After having the season pushed back significantly in terms of scheduling, Contender Series will be taking a bit of a break.
So after this week, it’s a month with no Contender Series until the UFC returns from their second Abu Dhabi stint for 2020. In the meantime, we have a card that has an adequate level of talent and less overly-padded records. There’s some quiet hitters on this one, and the picking winners is going to be very tough.
Middleweight: Gregory Rodrigues vs Jordan Williams
Rodrigues (7-2, no relation) trains out of Brazil’s X-Gym, which has been home to Jacare Souza, Erick Silva, Warlley Alves, Alan Patrick and Paulo Thiago. He’s got some major punching power, but can also be dropped. Odd thing is he has some sneaky recovery skills and can put people away. For all his toughness, his wrestling is still not great. His takedown attempts are more of a reaction than anything, although he does have some good submissions.
Jordan Williams is a name you may remember, albeit for not-great reasons. He’s a fantastic young talent, but his skill was overshadowed by his unfortunate health situation as a type-1 diabetic. At one point he was forced to purchase dog insulin because it was the only kind he could afford. A story of perseverance, sure. It’s also a damning indictment of the cruelty of our healthcare system and the failures of of our capitalist system overall. But with a nickname like “The Diabolic Diabetic“, he’s got a mean streak.
Jordan fought well and probably should have won his fight on his last appearance. Unfortunately, his dream was shattered when he ended up on the wrong end of a split decision. That was his second Contender Series appearance after a no-contest against Tim Caron, a fight he won but was overturned due to testing positive for cannabis use. That was followed by a stellar win at Bellator 220. His only pro losses aside from last year’s Contender Series bout was against current UFC talents Dwight Grant and Rodrigo “Kazula“ Vargas.
But it looks like he got a development deal, because he’s back again in a fight he can absolutely win and look great in. For his sake, it better happen. He’s 29, but still looks very fresh with crisp boxing, spry takedown defense and bursts of explosive movement to get out of trouble on the ground. His scrambles are fun, even if they only get him partway where he wants to be when getting out of a bad spot, but what he does is very effective and he’s got a good all-around style. He does his best work with his opponent turtled up with smart strike selection. He’ll have to have his counterstriking on point, something that’s not always been on the up and up in some fights. Williams should be the favorite here, but he could get slept and hurt very badly if he doesn’t use range and mind his defense in this one.
Featherweight: Muhammadjon Naimov vs Collin Anglin
Naimov (5-0) is an odd case, because he takes a lot of damage and can be taken down a lot by some wrestlers, but has devastating leg kicks, snappy punches, and puts some major squeeze on his submissions. With most of his pro fights in Titan FC, he hasn’t been fighting pushovers, but could be drowned out by an opponent that can pressure him effectively and establish control
Enter Collin Anglin (7-1), a prospect with some polish on him that’s come along in his development and packs massive power in his counter strikes. Most importantly, he’s got a varied skill-set with his strikes, and can wrestle effectively. Definitely the more developed of the two, he may be caught by Naimov’s spider monkey back-rakes, but Naimov’s got to get there first without getting cracked.
Welterweight: Korey Kuppe vs Michael Lombardo
Kuppe (8-3) has done his work on the Michigan scene and despite not having opposition that was that noticeable, he’s got a great skill-set. Effective range striking, good sprawls, persistent offense and scrappy submission attempts make him a very fun fighter to watch.
Lombardo (10-2) fights out of American Top Team and mostly made his bones in Louisiana. He even wound up fighting in one of the ill-fated Bellator/Monster Energy/NASCAR abomination events in 2017. He will also be making his second appearance on Contender Series after dropping a decision to Kyle Daukaus in June of last year. He’s got fine striking, but falls behind with inactivity in some spots. His takedowns are fine, if somewhat inconsistent. Lombardo is very good at keeping pressure on as soon as he gets a bit of momentum going, and he may very well just do that even against a longer and more accurate striker like Kuppe.
Featherweight: Danyelle Wolf vs Taneisha Tennant
Pro boxer Danyelle Wolf will be making her overall MMA debut (no amateur bouts) after being a three-time national boxing champ and Golden Gloves champ. She’s been preparing for this under Eric Del Fierro and his crew at Alliance MMA in San Diego, which is a very good move for a high level athlete transitioning to MMA.
She’s gonna need every bit of reach and experience against Taniesha Tennant (3-0). Usually fighting at bantamweight, she’ll be moving up to featherweight for this fight, and is able to use her hands effectively but most importantly, she’s great at mixing up her striking and grappling to keep her opponent off-guard. Her tenacity and grit earned her the distinction of being the third Phoenix Rising one-night tournament in Invicta, and a win here could give her another career boost.
Featherweight: Kyle Driscoll vs Dinis Paiva
Driscoll (11-3) fights out of AKA and has a flypaper grappling approach. He grabs on to something, sticks to you, trips or tips you over, then you stay there for the rest of the round. Next round? It happens all over again. He’s got some long, darting punches while standing and loves crowding opponents against the cage, but doesn’t waste much time or energy with anything that’s not his bread and butter. And that’s great, because it’s working and makes for interesting viewing if you enjoy the nuances of grappling and watching the other guy solve the riddles thrown his way from the guy on top. There’s not much else to say about this other than his cardio seems infinite and his energy is infectious.
Paiva (13-7) is an odd case, because he’s been toiling on the underground scene for a very long time. Making his bones in the very tough CES circuit, he even fought for the then-vacant bantamweight title. While he fell short, it was against Andre Ewell - that’s not a bad loss at all. Paiva’s striking is very measured, and his 1-2 combos are fine. Problem is he hits harder than it seems and his left hand really hurts people worse than they expect. His takedown defense has improved steadily, while his submission defense is hit or miss. He’s a gutsy action fighter that’s got a lot of tenacity but also can take a ton of damage.
Dana White’s Contender Series takes place this Tuesday night starting at 8:00pm EST, streaming exclusively on ESPN+.