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Dana White’s Contender Series

Season 3, Episode 2

I’m not sure how many of you guys caught the Contender Series this week. It was a busy week for me, and I had to catch up on the fights on Thursday after school. I tried to steer clear on any headlines on social media until I saw the fights, which wasn’t hard since it was sort of uneventful. There were some entertaining fights and a few highlight moments, but overall it felt like it dragged a bit. I enjoyed the commentary by Britain’s Coolest Man 2008, Michael Bisping and Brendan Fitzgerald. Bisping helped the night along with strong analysis, recommendations, and humor. One thing that stood out to me over the night was that there were five fights, all which had the potential to end with a highlight since each match was a clear one-sided victory, but all went to a decision because of how durable these fighters were.

Alton Cunningham vs. Tony Johnson

A post shared by Alton Cunningham (@altontheboman) on Jun 25, 2019 at 9:30am PDT

The featured bout of the night was between Alton Cunningham and Tony Johnson. Cunningham made an appearance on season 2 of the Contender Series against Bevon Lewis at middleweight. Bevon earned a UFC contract and recently lost a decision to Darren Stewart on June 22. Alton moved up to light-heavyweight for this fight against Johnson. Alton had since earned KO victories in his next two fights and mentioned that he was using a sports psychologist. He said that he “froze under the bright lights” on his first appearance. Tony Johnson was supposed to fight on season two of the Contender Series, but he had to pull out due to an undisclosed injury. Johnson has a 10-1 pro boxing record and he trains alongside Daniel Cormier at the American Kickboxing Academy. Cunningham quickly realized that he was outmatched on the feet and proceeded to press Johnson up against the cage of three hard to watch rounds. Johnson showed some good dirty boxing and landed a few big shots, one of which left a huge mouse over Alton’s right eye. Johnson won the fight via unanimous decision. Dana did not offer him a contract, stating, “he would struggle in the UFC…he’s not ready” since he had trouble keeping Cunningham off of him.

Michael Lombardo vs. Kyle Daukaus

A post shared by Kyle Daukaus (@kyle_daukaus) on Jun 21, 2019 at 5:13pm PDT

This was an interesting fight to watch. I really enjoyed the fighting style of Kyle Daukaus, good on the feet and threatened multiple submissions. Daukaus came in 6-0 with all victories coming by submission, three rear naked chokes, and three d’arce chokes. Tony Ferguson is the only UFC fighter with 3 d’arce choke submission victories. Kyle is the current CFFC Middleweight Champion and is a BJJ brown belt. Michael Lombardo was a former football player and wrestler and started training MMA with Edson Barboza. He currently trains out of American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida. Daukaus dominated this fight for three rounds, landing punches and knees on the feet and coming close to getting a few submissions. Lombardo was extremely durable and showed good wrestling and submission defense. Bisping thought that Daukaus should have been awarded the contract but Dana disagreed. He felt that he would make it to the UFC eventually, but it wasn’t going to be today.

Zach Zane vs. Justin Gonzales

This fight was fairly uneventful to be honest. Zane was a highly touted prospect who was offered a contract with OneFC but was unable to pass his physical exam due to a cyst on his brain.The Nevada State Athletic Commission allowed him to compete on the Contender Series. Zane recently competed at welterweight but cut down to featherweight for this match. He currently trains at Black House MMA with Lyoto Machida. Zane was crying on his way to the octagon, pacing back and forward and he appeared to be praying. Justin Gonzales came in focused and seemed ready to apply the pressure early. He was a former D-1 wrestler, which helped him land 12 takedowns over three rounds, which led him to a unanimous decision victory. There were a few moments when he would let go and throw multiple strikes, but he quickly reverted to his wrestling and grinded out the win. Bisping mentioned during the fight “pretty sure Dana’s not looking for the best body locker in the business” which is what he kept looking for and ultimately why Dana passed on giving him a contract, calling Gonzales “one dimensional”.

Richie Santiago vs. Miles Johns

A post shared by milesxjohns (@milesxjohns) on Jun 29, 2019 at 5:19am PDT

This was perhaps fight of the night. Santiago came into the fight with a pro record of 7-1, all of his victories came by rear naked choke. Richie started his pro career 0-4 and changed his mentality after being encouraged by his coach, El Conquistador Jorge Rivera. Miles Johns was one of the most highly touted fighters of the night. Johns left his career as a registered nurse to pursue MMA full time. Since then, he’s been training out of Fortis MMA, Dallas Texas, under the tutelage of Sayif Saud. He is the current LFA bantamweight champion with an 8-0 record. Miles is a high school state wrestling champion out of Kansas, and he was the captain of his college wrestling team his freshman year. Miles outclassed Santiago over three rounds. He landed several strong takedowns, knocked Santiago down a few times with punches, and he landed several devastating knees. To Santiago’s credit, it didn’t appear as if any of these strikes were affecting him and he continued to press forward throughout the fight. He had a few good scrambles but was never able to secure the position due to Johns’ wrestling. It was evident that Miles was fatigued towards the end of the fight and it appeared as if Santiago might have had a chance towards the end of the fight. Miles’ corner was screaming for him to disengage and strike rather than wrestle, but he mentioned that he was getting fatigued with the striking in between rounds. Johns won the fight via unanimous decision. He mentioned in the post-fight interview that he tore his groin 5 weeks before the fight and he felt it “pop” in the second round, which contributed to him getting tired. Dana intimately offered him a contract with the UFC, stating “he’s an absolute savage” and Bisping called him “mini Yoel Romero”. Johns will be a good addition to the UFC bantamweight lineup.

Miguel Baeza vs. Victor Reyna

A post shared by Miguel Baeza (@caramel_thunder92) on Jun 27, 2019 at 3:56pm PDT

I also enjoyed this fight. Miguel Baeza is 26 years old and is a BJJ blackbelt. He came into the fight 6-0 and had 5 wins by KO and he trains at MMA masters with Ricardo Llamas. Victor Reyna is 32 years old and accepted this fight on 10 days’ notice. He ended up missing weight by 7 lbs. He came in with a 10-3 record, with 7 wins by KO. Baeza outclassed Reyna over three rounds but was unable to finish Reyna due to his durability. Baeza landed head kicks, went for submissions, and almost ended the fight at the end of the second round due to a knee to the body. Baeza won the fight via unanimous decision and was very emotional after the fight, stating “I have to get better, plain and simple”. Dana was impressed with his fighting style and was aware how durable Reyna was and decided to award Baeza a contract.

Congratulations to Baeza and Johns; welcome to the UFC! I’m sure Daukaus will get another shot at the Contender Series and end up in the UFC, or he might even get called for a short notice fight. Unfortunately, Tony Johnson was unable to show his striking as much as we would have all liked, but I’m sure he’ll also get another chance. Tune in next week for another breakdown of the Contender Series. Thank you for supporting Unknown MMA, please be sure to follow us on Twitter and Instagram.     

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