Get the lowdown on the final episode of the season of the Contender Series, where ten more hopefuls look to impress Dana White enough to earn contracts into the UFC.
Last week’s edition of Tuesday Night Fights was somewhat disappointing based on who Dana White decided to award contracts to. Mike Santiago and Jordan Espinosa scored first round stoppages against opponents better known than themselves… and neither were awarded contracts. Instead, Joby Sanchez and Benito Lopez got the contracts. It isn’t that Sanchez and Lopez were undeserving. Sanchez was making his second appearance on the show and secured a second round stoppage while Lopez survived a back-and-forth war with Steven Peterson. But it still didn’t feel quite right.
There was some redemption announced earlier this week when it was announced Santiago was going to be filling in on short notice for an injured Nick Hein in Rotterdam against highly regarded prospect Zabit Magomedsharipov. As a result, Santiago will be the first Contender’s Series alum to make their UFC debut after making an appearance on the show. While it felt like an inevitability that someone who wasn’t officially awarded a contract would eventually find their way into the UFC, it’s nice to see it happen.
Worth noting is that this is the last episode of the season, meaning the show will be on hiatus for an unspecified period of time. Most of the contestants don’t seem like they’re quite ready for the big show yet, but they’re getting their chance regardless.
The action begins tonight at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT on Fight Pass.
Matt Frevola (5-0) vs. Jose Flores (7-0), Lightweight
Given how deep the lightweight division is in the UFC, the brass must see something special in Frevola and Flores as this is the first lightweight fight on the series. If nothing else, Frevola and Flores usually put on exciting performances.
Frevola is a brick house who only knows how to move in one direction: forward. He isn’t the most technical striker, preferring to wing haymakers as he moves forward with the occasional level change resulting in a takedown. Frevola does have some real power in his fists, but it is completely dependent on him landing his offense… something that doesn’t always happen thanks to his wildness. He is a handful in the clinch and difficult to get to the ground, but he can also be manipulated by someone who uses proper angles and technique in close quarters.
Flores has been bullied by opponents similar to Frevola in the past as he isn’t nearly the physical juggernaut Frevola is. However, Flores has been able to remain undefeated thanks to his savvy submission skills – off his back and from the top position — and sweeps to get back to his feet. He isn’t an overpowering striker either, but he is accurate and smart enough to attack an area when he knows he has an opponent hurt. While Flores is resilient, he has been finished a couple of times on the amateur scene.
A very evenly-matched contest, it’s not easy to predict who’s going to win. Frevola’s aggression and forward movement make him a favorite to get the contract… provided he wins. His style also leaves him open to counters and potential submissions… just the type of things Flores can pull off to swing things in his favor. I’m more confident there will be a finish than I am of who is going to win, but even that isn’t something I’m willing to guarantee. Flores via submission of RD1
Elias Urbina (3-0) vs. Bevon Lewis (3-0), Middleweight
At 6’5″ with a 77″ reach, it’s hard not to look at Urbina and not see the potential in the younger brother of Hector. The problem is he isn’t a great athlete and doesn’t have a whole lot of power. What he does have is mounds of toughness and incredible survival instincts as illustrated during his stint on TUF in the first half of 2016. So long as Urbina can stay on his feet, he’ll throw anything and everything he can with ill-intentions. The clinch is where he is strongest as his big frame isn’t easy for his opponents to maneuver.
Lewis is a superior athlete to Urbina, but he’s also significantly smaller, having fought as low as the lightweight division in the amateur ranks. His ground game is questionable, but he has two things working in his favor: he has great takedown defense and Urbina rarely looks to take the fight to the ground anyway. Lewis actually does a lot of his best work when his opponent tries to get the fight to the ground, making them pay with elbows and short punches while stuffing their takedown attempts. In space, he strings together lengthy punch-kick combinations when given the opportunity.
While I feel both Urbina and Lewis have it in them to become fixtures in the UFC, neither of them are ready for the big stage at this point. Given his experience on a bigger stage and the massive size advantage he enjoys, Urbina should be the favorite going into the contest. Lewis would stand a better chance against a less durable opponent, but Urbina is difficult to put away. Urbina via decision
Allen Crowder (8-2, 1 NC) vs. Dontale Mayes (3-1), Heavyweight
There have been opportunities for heavyweights to make the UFC roster throughout the first season of Tuesday Night Fights, but none have been able to impress Uncle Dana enough to do so. If Crowder and Mayes have nothing else going for them, it can at least be said that both behemoth’s look the part of a UFC heavyweight.
Crowder is the smaller of the two and he still checks in around 260 with regularity. He carries his weight very well and moves smoothly for such a big man. What he lacks is an abundance of power and the striking technique to make up for it. Nonetheless, Crowder’s aggressiveness has allowed him to pick up a number of stoppages and he’s better at finding the choke than most big men have proven to be, even in the UFC. Then again, I could have the narrative wrong as I haven’t been able to find any footage of him from the last few years.
Mayes is younger and is more raw physically than Crowder. Still, the pieces are there to work with, illustrated by his 6’6″ frame and roughly an 82″ reach. He doesn’t know how to keep opponents at the end of his punches yet, but he has shown the occasional ability to sit down an opponent with a single punch. His kicks have been a developing part of his game too and he has shown the ability to flip his opponent on their head from the clinch. It could be argued he is undefeated as his lone loss came in controversial manner after landing an illegal elbow to the back of his opponent’s head. Plus, he isn’t as inexperienced as it would appear at first glance as he has an extensive amateur background.
Crowder’s recent record indicates a much improved fighter as he has been able to dispose of his opposition in less than a round in his last three contests. Albeit, it wasn’t notable competition, but he’s doing what he’s supposed to do to put himself in this position. However, Mayes has shown enough resilience against better competition to make me think he’s the one who is going to emerge on top. I’m unsure of my pick given the lack of recent footage, but I’m going with Mayes. Mayes via TKO of RD2
Adam Antolin (12-3) vs. Casey Kenney (7-0-1), Flyweight
It was a surprise to many that Antolin didn’t get an opportunity in the UFC after his stint on TUF. He may have only advanced to the second round, but his opening round contest with Damacio Page was one of the most exciting bouts in the tournament. There is nothing Antolin loves to throw more than a left body kick, hoping to wear down his opponent over the course of the contest. He continues to work the body over with knees in the clinch and throws the occasional spinning technique in there too. Antolin does have some wrestling abilities, but he’s not quite where you’d expect from someone who works with the likes of Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier.
Kenney is making his second appearance, having found success in Week 2 against Cee Jay Hamilton in a back-and-forth decision. The 26-year old showed some growth in his striking, landing a beautiful head kick and putting together some decent punching combinations. Considering wrestling and grappling are his bread-and-butter, that’s a good sign for the youngster. Still, Kenney got wild at times and even stumbled moving forward for his attack. He has a deep variety of takedowns that is still his best weapon and maintains above-average control on the ground.
If Kenney is as wild as he was in the opening moments of his first appearance, Antolin should be able to capitalize pretty easily and land some killer body shots. However, Kenney settled down after a time and though everything wasn’t silky smooth, it got the job done. He’s got the greater upside than his 35-year old opponent. Antolin is talented and fully capable of winning, but I expect the youngster to make good on his second appearance. Kenney via decision
Kelly McGill (2-1) vs. Lauren Mueller (3-0), Women’s Bantamweight
McGill hasn’t been very active, taking one fight in the last three years. It was a loss, but considering it came to well-regarded UFC prospect Aspen Ladd, that’s nothing to deride her about. McGill has a good-sized frame with a bit more room to add a bit more muscle. She knows how to wrestle a bit and has some power when she is willing to sit down on her punches. That doesn’t happen very often though as she still hasn’t developed a whole lot of confidence in her striking. There is talent there to be molded, but she is still very raw.
Mueller is taking the fight on short notice, replacing Janay Harding about a week before the event. While she is undefeated, every one of her opponents were making their professional debuts against her. Even worse, the combined record of her opponents: 0-7. I’ve been unable to find any footage of Mueller’s fights, making it difficult to assess what she is capable of.
It’s impossible to guess how this fight goes down given the lack of knowledge and footage out there available to the public regarding Mueller. McGill at least looks the part in the cage and has shown some toughness. That’s more than I can say that I’ve seen from Mueller. I have no confidence in my pick, but I’ll pick McGill as I at least have some familiarity with her. McGill via decision
Who wins the contract?
Kenney is an easy choice given Uncle Dana’s proclivity to sign fighters making a return trip to the Contender Series, but he also has an opponent who could just as easily get the contract in Antolin. Neither of the women appear ready for the big stage and the same could be said of Urbina and Lewis. The lightweights also stand a good chance of impressing, but I’ve got a feeling Uncle Dana would rather invite the winner of that contest back for another appearance. Thus, I’m going with the heavyweights as there is a big lack of depth with the big men. Mayes may not be ready, but it isn’t like the bottom of the division is full of killers anyway. Dontale Mayes