When Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series was announced this Spring, it was met by near universal acclaim, with the hope this would be an effective way to introduce new fighters to the UFC without the fake drama and tedium that we sometimes see in the Ultimate Fighter. And while it took the better part of six weeks for the UFC to figure out that #ContenderSeries was a much better hashtag for the show than #DWTNCS, it didn’t take more than one week for the series to produce great fights, big knockouts, and promising new fighters for the UFC.
At the end of eight weeks, with seventy-seven fighters engaging in forty fights, we have sixteen new fighters in the UFC entering eight different weight divisions, with bantamweight, featherweight, and middleweight each gaining three new fighters, while light heavyweight and flyweight gained two. Another featherweight, Mike Santiago, made his short notice UFC debut this past Saturday, and fought well against the debuting Zabit Magomedsharipov, but was overwhelmed by one of the most promising prospects to enter the UFC in a long time.
Here are some awards from the first season, dedicated to the men and women who fought their hearts out to get into the UFC:
Best Performance: Matt Frevola submits Jose Flores, Week 8. The UFC saved the best literally for last as far as I’m concerned as Florida native and recent transplant to the Serra Longo fight team, Matt Frevola, closed the show with an excellent performance against an excellent opponent in Flores, who like Frevola, came into Week 8’s featured bout. Fighting for the first time in seven months after breaking his leg during a Titan FC fight, “The Steamrolla” quickly dropped Flores with a huge right hand.
The tough Texan was able to recover and scramble to his feet, and temporarily drove Frevola with some fierce body kicks. Frevola recovered and took him down late and took the back, but Flores survived. Frevola came in and quickly took him down in the second, but Flores swept him to get the advantage. Frevola got another takedown and nearly got armbarred by a resilient Flores, but Frevola took the back again, but couldn’t get the RNC. He would then switch to sick arm triangle to get the submission. It was an excellent performance against a very good fighter and the best featured bout of the season.
Runner-Up: Brandon Davis defeats Austin Arnett, Week 3. The unheralded Mississippian and striking coach of surging UFC featherweight Jason Knight showed the most sophisticated striking performance of the season, overcoming Arnett’s unique karate stylings and surviving a deep guillotine at one point to dominate the Washington native, and earn a wipeout decision victory.
Worst Performance: Everett Sims TKO’d by Shelton Graves, Week 5. Most of the fighters, win or lose, came to play throughout the summer, but one fighter looked particularly out of his depth. American Top Team product Sims showed next to nothing against Graves, and other than a nice kimura attempt in Round One, spent most of Round 2 and 3 on all fours, trying to block against Graves, who showed a lack of experienced in his failure to put away Sims earlier. Finally, Graves landed enough hard knees to Sims’ body to convince the ref to put Sims and us out of our misery.
Runner-Up: Chase Waldon TKO’ed by Geoffrey Neal, Week 3. The Midwestern fighter had to endure an opponent change just days before his chance to earn a contract, but he was fighting a welterweight moving up and he had an experience advantage. But he showed nothing against Dallas’ Neal, who got him against the cage and put him away with a left hand behind the ear.
Best Fight: Julian Marquez KO’s Phil Hawes, Week 4. These two powerful middleweight prospects came out throwing from the onset in the this one. Hawes, the Iowa State wrestler, took Marquez down and had his back, but Marquez literally stood up with Hawes on his back. Marquez threatened with a standing guillotine, but Hawes managed to escape and take him down again, and they two exchanged shots from the mat for the rest of the round.
Marquez then came out and hurt Hawes immediately with a right hand and took him down and pounded him. Hawes managed to scramble to his feet and Marquez rocked him with some shots, but both men were exhausted. Hawes got Marquez up against the fence and pulled guard and Marquez rocked him with elbows from the top. Hawes managed to post and was trying to get to his feet, but Marquez caught him with a powerful right head kick and Hawes crumbled to mat and Herb Dean stopped the fight. WOW.
Runner-Up: Sidney Outlaw defeats Michael Cora, Week 2. New Jersey’s Outlaw take on powerful Floridian Cora. Cognizant of Cora’s powerful left hand, Outlaw took down Cora early in the first and stayed on him for all of the first round. The second round was pretty much a repeat of that. Outlaw worked methodically, rarely threatening with GNP or sub attempts. The third was too until Cora finally was able to scramble to his feet and land some at the end of the fight, but it was yawn fest throughout. Outlaw did have a very entertaining post-match interview though.
Best Knockout: Marquez KO’s Hawes, Week 4 (see above).
Runner-Up: Mike Rodriguez KO’s Jamelle Jones, Week 5. The New England Rodriguez had scored a flying knee knockout before and in Week 5’s featured bout, he had a great target in slumping former junior college wrestling champion Jones. Rodriguez threw a leg kick, feinted a right jab, and BAM. Hello, UFC contract.
Best Submission: Charles Byrd subimts Jamie Pickett, Week 6. Texan Middleweight Byrd and late replacement Pickett were having a fine back and forth first round when Pickett scored a late takedown, but Byrd was able to scramble into a North-South position, then into a crucifix. When Pickett moved, Byrd switched to a sweet arm triangle. Pickett did his best to hold out till the end of the Round, but ended up passing out with five seconds to go. While Byrd was snubbed of a contract that week, he returned in Week 6 and submitted Buddy Wallace via RNC to get that UFC contract.
Best Comeback: Jamie Colleen submits Tiffany Masters, Week 6. California’s Colleen was coming off a long layoff, not the best thing when you’re facing an uber aggressive fighter like Minnesota’s Masters. The powerful wrestler controlled most of the first two rounds, but Colleen finally found her range in Round 3, landing some good shots and stuffing several takedowns.
With about a minute and half to go in the fight, Masters landed another solid takedown, giving Colleen just enough space to grab an armbar and extend it, but Masters refused to tap. She managed to grab her bicep and stack Colleen again, but Colleen managed to rip the arm out and go belly down to get the tapout! It brought Dana White and Sean Shelby to her feet, but Colleen was snubbed in the face of two more submissions later that night.
Biggest Snub: Thanh Le KO’s Lazar Stojadinovic, Week 2. TUF 22 veteran Thanh Le was in tough against American Top Team product Lazar Stojadinovic and the two were in a pitched battle before Le caught Lazar with a big head kick and followed up with some GNP to put him away. But he was snubbed in favor of Sean O’Malley, an undefeated twenty-year-old from Montana, who threw all sorts of fancy sh*t at Glendale Fight Club product Alfred Khashakyan and ate some big shots before finally catching him with a spinning heel kick.
Weirdest Fight: Daniel Spohn Subs Angel DeAnda, Week 1. Late replacement DeAnda was fighting up a weight class when he faced TUF 19 veteran Daniel Spohn in Week 2’s featured bout. But he came out tight and managed to drop Spohn with a hellacious right uppercut. He followed Spohn to the ground and pounded him, but ref John McCarthy ruled a few shots that was supposed to be behind the ear as rabbit punches and stood them up, docking a point from DeAnda. After a few minute delay, the fight restarted and Spohn lit into DeAnda dropping him and pounding him on the mat, before locking in a RNC and submitting him. DeAnda was so close to a contract, but a few errant shots cost him big time. A shitty way to lose out on your dream.
Biggest Disappointment: Ricky Simon defeats Donovan Frelow, Week 5. Chael Sonnen declared on his podcast sometime ago that his Gracie Barra Portland teammate Simon was “better than Conor McGregor.” So naturally a lot was expected out of Simon, and he had a great opponent in former WSOF title challenger Frelow to show how good he was. Now the two had a spirited fight and Simon won a well-earned split decision but Conor McGregor finished a guy on a three-fight winning streak in 67 seconds in HIS UFC debut. So, what gives, Chael?
Biggest Surprise: Lauren Mueller defeats Kelly McGill, Week 8. The undefeated Mueller was coming in as a late replacement, had been off for a year, and was fighting up a weight class against McGill, an Invicta FC veteran who had fought the much better competition. But Mueller came out and looked ripped and fast at 135, backing McGill throughout the fight and landing hard combinations, as well good work from the clinch. She slowed down a little the third, but earned a clear unanimous decision and earned a well-deserved contract in a division that desperately needs some new blood.
Biggest Controversy: The SnoopCast. The alternative commentary track provided by Urijah Faber and Snoop Dogg raised eyebrows before the first episode ever aired. In the first few weeks, there was some charm to it. The dynamic of the UFC Hall of Famer describing the ins and outs to a causal fan like Snoop, combined with Snoop’s occasional hilarious insults made for a pretty entertaining alternative to traditional commentary (which was excellent all season.) But as the weeks went on-more and more fighters, from Matt Brown to Al Iaquinta and others, began to speak out against Snoop’s disrespect for certain fighters.
Then, before the last week, Snoop was filmed making derogatory remarks about Conor McGregor, who will probably end up part owner before too long. While many UFC fighters need to wake up to the fact that they our part of an entertainment company, Snoop isn’t worth the headache right now. While the idea of alternate commentary has plenty of merit, the D-O-Double G should be G-O-N-E.
In the end, the #ContenderSeries has to be considered a rousing successful, giving Fight Pass something special for the summer as well as adding seventeen (with Santiago) fighters to a roster that needed some new faces. We can only hope that the show returns sometime soon to bring fights back to our Tuesday Nights.