After being one the most pleasant surprises of 2017, Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series has returned. Free from the constraints of reality TV nonsense like The Ultimate Fighter (not to mention the constant weight cuts and horrid pace), and without the traveling and shenanigans from Lookin’ For a Fight, fighters get a full camp to prepare and compete in hopes of snagging a UFC contract.
The approach is simple: fighters off the regional circuit fight each other, and some of the winners get a shot at the UFC. Please not that not everyone gets a deal with a win; that’s just how it is. The only guarantee is that these fighters are hungry and looking to make an impression.
Well, there’s another thing - this first episode is guaranteed to be a divisive one. Former NFL player Austen Lane (4-0 pro, 5-1 amateur) clashes with fellow former NFL player and certified lightning rod Greg Hardy (3-0 amateur). Much has been said and written about Hardy, who had an unceremonious exit from the NFL due to his well-known domestic violence problems. After almost a year and a half at American Top Team, he’s racked up three wins on the amateur circuit. Sure, regional heavyweight often has dismal opposition. Hardy has still finished all three opponents inside two minutes though.
As for Lane? He’s quietly pursued MMA for some time with his first fight being in 2015. During this time, he’s earned himself a nice 5-1 record on the amateur level and moved on to 4-0 as a pro. Four of those amateur wins were knockouts, one a TKO. His amateur career has been mostly against fighters making their amateur debut, as were his first two professional opponents. The last two fighters he’s faced were 6-13 and 4-0. Lane’s got some good straight punches he can fire down the middle and he’s not afraid to get hit. His reactions are a bit slow and his movement is a bit clunky, but he’s got discipline and can be quite spry when he smells blood.
The first thing you’ll notice in Hardy’s fights is that there’s a lot of ugly in his style, but he’s dynamic as an athlete and hits pretty hard. It may be what gets him through this fight, although I personally get the impression he’ll be signed regardless. He claims MMA has made him a better person, but only time will tell. Hardy told Dana White to keep an eye on him, and now Dana will be front and center to see how he does. Chances are that a certain Houstonian will have some thoughts on this matter, win or lose.
One of the more compelling fights in terms of skill and violence potential comes in the form of Will Santiago (9-4) taking on Kevin Holland (12-3). Santiago cut his teeth on the notoriously rough New England scene fighting for Combat Zone and CES, defeating the likes of former TUF contestant Chuck O’Neill (knocked him stiff) and brutalized American Top Team Boston/New England Top Team rep Ray Shawdee. Santiago’s spent time at Jackson/Winklejohn and not a single win on his record has gone to a decision. Holland is a brutal striker with crisp Muay Thai kicks and good use of range. Holland was last seen showing off his submission skills at Bellator 195 this past March. While I personally find that both fighters should probably get the call-up to the big league, this should make for a great contest.
Elsewhere on the card “The Action Man” Chris Curtis (18-5) aims to get ahead by testing himself against Sean Lally (8-2). Curtis has an impressive regional record, with losses against Belal Muhammad, Tom Gallicchio and Forrest Petz as well as wins over Ron Keslar, Tiawan Howard, Rex Harris, Gil de Freitas went 1-1 against Nah-Shon Burrell. He also knocked out a man who is also on this card, Will Santiago, in brutal fashion. Curtis has a thick frame and makes the most of his strong base to shuck off takedowns and delivery big strikes. Currently on a five-fight win streak, he may be the closest to a finished product on this card. While not quite as athletic, his opponent is durable and likes to mix up his strikes. He’s got great finishing instincts as well, and has the capacity to unleash some spurts of violence.
Bantamweight gets a shot in the arm in the form of Rico DiSciullo (9-1, 8-3 amateur) vs Montel Jackson (5-0 pro, 8-1 amateur). Both have a substantial amount of amateur and professional fights to determine where they are and what their ceiling is. Jackson is a long and lanky fighter that has great movement and timing for his long rage strikes, and is quick grab onto an opponent in a scramble. He’s an opportunist, and he hits hard. DiSciullo had a bunch of finishes in his amateur career, not as many as a pro. That’s just indicative of the talent he’s been facing and doesn’t mean he hasn’t been refining his skills and maturing as a talent.
Finally, light heavyweights Dashawn Boatwright (3-0 pro, 6-3 amateur) gets the opportunity to face Alonzo Minifield (6-2, 2-0 amateur). Minifield made his pro debut at Bellator 146, after knocking out both of his amateur opponents. He had two fights for RFA/LFA before being on last year’s Contender Series, where he defeated Daniel Jolly. He got a bonus, but not a contract, and won two more fights in LFA after that. One has to wonder why they don’t just sign him outright, but here we are. Boatwright has skills everywhere, and has great instincts for knowing when to engage. His great fight IQ could lead him to success, but he’s taking on a very talented fellow prospect.
Full card is as follows:
Dashawn Boatwright vs Alonzo Menifield - Light heavyweight
Chris Curtis vs Sean Lally - Welterweight
Greg Hardy vs Austen Lane - Heavyweight
Rico DiSciullo vs Montel Jackson - Bantamweight
Will Santiago vs Kevin Holland - Middleweight
Remember: all the action begins at 8:00pm EST, and only on UFC Fight Pass.