This week’s Contender Series might just be the one that has some of the most closely matched and well-planned bouts of the year. We all know the concept: some of the best prospects in the world get a chance to earn a UFC contract (albeit not guaranteed and very arbitrarily) by participating in a do or die matchup, bypassing the reality show shenanigans of The Ultimate Fighter.
Despite the problems with questionable matchmaking and some dubious talent choices, it continues to make for great watching and high-stakes drama. Which makes this particular episode even more interesting, with some very well-scouted talent up against other very well-scouted talent, all in hopes of finding talent ready for primetime. This week’s, featherweight, lightweight and middleweight bouts are of particular interest, as the winner in either of those matchups could move on to perform very well once in the UFC, should they actually get contracts with a win. Even if they don’t they’re talents to keep an eye on wherever they fight next.
So having established that, let’s look at the fights themselves.
First up we have former standout wrestler Terrance McKinney (7-1) working on his longtime dream of making it to the big leagues as he steps in against Sean Woodson (5-0). McKinney’s had a long road, which included cheating death itself and rebuilding himself to get to where he’s at.
While primarily a wrestler, McKinney’s got striking chops and seems to be working on his striking defense. There’s a lot of promise here, although there are some caveats with his record. Not to disparage McKinney, but a seven second knockout doesn’t sound as impressive when you realize it came against a fighter that was 0-4. The same could be said for his 43-second submission of Charon Spain, who was 16-30. That said, his only loss was due to injury, and his performances have been consistent. He’s absolutely someone to look out for.
The same can be said for his opponent, Sean Woodson. Woodson’s a confident striker that likes to use his range and lull his opponent into fighting at a pace where he’s most comfortable. His wrestling defense is pretty solid, and he’s not afraid to go where the fight takes him either on the ground or on the feet. Coming up in the Shamrock FC circuit, he’s faced some tough midwestern wrestleboxers, but McKinney could prove to be a very different kind of dynamic athlete that Woodson isn’t used to. It should also be noted that Woodson is replacing Adli Edwards.
Another tough matchup is set to take place between Ramazan Kuramagomedov (5-0) and Jordan Williams (8-2). Kuramagomedov won four fights in a single night to win the 2015 Cup of Russia welterweight tournament as an amateur, which led to a run in ACB (currently known as ACA). With a combination of smart striking, solid wrestling and vicious body attacks, he’s assembled a respectable record as a professional. His well-rounded approach and opportunist tendencies should serve him well here.
His opponent isn’t a stranger to the process, though. Williams was on last year’s edition of the show, where he defeated Tim Caron with ground strikes but had his win overturned to a no contest due a drug failure where he was found to have cannabis in his system. He had already earned a stellar win in Bellator, and after the Contender Series performance returned there to rack up another big finish this past April. Williams is a great athlete and a hard hitter that doesn’t let himself get bullied by opponents. This should be a great showcase win for whomever takes it.
AKA product JJ Okanovich (6-1) has been one of the more promising prospects for that camp, and after some performances on the West Coast (most notably in the Bellator cage), he gets a shot at impressing the bosses to get into the UFC. Despite losing his pro debut, he has been undefeated since with consistent pressure in his grappling. His opponent Christian Lohsen (7-1) is only 24, but at 6’2 and with a strong grappling base has taken on some stiff competition. His last outing was in Florida’s Island Fights, where he notched one of his six pro submission wins. He’s wily and wiry with an aggressive pace, despite abandoning some defensive elements to get in and do damage.
Germany’s Alexander Poppeck (9-2) has a knack for finishing fights, and he’s about to get tested this week on Contender Series. Despite a previous loss to UFC vet Rob Wilkinson, he’s been working his way up the European circuit and defeating mixed opposition. He can strike and wrestle, applying good top pressure and controlling the fight, but can also be pressured into fighting off his back foot and spending quality time on his back. His last fight being a close split decision win over Nils van Noord at Titan 51 last December.
His opponent is Jamahal Hill (5-0), who has a relaxed boxing style and keeps his hands low. His takedown defense works for him, and he’s got very good handspeed and accuracy with his striking. His ground striking is absolutely mean, and he doesn’t let up when he smells blood.
Finally, the card opens with a lightweight duel between Kamuela Kirk (9-2) and Billy Quarantillo (11-2). Kirk is another certified finisher that’s been toiling around the regional scene nationwide, and managed to recently find something of a home in LFA. A tenacious grappler with a sneaky overhand right, Kirk has a lot of tools to succeed at this stage in his development. After managing to pull off back to back wins with a lethal submission game, he’s now got a chance to make it to the UFC.
That won’t come easy, though. Not by a long shot. He’ll be up against King of the Cage champion and former Ultimate Fighter contestant Billy Quarantillo (11-2). Quarantillo was on season 22 of TUF, dropped a decision to Saul Rogers, and managed to go 5-1 after that, winning the KOTC lightweight title before dropping to featherweight. While not as dynamic an athlete as Kirk, he’s great at punishing inside with clinch knees and is a chain submission threat.
Full card is as follows:
Terrance McKinney vs Sean Woodson - Featherweight
Ramazan Kuramagomedov vs Jordan Williams - Middleweight
Christian Lohsen vs JJ Okanovich - Lightweight
Alexander Poppeck vs Jamahal Hill - Light Heavyweight
Kamuela Kirk vs Billy Quarantillo - Featherweight
Dana White’s Contender Series starts this Tuesday night at 8:00pm EST, and will be streaming live exclusively on ESPN+.