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Preview: Dana White’s Contender Series 2020 - Week 1

The showcase series for reaching the big show kicks off after a delay, and it’s good.

UFC on FOX 2: Weigh In Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Contender Series was postponed this year, as pretty much everything else in the world of sports has been. The new crop of fighters angling to get into the big show had to wait a bit, but the wait is finally over. Ten fighters will do battle in Vegas to not only win, but trying to get a contract in the process.

As we know by now, winning is not a guarantee for a contract. It’s simply the way business is done. We’ll get some good fights and some excellent prospects, but be ready for some heartbreak.

Ty Flores vs Dustin Jacoby

Dustin Jacoby (11-5) started his career in 2010, then transitioned to kickboxing after unsuccessful stints in the UFC and World Series of Fighting at middleweight. Another brief spell in Bellator also didn’t go his way, but he managed to have a respectable run in Glory and SCL. He’s got a lot of experience with his standup and has put in work over at Colorado’s Factory X under the tutelage of Mark Montoya. His last MMA bout was against former UFC fighter Cody East just over a year ago, and he hopes to make a major impression to get another run in the big show, albeit at light heavyweight this time.

Ty Flores (7-2) is absolutely nasty with his back takes, riding a five-fight win streak, including three rear naked chokes in a row. He’s mean from top position, and is tougher than a two-dollar steak. His only notable opponent so far is Geoff Neal, whom he lost to. That’s actually a good loss, considering Neal’s progression.

Is either of these two going to skyrocket to the top ten with a win/contract? Absolutely not. Either or both would be a welcome addition to such an underwhelming division, bringing physicality and grit to the table. Both of these fighters can contend with various names in the division.

Kenny Cross vs Damonte Robinson - Fight Cancelled

Kenny Cross (10-3) has a fair amount of footage on him out there, and he’s a problem. Using his range along with hard knees to the body from the clinch, he’s not afraid to mix things up while using very good control from top position once he gets there. His stifling top pressure leads to him eventually making opponents break (and sleep), and he doesn’t let up on offense. Sometimes he gets a little thrown off with feints and comes in upright to throw shots, and he can be submitted as all three of his losses were subs. He still keeps his composure in the ugliest of moments and packs a punch late. He’s in a bit of an odd spot, though - his two previous opponents, Kevin Syler and Arthur Estrazulas both withdrew from fighting him.

That brings us to Damonte Robinson (6-1, 1 draw), who has pretty basic and functional boxing with sound fundamentals to complement his very good wrestling. Not much else is out there, and there’s a lot of questions as to how he’ll perform here and where his cardio and ability to take punishment will go. This lightweight fight should be a good showing, though.

Uros Medic vs Mikey Gonzalez

Medic (5-0) is an interesting case. Coming out of Alaska’s AFC (home of whatever this was), he’s got nothing but finishes thus far. Previously fighting at lightweight, he’ll be moving up to welterweight to deal with another certified finisher. He’s an athletic prospect that is very comfortable and light on the feet, putting on pressure with volume strikes and great submissions, while packing power in his punches whether standing or on the ground. He’s primed for some pretty big things if he keeps his up.

The problem is that Gonzalez (7-1) has largely feasted on — and I’m trying to be a polite as possible — very subpar opposition from the outset. This rarely results in a fighter sharpening their skills to the point where they get far enough with that confidence, like Bellator’s Derek Anderson or the UFC’s Edmen Shahbazyan. Most of the time, you end up like Edmen’s brother Leon, requiring a bit more development and refining against better competition to advance. Whether or not that will be to Mikey’s benefit is to be seen, but it’s also very worrying and not something that often works out. His record looks great and his kicking game is enough to throw opponents off, adding to his already very dangerous BJJ game. The other problem is him getting things where he wants them on the ground. His takedown game might not be up to snuff, and that leads to him working off his back a lot. It’s asking a lot from a fighter that comes from a vastly different background than his opponent.

Luis Rodriguez vs Jerome Rivera

Rodriguez (11-1, no relation) is a delightful surprise here, as he’s a very sharp Mexican prospect with a good amount of upside. The Mexican regional scene may be a crapshoot for some fighters coming up, but he’s fought some tough opposition thus far, with most of his fights being finishes and his lone loss being a split decision. His combinations and use of kicks are very good, with precision and pressure to make sure that damage adds up.

Jerome Rivera (9-2) trains out of Luttrell/Yee in New Mexico, a camp that’s produced some very scrappy and talented prospects for some time. Rivera’s been through JacksonWink Fight Series, King of the Cage and LFA, where he went 2-2 (including a loss to Brandon Royval due to a gruesome injury). His decision win against Zac Riley was a wild roller coaster throughout. This might end up being fight of the night, with two dedicated action fighters that push forward, although Rodriguez might be able to withstand more damage and carrying more mass on his frame. Expect this to be great.

Jose Flores vs Jordan Leavitt

Jose Flores (9-1) is a Texas lightweight that has been putting in some work having made his pro debut in 2013. He started off undefeated until he ended up on Contender Series in 2017 in a losing effort to Matt Frevola. That wasn’t a bad loss, either — Frevola is a good fighter that’s also growing. Flores rebounded from that with back to back wins in Combate Americas, including his latest win against Clarence Brown at the ill-fated Tito vs Alberto event. He’s got sharp body kicks, good handspeed and forward movement, but tends to leave his hands down during exchanges. He’s always looking for submissions at every turn.

Jordan “The Monkey King“ Leavitt (6-0) is a joy of a find, a 25 year old that does a lot right and trains at a world class facility with a great crew. A Vegas native, he’s a Syndicate product that also has most of his wins by finish. Whether it’s controlling to get the submission or countering wrestlers to get where he wants to be, he’s another wiry, active fighter. He thrives in scrambles and is never content to work on his back when he can spring back up. Leavitt fights smart with sound fundamentals and pushes a quick pace for a good while. This is a great opener for the event, and should set the tone for a good night of fights overall

Dana White’s Contender Series takes place this Tuesday night, starting at 8:00pm EST. This event streams live exclusively on ESPN+.