It was better late than never for the latest round of Dana White’s Contender Series hopefuls.
On a night that saw three fights finished in the third round, Tony Gravely, Sarah Alpar, and Brok Weaver were signed to UFC deals, while William Knight received a developmental contract at the conclusion of week 8 of the Contender Series at UFC Apex in Las Vegas.
Gravely (19-5) was arguably the most impressive competitor on the night, putting on a spectacular performance against an ultra-tough Ray Rodriguez (15-6). A CES bantamweight champion, Gravely smartly used his wrestling to ground Rodriguez while also showing solid striking en route to a third-round TKO win via ground-and-pound.
It was by no means easy for Gravely. He and Rodriguez took the fight to each other from the opening bell and even though Gravely came into the bout with a highly-respected wrestling pedigree, Rodriguez scrambled into advantageous positions on more than one occasion. He also stayed in the fight despite Gravely catching him clean with a head kick and several hard counter-punches.
In the third round, Rodriguez took Gravely’s back, forcing Gravely to shake him off and then regain to position. From there, he worked to full mount, raining down punches on Rodriguez and continuing to do so as Rodriguez turned onto his belly, with the referee eventually stepping in to wave off the bout. Gravely became the first fighter to finish Rodriguez with strikes.
In the evening’s main event, Knight (5-0) wasn’t perfect, but he was more than good enough to finish Herdem Alacabek (5-1) and catch White’s eye. The matchup of inexperienced light heavyweights saw Knight showed outstanding resilience, weathering an early attack of takedowns and slams to surge back and pick up a TKO victory at the 4:34 mark of round three.
Sweden’s Alacabek looked all the world like a top prospect in round one, controlling Knight on the ground and threatening to finish with punches on the mat and a rear-naked choke. However, Knight hung in there and even ended the round with a jumping knee. In round two, Knight turned the tide with a trip and reached full mount where he started wailing on Alacabek.
Knight landed a jumping knee in the third on a visibly tiring Alacabek and later went all in on a pair of takedowns that set up the end of the fight. With Alacabek’s reserves drained, Knight punched him from back position and then took full mount as Alacabek rolled over. Knight needed just one hand to batter Alacabek and earn the stoppage.
With a developmental contract in hand, Knight will return to the regional scene for more seasoning with UFC officials keeping a close eye on him.
In a welterweight battle that went to the scorecards, Weaver (14-4) survived the early wrestling pressure from Rashad Evans protege Devin Smyth (9-2, 1 NC) and out-boxed him for three rounds to pick up a unanimous decision win.
Smyth got off to a hot start, blasting Weaver with a body kick and then shooting in for a double. Though Weaver got back up fast, he was immediately taken for a ride and slammed. Smyth wasn’t able to do much damage from top position, which proved to be a theme throughout the fight.
As Smyth’s output slowed, Weaver boxed him up on the feet and in close, working Smyth’s body to break him down even further. Weaver started to pull away in round two, but Smyth scored a beautiful trip takedown in the third round that looked like it might turn the tide. However, Weaver soon recovered and was able to find his own grappling success by muscling Smyth against the fence. The two dug deep in the final minutes, with Weaver grinding out the win.
Post-fight, Weaver gave an impassioned speech that may have played a role in White deciding to scoop him up:
Also later signed, Alpar (9-4) picked up the evening’s first upset, submitting one-time Invicta FC bantamweight Shanna Young (6-2) with a rear-naked choke in the second round.
After a somewhat sloppy first round that saw Alpar score first blood by catching a charging Young with punches and Young later finding success in the clinch, the second turned quickly in Alpar’s favor. After absorbing a punch combination from Young, Alpar secured a body lock and willed herself into a successful takedown attempt. From there, she took her time moving to back control and then opened Young up before securing the submission finish.
Commenting on Alpar’s signing, White said he would like to see Alpar drop down to flyweight in the future.
It wasn’t enough to earn a contract, but Julius Anglickas (7-1) was able to wear Karl Reed (6-2) down and pick up a third-round submission victory. The two spent much of the bout grappling against the fence, with both finding success in the takedown department. However, it was Anglickas, a Legacy Fighting Alliance light heavyweight champion, who was able to actually do damage when he was in control, eventually softening Reed up enough to secure a rear-naked choke with less than two minutes remaining in the fight.
The result was particularly heartbreaking for Reed, who declined an offer to return to the Contender Series last year after failing to earn a UFC contract on the show two years ago. He went 4-0 on the regional scene before taking another shot at getting signed.
Complete results from week 8 of the Contender Series can be found here.