Two more UFC contracts were awarded after the seventh episode of Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series, with one fighter making a second appearance this week while another put on an instant classic over three rounds.
Joby Sanchez picked up a win during the first week when the Contender Series launched, but he wasn't offered a contract that night, so he came back for one more shot at the big show. This time around, Sanchez got the job done with an impressive second round finish to earn his way back to the UFC.
Meanwhile, Team Alpha Male prospect Benito Lopez engaged in an absolute battle with Steven Peterson over three rounds to notch a split decision win that also earned him a call to join the UFC roster.
Here's the full breakdown of week 7 of Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series:
ANTON BERZIN VS. KENNEDY NZECHUKWU
Nzechukwu established his jab early on while picking away at Berzin from the outside, using his reach advantage very effectively. Berzin fought through the early attacks before dragging the fight to the ground, where he looked for a D'arce choke, but Nzechukwu was able to slip free before scrambling back to his feet.
Nzechukwu survived a tough opening round before coming back with a stronger second stanza as he once again started to flick his jab out while landing it with very good accuracy. With each punch landed, Berzin's head snapped back but he was still firing back with hard, heavy shots of his own.
The third round saw Nzechukwu really start to pour on the punishment, with his lead jab really finding a home with Berzin backing up and just going into survival mode. Nzechukwu never let up with his pressure while Berzin was struggling to counter with much of anything outside of playing defense against the cage wall. While it appeared that Nzechukwu had done enough to win, the judges still gave him a slight scare by returning a split decision. Still, he walked away victorious in his first appearance in the Contender Series.
Kennedy Nzechukwu def. Anton Berzin by unanimous decision (29-27, 29-27, 28-29)
STEVEN PETERSON VS. BENITO LOPEZ
This bantamweight matchup produced a ton of fireworks and may have stolen the show as the best fight of the season thus far. Benito Lopez and Steven Peterson put on a show for three straight rounds as they went to war to earn that UFC contract.
Lopez came out guns blazing as the fight got underway while Peterson attempted to slow him down by looking for a takedown against the fence. Lopez did a tremendous job blocking his opponent's wrestling before firing off a pair of knee strikes that blasted Peterson in the face, opening a cut that sent blood pouring down his face. Lopez stayed on the attack with a pair of head kicks, but miraculously Peterson ate it and just kept moving forward.
While Lopez was definitely getting the better of the exchanges on the feet, Peterson was undeterred as he came out looking for the takedown yet again in the second round. Eventually, Peterson found a way to drag Lopez to the mat, where he started to apply his ground attack. It was an impressive comeback as Peterson kept up the pressure while Lopez struggled to get up from the bottom.
It all came down to the third round, with Lopez looking to land his explosive strikes while Peterson kept grinding for the takedown. Lopez resisted once again as he tried to return fire with a few more punches before the final horn sounded. The back and forth battle resulted in a split decision from the judges, with Lopez eking out the victory after three hard fought rounds.
Benito Lopez def. Steven Peterson by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
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JOBY SANCHEZ VS. JP BUYS
Joby Sanchez got his second chance to impress Dana White and the UFC matchmakers after picking up a win on the inaugural edition of the Contender Series several weeks ago. Sanchez didn't disappoint as he put away Team Alpha Male prospect JP Buys with a second-round TKO after a back and forth battle through the first round.
Buys looked strong early as he applied his top-notch wrestling attack, which he opened with a massive slam to put Sanchez on the mat. Buys followed that up by looking to take his opponent's back as Sanchez worked his way back to the feet. Buys hung on while trying to fish for the rear naked choke but he just couldn't find the submission.
As the second round got underway, Buys was clearly showing the ill effects of exerting so much energy trying to get the finish and Sanchez took full advantage after bringing the fight back down to the ground again. Sanchez saw an opening after taking Buys' back and he began raining down a barrage of punches that were landing in succession, which forced the referee to rush in and stop the fight.
Joby Sanchez def. JP Buys by TKO (strikes) at 2:28, R2
MARK CHERICO VS. MIKE SANTIAGO
Mike Santiago earned a thrilling knockout in his matchup with Mark Cherico in a showdown between two hard-hitting featherweight prospects.
The fight moved fast as Santiago and Cherico were both throwing fire at each other after a brief exchange on the ground. While Santiago comes from a wrestling background, he was more than happy to throw strikes with Cherico as the two fighters began winging punches at each other from the outside.
Eventually, Santiago took aim at Cherico's midsection where he landed some hard, stinging shots which clearly took a toll. Santiago then finished his combination of strikes with a massive uppercut that sent Cherico crashing to the mat. Referee John McCarthy saw enough and called a stop to the fight before any more damage could be done.
Mike Santiago def. Mark Cherico by KO (strikes) at 2:59, R1
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There was a lot of bad blood in the opening bout of the evening as Jordan Espinosa met Nick Urso in a flyweight battle that served as the first ever rematch to take place during the Contender Series. Their first fight ended in a no contest, so both fighters were definitely gunning for the win in this matchup at 125 pounds.
As the fight got underway, Urso blasted Espinosa with a front kick to the face that clearly rattled him and sent him stumbling backwards. Urso attempted to follow up with some more strikes and then a takedown, but Espinosa recovered well and stayed on his feet. A moment later, Espinosa found an opening to fire back with a head kick of his own, catching Urso with his knee that sent him crashing to the mat.
Espinosa quickly followed up by latching on to a D'arce choke. Urso refused to tap out, but ultimately ended up going to sleep, which caused the referee to stop the contest early into the opening round.
Jordan Espinosa def. Nick Urso by submission (D'arce choke) at 1:23, R1