How many contracts will be awarded tonight?
That’s the question heading into every episode of Dana White’s Contender Series, but it has become two-fold this season as the UFC President has been passing out invitations to the join the UFC roster at a record-setting rate.
Over the first four weeks of this season, 16 of the 19 fighters who have crossed the threshold into the Octagon inside the UFC Apex and emerged victorious have also been awarded UFC contracts. Even my rudimentary math skills can figure out that that is an average of four contracts per show, and just slightly more than 80 percent of the triumphant talents who have competed already this season.
Each week, it feels like we’re in for a downturn — like the action will drop off ever so slightly and only one or two winners will be called over to collect a contract from the impressed UFC boss — but then five more pairs of fighters enter the cage, five more fighters emerge victorious, and White is left praising their upside with Laura Sanko following back-room deliberations with matchmakers Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard.
Was this the week the action cooled and only one or two fighters were called to join the UFC roster or did the incredible number of contracts being awarded this season climb even higher?
Dana White Announces Contract Winners DWCS Week 5
Dana White Announces Contract Winners DWCS Week 5
It was an entertaining night of action inside the Octagon at the Apex and the UFC President was once again in a giving mood, handing out contracts to returning developmental winner William Knight, bantamweight underdog Ronnie Lawrence, and grappling standout Jimmy Flick. In addition to that, White invited winners Melsik Baghdasaryan and Tucker Lutz, as well as Elevation Fight Team’s Nate Smith back for another appearance on the Contender Series in November.
Here’s a look at what transpired on Tuesday night.
Tucker Lutz def. Chase Gibson by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Tuesday night’s action got started in the lightweight division as “Top Gun” Tucker Lutz squared off with California regional vet Chase Gibson.
It was clear out of the chute that Gibson was the more fluid, quicker striker of the two as he was first to land and connecting with the harder shots in the majority of the exchanges over the opening half of the first round. But with roughly 90 seconds remaining in the round, Lutz found a home for a pair of strikes that ultimately put Gibson on the canvas, giving Lutz the opportunity to follow him to the ground and finish the opening stanza in complete control as he landed punches as Gibson was on all fours, offering nothing in return.
Lutz came out more aggressively to start the second, bringing the fight to Gibson and finding success with a variety of strikes. The more the round progressed, the more Lutz was able to land, stinging Gibson with clean shots as the California native started to fade, targeting the body and keeping the pressure on throughout.
While Gibson tried to press forward to start the third, Lutz continued to land the more significant blows and control the exchanges, attacking Gibson’s lead leg and landing combinations. For each individual quality shot that Gibson connected with, Lutz answered with two or three of his own, piling up the damage and strike totals. Midway through the round, it was Gibson who shot for the first takedown of the fight, only to have Lutz stuff it hard and end up in top position, hitting Gibson with a series of short punches.
With just under a minute left, Gibson managed to reverse position, taking Lutz’ back while hunting for a submission through to the final horn, but he was unable to find the choke before the end of the fight.
When the judges turned in their scorecards and the tens and nines were tallied, the result was unanimous, with Tucker Lutz securing his 10th consecutive victory.
William Knight def. Cody Brundage by TKO at 2:23 of Round 1
William Knight earned a developmental contract with a victory last summer on the Contender Series, and Tuesday night, he was looking to join Bevon Lewis and Chase Hooper in parlaying that prize into a place on the UFC roster as he took on unbeaten Michigan native Cody Brundage.
Brundage wasted no time shooting in for the takedown and putting Knight on the canvas, driving through a single leg, working through a scramble and quickly climbing to back mount before flattening Knight out and unloading with punches. Knight diligently controlled the hands and tried to reverse position, getting back to his feet along the fence, where he unloaded a series of “Hapa elbows” to the side of the head that caused Brundage to slump over.
Knight followed him to the canvas and continued to unload with punches, prompting referee Herb Dean to step in and stop the fight.
Ronnie Lawrence def. Jose Johnson by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
The middle bout on this week’s five-fight lineup took place in the bantamweight division as upstarts Jose Johnson and Ronnie Lawrence locked up in Las Vegas.
Johnson wanted no part of touching gloves to start the fight and cracked Lawrence with a clean right hand early, but the Florida-based bantamweight secured a body lock and put Johnson on the canvas. When Johnson got up, he was greeted with a knee in the clinch and another body lock, Lawrence doing an excellent job of nullifying Johnson’s reach advantage and playing to his strengths.
As they returned to the feet over the final two minutes of the round, Lawrence began targeting Johnson’s lead leg and initiating the exchanges before driving through one more takedown and out-grappling the favored finisher to punctuate a strong opening round.
Lawrence went right back to attacking the lead leg to start the second, driving through another takedown, landing in side control and passing to mount momentarily before settling into Johnson’s guard and doing steady work. Johnson got back to his feet and tried to go on the offensive, but Lawrence once again initiated the clinch and dragged him to the canvas, preventing him from getting into a rhythm with his strikes.
Johnson got up much quicker and back into space, but as soon as he came forward, Lawrence snatched up another body lock and tripped Johnson to the canvas. Johnson reversed position, but even then, it was Lawrence threatening with submissions off his back, hunting for an armbar and a triangle choke through to the horn.
Lawrence started the final round with a pair of spinning kicks, both of which landed, though neither had much snap to them. When Johnson closed the distance, Lawrence dumped him to the canvas, bringing his total to nine for the fight. He settled in on top and sniffed out Johnson searching for an armbar, escaping easily and dragging him back down to the mat once more.
With 90 seconds remaining, Lawrence climbed into mount. Johnson quickly recovered guard, but had little to offer, as Lawrence continued to control things from top position, closing out a dominant performance that brought Dana White to his feet.
Jimmy Flick def. Nate Smith by submission (arm triangle choke) at 3:15 of Round 3
Flyweights at different stages of their careers clashed in this one as seasoned pro Jimmy Flick went head-to-head with Elevation Fight Team prospect Nate Smith.
Barely 30 seconds into the opening round, Smith and Flick clashed while kicking and Smith landed on the ground, with Flick quickly chasing him to the canvas and climbing onto his back. After some tactical grappling, Smith hit a beautiful Granby roll to land in side control, where he drove knees into Flick’s midsection.
But the veteran wasn’t bothered, hunting a straight armbar and securing a crucifix position, putting Smith in a bad spot. While “The Savage” worked free, Flick continued searching for submissions, attacking a D’Arce choke, then transitioning to a guillotine. Smith defended extremely well, staying calm and working free, as the veteran remained on the offensive, searching for a finish to no avail.
As they got back to their feet, Smith’s strikes looked labored as Flick connected with a pair of heavy kicks to the body to close out the round.
Smith started the second looking to land strikes, but Flick responded in kind and quickly closed the distance, dragging Smith to the canvas. While Flick worked from top position, looking for openings and submissions, Smith threw up a triangle choke attempt of his own, instantly forcing Flick to abandon his offense and defend.
Flick eventually popped his head out and climbed into mount, abandoning a guillotine attempt to land elbows and control the position. Late in the frame, Flick chased an armbar, transitioned to an omoplata, then another armbar, and then locked up a triangle, with Smith somehow managing to survive to the buzzer.
Early in the third, Smith fired off a front kick up the middle that landed clean, but with little force, garnering a smile from Flick. Seconds later, the veteran closed the difference, clasped his hands under his butt, elevated, and drove Smith into the canvas, landing in side control. After softening Smith up with elbows to the body, Flick passed to mount, dropping elbows before finally locking up a deep arm triangle choke and securing the tap.
This was an amazing display of ground control and submission skills from the veteran.
Melsik Baghdasaryan def. Dennis Buzukja by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
Featherweight prospects with identical 4-1 records closed out Week 5 as Longo and Weidman MMA product Dennis Buzukja squared off with kickboxing standout Melsik Baghdasaryan in the main event.
Baghdasaryan came out firing right away, stalking Buzukja and blasting him with heavy kicks to the body. Working in the clinch, he switched to knees to the body and elbows up top, punishing Buzukja, who had no answers against the cage. Each time he tried to get distance and space, Baghdasaryan pressed forward again, blasting him with another powerful shot, working at an insane pace early.
While his output slowed a little, Baghdasaryan’s dominance did not, as he continued to walk down Buzukja and land at will, avoiding most of what came back his way while finding a home for shot after shot after shot.
Late in the frame, however, Buzukja dragged Baghdasaryan to the canvas momentarily, controlling him around the waist against the fence through the final 45 seconds of the frame.
Baghdasaryan got right back on the offensive to start the second, continuing to land a variety of strikes against the durable, game Buzukja. Although the output was considerably less than early in the fight, Baghdasaryan continued to dominate the exchanges through the first half of the round.
But just past the midway point, Buzukja hit a nice throw that put Baghdasaryan on the ground momentarily, giving him an opportunity to close the distance and secure a waist lock, only to have Baghdasaryan shake free. Buzukja started to be the aggressor however, backing Baghdasaryan into the fence and pulling his legs out from under him once more. While Baghdasaryan got back to his feet quickly again, Buzukja remained in control through to the end of the round, making things interesting heading into the final five minutes.
Baghdasaryan started well in the third, landing single shots as Buzukja tried to get inside, using long punches and kicks to keep the Staten Island native at range. Midway through the round, Baghdasaryan dragged Buzukja to the canvas and it almost turned disastrous, as Buzukja quickly reversed position, but the kickboxer was able to break free and return to his feet.
Locked up in the clinch along the fence, Buzukja attacked an armbar, going belly-down and forcing Baghdasaryan to defend, with the Armenian breaking free and connecting with an uppercut as they backed into the fence. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Baghdasaryan continued to press forward and land the better shots as the two went toe-to-toe through to the horn.
When the scores were added up, Baghdasaryan came away with a unanimous decision win, extending his winning streak to five with a hard-fought victory.