We’re past the summer midway point, and Contender Series is winding down. This week, we have some less recognizable names from the regional and international scenes, but the matchups are no less compelling and the potential for action is still very big. Three more events are left after this week, and they continue to give us some amazing moments.
The question here is how ready for the UFC would some of these winners be? Not to disparage any of the fighters, but some of them would — even with a convincing win — still have a lot of question marks heading in should they get a contract. By and large, the contestants on this show are mostly a lot more prepared for the big leagues than some of the participants from The Ultimate Fighter, especially in recent years. Despite that polish, there appear to be a few that just need to make one more leap to be able to have any real staying power in the UFC after making their way in. Time will tell, of course. It’s a question for at least one fight on any of these events, but a more poignant one here, but at least the fights here are mostly well-matched and very much worth watching.
First up, we’ve got lightweight action with undefeated Venezuelan Omar Morales (7-0) facing Harvey Park (12-2). Morales’ last fight was a scrappy affair in Bellator last year, where he showed off some quick reflexes and a monster right hand. Ever since moving stateside, he’s continued to improve steadily after his run on the Venezuelan regional circuit.
Park is an aggressive finisher, and he’s done well coming out of the Jackson/Wink MMA bouts he’s had. A New Mexico law enforcement officer, Park has a strong counter game, good striking accuracy, and a really hard striking game from top position.
Next up is a women’s bout to bolster the flyweight division with two interesting combatants. Italian Judoka Lucrezia Ria (7-2) steps in against Brazilian Marilia Santos (10-2). Ria’s got punches in bunches, and loves to suffocate with volume when she can using hard shots. But her Judo is great to watch when she implements it. Not just takedowns, but heavy scarf holds and a lot of punishment while she’s there. Despite losing her pro debut by submission against UFC fighter Mara Romero Borella, she’s shown she can be ruthless in her approach, even if she’s still a bit green.
Santos only has losses to Chute Boxe’s Mayra Bueno Silva and current UFC title challenger Weili Zhang. Other than that? She’s had sturdy performances with patient striking and walking her opponent down, heavy top control on the ground and questionable cardio by the end of a fight. She’s great at brutalizing clearly overmatched opposition, but things start to get tougher once you start moving up in competition.
Prior to that we have Darrick Minner, who has a very interesting record as a professional, standing at (22-9). He’s had losses to Jesse Arnett, Chico Camus, current UFC fighter Jordan Griffin and “The Hard-Hitting Hillbilly“ Kevin Croom. But he’s also got 19 submissions out of 22 wins. That includes wins over Chuka Willis and returning UFC fighter Clay Collard. He’s gonna need that grappling pedigree, because he’s up againast Herbert Burns, brother of current UFC talent Gilbert Burns. Standing at (8-2), Burns blazed a path for himself in ONE Championship, wiping out some of their mainstays in Honorio Banario, Eric Kelly, and Timofey Nastyukin. After two decision losses, he ended up in Titan FC with two straight submission wins, and is now knocking on the UFC’s door.
There’s a good argument for either fighter to be signed outright by the UFC, but most especially for Burns. A fighter that’s faced legitimate opposition and had some sensational wins like Herbert probably shouldn’t have much more to prove, but here we are.
Middleweight continues to benefit from this year’s Contender Series, and Taylor Johnson vs Andre Muniz is a great matchup to determine who the next 185er on the roster will be. Johnson’s made his bones in LFA, walking into this bout with a 5-0 pro record, all finishes. And boy howdy, they’re some finishes. Johnson doesn’t give anyone an inch. Muniz (17-4) ws on last year’s version of the show, where he defeated Bruno Assis by decision, but had a string of wild submission wins on his record. It’s hard to gauge where his takedown defense is considering he’s never really faced a strong technical wrestler, but his BJJ competition days should prepare him for a lot of what he’s going to see. It’s served him very well so far. Well enough to sleep someone.
Finally, bantamweights will do battle as Liberia’s Dwight Joseph (9-1, 1 no contest) faces Jay Perrin (8-3). Perrin had a handful of amateur fights that were mostly decision wins, so he came into his pro career well aware of what it’s like to go deep in a three-round fight. He’s on a five-fight win streak that included a string of three straight rear naked choke victories - the last of which was against New England’s own Kin Moy. He’s also got a mean left hand and really good control with his positional grappling. Joseph’s got a sterling 11-0 amateur career in his back pocket and six finishes out of nine pro wins. He’s got great cardio, wild and hard striking, and a strong submission game, all of which can be seen here. You really don’t want this guy to be the one that’s got a hold of your neck.
Fun fact: Joseph’s lone no contest on his record was due to lightning, as that fight was outdoors in a baseball venue. Seriously.
You can check out the weigh-ins here (link if unavailable on page.)
And weigh-in results are as follows:
Omar Morales (155.5) vs Harvey Park (155.5) - Lightweight
Lucrezia Ria (124.5) vs Marilia Santos (124.5) - Flyweight
Herbert Burns (145.5) vs Darrick Minner (146) - Featherweight
Taylor Johnson (185.5) vs Andre Muniz (185.5) - Middleweight
Dwight Joseph (135) vs Jay Perrin (136) - Bantamweight
Dana White’s Contender Series starts this Tuesday night at 8:00pm EST, streaming live exclusively on ESPN+.