Week 2 for Contender Series is here, with another collection of fighters that are either perfect for this specific platform or should be signed to the UFC directly.
In a way, it’s a good problem to have. This means you have certified and legitimate talent that can deliver on a product such as this one and that could use a bit of seasoning. On the other hand, it remains something of a formality more than a testing ground for combatants that could perhaps be better served being picked up without having to do this.
Yes, it’s a road we’ve been down before. It speaks to how healthy and vibrant a lot of the MMA landscape is outside of major promotions and how much higher the bar for talent is. Yet this also shows how badly a lot of these fighters want to change their fortunes and make it big.
So we arrive at this card, which should be pretty fantastic in terms of talent alone. Josh Quinlan (5-0) is undefeated both as an amateur as well as a professional with all of his pro wins being finishes. It’s not hard to see how this happened. Patient and controlled striking with lots of distance gauging and leg kicks, he doesn’t really pounce on opponents until he can be sure there’s a good opening. Once he does that, he’s like a rottweiler on a steak, which is helped by his takedown defense when opponents start to panic-wrestle.
Even when his takedown defense isn’t where it should be, he manages to recover well to turn the tables and go hard with ground strikes. Plus, he’s got some power. He’s gritty, but in a way that’s great to watch because he does a lot right. While a bit on the lean side of welterweight, he’s got a lot of upside.
Across the cage from him we’ll have Logan Urban (5-1), whom I can assure you is not a country-singer on a Shonda Rimes show. Also undefeated in his amateur run, Urban’s pro record is respectable at first glance. But here’s where we run into a bit of the same snag that happens on this series.
Fighting guys that are 0-3 and 2-8 in your first three fights is fine, having your last two opponents be 1-2 and 6-6 raises more than a few questions.
Largely a wrestleboxer, he’s got strength and durability for days. All of his pro wins are also finishes despite being against opposition that is questionable at best. And none of this is his fault nor is it in any way to say that he’s not good - he is. He fits a very basic archetype, and manages to do very well with what he has. He doesn’t take much damage, and uses his athleticism to get ahead.
Next up, we’ve got former Bellator fighter Chidi Njokuani (19-7) vs Brazil’s Mario Souza (12-1). Chidi is the brother of Anthony Njokuani, and not long ago had a pretty nice Bellator run that saw him go 5-3 in that organization. His losses there look pretty good in restrospect: former champs Rafael Carvalho and Andrey Koreshkov, as well as recent title challenger John Salter. After that, he had his last fight almost a year ago to the day when he brutalized Cristhian Torres in LFA, and looked really, really good doing it. Body and leg kicks off the break, keeping his opponent at comfortable distance, He does a lot of things very well and seems better suited for middleweight after moving up from welterweight.
Souza is a different kind of fighter, not as mobile and not much of a volume striker. Much more patient with his strikes, he relies on counters and has a decent submission game. In the clinch, he’s got some good instincts for throwing knees and elbows, as well as an aggressive attitude in going for the finish. At only 24 years of age, he’s got plenty of time to develop, and this may be a case of biting off more than he can chew for now. A lack of urgency paired with a tendency to get controlled on his back is a problem. He’s got a bunch of finishes, but this may not be the right kind of fight for him, or one where he gains much to learn from.
Jose Alday (14-5, 1 draw) is one of the more fun Mexican talents out there, having a very well-rounded game and really good fight IQ. A former Combate Americas bantamweight champion, Alday stunned current UFC fighters John Castañeda and Gustavo Lopez with consecutive wins over both before losing the belt to Lopez in an immediate rematch. That was followed by a win, then another tough decision loss to Joby Sanchez. This was followed by his most recent bout against Marcos Lopez, where he fought like he was double-parked outside.
Alday’s got great defensive wrestling, slick striking, good counters, excellent cardio and a lot of heart. He rarely gets outmuscled, but also falls into lulls where he’s less active with his striking. But it’s his submission game that will mostly be put to the test against Brazil’s Saimon Oliveira (17-3). With eight submission wins (five of them being guillotine chokes), he’s a threat to anyone attempting to take him down. Armed with a comfortable 1-2 and some thudding leg kicks, he’s got a fair amount of power on his larger frame for a bantamweight. This should be a very tense battle.
Carlos “CJ“ Vergara (8-2) is a Texas prospect and product of Pete Spratt’s gym, working some spry side-to-side movement and smart takedown defense. His striking can be a bit unorthodox, but paired with the way he liked to rock side to side, it makes it harder for fighters to get a good read on him.
His opponent will be Bruno Korea (12-3, 1 draw), a former contestant on Ultimate Fighter Brazil season 4 competitor. After his TUF run, he had a single UFC fight that was a submission loss, but toiled around in Watch Out Combat Series, Titan FC, and his last bout: a submission win in Taura MMA last year. While he possesses a capable guard game and some submission savvy, he also loves his spinning kicks. Sometimes, it pays off big. How much that will be a factor in this fight is a concern, because Vergara doesn’t stick around in a single spot too long for anyone to find out. Expect a scrappy performance from two very scrambly flyweights.
Chad Anheliger (10-5) is another promising Canadian prospect, currently on an eight-fight win streak — and only one of those wins was a decision. Starting off at 2-5 in his career, he took a step back and started nailing some finishes in his current run. Having a good boxing foundation and a hard right hand, he bobs and weaves well with his strikes. His takedown defense serves him well, and he’s able to control the fight for long stretches.
His opponent Muin Gafurov (17-3) has a slew of finishes, although a very well-defined ceiling at this point. With losses to Reece McLaren, Kevin Belingon and John Lineker (remember him?). Those losses aren’t bad, though. He’s just struggled against better athletes and can’t always land that monster right hand of his where he wants it. Just look at how he did exactly that against Leandro Issa. This should be a pretty close one depending on whether or not they decide to go all-out early on.
As for the weigh-ins, they’re right here:
Josh Quinlan (170) vs. Logan Urban (170) - Welterweight
Chidi Njokuani (185.5) vs. Mario Sousa (186) - Middleweight
Jose Alday (136) vs. Saimon Oliveira (136) - Bantamweight
Bruno Korea (125.5) vs. CJ Vergara (126) - Flyweight
Chad Anheliger (135.5) vs. Muin Gafurov (136) - Bantamweight
Dana White’s Contender Series takes place this Tuesday night starting at 8:00pm, streaming exclusively on ESPN+.