Dana White’s Contender Series 12 took place Tuesday, and we’re grading the winners from the five-fight card, which streamed on UFC Fight Pass from The Ultimate Fighter Gym in Las Vegas.
With a refreshing but digestible format that has fans of the sport responding, this series has shown to have legs beyond its summer seasons while serving as a crockpot for contenders whom the UFC matchmakers can use for future events. With that trend in mind, I’ve decided to take a look at the winning fighters regardless of whether or not they won a UFC contract while grading their performances in regards to their probability of returning to a UFC stage.
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Weight class: Lightweight
Result: Jalin Turner def. Max Mustaki by first-round TKO (doctors stoppage)
Summary: It’s hard to downgrade a fighter for things outside of his control, which is why I’m giving Jalin Turner an A.
A Michael Bisping sparring partner who shows more than just athletic potential, Turner opened as the clear favorite over Max Mustaki. And though the fight – which was hitting an increasingly high temperature – ended somewhat anticlimactically in the corner, there were still a lot of positives to take away.
Firstly, I have to commend Mustaki for showing the heart and toughness to take the offensive waves he did while still being able to fire back with enough vigor to keep us all on the edge of our seats (and doing so with a broken foot, no less). Still, it was the composure of Turner was what I found most impressive.
The 23-year-old southpaw kept his cool no matter how close success seemed on the horizon while stalking his prey calmly and changing up his shot selection and timing. He dug brilliantly to the body with both punches and kicks. That kind of style is not only pleasing to the technical eye, but also easily digestible to the action-hungry audiences that this series is designed to appeal to.
Turner may not have scored a contract, but Dana White made sure to state that officials have their eye on him – and smartly so. There’s a ton of athletic upside to the 6-foot-3 lightweight, who already fights beyond his years. Given that Turner is still young and competes in what is traditionally the deepest division, I’m not sure he’ll be on the shortlist for last-minute replacements on a televised card, but I could see him making another appearance on a future Contender Series show sooner than later.
Weight class: Flyweight
Result: Jordan Espinosa def. Riley Dutro by third-round TKO
Summary: In what was arguably the most complete performance of the evening, Jordan Espinosa was able to score a stoppage just seconds before the final bell in what was his second Dana White’s Contender Series fight.
Pitted against Hawaiian prospect Riley Dutro, Espinosa opened as a nearly 2-1 underdog. But by the start of the bout, it was clear that this was closer to a pick’em contest with each fighter exchanging hooks on multiple occasions, taking turns dropping one another in almost comical fashion. The durable Dutro continued to relentlessly stalk his opponent, but Espinosa’s check-hooks proved to be more concrete than coincidence and allowed him to punctuate exchanges and sting his stalking foe.
Espinosa was also able to threaten with a nice palm-to-palm grip from the front-headlock early, briefly putting the Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt in some precarious positions. Ultimately, it was the patience and persistence of Espinosa that paid off, putting a cap on things with a beautiful hook in the closing seconds of the third. Referee Mark Smith appeared to catch some flack from White on the stoppage, but the slumping and shelling motion from Dutro – albeit brief – was a body language that would’ve triggered a lot of refs in that situation.
Luckily for Espinosa, the call to stop the fight didn’t appear to damper the boss man’s mood too badly considering that White ended up going over the heads of his matchmakers to award the 28-year-old flyweight a contract. And given the seemingly constant extra cabinet space of that division, as well as past accusations of White’s attitude toward it, I believe that this was the right move.
Weight class: Featherweight
Result: Ricky Palacios def. Toby Misech by unanimous decision
Summary: In one of the two fights to go to decision during the evening, I found it hard to justify a higher grade for Ricky Palacios despite him delivering a performance that was otherwise solid.
Palacios faced Toby Misech, who is an explosive Hawaiian southpaw who started quickly out of the gate. The problem, however, is that Misech couldn’t appear to keep the pace he was setting, and he steadily slowed by the middle of each round. In said time, Palacios was able to smartly weather the storms, picking his spots to return while his slow-burn stylings began to pick up speed.
The 31-year-old Mexican-American never shied away from the fight, but you could also get the feeling that both he and his corner knew he was well ahead on the scorecards, which unfortunately may have quietly taken some of the suspense from the contest – especially when weighing what the format of the series is designed to produce.
Don’t get me wrong: I believe Palacios did the right thing tactically and fought well, but if he was planning on convincing White and the UFC matchmakers that they need another featherweight on their roster, there were probably some things he could have done differently to ensure that. I don’t suspect Palacios is on the shortlist for last-minute stand-ins, but it wouldn’t shock me to see him make a return to the Contender Series should he rack up some finishes on the regional scene.
Weight class: Middleweight
Results: Bevon Lewis def. Alton Cunningham by first-round TKO
Summary: As far as fast finishes go, it’s hard to ask for much more from Bevon Lewis, who had to put in only roughly three minutes of work to earn himself a UFC contract.
Lewis’ opponent, Alton Cunningham, was also undefeated at 5-0 but unfortunately never got to get started. Lewis came storming out of the gates as if the bout was already predetermined, landing a stunning right hand in the opening stanzas with a laser-like focus. From there, the Jackson-Wink MMA product began to pick away at his counterpart with everything from straight shots to oblique kicks, eventually finding his way into the clinch.
Although his tie-ups and hand-fighting acumen were not on the same level as his training partner Jon Jones, you can see where the comparisons come from when seeing all of Lewis’ characteristics at play. Still, ultimately a fighter with a style of his own, Lewis embraced every position thrown at him during the brief contest until finishing things off with a few flush knees that caused the ref to step in.
With Lewis scoring the cleanest finish of the night, it’s safe to say we all figured he’d be a shoo-in for a contract, especially when considering that his weight class is currently experiencing a youthful turnover that the 27-year-old prospect will fit nicely into.
Weight class: Lightweight
Results: Kevin Aguilar def. Joey Gomez by split-decision
Summary: The headlining bout for Dana White’s Contender Series 12 featured the anticipated debut of Kevin Aguilar, who drew exciting Hawaiian up-and-comer Joey Gomez.
As a fan of the band Slayer, having a nickname like “The Angel of Death” is enough to get me excited. But after Aguilar’s most recent knockout of respected prospect Thanh Le, everyone in the know seemed to be stoked for the 29-year-old Texan, who opened as nearly a 3-1 favorite before the public pushed it further. But with that in mind, those expectations may have hampered the grade for an otherwise competitive and compelling fight.
Despite drawing blood on the Hawaiian early, Gomez – who is more known for his wrestling – put hands on Aguilar effectively, eventually securing a takedown and some control time to win him the round. However, once the second round started, you could see Gomez having to go deeper into the gears to garner the same effect, subsequently eating more shots and accruing visual damage before getting his takedowns going again. And by the third round, whether it was fatigue or otherwise, it was clear that Gomez let Aguilar back into what ended up becoming a competitive affair.
It was hard to be surprised at the judges coming to a split decision, but it was also hard knowing that neither man would likely earn a contract regardless of the outcome. In Aguilar’s defense, he’s a talent who’s arguably ready for the next step being that he’s a three-time defending champion in LFA who has experience against UFC names. The eight-year pro is also a natural featherweight who took this bout on three weeks’ notice, against a sizable lightweight who holds a victory over the welterweight who just beat Jake Shields in the PFL, no less. Given those reasons, as well as his fighting region, I suspect we’ll see Aguilar turn up on one of the many midwest cards that the UFC keeps in rotation soon enough.
- For DWCS 12 winner, Bevon Lewis securing a UFC deal was like a trip to FedEx
- DWCS 12 winner Jordan Espinosa on new UFC deal: 'Jesus Christ – two seconds left? I'll take it'
- Watch MMAjunkie Radio here (1 p.m. ET) with Ray Sefo, Julian Marquez and Mike Bohn
Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie
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