Another Tuesday brings us more violent goodies, with the penultimate Contender Series event of the year taking place this week. This week we’re graced with two featherweight fights, one lightweight fight, one light heavyweight fight and a heavyweight brawl.
Of course, it’s the main event that has the most appeal. Former World Series of Fighting title challenger Nick Newell comes in with a 14-1 record, and gets his shot at the UFC after coming out of retirement and submitting Sonny Luque this past March with his signature rear naked choke in the first round. That single loss on his record? That was to top lightweight Justin Gaethje. Never seen it? It was intense. While it could be argued that a lot of the fighters on this series are people that could have just been signed by the UFC without a barrier to entry, perhaps none is more deserving of an opportunity than Newell. His elbows are lethal (the congenitally amputated arm counts as elbow strikes) and his rear naked choke setups are extra difficult to escape from because of the way he hides the opposite arm. He’s an absolute treat to watch and has been sharpening his weapons during his time away from fighting.
Across from him will be talented prospect Alex Muñoz (4-0). The Team Alpha Male fighter is young and hungry, and has an impressive set of performances despite not having any amateur fights. The kind of performance where it’s best to not blink. Muñoz cuts the distance between himself and his opponent in a flash, and mixes up his strikes with a hard-nosed wrestling approach. With another fight or two, Muñoz could easily be signed as well, but he could just as easily get a developmental deal out of this, win or lose. He’s very promising, and seems poised to have a very successful career.
Former Bellator fighter Josh Appelt (15-6) attempts to put on a banger against Jeff Hughes (9-1). Appelt fought a who’s who of California heavyweight journeymen and brawlers such as CJ Leveque, JR Lugo, Freddie Aquitania and Carl Seumanutafa. His most high-profile win was against Roy Boughton in 2016, which was followed by a loss against Bobby Lashley. He followed that up with a three-win streak, although two of those were in Gladiator Challenge against Ben Beebe (then 6-1) and Shannon Ritch (then 55-84). His style is all about slinging leather as hard as possible. His takedown defense is fine for the opening portion of the fight, but falls apart afterwards. His opponent will be looking for something similar, because with an 11-3 amateur record plus his professional fights, he’s got 12 finishes. It should be noted that Hughes is the current LFA heavyweight champion, an honor he earned after defeating Richard Odoms last year. A few submissions are on that record, but they’re not that common. Hughes is mostly about his strikes and movement, which is less surprising when you discover that he trains at Strong Style, the gym mostly known for producing Jessica Eye and Stipe Miocic. As one of Miocic’s training partners, it’s reasonable to expect that Hughes is going to be cautious until the opportunity to engage the killswitch for the finish pops up.
Aussie light heavyweight Jim Crute (7-0) crosses the ocean to fight New Jersey’s Chris Birchler (7-3). Crute’s got a mean streak, even if his technique starts to fall apart as the fight gets heated. He thrives in savagery, not letting his foot off the gas when he smells blood. He’s also got a very interesting backstory. Birchler is an AMA product, using a wrestleboxing style that has served him well in the Ring of Combat and Caged Fury circuits. He’s got some really good power in his hands, muscles his takedowns, but always comes forward.
The Pacific Northwest will be well represented when Chase Hooper (5-0 pro, 3-0 amateur) steps into the cage this week. Hooper may be the textbook definition of an endomorph, but he uses his frame for wily and scrambly Jiu-Jitsu transitions and smooth movements to get to where he wants. The kid is good, and he’s got a lot of the right tools to do well. He’s going to need all of them, too. His opponent Canaan Kawaihae (3-0 pro, 6-0 amateur) has a sneaky left hand and great ground control, often leading a step ahead of his opponent.
Finally, Team Lloyd Irvin representative Sodiq Yussuf (6-1) looks to end the undefeated streak that Mike Davis (5-0 pro, 6-0 amateur) is on. Yussuf is coming off a devastating win in Brave FC after a tough title challenge loss in Titan FC. Davis has not gone to a decision as a pro nor as an amateur, with a bevy of submission and TKO wins.
Card is as follows:
Nick Newell vs Alex Muñoz - Lightweight
Jim Crute vs Chris Birchler - Light heavyweight
Sodiq Yussuf vs Mike Davis - Featherweight
Jeff Hughes vs Josh Appelt - Heavyweight
Chase Hooper vs Canaan Kawaihae - Featherweight
Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series begins at 8:00pm EST, streaming live and exclusively via UFC Fight Pass.