Welp. This is it, huh?
A long and odd summer has finally lead to the grand finale of the well-received prospect vehicle and recruiting spectacle that is Contender Series. The show goes out with what is perhaps not the most stunning set of matchups, but still interesting nonetheless.
You’d be excused for having some fatigue with the show if you’ve been following week to week. The efforts made to continue to scour the country for up and coming talent have been strong, and have led to some interesting call ups (even with some massively disappointing exclusions for some winners in the cases of fighters like Brendan Loughnane and Mallory Martin).
But hey, it’s not all bad. Aside from fun fights, this format has made for far better viewing without the tedium of reality show shenanigans from The Ultimate Fighter, saddled with padding and the usual production antics. While it will probably be more difficult to find more and more fighters to feed into this machine, it works much better and maintains the interest of viewers and fans.
So let’s go for the final dive of 2019.
While some U.S. fans may not be familiar with Teddy Ash (14-4), he’s quietly racked up quite a record in his native Canada. His most notable wins have been against former UFC fighter Seth Baczynski and going 1-1 against former UFC talent Dominique Steele. A heavy hitter with a handful of finishes via strikes, he can take a shot and is tougher than Macedonian shoe leather. His opponent is Serbian slugger Duško Todorović (8-0), who has gone on a nice little run as of late. Todorović took on the very experienced journeyman Kazuo Takahashi in RINGS/Outsider, and even finished the human highlight reel and serious threat known as Michel Pereira. Now, he’s still pretty green, but has shown accuracy in his striking and a preference for working guys inside and having a really good side control/half guard game. He’s also only 25 years old, so he’ll have time to work on it. A veteran like Ash won’t be bullied around easily and could capitalize on his defensive gaps, but Todorović is also good at adapting as the fight goes on, making some smart decisions along the way.
But the heaviest expectations will be on the shoulders of one Kailan Hill (5-0). Training out of Black House, he’s been very impressive in LFA, where he’s given some of the most bonkers finishes they’ve seen in recent years. At 24 years of age, he’s got a ton of potential, is harder to take down and can put a lot of power behind his flashier strikes. He’s facing Impa Kasanganay, who also stands undefeated at 5-0 and has a more conventional boxing stance with serviceable defense. He uses a very active guard, is a bit of a slow starter and is absolutely relentless from top control.
Training out of Korea’s Team MAD in Busan, Sang Hoon Yoo is an absolute firecracker. This is another fighter that the UFC probably could have just signed off some savage performances already, but here he is and here we are. Yoo has good ground defense, which he’s going to need, because his takedown defense isn’t great. This is the kind of fighter that outlasts opponents, and his striking is somewhat clunky. He makes up for it with output and strength, along with a knack for drawing opponents into brawls.
His opponent has just the kind of toughness to make it a problem. Peter Barrett (10-3) has trained out of Sityodtong Boston and Lauzon MMA, and has some violent finishes on his record. There is a caveat, though. Not to disparage the man, but there are some opponents with records that could most charitably be described as “not good“. Facing someone that is 6-12 in your pro debut is fine, but from there to have people that at the time were 7-17, 10-12, and then against 15-75 Jay Ellis? That’s a major red flag. That’s also not an indictment of him as a fighter overall - I’ve said plenty of times that some fighters can build legitimate skillsets and move on to fight and defeat better fighters off of that foundation. But that’s dicey. But the odd thing is that Barrett doesn’t really need padding. He’s resilient, hits hard, creates opportunities for landing hard shots and uses his length along with some wide hooks. Neither guy is going to make it easy.
Heavyweights also get a chance at bolstering their rep as Australia’s Ben Sosoli (7-2) faces Canda’s Dustin Joynson (5-0). Sosoli trains out of Judo Dan Kelly’s gym in Melbourne, mostly making his bones in Diamondback and Hex Fight Series. His Judo and big punches landed him a spot on The Ultimate Fighter last year, losing in the first frame of the series against eventual winner Juan Espino. Ben’s got a good boxing game, setting up hand traps and parries, working head movement, and landing shots like this.
But he’s not getting a walk in the park, either. Joynson has some notoriety of his own, and should be able to hold his own in the face of a possible strength disadvantage. Despite Sosoli’s Judo background, Joynson has competed in various BJJ competitions, and has no problem with engaging on the ground.
Finally, a featherweight showdown between Dylan Lockard (6-1) faces TJ Brown (13-6) opens the show. Brown had some rough losses in LFA against Joey Miolla and Bobby Moffett, but with time has been able to improve and use his athleticism to rack up wins. Much like with Barrett above, there are serious concerns regarding some of his wins, with opponents having records of 0-8 and 1-7 in his first few fights and recent opponents being 4-5 and 8-18 just this year. Again, that’s not to say he’s not good or that he can’t put on impressive performances. Much like Barrett, it’s difficult to get a read on what a fighter’s potential is when things like this happen. In fact, Brown defeated Barrett in 2017 with a beautiful arm triangle choke. He’s got good reflexes and can still do stuff like this.
And yet his opponent is tough as nails. Dylan Lockard cut his teeth in Combat Zone and CES, some of the least forgiving orgs in the northeast. A patient striker, Lockard has a knack for counters and flurries off swings where his opponents miss. With smothering top control, he’s got a very crafty submission game as well.
Everyone made weight for this one, and video is available here:
And the staredowns that took place here:
Both videos courtesy of the crew at Cageside Press.
Full card is as follows:
Dusko Todorovic (185.5) vs. Teddy Ash (185.5) - Middleweight
Kailan Hill (185.5) vs. Impa Kasan (185) - Middleweight
Sang Hoon Yoo (156) vs. Peter Barrett (154.5) - Lightweight
Ben Sosoli (265.5) vs. Dustin Joynson (241.5) - Heavyweight
T.J. Brown (146) vs. Dylan Lockard (145.5) - Featherweight
Dana White’s Contender Series reaches its 2019 finale this Tuesday, streaming live as of 8:00pm EST and exclusively on ESPN+.