Get the inside scoop on the prospects battling it out for a spot in the UFC in the first edition of Dana White’s Contender Series.
About time the UFC developed something of a farm system! Lookin’ for a Fight has been a disappointment for fans as Lookin’ for Ways to Entertain Dana and Matt would be a more appropriate title. Apparently realizing a reality show where Dana White and Matt Serra travel around the US attempting to be rodeo clowns — or whatever the hell it is their doing that week — while catching the occasional fight isn’t what fight fans want to see, the UFC is giving fight fans what they want…fights!
Though it’s apparent we aren’t going to get the best prospects in every fight, these are all reasonable contests at the very least. I also don’t know if every winner is going to immediately get a shot in the UFC, but it does help narrow down some of the more talented fighters out there on the regional scene. Here’s the inside scoop on the first edition of Dana White’s Contender Series.
The broadcast begins on Fight Pass at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT on Tuesday.
Matt Bessette (22-7) vs. Kurt Holobaugh (17-4), Featherweight
I don’t know if it is fair to refer to Bessette and Holobaugh as prospects given their age – 32 and 30 respectively – and the amount of experience they have under their belt. Nonetheless, they’ve certainly earned the opportunity to make their way into the UFC.
Having fallen to Pat Healy in Strikeforce and Steven Siler in the UFC in 2013, Holobaugh is the better-known name between the two. However, he made that initial leap less than two years into his professional career. He should be far more prepared for the bright lights at this stage in his career. Largely a combination puncher with some decent footwork, most of Holobaugh’s wins have come by way of submission thanks to his scrambling ability. However, most of his success has come at lightweight with all but one of his losses coming at 145 despite most of his contests taking place at 155. Regardless, Holobaugh is very well-rounded and tough as nails. Need proof? He’s never been finished in any manner over the course of his career.
Bessette has been fighting for about a decade, yet has never been able to secure a UFC appearance. He did participate in a Bellator featherweight tournament, picking up a win over UFC vet Diego Nunes before losing to Daniel Weichel, so he does have experience against top competition. Like Holobaugh, Bessette has proven to be very durable, having been finished only twice in nearly 30 professional contests. What makes it more impressive is Bessette tends to have his chin tested frequently as defense has never been a major concern of his. Nonetheless, he pushes a fast pace – a big part of the reason he gets tagged so much — that often leads to his opponents wilting to his supreme conditioning.
Kudos to the UFC for this contest. Both have established track records in addition to being entertaining fighters. It’s a very evenly matched contest, though I favor Holobaugh by a hair due to Bessette’s penchant for taking damage. I will grant that Bessette has a greater killer instinct, but Holobaugh’s durability might render that useless. Holobaugh via decision
Greg Rebello (22-7) vs. Zu Anyanwu (13-4), Heavyweight
Rebello originally tried making his way into the big leagues all the way back in 2010, falling short to Josh Bryant in the TUF season coached by Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz. Some of you may remember that season was highlighted by middleweights. Rebello has put on some weight since then, last clocking in at 243 lbs. As you can imagine, Rebello is small for a heavyweight, often struggling with a reach disparity which results in his often fighting off the counter or lunging with his powerful hooks. There is power in them when they land as more than half of his wins have come by KO, but Rebello often takes a good amount of damage before landing the kill shot.
Fortunately for Rebello, Anyanwu isn’t exactly a behemoth himself, measuring in at 6’1″, just an inch taller than Rebello. Anyanwu doesn’t have a long reach, but he does possess a broad frame made to carry a lot of weight. There is a bit of excess baggage in the midsection, but nothing compared to what Roy Nelson carries. Anyanwu uses good distance and footwork to stalk his opponent, picking them apart patiently until he can sense the end is nigh. The bread and butter of Anyanwu’s game is his powerful counters as his accuracy is highly impressive. He doesn’t have much of a ground game, but the big man has been able to avoid being submitted over the course of his career.
I get the sense Rebello has the better all-around game, but I don’t necessarily care for his usual course of strategy against what Anyanwu brings to the table. Anyanwu’s patient style is likely to catch Rebello on one of his lunging attempts, putting the Rhode Island native out for the count. Anyanwu via KO, RD1
Boston Salmon (5-1) vs. Ricky Turcios (8-0), Bantamweight
Salmon is a name that I’ve been keeping an eye of for a while as many pundits batted his name around. His 5’9″ frame and 72″ reach and a few highlight finishes are what caught the eyes of scouts. It’s worth mentioning that the lone loss on his record didn’t come without some controversy on the scorecards, meaning he could very well be undefeated. Salmon’s explosion is his greatest weapon, going from 0-to-60 in no time at all. He’s not too bad in the clinch either, using his big frame to wear on the opposition with his elbows being especially potent. However, Salmon can be caught standing around for long periods of time as he looks for the perfect opening, too often not throwing out feelers such as a jab or leg kicks.
Though it sounds oxymoronic for me to say, Turcios takes a more measured and voluminous approach. He throws his jab out there a lot while mixing in leg kicks and front kicks to help maintain distance. For good measure, Turcios will throw in the occasional takedown as well, though he isn’t exactly a powerful takedown artist. Instead, he relies more on things like trips, catching kicks, and good timing. Turcios has solid control once he gets the fight to the ground, but it is a bit worrisome that he has yet to secure a submission victory when he hasn’t faced much in terms of notable competition. He doesn’t have a lot of power either, leading to a lot of decisions on his record.
A very evenly matched contest, it isn’t easy picking between these two youngsters. While the winner is likely to get a shot in the UFC, expect the loser to make their way in shortly thereafter as both possess quite a bit of potential. As it is, I expect Turcios to outpoint Salmon as Salmon’s style isn’t built for decisions and Turcio is a hell of a tough customer. It’s far from a sure thing as Salmon has more abundant physical gifts, but he has yet to find a consistent approach that allows him to outpoint the opposition. Turcios via decision
Charles Byrd (7-4) vs. Justin Jones (9-2), Middleweight
Given his track record in addition to clocking in at 33, you’re probably wondering why Byrd is getting this opportunity. It isn’t hard to figure out. Byrd possesses a lot of power and is aggressive as hell. Uncle Dana loves KO’s and aggression, thus why Byrd is getting this opportunity. I’m not just talking about his punches in terms of Byrd going after it either. He goes after subs with just as much enthusiasm. The problem is that Byrd is small at middleweight, having taken quite a few contests at welterweight. Plus, his aggression often turns into recklessness, leading to him giving up an advantageous position. Though it doesn’t happen regularly, Byrd’s aggression has tired him out early in contests too. He hasn’t shown much in the wrestling department either outside of highlight slams early in contests.
Jones caught the eye of a few when he first made his UFC debut thanks to his long reach — 78″ on a 5’11” frame – and decent athletic ability. However, he never developed the footwork to take advantage of his reach. Even worse, it doesn’t appear Jones has worked on it in the regional scene, utilizing a takedown-heavy approach in which he pushes his opponent against the fence and tries to pull their hips out from under them. Jones’ has had success once the fight hits the ground, either finding a guillotine choke to fall back on or delivering some heavy ground-and-pound, but that was his bread-and-butter before being cut. Has Jones worked on the necessary things to work his way back to the UFC?
I know Jones is the popular pick and I understand why, but folks should take a second look at this. If Jones leaves a defensive opening, it’s almost a guarantee that Byrd will attempt to find it. I’m still picking the favorite in Jones, but I’m doing so with a lot of trepidation as I didn’t see the type of improvement I was hoping to see out of him once he was sent back to the regionals. Jones via decision
Manny Vazquez (11-2) vs. Joby Sanchez (9-2), Flyweight
At one point, Sanchez was thought to be one of the top flyweight prospects in the world. He got his UFC call at the age of 23 and washed out with a 1-2 record by the beginning of 2016. Now 26, Sanchez has picked up a few wins on the regional scene over some good vets. Has he learned the necessary lessons to stick around for a while? Sanchez’s game is still largely the same, dancing around on the outside, throwing his combination punches at a high clip. However, he has added a front kick to his regular arsenal and has placed a greater emphasis on wrestling where he can take advantage of his strong submission game, even if it is merely to initiate a scramble. No, Sanchez still doesn’t have a lot of power, but most flyweights don’t anyway. It appears the time away from the UFC has been good for the youngster.
Vazquez is even younger at 23 and is absolutely huge for flyweight, clocking in at 5’10” with a 72″ reach. He knows how to use his long limbs very well on the ground, entangling his opponent with his legs and arms as he looks to sink in a choke. Vazquez is still a bit raw on the feet, not always using the best timing and winging hard hooks that leave him open to be countered. Where Vazquez is at his best on the feet is in the clinch, utilizing the Thai plum to rip away at his opponent’s body with his knees. However, it needs to be noted that Vazquez has never fought at the flyweight limit before, making this his debut in a new weight class. How will his body respond to the cut? Some like Brad Pickett were incredibly drawn out, others like Ulka Sasaki revived their career. It’s hard to say how Vazquez responds.
Both of these prospects are talented enough to have extended stays in the UFC. In fact, I think both will end up on the roster at some point. However, I’m picking Sanchez as I fear his standup will give Vazquez all sorts of problems and Vazquez doesn’t have the takedown arsenal to get Sanchez where he wants the fight to go. Plus, Vazquez’s last fight was at the end of March. It isn’t like he’s giving himself an extended amount of time for his body to adjust to the cut down to 125. Sanchez via decision