shine through in the end, and the victor’s killer instinct left Stephens in a bad way upon the stoppage.

Fight-ending sequence – Blink and you missed it. Kattar landed a lightning-fast right elbow coming in to drop Stephens, and cut him up with another amid the ground-and-pound. Brutal and swift.

What’s next? – Kattar looks poised to make a splash among the top 10, while it seems Stephens will likely prove a gatekeeper once more.

Greg Hardy def. Yorgan de Castro | Decision (unanimous) 30-27, 30-27, 30-27

Initial thoughts: Yeah, still some room for improvement on both side.

Hardy returned to the winners list with unanimous decision victory over previously undefeated Cape Verdean prospect, de Castro over three rounds. The size difference was noticeable from the beginning, but it did little to stop de Castro rushing in to throw bombs early on.

de Castro took advantage of the openings afforded to him early on the feet, proving technically sound in his boxing whenever Hardy would get in range. Hardy’s lead leg was beat up, but a late flurry in the first round earned him the points according to the judges.

But Hardy would adjust accordingly, with some help from Cormier’s commentary analysis and a possible injury to de Castro, maintaining a greater distance and replying better with his own shots. de Castro’s production fell off a cliff despite his corner begging for activity.

We had it – 29-28 Hardy. A pretty straightforward one, with Hardy easily taking out the last two rounds with his activity. de Castro started well and aggressively, perhaps earning him first-round points.

What’s next? – Hardy will be eager to be thrown into the ringer with ranked fighters, but may not be there yet. de Castro is a step behind that, but could rack up some quick wins in no time.

PRELIMINARY CARD:

Anthony Pettis def. Donald Cerrone | Decision (unanimous) 29-28, 29-28, 29-28

Initial thoughts: Oh, they still got it.

He did it once and he did it again. Former lightweight champ Pettis got the better of fellow veteran and title challenger ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone for the second time in the octagon, earning a unanimous decision victory in their welterweight scrap.

Cerrone came out looking stern, but Pettis was having great success at a distance, closing it well while moving the better of the two. A jumping knee allowed Cerrone to put Pettis in side control, his best moment of the first round.

The dynamism of ‘Showtime’ up top continued to pose problems for Cerrone, with fleeting takedowns the latter’s best form of response. The two got friendly as old foes in a close fight, with Pettis edging it credit to his stand-up counter production and a cracking late shot.

We had it – 29-28 Pettis. Judges got it right, nice.

What’s next? – Pettis’ name alone should earn him another ranked fight at welterweight, while Cerrone’s next move is less clear given his status as a ranked lightweight, and four-consecutive defeats – a career first.

Aleksei Oleinik def. Fabricio Werdum | Decision (split) 28-29, 29-28, 29-28

Initial thoughts: This was fun.

Oleinik took out arguably the biggest victory of his storied career in a split decision triumph over former heavyweight champion, Werdum. The Russian grappling extraordinaire looked in ripping shape, while the returning Werdum was a far cry from his championship shape.

Many pegged the Brazilian as the superior striker, but Oleinik came out throwing bombs from the off as the two submission specialists battled it out up top. The sambo practitioner’s work in the clinch was impressive early on, and his corner etiquette was… unique.

Werdum’s kicks and eventual work from top allowed him an avenue back into the fight as Oleinik tired on the back of his wild swinging punches. He managed to ride out a flurry of submission attempts from the BJJ master though, grinding to a solid win.

We had it – 29-28 Oleinik. Second round is perhaps the one in question, with the Russian’s end sticking in the mind to grant him the edge. First also goes to him, Werdum takes the third.

What’s next? – Time is running out for Werdum, though he was hardly dominated on his return. Oleinik will continue to circle the top 10 rankings.

Carla Esparza def. Michelle Waterson | Decision (split) 27-30, 29-28, 30-27

Initial thoughts: Never. Leave. It. In. The. Hands. Of. The. Judges.

Inaugural strawweight champ Esparza notched a second-consecutive split decision victory, getting the better of the scorecards in what was a largely uneventful three rounds of action.

While Esparza landed a couple of nice blows and a takedown in the first round feeling out period, many of her grappling advances and and striking flurries were countered well by Waterson, leaving her stunned as the scorecards were read out.

The third round yielded the most activity and most likely went Waterson’s way, but neither fighter arguably did enough to be feel totally wronged by the decision either way.

We had it – 29-28 Waterson. First round to Esparza, Waterson edges the third and takes the second. The 30-27s were bizarre.

What’s next? – Ezparza is on a good run back toward the top five, and deserves a high profile opponent. After consecutive defeats, Waterson may soon be thrown to the young prospects.

Vicente Luque def. Niko Price | TKO (doctor stoppage) | 3:37 Rd 3

Initial thoughts: NASTY. Way to set the bar for violence.

Luque served a reminder of his credentials as a ranked welterweight, outgunning a tough opponent in Price to nab a finish in just under three rounds.

The Brazilian often gets into wars, and this fight was no different as the two men brought the heat. Only a doctor’s stoppage could prevent Price from going on, with a nasty gash on the American’s right eye enough to spell his end.

Fight-ending sequence – A BEAUTIFUL left hook from Luque looped over the right hand of Price and landed flush onto his eye, sending him stumbling to the mat. Luque followed up to land a big hammer fist, but the action was broken as the two stood back up, with Price’s closed-up eye rendering him unable to continue.

What’s next? – For Luque, surely a ranked fighter. For Price, a rebound win is crucial to his chances of cracking the rankings.

EARLY PRELIMINARY CARD:

Bryce Mitchell def. Charles Rosa | Decision (unanimous) 30-25, 30-25, 30-24

Initial thoughts: Get this man some camo shorts.

Ryan Spann def. Sam Alvey | Decision (split) 29-28, 28-29, 29-28

Initial thoughts: Sam might not be smilin’ any more.

Combat Hat: The 10 best Contender Series alumni

IT is no secret that Dana White and co. have serious eyes for talent, with organised UFC scouting searches spawning all the way back in 2005 with The Ultimate Fighter, and transitioning into the now-famed Contender Series. The standalone promotion is set to launch in Asia this year, and has already produced an impressive list of alumni. We take a look at the show’s 10 best graduates – in order of appearance – after four featured on Sunday’s UFC 246 card.

Season One:

Sean O’Malley (Week 2) | 10-0/2-0 UFC | Bantamweight

‘Sugar’ Sean O’Malley became an instant fan favourite after his impressive knockout victory in just the second Contender Series edition. His seamless transition into the UFC with two unanimous decision victories worked to immediately justify the new scouting format, and his personality out of the cage only adds to his in-cage appeal and grappling quality. The 25-year-old has already had notable moments in the leading promotion, including a unique post-fight interview with Joe Rogan while lying on the mat in agony due to a fractured foot. His natural progression into the bantamweight rankings has been halted due to doping violations and two subsequent six-month bans, but O’Malley is due to make his long-awaited return against José Alberto Quiñónez at UFC 248.

Dan Ige (Week 3) | 12-2/4-1 UFC | Featherweight

One of the many promising Hawaiian prospects is Dan Ige, who fought his way to a UFC contract by submitting Luis Gomez (no, not Michael Bisping’s mate) in an entertaining Week 3 bout. Despite not earning a contract on the night and coming up short in his official UFC debut, Ige has proved himself worthy of the promotion with four consecutive wins in just over a year, and has notable grappling credentials as a Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt and judo brown belt. Despite his five submission victories, Ige is also capable on the feet having put Mike Santiago away within a minute in his maiden UFC win, while also using those heavy hands to rock Danny Henry before submitting him in style. Next on the agenda is Mirsad Bektic at UFC 247, and a win would go a long way to getting that sought-after ranking next to his name.

Geoff Neal (Week 3) | 13-2/5-0 UFC | Welterweight

The ‘Handz of Steel’ moniker just about does justice to Geoff Neal, who has proven to be the real deal at 170lbs. A well-built athlete with scary knockout power, Neal entered the scene on the Contender Series at middleweight, but since flourished at welterweight to finish four of his five UFC wins and earn the division’s number 11 ranking. While he has not crossed a fellow ranked opponent as of yet, impressive stoppage victories over the likes of Niko Price and Mike Perry of late make him fully deserving of the ranked tag in a talent-rich weight class. He seems to be in a hurry, and with plenty of big names to challenge ahead of him, Neal could be the next big thing at 170lbs with scope to move to 185lbs in time and if need be.

Season Two:

Antonina Shevchenko (Week 3) | 8-1/2-1 UFC | W. Flyweight

The sister of women’s flyweight champion, Valentina Shevchenko, Antonina entered the mixed martial arts realm as an esteemed kickboxer. She was given the chance at a UFC contract after working to a 5-0 professional record, and took it with both hands with a beautiful display of her muay thai pedigree to earn a TKO win via knees to the body. Currently the number 12 ranked women’s flyweight contender, Shevchenko’s run to the top was momentarily halted by a first professional loss to veteran leveller Roxanne Modafferi, but she returned to the winners list with a fight of the night performance against Lucie Pudilova in August, 2019. Her next bout is yet to be announced, but a decent hit-out should be in store for Shevchenko, and her name goes a long way to progressing quickly.

Maycee Barber (Week 5) | 8-1/3-1 UFC | W. Flyweight

A fighter in a hurry, Maycee Barber is hell-bent on bringing ‘The Future’ forward by beating out Jon Jones to become the youngest-ever UFC champion. The 21-year-old has shown plenty since earning a contract during Season Two via vicious elbow strikes, going on to nab finishes in all three of her UFC wins via three different methods. Barber’s physicality and pure meanness inside the octagon has proven too much for many of her opponents, and she gained a heap of respect for her heart upon fighting on with a torn ACL in her first professional loss at UFC 246. Given the injury, fans will have to wait around a year to see the American in action again, with plenty of options ahead for the ninth ranked women’s flyweight star nonetheless.

Edmen Shahbazyan (Week 5) | 11-0/4-0 UFC | Middleweight

One of the brightest middleweight prospects is Edmen Shahbazyan, who fights out of the famed Glendale Fighting Club under Edmond ‘Head Movement’ Tarverdyan. Tarverdyan has trained the 22-year-old since he was a boy, with UFC hall of famer Ronda Rousey one of his former training partners. The fighter of Armenian descent boasts an incredible professional MMA record, going undefeated through 11 bouts with his UFC debut the only one to endure past the first round. Wins over Brad Tavares and Jack Marshman have accelerated the prodigy into ninth in the middleweight rankings, with a top-tenner surely up next unless he opts for a gatekeeper-type opponent. Either way, his technical stand-up game and punching power have proven too much for all 11 opponents, and he is a scary proposition for the future.

Jimmy Crute (Week 6) | 10-1/2-1 UFC | Light Heavyweight

Australian brawler Jimmy Crute is one of three exciting talents to be signed out of the Season Two, Week 6 instalment, fighting to a 2-1 record in the promotion after earning a TKO victory in his Contender Series shot. Fighting under the tutelage of legendary Australian kickboxer Sam Greco, ‘The Brute’ finished two light heavyweight mainstays – Paul Craig and Sam Alvey – within three months of entering the UFC, but came up short on the mat during his first venture into the realm of ranked opponents. After a much-needed break to develop his game, the 23-year-old Victorian is set to fight just his third professional bout overseas when he meets Michał Oleksiejczuk in New Zealand at UFC Fight Night 168. Crute’s heavy hands and tendency to finish fights make him one to watch, possessing a deceptively good ground game to boot.

Sodiq Yusuff (Week 6) | 11-1/4-0 UFC | Featherweight

One who may well find himself among the rankings come Wednesday is Nigeria’s ‘Super’ Sodiq Yusuff, a heavy hitter who has started life in the UFC flawlessly. His 4-0 record to date was extended at UFC 246 with a comfortable decision win over Andre Fili, with the typically dangerous knockout artist serving a reminder of his grappling quality with some accomplished ground work – he started off in a jiu jitsu gym after all. Yusuff did not need a finish in his Contender Series effort to earn a contract, but has since made up for it with two beautiful TKO wins in the top promotion. At 26 years old, Yusuff will soon enter his prime and is perhaps one of the more fearsome prospects given his well-rounded game and obvious avenue to victory – that undeniable power.

Chase Hooper (Week 6) | 9-0/1-0 UFC | Featherweight

The son of Ben Askren (not really), Chase Hooper has proven to be a beneficiary of Dana White’s decision to sign him to a development league contract upon an impressive decision win in his Contender Series shot. Victorious and still undefeated after three more fights outside of the top promotion, Hooper was ultra-impressive in his UFC debut at UFC 245 in dispatching of Daniel Teymur via TKO within the first round. A true modern-day MMA prodigy, Hooper possesses a range of weapons with his splitting elbows, slick ground game and rare range on the feet. There is plenty of time for the 20-year-old to find his feet, but fans will inevitably be eager to see more of ‘The Teenage Dream’ as soon as possible. He may look like a kid, but has a skillset beyond his years.

Brazil:

Johnny Walker (Week 2) | 17-4/3-1 UFC | Light Heavyweight

Another fighter who did not require a finish to impress Dana White, the unique and truly unorthodox Johnny Walker has found a home at number 11 in the UFC light heavyweight rankings. An athletic freak with a crazy knack for early and eye-catching finishes on the feet, the Brazilian was put forward as a prospect who could be the one to dethrone long-time 205lbs champion Jon Jones, but a first round TKO loss to Corey Anderson proved there are levels to the game, and has put Walker back in the pecking order. With a proposed moved to Tristar Gym, Walker will hope to recapture the magic that saw him claim three consecutive T/KO victories upon entering the UFC, and could still be anything.

Other notables:

Casey Kenney 13-1/2-0 UFC

Greg Hardy 5-2-(1)/2-2-(1) UFC

Ricky Simon 15-3/3-2 UFC

Augusto Sakai 14-1/3-0 UFC

Marina Rodriguez 12-0-2/2-0-2 UFC