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Dana White’s Contender Series: Season 3, Episode 1

What better way to bring in the Summer than with Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, Season 3. Season three debuted Tuesday night, June 18 on ESPN+. The first two seasons of the Contender Series aired on UFC Fight Pass. The move over to ESPN+ has vastly improved the fan experience. The ESPN+ app is easily accessible, and you have immediate access to the Contender Series once the programming begins. It is quickly become more evident how significant the ESPN deal has become for the UFC. The production for season three was immeasurably better than the previous seasons. The UFC premiered their new state of the art production facility, UFC Apex. The Apex is 130,000 sq. ft and is located right next to UFC headquarters.

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Season 1 was interesting because you had the option to listening to a more traditional play-by-play, or you could tune into the Snoop Cast, where Snoop Dogg and Urijah Faber provided commentary on the fights. Snoop was a polarizing figure within the MMA community while working for the Contender Series. Snoop would be drinking Gin and smoking weed during the fights, cheering as a fan, coming up with his own names for positions (get the booty position). Some fighters and fans were not amused by Snoop’s antics, arguing that his words are disrespectful to the fighters. Cris Cyborg was one of the fighters that came forward in protest. Snoop caused more controversy when his social media videos went viral of him screaming “Fu*k Donald Trump” during the Daren Till v Tyron Woodley match and him praising Mayweather after he stopped Conor in the boxing ring.

Snoop did not return season two, but Dana mentioned in a recent interview that he would be willing to bring Snoop back. Michael Bisping took over as play-by-play for season two, adding legitimacy to the series and setting him up to be an announcer for many of the UFC cards.

The Contender Series has become one of the best ways for a fighter to gain recognition and build a following in the UFC, completely surpassing the popularity of the Ultimate Fighter. In just two seasons, the contender series has produced a handful of recognizable fighters, such as: Sean O’ Malley, Dan Ige, Brandon Davis, Maycee Barber, Edmen Shahbazyan, Jim Crute, Johnny Walker, Antonina Shevchenko, Juan Adams, and Greg Hardy. The Contender Series has been branded “the world’s most intense job interview” and has promised to produce future champions and entertaining fighters.

Dana said flat out, “I’m looking for killers”, he’s not looking for someone who can simply come in and win, he wants someone who is willing to put it all on the line and create those highlight moments that has made the UFC what it is today, for better or worse.

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The Apex arena added a lot to the production of the show, the arena is larger and has a bigger crowd, the lighting is similar to fight night, and there is a newly installed walkway where the winner of the fight gets to walk directly past Dana’s table on their way to their post-fight interview with “The Lady in Red”, Laura Sanko. The fighters still do not get a walkout song and they will be fighting in a smaller 25’ octagon. Season 3 will host 100 fighters over 10 nights. Paul “The Irish Dragon” Felder and Brendan Fitzgrald conducted the play-by-play for the evening.

Episode 1 Fight Breakdowns

Alton Meeks vs Yorgan De Castro

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Alton Meeks came in at the biggest favorite for the night at -870. Meeks was heralded for his division 1 football experience, as well as being a high school state wrestling champion and an alternate for the World Olympic Greco Roman wrestling team. Volkan Oezdemir gave a breakdown on Meeks and mentioned that he used Meeks in his fight camp against Daniel Cormier. Meeks was undefeated with three KO’s, finishing all his fights under 2 minutes. Yorgan De Castro immigrated to the U.S. in 2012 from Mindelo, Sao Vincent, Cape Verde. De Castro had kickboxing experience and tried amateur MMA, where he had a 2-4 record. He decided to go pro once his daughter was born and had a 4-0 pro record coming into the fight. Yorgon De Castro started off season 3 with an upset win via TKO leg kick at 4:45 of round 1, shocking the oddsmakers with his “immigrant mentality” (Uncle Joey voice). Yorgan crumbled Meeks after his third leg kick landed just above the left knee. Yorgan was ultimately awarded a contract in the UFC. I personally will be looking forward to his next fight to see how his opponent deals with his heavy leg kicks.

Bill Algeo vs Brendan Loughnane

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This bout was by far the most controversial fight of the night, sparking a viral response from the MMA community. Brendan Loughnane competed on The Ultimate Fighter Australia 6 years ago and lost in the semi-finals. He currently trains at Alliance MMA alongside Dominick Cruz. It was mentioned a few times that he has the support of Manchester, England and boxing lineal Heavyweight Champion, Tyson Fury. Bill Algeo came in with some hype has the CFFC and Ring of Combat champion, with a total of 12 pro MMA victories, 6 of them being by submission. This was an incredible three round war, but Loughnane came out strong in the third round and dominated Algeo for the most part. Loughnane had Algeo hurt several times in the third round but was unable to finish the fight. He ended up shooting for a double leg takedown in the final ten seconds when he heard the 10 second warning. Loughnane ended up with the decision win but ultimately disappointed Dana. Dana was vocal on several interviews stating that it was Loughnane’s decision to shoot for a takedown with ten seconds left in the fight that kept him from getting the contract.

Dana sent a clear message to all aspiring UFC athletes that he is looking for an exciting fighter that is willing to put himself in harm’s way to finish the fight at any cost. Anything short will not earn you a contract. It seemed that the consensus on social media was that Dana made a mistake and that it is unreasonable to ask a fighter to take unnecessary risk to finish the fight. Last minute victories have happened and are what help propel the sport, so there is an argument for Dana’s reasoning, although it be at the detriment of the fighter’s well-being. Yair Rodríguez landed an up-elbow against Korean Zombie in the final second of the 5th round. It appears that this has become Dana’s standard.

Hannah Goldy vs Kali Robbins

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Hanna Goldy is 26 years old and had an undefeated record of 4-0. She fought for Fusion XL and prides herself on competing while being a single mother. Kali “pop tart” Robbins fought for Invicta FC. She had 6 pro wins, 4 of which came by submission. This fight went the distance and Goldy was awarded the victory.

Jaime Picket vs Punhale Soriano

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Jaime Picket was on the 1st episode of season 1 of the Contender Series in 2017. He lost his bout against Charles Byrd, who was later granted a UFC contract. Punhale Soriano came in as a wrestler out of Hawaii. He had a 5-0 record, will all 1st round finishes. He was first introduced to MMA by current UFC fighter and Contender Series alum, Dan Ige. He currently trains out of Xtreme Couture alongside Brad Tavares. Soriano won the fight by unanimous decision. He was awarded a contract. Dana was impressed with his fighting style and he stated that “Puna” is a “killer” and “I like guys that cry when they don’t finish”.

Congratulations Yorgan De Castro and Punhale Soriano, we look forward to seeing you make the walk as official UFC fighters! Commiserations to Brendan Loughnane, you fought an amazing fight and I’m sure you’ll get called up to the big show in no time. Stay tuned for next week’s breakdown of Season 3, Episode 2 of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. ■

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