The UFC’s summer experiment enters its final week this week, as the last ten fighters of the summer will step into the cage in order to get that elusive UFC contract. Last week saw two-week flyweight Joby Sanchez overcome a trip to Suplex City to stop South African JP Buys in the second round to finally earn a contract and in a somewhat surprising result, bantamweight Benito Lopez edged out Steven Peterson in a tough split decision to earn a contact, the first split decision to earn a contact this season.
The final ten fighters will go into this season knowing everything to expect. A knockout helps, but doesn’t guarantee a thing. Your division being thin also helps, as does having an afro. Here are the final matchups of the season.
1) Kelly McGill (2-1) vs Lauren Mueller (3-0) – 3 Rounds, Women’s Bantamweight
Turning pro in 2014 at the age of nineteen, Mueller will come into the Contenders’ Series as one of the youngest fighters showcased this season. She came into MMA with a strong jiu-jitsu background, but has relied on her punching power throughout her career. After a seven second win as an amateur, she finished her pro debut in just 93 seconds and landed in Invicta FC, where she decisioned Maegan Goodwin in her promotional debut. She then took a fourteen month layoff before being matched with another undefeated prospect, the excellent Aspen Ladd. The recent UFC signee outmuscled and overwhelmed McGill, stopping her in the third round. McGill has been idle since, but she’s still only twenty-two years old, so this may hurt her less than it will other fighters. She will be looking to overcome a loss and will now have to overcome a short notice opponent.
Mueller is another young fighter, just twenty-five years old, and she will be coming in on short notice coming off a one year layoff herself. Fighting exclusively out of the Gladiator Challenge promotion in Southern California, the San Diego native is undefeated in her career, racking up three straight wins. There is almost no tape on her, so she will come in as an unknown into the biggest stage of her career. She will be giving up significant height and reach against McGill we do know. These ladies will have the benefit of being in the women’s bantamweight division, one of the thinner division in the UFC. Flyweights and light heavyweights have benefited from this conundrum-maybe these ladies will too.
2) Adam Antolin (12-3) vs Casey Kenney (7-0-1) – 3 Rounds, Flyweights
The third fighter on the series to have fought on Season 24 of The Ultimate Fighter, Antolin trains out of the American Kickboxing Academy, yet also has nine wins by submission. Despite coming into the TUF 24 tournament with seven straight wins, including a submitting Week 5 contract winner Alex Perez to win the Taichi Palace flyweight title, Antolin went into the show with a 13 seed. He made a big impression early, knocking out the powerful Damico Page in the first round with a body kick. He was decisioned by Hiromasa Ogikubo in the second round however, though he rebounded with a first round submission in Thailand in March. Antolin will be the most experienced fighter on the card at thirty-five years old, but he will be a division that has produced several contract winners this season. But he won’t have an easy time.
Kenney had the unfortunate task of opening Week 2 of the Contender Series, and no opening fight has produced a contract winner yet on the show. Kenney fought very well against the taller and more experienced CJ Hamilton, winning handily by decision. He will be the third fighter get a second shot on the series, and the other two guys, Charles Byrd and Joby Sanchez, have both won contracts. But he will definitely be facing a much better opponent than those two in his second shot. Kenney and Antolin have actually fought in many of the same promotions and it’s a bit of wonder how they haven’t fought already. This is a fight that could easily be the main event, and should be a favorite to produce a contract winner.
3) Allen Crowder (8-2) vs Don’ Tales Mayes (3-1) – 3 Rounds, Heavyweights
After going 3-1 as an amateur, Crowd made his pro debut in January 2015, racking up five wins in thirteen months, four by stoppage until ran into current UFC heavyweight Curtis Blaydes, and was stopped in the second round. After another stoppage loss a few months later, Crowder has gotten back on track with three straight wins, including a highlight reel slam knockout of Chase Gamble in January and a knockout win in Bellator’s MMA Fight Series in May. He will be going in as the more experienced pro into the biggest fight of his career.
When Indiana native Mayes lacks in pro experience, he makes up with an extensive amateur record and athletic background. A former college basketball player, Mayes went 7-0 as an amateur, winning a few titles before turning pro in January 2016. He won his first two pro fights before moving up to the RFA but was disqualified for throwing an errant elbow to the back of the head. He rebounded at LFA 9, decisioning the more experienced Demoreo Dennis in April. He will carry a significant height and reach advantage into this fight, so it should be a pretty even matchup this Wednesday.
4) Elias Urbina (3-0) vs Bevon Lewis (3-0) – 3 Rounds, Middleweight
Urbina was only twenty-two years old when he tried out for Season 23 of the Ulitmate Fighter. The brother of UFC vet, Hector Urbina, Elias edged out Frenchman Norman Paraisy to get into the house, Urbina was the last guy picked for the show and was easily handled and eliminated by Eric Spicely in the first round. He had been idle since, but has moved out to Florida to enhance his skills and should have only gotten better in the year and a half since. He is still only twenty-four years old and should be eager for this second chance at the UFC.
Training out of the American Top Team, his opponent will come in with an identical 3-0 record. After a brief amateur career, Bevon Lewis turned pro as a welterweight in October 2015. He moved up to middleweight in his next fight, and won by TKO. In his last fight, he stepped up to the LFA and defeated Sonny Yohn by decision. Being where he trains, Lewis has probably had harder fights in the gym than he has in the cage. Urbina will come in with a significant height and reach advantage, but he was unable to use that on TUF 23. If he has learned since to do that, he might win easily. If he hasn’t, we might be in for some fireworks in this one.
5) Jose Flores (7-0) vs Matt Frevola (5-0) – 3 Rounds, Lightweights
The main event pits two undefeated prospects against one another. Flores actually started out 1-2 in his amateur career and took two years off. He proceeded to win his last two amateur fights and turned pro in November 2013. Fighting mostly out of the South Texas Fighting Championship, Flores won his first five fights by first round stoppage, including a Bellator outing in 2015. He has defended the STFC lightweight title twice and has only gone the distance once. He’s basically everything the UFC is looking for at the moment.
He doesn’t get an easy draw in Frevola, who after a long and successful amateur career, made his debut in the WSOF in October 2014, winning by first round submission. He went to Florida regional scene after that, winning three more fights before making his way to Titan FC, where he notched the biggest win of his career, beating the more experienced Raush Manfio in January. Both of these guys are legitimate top prospects and the last bout of the season may bring the best battle of upcoming prospects that we have had all summer. The final bout could be a barn burner and for once, the battle im looking forward to most this week.
Frank’s Picks: McGill, Antolin, Mayes, Urbina, and Flores.