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Diggin’ Deep on Dana White’s Contender Series - Week 3

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Get the scoop on this week’s prospects for Dana White’s Contenders Series, headlined by light heavyweights Ryan Spann and Karl Roberson.

Though I love the idea of Dana White’s Contender Series, I do believe that there are still some tweaks that could be made to the format. For instance, Sidney Outlaw put on a pretty dominant performance last week. However, it was a grapple-fest that wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing performance. Even if he secured an early submission, subs rarely make jaws drop the same way that a KO does. Someone who has Outlaw’s fighting style stands almost no chance of getting the contract.

So my proposal: Bring Outlaw back and treat him like everyone else much in the same way Charles Byrd is. If he doesn’t get it then, bring him back one more time and if he picks up a third win in a row on the series, he automatically earns a contract. I know that system would still be flawed, but I still think it helps to give fighters a legit chance to earn a roster spot. Just sayin’...

Wait, there is an edition this week. I haven’t even bothered mentioning that. What week is it again? Week three? Alright, here it goes.

The event begins at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT on Tuesday.

Ryan Spann (10-4) vs. Karl Roberson (4-0), Light Heavyweight

Though Spann has spent most of his career at middleweight, it’s anyone’s guess how he was able to get down to 185 with his 6'5" frame and 81" reach. Despite that long reach, Spann isn’t known for his striking prowess. There isn’t much snap in his strikes, perhaps because he cut so much weight to get down to middleweight. He has shown potential such as in his KO of Larry Crowe as Crowe bull rushed him, showing great accuracy and timing, but the rest of his work shows subpar striking skills. It’s his submission grappling that has allowed him to find whatever success he has found. Spann makes great use of his long limbs on the mat to entangle his opponent and showing smooth guard passing. It doesn’t produce the same type of highlight reel that a KO artist does, but Spann’s grappling is above average in comparison to the UFC light heavyweight roster.

Roberson has twice as many submission victories as he does KO/TKO victories, but don’t mistake him for being a grappler himself. Roberson’s professional MMA career was interrupted by his foray into professional kickboxing, including a controversial loss in legendary Jerome LeBanner’s farewell fight. As you’d expect from someone with kickboxing experience, he has sound footwork and fast hands. I couldn’t find footage of any of his MMA contests, so it’s a bit difficult to gauge how well his kickboxing skills translates over when threatened with a takedown. His record indicates he has some grappling chops… but that would just be an assumption on my part.

The lack of MMA footage on Roberson makes this a difficult contest to predict. I’d expect he’d piece up Spann all day on the feet in a kickboxing contest, but how does Roberson handle Spann’s hip tosses? What does Roberson’s ground game look like? I have no clue based on the footage that’s out there. Spann feels like the safer pick, so I’m taking that route. Spann via submission of RD1

Jason Jackson (7-2) vs. Kyle Stewart (8-0), Welterweight

Some fans may remember Jackson from the 21st iteration of TUF when ATT and the Blackzilians faced off. He won his first contest against Marcelo Alfaya only to fall short against Mike Graves in his second appearance via submission. Picking up a win over two-time TUF finalist Dhiego Lima in his last contest, Jackson has the resume to prove he belongs in the UFC. He has picked up a couple of impressive stoppages since to indicate that he is becoming the well-rounded fighter who not only can entertain, but consistently win. Jackson’s striking has progressed beautifully, learning to better use his freakish 78" reach to keep opponents out of his range. His wrestling isn’t as bad as the loss to Graves indicates either as Graves is one of the better young wrestle-grapplers in the division regardless of whether he’s in the UFC.z

Stewart has stormed onto the scene in a hurry, obtaining his last five wins in less than a year with three of them being stoppages. No one will debate that he’s constantly looking for the finish, whether he’s head hunting or searching for the takedown where he can pound out his opponent with ground-and-pound. However, aside from former UFC featherweight Estevan Payan, none of his victories have come against a notable opponent. Stewart doesn’t appear to have any impressive physical attributes aside from his occasional power and his wrestling appears to be more brute force than technique.

Given Jackson has regularly trained with and fought against top competition, I expect he’ll be perfectly ready to be in the spotlight. Not that I think Stewart will wilt, but Jackson is a big step up from Stewart’s previous opponents. Look for Jackson to use his jab – exacerbated by his reach -- to keep Stewart at a distance before finding an opening to finish off the heavy hitter. Jackson via submission of RD2

Chase Waldon (11-2) vs. Geoff Neal (7-2), Middleweight

Replacing Gabriel Checco, Neal steps in on very short notice, after last competing eleven days ago at LFA 16. Typically a welterweight, Neal makes up for what he likes in size with his unusually long reach. He doesn’t always use his length wisely as he tends to break down into a knock-down, drag-em’-out brawl. Though he usually pushes a hard pace, Neal is still throwing hard leather late in fights when many others would be sucking wind.

Fortunately for Neal, Waldon will give him the type of fight. What’s bad for Neal is that Waldon is pretty good in that environment himself. He’s experienced against a high level of opposition and he’s well-rounded. That has been enough to turn away all but Gerald Meerschaert over the last seven years, though aside from the occasional one punch KO, he hasn’t shown any exceptional skills. Nonetheless, he has a deep gas tank, is exceptionally tough, and is good to capitalize on an opponent’s mistake.

While I can’t say for sure who’ll emerge victorious in this contest, I do expect it to potentially catch the attention of Uncle Dana as he has a well known love for brawls. Given Waldon has had a lot more time to prepare for the bout in addition to fighting at his natural weight class, I’m giving him the advantage in this one. Waldon via TKO of RD2

Daniel Jolly (5-2) vs. Alonzo Menifield (3-0), Light Heavyweight

Jolly already has a couple of UFC fights under his belt… all for a combined time of less than six minutes. A Kuk Sool Won practitioner, Jolly needs a lot of space to get off his arsenal of kicks, something his opponents have been remiss to give him. He isn’t bad fighting in the clinch with some solid dirty boxing, but his lack of wrestling – offensively and defensively – have made it difficult for him to find the same success in the UFC that he had on the regional scene.

Menifield only began the sport as an amateur in February 2015, making him about as inexperienced as they come to be getting a shot at the UFC. The former Arena and CFL football player has been able to make up for that with incredible athleticism and power, though there are still holes that can be exposed by a more experienced opponent. He throws single strikes and often leads with his chin and/or overextends himself. Nonetheless, when he lands, Menifield lands with serious KO power.

I would much rather see Menifield get some more seasoning on the regionals before he jumps to the UFC, but he’s already getting a major opportunity. Though he’s just as likely to earn the UFC contract as anyone else given his explosiveness, I kind of hope he doesn’t get it yet. Nonetheless, I expect him to run over Jolly and pick up a victory. Menifield via KO of RD2

Dan Ige (7-1) vs. Luis Raul Gomez Alvarez (4-0), Featherweight

Fighting out of Hawaii, Ige has been fighting professional for only three years. Nonetheless, he’s shown plenty of reasons for the UFC to believe he is ready for the big time. A fantastic scrambler with a knack for getting his opponent’s back and heavy ground-and-pound, Ige still has to shore up his standup a bit. His power is obvious, but he’s a bit stiff in his movement, making him more hittable than he would prefer to be. Still, it is important to remember he is young in his career.

Speaking of being young in their career, Alvarez is only two years into his professional career and has fought less reputable competition than Ige. Though the 22-year old’s lack of experience and competition is concerning, his talent is obvious. Possessing an arsenal of judo throws – and a knack for snagging an armbar – Alvarez’s unique skill set could prove to be problematic for those who are underprepared. He has the makings of a quality kickboxing game too, but he leaves his chin out there to be touched up… a lot.

Alvarez has the greater potential between the two, but he also hasn’t faced much in terms of quality competition. Ige’s physicality can be difficult to prepare for too as he doesn’t quit trying to get his opponent to the ground when he wants a takedown. Alvarez probably needs more seasoning before he’s ready for the big show. That should become apparent in this contest. Ige via decision

Who gets the contract?

I’m kicking myself as I though O’Malley was the favorite to do so last week and didn’t make that clear. So I’ll put my miniscule reputation on the line and try to predict who gets the contract each week. Spann has the advantage of fighting in a division that badly needs talent… provided he stays at light heavyweight. Jackson has a very recent win over a current fighter on the roster and has the athleticism to make an impression. It’s difficult for me to pick between those two. Though I don’t know for certain if an emphasis is being made on stocking the roster with certain weight classes, the lack of lightweight contests in this series has me thinking they are. Thus, I’ll give a slight edge to Ryan Spann