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Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series: Season 2, Episode 5 Preview

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The next week of the UFC’s summer series moves into its second half and does so with one of the more interesting shows to date. This show has a little bit of everything-young destroyers, savvy veterans, a potential super heel, a potential super bantamweight bout, and one of the best potential female prospects we’ve seen in a while.

Let’s get to it!

Middleweight Bout
Edmen Shahbazyan (6-0) versus Antonio Jones (7-0)

Break out the Edmund jokes as the first fighter out the gate this week, the twenty-year-old monster Shahbazyan, comes out of the infamous Glendale Fight Club, and he comes to the table as the kind of fighter that this series was made for.

Shahbazyan turned pro just eighteen months ago and since then he has ripped through everyone he has been in the cage with. Fighting mostly out of California’s CXF promotion, he has knocked out every one of his foes in the first round, mostly by punches, as he brings a decorated amateur boxing background to the cage. His longest fight lasted three minutes and fifteen seconds and his last fight, three months ago, lasted thirty seconds. The kid is clearly a destroyer.

The man who will be across the cage from him, Jones, has a similar record as a pro but his fights have gone much differently than have Shahbazyan’s. Jones is still serving full-time in United States Air Force and trains with UFC veteran Pete Spratt. He’s thirty-two years old and where Shahbazyan’s fights have all ended early, most of Jones fights have gone the distance. He definitely has more cage time and more experience. He will be looking to slow the younger man down and take him deep into the fight. But you get the feeling he is being brought in to be a sitting duck.

Shahbazyan is going to come out and try to rip Jones apart. Based on his experience, I don’t believe Jones has the ability to try to take down and slow Shahbazyan. More than likely, he wants to stay on the outside and potshot Shahbazyan. Even the clinch might be too dangerous a proposition for Jones. Really, for all intents and purposes, a contract is Shahbazyan’s to lose.

Welterweight Bout
Austin Vanderford (4-0) versus Angelo Trevino (7-2)

You may not know Austin Vanderford, but if you’re a male MMA fan, you want him dead.

Vanderford comes to the cage as one of the most notable fighters that we will see this season, but not as much for his fighting ability as much as the fact that Vanderford is the fiancé of UFC darling Paige VanZant, which makes him a heel in the eyes of the majority of MMA fans—sorta a newer version of Bryan Caraway.

To his credit, Vanderford has not shied away from the notoriety. He’s even leaned into it a little bit. And why not, especially since the guy appears like he can fight. He’s undefeated, comes out of a rising Gracie Barra Portland camp, and is one of the thickest 170 lbs fighters you’ll ever see. He also brings a very solid wrestling background into the cage and he is at a good camp to grow that base.

He will have his hands full with the more experienced Trevino, who interestingly enough is a long-time member of Team Alpha Male (the former camp of PVZ). Trevino is a riding a four-fight winning streak into the cage and has not only fought more often, but probably has fought better opposition. He will be the smoother striker and given his background at Alpha Male, he will be used to fighting with good wrestlers. It’s actually a very solid matchup.

Expect this fight to be explosive early. Vanderford is likely to come out throwing hard punches and looking to force that takedown. It will up to Trevino to be the matador and keep the fight on its feet. Given his experience, the longer the fight goes, the better it feels to be for Trevino as long as he stays off his back. If Vanderford puts him down, Trevino is likely to have a bad night.

And even Vanderford loses, he goes home to Paige. Ain’t no losing in that situation.

Welterweight Bout
Chibwikem Onyenegecha (6-0) vs Austin Adams (7-0)

This is shaping up to be an episode where contracts are either going to be hard to come by or get passed out in droves, as another fighter steps up to the plate that was made for this series. In Onyenegecha we have a power striker originally from the Bay Area fighting out of Oklahoma City, one of the more underrated fight towns in the country. Developing away from the spotlight, Onyenegecha has won all six of his fights by knockout, three in the first round. His last fight was his debut in the LFA, where he ran through a fighter named Stephen Skoch. Plus, this guy has a great look and a great personality. He’s made for this show.

His opponent, Austin Adams, will be coming into this fight with a lot to overcome. He is coming in on short notice and is coming up to 185 after fighting most of his career at 170 pounds and Onyenegecha is a BIG middleweight. Where Onyenegecha has oodles of knockout power, all of Adams’ fights have ended a decision. He is certainly capable, given he is also undefeated, fighting mostly in a very competitive Colorado promotion called the Sparta Fighting League and training in fight crazy Colorado. He has good wrestling and good cardio. And he needs to put Onyenegecha on his back and do it often.

On paper, this fight and the opener bear some striking similarities, as both fights see a young destroyer taking on an older, more technical fighter. But the difference here is that Onyenegecha has shown that he is much more patient in going for his knockouts, and he can break an opponent down as well as blast them out. That should be his approach here. He needs to use his size advantage, break Adams down, and most importantly, defend the early takedowns. If he can do so, he should be a favorite to win a contract for sure.

Bantamweight Bout
Vince Morales (7-1) versus Domingo Pilarte (7-1)

Two seemingly very well-matched fighters square off in this semi-main as Idaho’s Morales meets Pilarte out of Houston. Both of these guys have the same record and have gone on winning streaks after losing early in their careers.

Morales is a former Idaho state wrestling champion who also did some amateur boxing before coming to MMA. After getting caught in an armbar in his third professional fight, Morales has rattled off five wins a row, all by the stoppage, the last being an impressive knockout victory over Brandon Hemplemen, one of the better unsigned bantamweights around. Morales likes to use his wrestling in reverse, preferring to stand and use his hands.

Meanwhile, Pilarte is a fighter who loves to take things to the ground, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu purple belt who has three wins by armbar. Again, he is a guy who likes to get the takedown and get on top, either pound you out or look for submission. Yet he’s also very tall for a bantamweight at 6’0 and has pretty good hands himself, so he should be able to use that height to keep guys away on the outside. Yet that is something he seldom does. He certainly didn’t do it in his only loss, an absolute war with a fighter named Caio Machado that ended in a close decision. Since then he has rattled off four straight wins.

This is the most well matched bout of this episode, given their experience levels and styles. This fight depends on whether Pilarte can somehow get this fight to the ground. Morales is going to be very hard to take down and he probably wants the fight to be on the feet. If he gets his wish, this isn’t going to be a very good scrap, one that Pilarte can still probably win. The X-Factor here, however, is that Pilarte is coming off a seventeen-month layoff. He may be slow in the first round and Morales would do well to take advantage. In a fight that is this important, you just have to.

Strawweight Bout
Maycee Barber (4-0) versus Jaime Colleen (4-1)

The featured bout this week features two of the bigger strawweights prospects around right now between the heavily hyped Barber and the returning Colleen, in what is only the fourth women’s bout in the show’s history.

In a week of fighters who have been made for the show, Barber is the latest. She has been set up for this moment before she even turned pro, a mere thirteen months ago. Think of her as a female Sage Northcutt, in that Barber has spent her life in traditional martial arts, adding wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu along the way with the thought of arriving at this moment. She has finished three of her pro wins and has already beaten two other noted prospects in Itzel Esquivel and Mallory Martin. And she’s only twenty years old.

But she won’t have an easy time with Colleen, who probably has the most dramatic finish in the short history of the Contender Series under her belt. Last year she was down on the cards in a tough fight against the hyped Tiffany Masters and late in the third round, needing a finish, she pulled out an armbar from her back to get a submission with only seventeen seconds left in the fight. Her experience level is such that they could justify not giving her a contract though. But she’s back here, not having fought since. She does bring strong Muay Thai to the table and has a knockout over UFC strawweight Danielle Taylor, which is impressive given no one has come close to hurting Taylor in the big show.

This is an interesting fight and one that Barber cannot take for granted. I expect to her come out very strong and try to impose her will early, as she has usually been able to do. Colleen has to whether the early storm and get respect early. She also would be smart to try and take this fight to the ground, where she may have an advantage and she has already show she has pretty good submissions for someone at her level.

It’s a great fight to close the show on, and the winner seems near guaranteed to get a contract here, closing out what could be the most interesting episode of the show so far this season.

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