On last week’s premiere episode of Season 3 of the Dana White Tuesday Night Contender Series, White said that he’s not just looking for someone who will win a fight, but he’s more interested in how they win, valuing excitement and finishes first and foremost.
The first bout of the evening in Tuesday’s Episode 2 featured undefeated Miguel Baeza taking on short notice opponent Victor Reyna, who had complications making weight. He weighed in at 178 pounds – seven pounds over the 171 pound limit. Baeza decided to accept the fight regardless, accepting 20 per cent of his opponent’s purse.
Baeza had a lot of success early on, dropping Reyna and nearly finishing him with strikes, but Reyna ended up recovering and made it out of the round.
In the second, Reyna started to get back some momentum, leading to a very closely contested round up until the final 30 seconds. That’s when Baeza was able to drop Reyna twice with knees and was on the verge of scoring the finish as the bell rang, allowing Reyna to continue into the third.
In the third round, Reyna finally gathered steam and outstruck Baeza, who looked tired and defensive for most of the round.
Baeza ended up earning a unanimous decision victory with all judges scoring the fight 29-28.
The second matchup had highly touted prospect and the current Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA) bantamweight champion Miles Johns taking on Richie Santiago.
Save for a few situations where Santiago was close to taking Johns’s back and a brief time in mount, this fight was all Johns.
Johns was better in every facet of the game and put on a clinic in both the striking and wrestling departments.
Despite the dominating performance, Johns was unable to score a finish as Santiago was tough as nails and never buckled under the pressure.
Johns earned a dominant unanimous decision with scorecards of 30-27, 30-27 and 30-26.
The third bout involved extremely gifted grappled Kyle Daukaus and American Top Team product Michael Lombardo.
If the other two fights were unanimous decisions, this particular bout was far more emphatic.
Lombardo had no answer for Daukaus’s stifling grappling attack and was controlled for all three rounds.
Daukaus secured a unanimous decision victory with a dominant 30-25 scorecard, a 30-26 scorecard and a 29-27 scorecard.
He proved that he’s an incredibly intriguing prospect with a ground game that will give many middleweights a headache.
The fourth bout featured undefeated Justin Gonzales, who took on Hawaiian Zach Zane. Like the first three fights, Gonzales was the dominant fighter.
Gonzales came strong for a finish in the first round, but was unable to get it. From there, Gonzales just did not give Zane any room to operate, besting him in both the striking and grappling.
Ultimately, Gonzales was too much for Zane, earning a unanimous decision with 30-26 scorecards from all judges.
Prior to the main event, all four big favourites won their fights decidedly and the main event featured another big favourite with Contender Series Season 2 veteran Alton Cunningham facing Tony Johnson.
Johnson came out swinging in the first and busted up Cunningham’s eye and the fight looked like it was going to be a barnburner, but that notion fizzled out quickly as Cunningham continuously reverted to the clinch, frustrating Johnson from thereon out.
Between rounds, questions were raised about whether Cunningham could continue with his swollen eye, but the doctors allowed him to continue.
At the fight’s conclusion, UFC statistician Michael Carroll posted a tweet stating that Cunningham had unofficially tallied nearly 11 minutes of clinch control time.
Despite his clinch work, the judges decided to hand a unanimous decision to Johnson, the more active striker, despite being held in the clinch for much of the contest. All three judges scored the fight 29-28 for Johnson.
My two contract selections: If I had only two contracts to give out, I would award them to Miles Johns and Kyle Daukaus. Both of them have the most upside and I think that both of them will thrive in the UFC.
Dana White’s contract selections: While some suggested that White may not award a contract to anyone due to this episode being the first one in the show’s history to have every fight go the distance, he strayed from that idea and handed out contracts to Baeza and Johns.
White said that he felt Daukaus would not yet be able to hang with a lot of the middleweights in the UFC just yet, that Gonzales was too one dimensional and that Johnson’s trouble breaking his opponent’s clinch was not a good sign.
Highest ceiling: I think it’s apparent that Johns has the most upside. He became a champion at the highest level of regional promotions and, at age 25, he has so much more to grow.
Biggest question mark: While I think that Baeza has a lot of questions to answer, I am curious to see what’s next for Daukaus. From what I saw, it was evident that he was good enough to be in the UFC and I can’t help but wonder if his grappling style was a turnoff for White.
The Dana White Tuesday Night Contender Series airs each Tuesday on TSN GO.