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Diggin’ Deep on Dana White’s Contender Series – Week 5

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Get the inside scoop on the prospects for this week’s edition of Dana White’s Contender Series, headlined by light heavyweights Mike Rodriguez and Jamelle Jones.

Halfway through the first season of Dana White’s Contender Series – it feels safe to say there will be future seasons – we have seven newly-contracted fighters after four episodes. The fighters (or are they contestants?) seem to recognize they need to go balls out if they want a contract and have been fighting like that. As a result, the majority of the fights have been exciting. Anyone else see where this is an improvement from The Ultimate Fighter? Considering the long-running reality series has been floundering in the ratings for years now, is it possible the Contender Series could end up making its way to television in place of a less successful series? Just a bit of food for thought…

This week’s episode begins at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT tonight.

Mike Rodriguez (8-2) vs. Jamelle Jones (7-4), Light Heavyweight

While some may get upset with Rodriguez possessing the nickname of Bones, it makes a lot of sense for him to share Jon Jones nickname as he possesses a similar build at 6’4″ with an 83″ reach. Given his inexperience, it’s no surprise he doesn’t use his length as well as the current light heavyweight champion, but he’s shown progress in that area with each passing contest. Front kicks and jabs make up the bulk of Rodriguez’s assault, though he’ll unload a flying knee or some other high-risk maneuver when he feels confident his opponent doesn’t want to continue to try wading through his long limbs. Rodriguez has shown flashes of a dangerous guard, using his limbs to secure a triangle choke not that long ago, but he’s still quite raw in his overall technique. When he is able to posture up in the top position, his ground-and-pound is devastating as he mixes elbows with his punches.

Knowing he’ll be giving up nine inches to Rodriguez in the reach department, look for Jones to put his longer opponent on his back as soon as possible. Given his background as a junior college wrestling champion, Jones has the pedigree to do just that, using knee taps and trips in addition to the more typical double and single leg takedowns. When he gets the fight to the ground, he shows good control and vicious ground-and-pound. He hasn’t secured many submissions, but Jones has shown both creativity and the proper positioning to make himself a legit threat on the ground. Though he has shown flashes of being a competent striker, he has yet to put everything together on a consistent basis, often resulting in him eating a big shot.

Both of these athletic 205ers have more than enough talent to become mainstays on the UFC roster. However, it feels like a very safe choice to pick Rodriguez. Every time Jones faces an opponent with a half-decent record, he falters. I haven’t seen anything to indicate that he’s going to be able to change his ways against the lanky Rodriguez. Rodriguez via TKO, RD1

Peter Petties (5-2) vs. Julio Arce (13-2), Featherweight

Some have been confused as to why this is Arce’s first opportunity to burst into the UFC scene considering all the hype that once surrounded the New York native. Since moving up to featherweight a year ago, Arce has reeled off four wins in a row and looks rejuvenated. A former Golden Gloves boxer and a student of Tiger Schulman, few on the regional scene can match Arce’s striking credentials. He even has some nice submission skills of his own and is difficult to keep on the ground if opponents look to go that route.

Petties may be one of the few with a striking pedigree that would allow him to do more just hang with Arce standing. In fact, he may be able to outshine Arce as Petties is undefeated in Muay Thai. Owner of a very unorthodox and stiff stance, his wide base helps him to defend takedown attempts opponents almost always look to throw at him given his lack of experience in that department. Unfortunately for him, they often find success in getting him to the ground. However, Petties does have a dangerous guard that can catch opponents if they sleep too much on him.

Petties relies too much on getting the KO for me to be comfortable picking him. Yes, he’s talented and explosive, but doesn’t have enough experience in all facets of MMA for me to believe he is anywhere near ready for the big stage. Arce on the other hand has only lost to UFC veteran Brian Kelleher in his career. Arce should find some way to finish off his unorthodox opponent. Arce via submission, RD2

Alex Perez (17-4) vs. Kevin Gray (9-3), Flyweight

Though he has been around for a while, Perez has largely floated under the radar of analysts. Not because he isn’t any good, but because there is a lack of flash in his ultra-deliberate style. Perez doesn’t overwhelm with volume. He isn’t exclusively a grinder. If his opponent is experienced, he typically doesn’t get a finish. He just does what he needs to do to pick up a win. His boxing is very meat-and-potatoes, usually setting up his takedowns which he mixes in efficiently to keep his opponent guessing what comes next. One funky fact is he has never finished a fight in the second or third round; either he ends the contest in the first or he’s going the distance.

A much more explosive athlete, Gray looks to finish fights using the power and speed advantage he typically holds. A standout NAIA collegiate wrestler with the nickname Pocket Herc – a very well-deserved title — Gray’s blast double often turns into power slams. He’s not a bad scrambler either with a knack for finding the guillotine. Though he doesn’t have any KO’s on his resume, Gray does have some real power in his fists and a strong Thai clinch. He does tend to get caught flat-footed as he looks for the opportune moment to burst, but he has worked to add more front and leg kicks to keep active.

Though these feels like a very evenly-matched contest, the clash of styles seems to favor Gray. Perez has been taken down by lesser wrestlers and though Gray has been taken down by less accomplished wrestlers than Perez, it appeared to be attributed to overconfidence. I don’t see him doing that to Perez. While it should be fun, don’t expect a finish regardless of who wins. Gray via decision

Ricky Simon (9-1) vs. Donavon Frelow (6-2), Bantamweight

Simon has been a name that has been floating around for a while now. He probably would have already received his shot in the UFC had he not been upset by Anderson dos Santos last year for the Titan FC bantamweight title. A teammate of Chael Sonnen, Simon has recovered nicely with a pair of wins, including a finish of Strikeforce veteran Charon Spain in less than two minutes. Utilizing a strong wrestling game, Simon uses his striking to set up his explosive entries very well. He’s run into problems when he looks to stand and trade for too long as there are holes in his defense, but he’ll still hit the occasional flying knee or spinning back fist.

Simon’s wrestling will likely present a tough challenge for the undersized Frelow. A natural flyweight, Frelow has competed for titles at 125 and 135 in WSOF, coming up short both times to Russian grapplers. Even worse, the contests weren’t close. Frelow does have some short burst explosion and is a good scrambler with a tight squeeze. Though he shows a surprising amount of pop in his strikes, he tends to get wild, something he hasn’t been able to get away with as the competition has gotten tougher.

I can’t figure out why the UFC is having Frelow try his luck at bantamweight. He isn’t big at flyweight much less bantamweight. Simon on the other hand is a big bantamweight with the type of style that Frelow has had all sorts of problems with. If nothing else, Frelow has proven tough and resilient as he has never been finished in his career. Still, going the distance won’t be the goal here and I struggle to see him doing more than that. Simon via decision

Everett Sims (4-0) vs. Shelton Graves (6-3), Heavyweight

Sims has dabbled in a couple of different fields of combat in addition to MMA, doing a little bit of boxing and kickboxing. He hasn’t done enough at a high enough level that there is an extensive library out there to be found with only a single kickboxing contest to be found. He appears to work the body quite a bit, but also tends to shell up rather than using his footwork to move out of the way. Like I said though, it’s only one video and it’s in a different sport. Sims does train out of ATT and has a blue belt in BJJ, indicating he isn’t completely helpless on the ground either. Also worth noting is each of his four victories came in the first round.

Graves has faced a higher level of competition with a greater number of fights available for consumption, making him a lot less of a wild card than Sims. Utilizing wrestling to control his opponent either on the ground or against the fence with his stocky frame, Graves is an grinder plain and simple. He isn’t very tall at 6’2″, but still carries his 260 pounds relatively well. Graves offers a better than expected gas tank too. What is worrisome is his lack of offense from the outside as he relies almost solely on the clinch and ground-and-pound to land any significant damage.

I feel like this is a test to see if Sims is ready as he appears to have the physical skills to make it in the UFC. Guys with Graves’ skill set and athletic ability tend to falter once they get to the big show. I’ve been picking experience in contests like this one for the series and don’t want to be burned again like I was in the Ryan Spann-Karl Roberson contest. Sims finds Graves chin readily available before the fight is halfway over. Sims via TKO, RD1

Who gets the contract?

After four weeks and no one who secures a submission getting a contract, you either need an impressive KO or an opponent who refuses to go down despite eating shot after shot. Simon and Gray are unlikely to pick up a contract with that logic. Arce is more likely to submit Petties than knock him silly, though it is possible. That leaves either Sims or Rodriguez. I could see both getting contracts, but if I’m picking just one, I’m going with Mike Rodriguez.

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