The Dana White Tuesday Night Contender Series is back for a third season and this season takes place at the UFC’s brand new, state-of-the-art production facility known as the UFC Apex.
The new season got off to a rough start when Leon Shahbazyan, the younger brother of UFC middleweight Edmen Shahbazyan, who earned his contract in the second season of the show, had complications making weight and had his fight against Brok Weaver scratched as a result. It was the first time in the show’s history that a bout was cancelled due to a weigh-in issue.
The first bout of the evening featured the biggest favourite on the card, Alton Meeks, facing Yorgan de Castro, a heavyweight who grew up in poverty in Cape Verde before eventually moving with his family to Massachusetts where he became a mixed martial artist.
De Castro did a great job of maintaining distance and utilizing his kickboxing to keep Meeks, who had aspirations of becoming a wrestling Olympian before getting into a serious auto collision, and his wrestling attack at bay, while getting the better of striking exchanges.
As the end of the first round was nearing, de Castro landed a vicious leg kick that dropped Meeks and finished him with ground strikes, earning an upset victory to kick off the season.
The second matchup involved English featherweight Brendan Loughnane (16-3) and Ring of Combat champion Bill Algeo (12-3)
The very competitive bout involved some great back and forth striking exchanges between the two athletes. Loughnane got the better of Algeo in the first, but Algeo was able to bounce back in the second and tighten things up a bit, however, Loughnane still had an advantage despite a much closer frame.
The final round was all Loughnane again as he pushed the pace and picked Algeo apart, getting the better of nearly every exchange.
Ultimately, Loughnane walked away with a one-sided unanimous decision, earning a 30-27 scorecard from all three judges.
In the third bout and the only one on the card involving female fighters, strawweights Hannah Goldy and Kali Robbins had three rounds of back and forth exchanges that Goldy almost always got the better of. Her timing, technical striking and composure were a step above her opponent and she utilized knees
from the clinch against Robbins effectively.
Goldy had the better footwork and did a good job of picking up the pace when it made sense and withdrawing from exchanges when necessary.
She ended up with a dominant victory on the scorecards with two judges awarding her a 30-27 score and another a 30-26 score in a fight that could have stood to be a bit more on the exciting side with a contract on the line.
In the final bout, middleweights Punahele Soriano and Jamie Pickett faced off and the first round was all Soriano. It took him some time to figure out his opponent’s range due to a big reach disadvantage, but once he did and was able to measure Pickett, he connected with some big shots, nearly finishing Pickett in the first round. But he was unable to when his opponent was able to withdraw from trouble as the seconds ticked away.
In the second round, things started off slowly as Soriano had to measure Pickett once again and find a way to get inside his range. About midway through the round, Soriano found his range and was able to land on Pickett. With Pickett backing himself up against the cage, the former collegiate wrestler Soriano was able to take Pickett down for some time. When Pickett eventually got up and had some success, Soriano was able to take him down again to close out the round. Soriano started to slow considerably as the round progressed.
In the third, Soriano played it smart and implemented more of a wrestling-based attack after the success that he had with the approach in the second. With the top control, Soriano was able to neutralize Pickett, who did not land a single strike for the entire round.
Soriano earned a unanimous decision over Pickett with scorecards of 30-27, 30-27 and 30-26.
My two contract selections: Typically, contracts go to the fighters who score finishes, but with only four fights and only one with a finish, I would award my two contracts to de Castro and Soriano.
Of the fighters that won via decision, Soriano was the most aggressive and most dominant of the three and, at age 26, he still has some upside. Hawaii is a strong market for the UFC and their fighters have fared well in the promotion, which is also an important factor.
Dana White’s contract selections: In the first episode of the third season of the Dana White Tuesday Night Contender Series, White awarded his contracts to de Castro and Soriano. And when he did so, he made a strong statement about the importance of fighters scoring a finish if they want to earn a UFC contract.
Highest ceiling: I think that Soriano has the highest upside of anyone on the show. His relentless approach, wrestling background and age will make him a tough out for anyone.
Biggest question mark: Yorgan de Castro was a big underdog and was not expected to earn a victory. He's already 32 and will be outmatched by many UFC heavyweights. However, he looked tremendous on the show today and I’m eager to see how he fares in the big show.
The Dana White Tuesday Night Contender Series airs each Tuesday on TSN GO.