Under different circumstances, this would be a guaranteed banger of a card. Unfortunately, the unpleasant news of two fighters missing weight has somewhat marred this particular set of matchups, and as usual begins to cast some doubts as to how they may perform.
It’s a shame, really. The fights will take place as scheduled, but they’re both very promising talents that have a lot of upside. The first one is Christian Rodriguez (5-0, no relation), a Roufusport athlete with all pro wins being finishes and who has been an delight to watch in LFA and Cage Fury.
A volume striker that loves to implement bodylocks and clinchwork, his striking becomes more accurate as the fight goes on. His output is good, his pace is steady, and his mixups between not just punches and kicks, but elbows and knees are fun because of how he goes high/low and catches opponents off-guard. Rodriguez seems like the kind of prospect that is destined for big things, and this could be a major step up in that direction. One just has to wonder how the weight cut challenges affect him in this fight.
And he’ll need every ounce of grit and determination, because he’s up against Junior Cortez (5-1). At first glance, he’s just a wrestleboxer. Give him another look, and he’s clearly a very, very good wrestleboxer, who fights smart and hits hard. Keeping control to wear guys down and then doing unexpected amounts of damage is key to his game, but it’s fun to see how he manages to make it all come together. His lone loss was a split decision, which could be seen as a learning experience more than anything else. Rodriguez has faced stronger opposition more suited to his level, but Cortez has a proper skillset for success. This fight should totally deliver on the action front.
Next up we’ve got heavyweights, with more European talents making their way over. And ursine Czech Martin Buday (8-1) is a bit of a slow starter, but he makes up for it with some heavy hands. While somewhat spry in terms of footwork and lateral movement, he hasn’t faced any notable wrestlers that can take him down and make him miserable off his back. His takedowns against the cage are nice, and his top control is as heavy as it gets with some good offense from top. It’s all simple, big man stuff from him with nothing fancy. That’ll get you places in a division that is as disparate as heavyweight, where the bar can be quite low most often. Buday is a decent heavyweight that’s capable of outworking a lot of guys and making some big progress in short order.
Opposite from him will be Lorenzo Hood (12-4, 3 no contests), whose record immediately presents some massive problems. Despite early losses to Mario Miranda and Curtis Blaydes (which are perfectly fine), his fights after that have not been what could be considered good service for development. Going 7-2 as a pro and fighting someone that’s 0-3 is a bit suspect, but following that up fighting another guy making his pro debut? Negligence at worst, deliberate can-crushing at best, and neither option looks good. Seven cancelled fights between 2014 and 2015 came after that, followed by back to back losses to Shelton Graves and Tyler King.
If that doesn’t clearly delineate exactly where his ceiling is (which, OK... fine), consider he’s won his last three fights — against opponents that were 4-17, 2-8 and 1-10. Getting a spot on a showcase such as this when an 11-4 fighter is coming off a win against a 1-10 opponent is just an outrageous farce. As desolate as the landscape can be for quality heavyweights on a global scale, they could have found a much more justifiable and deserving participant in this situation. There’s no pretending nor any excuses here. We’ve hit peak can-crush on this show with the most egregious and insulting example we’ve seen to date. Glad we’re getting the content, though. That’s nice. ESPN keeping the lights on, baby.
They could’ve just signed Buday outright. At least this will add to his highlight reel.
On to more pleasant things. Jake Hadley (7-0) is another brilliant flyweight that has outstanding cardio and scrambly but dogged and determined grappling game and lovely backtakes. His lunging 1-2s give way to a slick striking game, and his talents have led him to quite notable success. Hadley won the EFC flyweight belt in South Africa against Nkazimulo Zulu (a.k.a. Zulu Boy), got a lovely submission win in Bellator against Blaine O’Driscoll and then won the flyweight title in Cage Warriors against certified talent Luke Shanks last December. These are some solid building blocks so far. While he can get tagged early, he manages to handle the damage well and takes over quick. His offensive wrestling may need some work, but his urgency off his back can bail him out of some trouble.
And maybe that wrestling gap is going to be key here for his opponent Mitch Raposo (5-0). You’re probably familiar with that name already, seeing as he was on the most recent season of The Ultimate Fighter. A hard-nosed Massachussetts native, he went undefeated as an amateur and also faced some iffish opposition to start his career out, but leveled out with a win over Matt Almy last year. Bolstered by a great training environment and the experience of already being on TUF, Raposo might have a bit of a boost here in terms of confidence. He’ll have to keep his submission defense on point and spam takedowns early, being careful to mix them up with strikes and really catch Hadley off balance.
Chris Duncan (7-0) is a Scottish lightweight with a ton of bravado and the skill to back it up. He was scheduled to face Manuel Gaxjha in late September, and here’s what I said about him back then:
His opponent will be Scotland’s Chris Duncan (7-0), who also went 8-1 as an amateur before going pro in 2018. A Certified Finisher™, he hasn’t gone to a decision once as a pro so far. With three Bellator wins under his belt, he’s shown he’s got deceptive power and a good set of instincts for the finish, never rushing things. This should be a fun lightweight tilt.
It’s only been a few weeks, so it holds true. Only this time, he’s up against Team Alpha Male’s Slava Borschev (4-1) a snappy and accurate striker that loves to throw flurries and immediately exit the pocket. His takedown defense has been mostly fine so far, as expected when training with a pool of wrestlers. From an action standpoint alone, this could be fight of the night.
Finally, former Invicta and LFA fighter Kathryn Paprocki (3-1) meets submission specialist Maria “Black Widow” Silva (6-0) to open the card.
You can check out the weigh-ins here:
Junior Cortez (135.5) vs. Christian Rodriguez (137.25)**
Lorenzo Hood (257.5) vs. Martin Buday (264.5)
Jake Hadley (127)** vs. Mitch Raposo (126)
Chris Duncan (155.5) vs. Viacheslav Borshchev (156)
Maria Silva (116) vs. Kathryn Paprocki (115.5)
**Rodriguez and Hadley were given an additional hour, and were unfortunately still unable to make their contracted weight.
Dana White’s Contender Series takes place at the usual 8:00pm EST start time this Tuesday night, and streams exclusively on ESPN+.