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Dana White’s Contender Series 2019: Week 1 preview

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Do you like prospects? Do you like small weekly events centered around them? Then it’s that time of year again, kids.

Hope fans are ready for a long, dizzying summer of UFC events.

Aside from Fight Nights, PPVs and International Fight Week shenanigans, Dana White’s Contender Series is back to deliver weekly cards for the amusement of die-hard fans. Well, that and the ideal of finding the best prospects in the world and giving them a shot to earn a spot on an already crowded UFC roster.

So yes, it’s going to be a lot of fights on a week-to-week basis with very few breaks in between. The good news? The UFC has once again done some outstanding work with their scouting and found some quality athletes on the rise, many that are probably already capable of holding their own in the UFC’s ranks.


Beginning with a heavyweight fight between Alton Meeks (3-0) and Yorgan de Castro (4-0), in a battle of the large sons. Meeks has finished all three of his pro bouts in the Florida/Georgia region, and is a deceptively athletic competitor with a wrestling background. Meanwhile, de Castro had a rough go of it in his amateur ranks, putting together a record of 3-4, but managed to turn things around in his pro debut and made an unbeaten 4-0 run on the New England scene. He’s not particularly fast or nimble, but makes up for it with a lot of strength and tenacity—as well as being tough to put away. It’s earned him some wins, albeit against not-great opposition. It’s also led to some dreadful fights, even if he’s managed to pull off a highlight reel moment in the end.


Next up is tough and talented Brit Brendan Loughnane (16-3), having honed his skills on the Euro scene with pit stops in BAMMA and ACB after a one-off UFC appearance following his stint on TUF Smashes. He’ll be up against one of Pennsylvania’s finest prospects (and one of the sharpest in the region, really), Ring of Combat champion Bill Algeo (12-3). Full disclosure—I’ve trained with Bill in the past, and have seen the guy perform. Sharp Muay Thai and a quick submission approach with great finishing instincts are what he brings to the table. It’s really the absolute best fight on the card, because both are very promising talents. Loughnane is talented and aggressive, running a good pace and daring opponents to keep up. He went three solid rounds against recently retired Tom Dusquenoy, and had some good moments. Same for his fight against Pat Healy. Algeo keeps calm under pressure while thriving in scrambles, and neither party ever gets intimidated in a fight. It’s a great fight, even if it’s a shame they’re not getting signed outright.


Women’s strawweight is still the deepest and most talented women’s division there is, and the UFC is still looking to expand the pool. Lucky for them, they haven’t had to go too far to find legitimate up and coming fighters. Roufusport talent and former Invicta fighter Kali Robbins (6-2) steps in to meet Hannah Goldy (4-0). Goldy’s a bit raw, but a capable athlete that is strong for her weightclass. She fights intelligently to control pace and positioning. Her pro debut against UFC talent Gillian Robertson wasn’t a barnburner, but showed she keeps cool in her fights. But Robbins is a problem. She’s a submission threat at all times, and has a mean striking game. She was entirely un-bothered by Sharon Jacobson’s wrestling, leading to a lovely armlock win.


Remember Edmen Shahbazyan? The fresh-faced Glendale Fight Club disciple made a splash when he was on Contender Series last year. This time it’s his older brother’s turn. Leon Shahbazyan is a 23-year-old welterweight with a professional record of 7-1—his lone loss coming to another talented prospect in Gabriel Green. Much like his brother, Leon has talent and some great-looking wins on his record, with both submissions and strikes. Yet also like his brother, he’s unfortunately got a series of wins against sub-optimal opposition for a welterweight prospect.

Don’t confuse my skepticism for cynicism, here. However, any fighter coming up in the ranks with fights against opponents that are 1-7, 18-40 and 9-20 has some red flags popping up. That’s not to say Leon isn’t talented, but it raises questions regarding consistency and development. Big questions, because it’s not like he’s not going to be tested here. His opponent will be Florida’s own Brok Weaver (13-4), who’s had respectable performances on the regional scene. While he suffered losses to South Florida mainstays such as Elvin Brito, Demarques Jackson and going 1-1 against fellow prospect Socrates Pierre, he’s racked up six straight wins including victories over former Contender Series participants Max Mustaki and Tyler Hill, as well as what’s left of Charles “The Artist Formerly Known As Krazy Horse“ Bennett.

He also had a bare-knuckle boxing match against Joe “Diesel“ Riggs, incredibly enough.

Weaver is a very durable opponent, although sometimes a bit passive in the ebb and flow of his fights. He’s content to figure out an opponent’s range over time and pick at them, but also can end up eating volume shots and falling behind on scorecards as a result. He’s got a lot of durability and strength, and is also a more explosive athlete.


Finally, the main event is part of the continuing quest to find the next great UFC middleweight. Or at least the best prospect for a top-heavy division. Hawaii’s Punahele Soriano (5-0) is an exciting up-and-comer that hasn’t gone to a decision as a professional, with a devastating striking game and a solid wrestling background. In his last fight, he showed off his vicious left hand and powerful rear naked choke.

He’s gonna need all of that, too. He’ll be facing a returning Jamie Pickett, who suffered a loss in last year’s Contender Series against Charles Byrd. With a slick striking game, he’s only gone to a decision once and employs smart and brutal ground strikes to get the job done. A professional since 2011, he’s also got ten amateur fights on his record to bolster his experience and is coming off back to back wins. Here’s hoping second time’s the charm for him.

Full card is as follows:
Punahele Soriano vs Jamie Pickett - Middleweight
Leon Shabazyan - Brok Weaver - Welterweight
Hannah Goldy vs Kali Robbins - Strawweight
Bill Algeo vs Brendan Loughnane - Featherweight
Alton Meeks vs Yorgan de Castro - Heavyweight

Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series kicks off the summer series this Tuesday, starting at 8:00pm EST. These events (as usual) will be streaming exclusively on ESPN+.