History was made on Tuesday, though probably not the kind that Dana White was looking for.
For the first time in the three-season history of the Contender Series, all five fights went to the scorecards and while all of the fighters involved put forth a spirited effort, the results had to be considered somewhat disappointing given the program’s history of highlight-reel finishes.
Nevertheless, two fighters stood above the rest in to earn UFC contracts in week two: Bantamweight Miles Johns and welterweight Miguel Baeza.
Johns (9-0) and Richie Santiago (7-2) went a hard three rounds, with Johns showing off his well-rounded game en route to a unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-26) win. Perhaps knowing what the UFC boss was looking for, Johns threw his right hand early and often, bloodying Santiago up in round one. He also mixed in takedowns throughout the fight to neutralize Santiago.
A big 1-2 combination knocked Santiago down in round two and Johns pounced, looking for submissions and ground strikes. More right hands from Johns had Santiago hurt and he shot right into a knee from Johns. The third round was a sloppy affair with Santiago occasionally getting the better of some scrambles. Still, it was all Johns on offense and he cruised to a commanding decision on the scorecards.
In the evening’s opening bout, Baeza (7-0) put on a winning performance against short-notice replacement Victor Reyna (10-4, 1 NC), earning a unanimous decision with a trio of 29-28 scores. After a tentative start, Baeza floored Reyna with a right hand and then worked to take the back. Reyna showed his guts though, battling through a tight choke before getting the fight back to the feet. That may have given him some confidence heading into round two as he looked more aggressive. However, it was Baeza who got the better of the grappling again and he finished the round strong with knees in the clinch that floored Reyna.
The third round was a close one, with the two exchanging on the feet. Reyna actually ended the fight in top position, landing ground-and-pound, but it would be too little too late.
This bout was originally scheduled to be the main event, but was moved down the card when Reyna weighed in at 178 pounds for what was scheduled to be a welterweight bout. Reyna was stepping in on less than two weeks’ notice for an injured Ramiz Brahimaj.
After announcing that Baeza was signed, White praised him for going through with Tuesday’s fight despite Reyna coming in well over the welterweight limit.
In the light heavyweight main event, Tony Johnson (8-2) couldn’t find the knockout he was looking for, but he survived a smothering effort from Alton Cunningham (7-2) and out-struck him to win a unanimous decision. All three judges scored the fight 29-28 in Johnson’s favor.
The outcome was in doubt to the very end, with Cunningham looking to be in control for much of the fight. Making his second Contender Series appearance, Cunningham spent the majority of the action pushing Johnson against the cage and only occasionally having success in the takedown department. Johnson’s punches caused major swelling over Cunningham’s right eye, which may explain why Cunningham employed a conservative strategy.
It didn’t pay off. Though Johnson was also limited in what he could do by Cunningham’s wrestling, he had the clear advantage in the striking numbers and that was enough to get the win in the judges’ eyes.
In what was perhaps the night’s most dominant performance, Justin Gonzales (10-0) put on a wrestling exhibition against Zach Zane (12-8), repeatedly grounding the Hawaiian featherweight and giving him zero room to breathe for 15 minutes. Gonzales completed a dozen takedowns in the fight and it was no surprise that he won a unanimous decision with 30-26 scores across the board.
Zane’s wild striking only made him more vulnerable to Gonzales’s focused wrestling attack and he spent almost the entirety of the bout either on his back or with Gonzales on his back. He did his best to defend himself against Gonzales, who landed a steady stream of punches from behind and sought a finish with a rear-naked choke in round two. The final frame saw Gonzales seal the deal with several more takedowns.
Middleweight Kyle Daukaus (7-0) did everything but get the finish against Michael Lombardo (8-2), using skilled grappling to tire Lombardo out and impress the judges with some deep submission attempts. In the end, the unanimous decision (30-25, 30-26, 29-27) went Daukas’s way.
It was Lombardo that tried to impose his will with his wrestling, but Daukaus repeatedly got the better of him. Daukaus almost had a triangle choke locked in at the end of round two and in round three he advanced to full mount on a tiring Lombardo. All Lombardo could do was defend against Daukas’s rear-naked choke attempts as the last couple of minutes ticked away on the fight.
See the full results below:
Tony Johnson def. Alton Cunningham via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Justin Gonzales def. Zach Zane via unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-26)
Kyle Daukaus def. Michael Lombardo via unanimous decision (30-25, 30-26, 29-27)
Miles Johns def. Richie Santiago via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-26)
Miguel Baeza def. Victor Reyna via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
*Reyna came in over the welterweight limit as a short-notice replacement for Ramiz Brahimaj