After watching the premiere episode of Dana White’s Contender’s Series, we now have a knowledge of what the series is about. Though the general idea that has been presented is that one contract will be given out for each show, it became clear that wasn’t necessarily the case when White decided to award two contracts. In other words, impress White and you’ll get a contract, win or lose. Wait… let me amend that. Impress White and you’ll either get a contract or another opportunity to impress, as is the case with Charles Byrd.
Regardless of the imperfections of this series, it is one of the UFC’s better innovations in recent years. Unlike The Ultimate Fighter, it doesn’t require the fighters cutting weight multiple times in a short amount of time in addition to providing the competitors an ample amount of time to prepare for one another. Though I acknowledge it would be years before the fruits are reaped, I believe it to be a safe bet to state we could get more champions per capita out of the Contender’s Series. Well that’s just my early opinion.
The second edition begins tonight at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT.
The only participant on this week’s edition with UFC experience, Spohn has gone on a nice roll since losing to Pat Walsh in his cup of tea three years ago, winning seven of his last eight. Spohn has always looked the part, possessing a solidly built frame with a 79" reach. Spohn’s tendency to freeze up in the spotlight is what made his UFC stay so brief, falling victim to his own inactivity. When his head is right, Spohn’s a solid takedown artist with occasional one-punch KO power. When he does get the fight to the ground, Spohn’s top control and ground-and-pound effectively wears out his opponent if it doesn’t put them away.
DeAnda has consistently been more entertaining than Spohn given his preference to stand and bang. He does a good job of mixing in kicks with his punching combinations in addition throwing to all levels of the body while constantly pressing forward. Though he’s often the aggressor, DeAnda’s fast hands allow him to counter effectively too. Where the California native gets into trouble is when the fight goes to the ground. He knows how to survive, but that is about it as DeAnda has yet to secure a single submission finish of his own over the course of his lengthy career.
DeAnda has spent a considerable amount of his career competition at middleweight, worrying me that he won’t be able to deal with the monstrous Spohn… provided Spohn doesn’t break mentally. DeAnda is likely to have some moments, but I fully expect Spohn – who could get away with fighting at heavyweight – to wear down his much smaller opponent. Spohn via decision
Sean O’Malley (7-0) vs. Alfred Khashkyan (8-3), Bantamweight
At 22-years old, O’Malley is still very young in his MMA career to be getting an opportunity like this. A high-energy outside striker, he is difficult to catch as he dances around from the outside, picking apart his opponent with heavy kicks. Given his 5'11" frame, he has a far greater range on his kicks than the average bantamweight. O’Malley’s wrestling and grappling hasn’t been tested, though he has shown just enough to indicate that he isn’t a complete novice in either area.
Perhaps best known for being a teammate of Ronda Rousey – yes, that means Edmond Tarverdyan is his coach – Khashkyan employs a much more straightforward boxing game than O’Malley. Despite Edmond’s reputation as a poor coach, his strikers do throw technically sound punches with a lot of power and Khashkyan is no exception. Khashkyan needs to be the one applying pressure for his offense to work. He has yet to show more than the ability to survive on the ground and has struggled to separate when clinched up with too.
I’m not picking against Khashkyan simply because he’s a product of Edmond. I simply don’t believe he is as skilled or talented as O’Malley. That doesn’t mean Khashkyan isn’t talented as every single one of his victories have come by way of KO/TKO, an impressive feat for a smaller weight class. However, he has yet to win a fight that has gone to decision and O’Malley will be tough to catch. I see the youngster picking Khashkyan apart from the outside over the course of fifteen minutes. O’Malley via decision
Tranh Le (6-1) vs. Lazar Stojadinovic (12-5), Featherweight
Le had a small taste of the UFC when he appeared in the 22nd edition of TUF, making it in the house only to be eliminated by Martin Svensson in his next contest. Even in his short stint, it was clear his striking is on a different level than most. The kung fu specialist throws a wide variety of vicious kicks, from spinning back kicks to round kicks. That isn’t even taking into account Le’s fast and powerful hands. What cut Le’s stint short is he doesn’t respond well to pressure and has a very limited ground game. He shows potential to be a good scrambler as he is quick to get back to his feet… provided his opponent is unable to get top position quickly.
Fighting out of ATT, Stojadinovic has put together an eight-fight win streak after opening up his career with a lowly 4-5 record. During that stretch, he’s picked up wins over Bellator alum Jordan Parsons and Mike Richman, including five finishes. A strong combination puncher, Stojadinovic’s favorite range is in the clinch where he can piece up the body and wing hard uppercuts where his professional boxing experience shines through. Though wrestling isn’t his primary background, Stojadinovic can hit the occasional change of pace takedown and is effective in scrambles.
Le’s unique striking ability makes him a tough matchup for any opponent willing to stand and trade with him. Stojadivovic’s footwork and use of angles should allow him to be one of the few on the regional scene to effectively pressure Le, piece him up and bit, and get the fight to the ground periodically. Whether he gets the finish is another question, but I think he can do it. Stojadinovic via submission of RD2
A difficult contest to get a feel for given the lack of recent footage on the participants, the one thing that we do know is that the combatants will want to take the fight to completely different avenues. Cora is the greater mystery with five professional contests and only one opponent owning more than one professional contest under their belt going into their fight. Though Cora’s aggressive pursuit of the finish often proves to be entertaining, no one will know what to make of him until he faces at least one prove opponent. Nonetheless, he’s a good athlete who prefers to stay standing, possessing dynamite in his fists and a high ceiling.
Outlaw is on the opposite end of the spectrum, taking the fight to the ground at every opportunity that presents itself. He has participated in a number of grappling tournaments and fared quite well in that environment. Outlaw has also fought some tough opposition in Elijah Harshbarger and current UFC lightweight Gregor Gillespie. His striking hasn’t developed as hoped, still using it almost exclusively to set up his takedown attempts. Though his smothering style is appreciated by only a select few observers, Outlaw’s ability to find the choke shouldn’t be underestimated.
I’m not denying Cora’s talent. What I’m worried about is his lack of experience against high-level competition. He hasn’t exactly been a model of consistency when it comes to stopping takedowns either. Outlaw appears to be a bad stylistic matchup for the youngster. Either way, it’s a good contest to test each in their areas of weakness. Outlaw via submission of RD1
Cee Jay Hamilton (11-4) vs. Casey Kenney (6-0-1), Flyweight
Hamilton rides into the contest on a six-fight win streak and a well-rounded approach. Staying on the outside and picking his spots to explode with offense is Hamilton’s modus operandi. The question is whether he will shoot for a takedown or leap at the opposition with a flying knee, one of his favorite techniques. Blessed with an abundance of athleticism, Hamilton is an underrated takedown artist with a deep bag of tricks to get the fight to the ground. Where he struggles is when his opponent looks to go to the ground as he doesn’t possess the much in terms of takedown defense.
That’s music to the ears of Kenney. A grappler first and foremost, he’s slowly made strides in his striking to at least be respectable on the feet. However, it’s his wrestling that really shines as his takedown arsenal is even deeper than that of Hamilton. Kenney’s greatest weapon sound top control – surprising as it seems impossible to maintain control in the flyweight division. Then again, his level of competition has been questionable. Kenney also has a knack for securing a neck in the midst of a scramble for a submission win.
This may be the hardest contest to predict. Kenney turned pro less than three years ago and is still improving. His recent work with Chris Cariaso has continued to sharpen his striking, though I don’t know if it will be enough for him to catch up to Hamilton’s abilities on the feet. Though Hamilton could struggle to keep Kenney from dragging him to the ground, expect him to win the standup by a sizeable margin and go home the winner. Hamilton via decision