After taking the week off last week for International Fight Week, the world’s most unique job interview returns, with ten new fighters entering the TUF Gym looking to stamp their ticket into the big time.
This week has one of the better slate of matchups we may see this season, including what should be a furious flyweight battle, a showdown between dynamic middleweight strikers, and two of the most UFC ready fighters on paper we may see all season.
Jalin Turner (6-3) vs Max Mustaki (6-2) (155 lbs)
On paper, you would have been hard pressed to find two fighters who appear as different as these two lightweights who kick off the show. Turner, a vet of both the World Series of Fighting and Bellator, is freakishly tall for the division at 6’3 and is a long, rangy striker who does his best to take advantage of his physical attributes. Meanwhile, Mustaki has the look of a redneck from North Florida, who will be giving up quite a bit of size to the California product.
Turner is one of the younger fighters to appear on this season so far at twenty-two years old. He trains with Jason Parillo at the RVCA Training Center in California and has acted as a sparring partner several times to the much bigger Michael Bisping. Turner is a finisher, finishing all of his wins in the first round, five by knockout. He can bang. The funny thing about him is that all of his losses have taken places on smaller shows — he’s actually 2-0 in Bellator with his last win coming in January in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, Mustaki’s last four fights have come at Roy Jones’ Island Fight shows, which could be significant in this fight. Jones’ shows are mixed boxing and MMA and take place in a ring, which could cause some problems for Mustaki given he’s not used to the cage. It will be an interesting thing to look for. One advantage that Mustaki will definitely have as that he has shown he can go rounds, including going three tough rounds in a loss to Season One product Brandon Davis. The longer the fight goes, the better for Mustaki. But he also to get inside, because if he stays at the end of Turner’s punches, Mustaki is probably gonna have a short night…
Jordan Espinosa (12-5) vs Riley Dutro (13-3) (125 lbs)
The flyweights return to the Contender Series for the first time this year, as the Albuquerque based Espinosa, the most experienced fighter on this card, returns to the cage for the second time against Dutro, the latest Hawaiian based fighter to try his luck on the show.
Espinosa appeared in Episode 7 last year, and won a wild 86 second battle over Nick Urso, choking him out with a D’Arce in a rematch of a fight the two had many years ago. Espinosa basically got hosed that night, with the flashier and better connected Benito Lopez getting a contract. Since then he beat another DWTNCS product, CJ Hamilton and is back for another crack.
Dutro will be no soft touch for him for sure, as the experienced Dutro comes in riding a seven-fight winning streak, the last four coming back knockout. Most of that streak has come in the Philippines PXC promotion and Japan’s Shooto group, so Dutro represents a bit of an unknown quantity. He has wins by both knockout and submission, but there isn’t a lot of tape on him.
That being said, given this is Espinosa’s eighteenth pro fight and he’s fought pretty much everywhere, there’s probably nothing that Dutro can do that he hasn’t seen. What this fight might come down to is the emotions and mental state of Espinosa. Does what happened last year turn him into an emotional wreck and get him caught with something, or does it make him sharper. This one may not last long but expect it to be furious however long it goes.
Ricky Palacios (9-1) vs Toby Miesch (10-5) (135 lbs)
If you were looking for a fighter who had a UFC ready resume, Ricky Palacios might be the best example you could find.
The Texan native is riding a six-fight winning streak into this Tuesday, with all of those wins coming in Combate Americas, one of the best promotions in the world for lighter weight fighters. Even more impressive is that Palacios last two wins come over UFC veterans Roman Salazar and Chris Avila. A classic Mexican brawler with some skill, Palacios is the kind of guy that always makes great fights.
Miesch is not a fighter without experience though. The Hawaiian is riding a four-fight winning streak since coming back to the States after a run of fights in the Philippines. His last fight was impressive win in Alaska over then undefeated prospect Jared Mazurek for the AFC bantamweight championship, but he has been off ever since.
The feeling I get is that this one is going to be standing for as long as it lasts. Miesch has good takedown defense, good enough that Palacios might not even bother. Miesch is also a southpaw, which may give him an edge and he seems a little better with movement and countering. But it may come down to how well he hands Palacios’ attack, which he has shown to be able to keep constant with for three whole rounds, having gone the distance in his last four wins. Endurance may very well be the key to this bout.
Bevon Lewis (5-0) vs Alton Cunningham (5-0) (185 lbs)
It’s Contender Series stop number two for the Jackson Wink trained Lewis, as the “Extraordinary Gentleman” faced TUF 23 veteran Elias Urbina in an entertaining battle in the final episode of the last season, knocking him out in the second round.
Given that this was just his fourth professional fight and he showed some defensive lapses, the UFC thought it smart to give him another year to develop. Now after one win and a year of training, the creative striker that is hard not to compare to Jon Jones is back for another round.
Opposing him will be another great young striker in Minnesota’s Cunningham, who after going 6-1 as an amateur has finished all five of his pro fights by strikes. Like Lewis, he is also a diverse striker and the thought of these two letting go with strikes is an attractive one. Cunningham’s may have better knees and elbows than Lewis, and it may be best for him to get on the inside. But he won’t be giving up much size to the 6’3 Lewis.
One thing that worries me is that both of these guys are such dynamic strikers that both of these guys might be a little afraid of getting countered. We could be looking at lot of moving and staring in this fight. Also, these guys might just explode on each other and makes this a sixty-second war where we don’t what happens. With young guys like this, it’s hard to tell. Whoever comes out on top however should be the kind of fighter the UFC covets…
Kevin Aguilar (14-1) vs Joey Gomez (7-0) (145 lbs)
If you were going to make a mini “Superfight” for this show, of two people who are clearly UFC ready, this may be that matchup between two featherweights who have all the indications of being ready for the big time. First up is Aguilar, for all the intensive purposes should already be in the big show. He’s won six a row since the only loss of his career, a war with former UFC action hero Leonardo Garcia, with four of them coming by stoppage. This includes a win over UFC vet Damon Jackson and a stoppage in his last fight of TUF 22 and Contender Series vet Thanh Le, the most impressive win of his career. This guy is ready.
Also looking ready is Joey Gomez, the third freaking Hawaiian on this card. Gomez has finished six of his seven wins and has a lot of good training partners, but he also not fought the same level of competition as Aguilar has. The biggest name on his resume, PFL darling Ray Cooper III, whom he submitted in his second pro fight. But then again, how do you not pay attention to a guy nicknamed “The Tasmanian Devil,” who goes out and finishes people.
This is probably going to be a war, as both men know how close they are and was is expected to him and when two guys are nicknamed “The Angel of Death” and “The Tasmanian Devil,” it’s hard to imagine it’s not a bloodbath. That being said, the longer the fight goes, the more you should favor Aguilar given his championship experience. But with how crucial a stoppage is for this show, it really is anyone’s ball game.