Two weeks into the UFC’s newest experiment, Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, the UFC has three new fighters, new content for Fight Pass, and Snoop Dogg has become a MMA influencer.
The second week of the show saw the first two fights go the distance before business began to pick up. In the end, Montana native and MMA Lab product ‘Sugar’ Sean O’Malley, an entertaining 22-year old, earned a contract with a highlight reel knockout of Glendale Fight Club prospect, Alfred Khashakyan, in the unofficial Fight of the Night. TUF 22 veteran Thanh Le was snubbed despite an equally crowd pleasing knockout over Lazar Stojadinovic and the main event saw light heavyweight veteran Daniel Spohn as the victim of a controversial win over Angel DeAnda, and found himself snubbed despite scoring a first round submission victory.
When it comes to this week’s slate of ten fighters, it is probably not as accurate to say this is the best slate of fighters yet, but this week’s crop definitely brings the most interesting stories to DWTNCS yet. With those stories in mind, we also may have the best matchups of the series so far.
Dan Ige (7-1) vs. Luis Raul Gomez (4-0) – 3 Rounds, Featherweights
Ige is the latest prospect from that MMA hotbed of Hawaii, which has already produced one winner from this show, Boston Salmon. Ige’s only loss came in his third professional fight, where he dropped a controversial split decision in Japan to a much more experienced fighter. Since then, Ige has been riding a five-fight winning streak and has fought in some of the best promotions in the country, including RFA, Legacy, and Titan FC. Ige is a well-rounded fighter who in his last fight, gutted through a bad cut to decision a very solid Ronildo Braga in May.
He will carry a definite experience advantage over Gomez, a Cuban expatriate with a strong Judo and Muay Thai background. What Gomez lacks in experience, he makes up with power. His first three wins all came by stoppage, including a very rare knockout win with an armdrag that he pulled off in a fight last December.
He was pushed to a decision in his last fight against tough Brazilian Pedro Gomes in April, and he will appreciate those rounds if things get tough with Ige. It’s the first of many interesting matchups.
Daniel Jolly (5-2) vs. Alonzo Menifeld (3-0) – 3 Rounds, Light Heavyweights
Jolly is a former college football running back and a black belt in the Korean martial art Kuk Sool Won. He raced out to a 5-0 record to start his pro career, but then was called up to make his UFC debut on eleven days’ notice against the excellent Misha Cirkunov. Jolly fought well early, but was taken down and pounded out at the end of the first round. After a long layoff and a switch to American Top Team, Jolly ran into a highly motivated Khali Roundtree Jr. and was kneed into oblivion in February. The long and short of it is that the colorfully named “Werewolf of Texas” is fighting for his UFC life, and he probably has the wrong guy in front of him.
Like Jolly, Alonzo Menifield is a former football player who played in the CFL. Placed into foster care with his younger brother as a teenager, Menifield was adopted by a counselor and went from an illiterate fifteen year old to a college graduate in just seven years. He started doing jiu-jitsu towards the end of his football career and made the full-time switch to MMA in 2015. Menifield has been downright scary since then, notching five total wins, three as a professional. He finished his debut fight in thirty-eight seconds. For his second win, he punched Brock Combs so hard that Combs’ teeth went through his glove, causing a hand injury. In his last fight at LFA 13, he needed one round to dispose of Khadzhimurat Bestaev. His size, power, and story should prove irresistible to the UFC if he can an impressive win over Jolly, who is coming off two knockout losses.
Gabriel Cheeco (10-2) vs. Chase Weldon (11-2) – 3 Rounds, Middleweights
A Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt who also has knockout power, Cheeco has finished the fight in every one of his ten victories. He won the first seven fights of his career before being choked out by current UFC fighter Jake Collier in a RFA middleweight title bout in October 2014. He lost in his second attempt at that title to Francisco France seven months later, but has since rallied with two third-round submission victories. Now training out of Xtreme Couture in Vegas, Cheeco’s striking has become more fluid and his endurance has also improved. He will be coming off a ten month layoff, so it will be interesting to see how that comes into play.
He will be well matched in several respects with Weldon, a long time veteran of the Midwest scene. Weldon was on a five-year, nine fight unbeaten streak before like Cheeco, he was submitted in a RFA title fight by a current UFC fighter, this time by Gerald Meerschaert. He rebounded with a decision win over Cully Butler at LFA 12 in May. He will be looking to play spoiler against the favored Cheeco, by far the most accomplished grappler we’ve seen on the show so far, but Weldon may actually be the more fluid striker. Another interesting matchup.
Kyle Stewart (6-0) vs. Jason Jackson (7-2) – 3 Rounds, Welterweights
Stewart, a karate black belt and USMC veteran, started off his career with a 7-1 amateur run before turning pro in 2015. He is undefeated as a pro, though whether he has six, seven, or eight wins as a pro seems to be up for debate. Stewart applies a diverse, somewhat unorthodox attack and will be a puzzle for his opponent to solve. Most of his pro fights have taken place in Arizona’s World Fighting Federation, although is his last fight he stepped to LFA 11, where he submitted the more experienced Ty Freeman with a rare shoulder block. He will need all that uniqueness against his opponent here.
Two years ago, Jackson was featured on the American Top Team vs Blackzilians season of the The Ultimate Fighter. After cruising to victory in his first fight, Jackson drew grappler Michael Graves of ATT. Jackson had Graves out and dead to rights in a fight that 98 out of 100 referees would have stopped. This one didn’t stop it. A still wobbly Graves managed to take down and submit Jackson, which in many ways turned the tide of the season towards American Top Team. Undeterred, Jackson has rebounded splendidly, winning three fights in a row, including winning welterweight titles in Victory FC and Titan FC, two of the best promotions in the country, both by knockout. Now training out of Henri Hoof’s Combat Club, Jackson probably has the most experience working with current UFC fighters on the card. He, and this matchup, is probably the one to watch.
Ryan Spann (10-4) vs. Karl Roberson (4-0) – 3 Rounds, Light Heavyweights
The Texas-based Spann is one of the most intriguing fighters we may see all season long. A towering 6’5, Spann is unique in that unlike most fighters we see on the series, he is not coming off a long, prestigious winning streak. Recently, Spann lost three out of four fights, two of them being Legacy FC title matches, and the third was a close split decision loss in February to Trevin Giles, who recently made his own smashing UFC debut at UFC 213. In his last fight, Spann needed only twenty seconds to submit his opponent by guillotine. He is clearly capable of doing highlight reel level stuff, but his losses have almost exclusively come in his biggest fights. Which Ryan Spann will show up in Vegas?
His opponent will be bringing one of the more unique combat sports journeys you will ever see into the UFC Gym. Karl Roberson was 2-0 as MMA fighter when he was selected as the opponent for the retirement fight of French K-1 kickboxing legend Jerome’ Le Banner in France. Making his pro kickboxing debut, Roberson dropped the French legend twice, the first which was ruled a slip, and the second where Le Banner was given an obscene thirty second long count. Roberson went on to lose a controversial decision of course, but on the strength of that performance was given two fights in Glory, but lost both times. Roberson then made a full time return to MMA this year, and has notched two wins, both by stoppage. It should be an interesting matchup between two unique characters to finish off the show.
Frank’s Picks: Gomez, Menifield, Cheeco, Jackson, and Roberson.