Wow! That was one heck of a Contender Series event! Even though we lost two fights (Macias/de Paula and Cota/Vanderaa), we still had an action-packed card that resulted in four finishes and four new UFC signees. In addition, I went 3-0-1 in my predictions for the night, so my overall prediction record for this season improved to 24-12-2.
The event clocked in at just under two hours, so it was explosive, but short and sweet. Even my girlfriend managed to make it thought the whole thing, so you know it was just straight up entertaining. Not to mention, she enjoyed looking at Carlos Ulberg.
Anyway, join me now as we take a look at who won, how they won, and what they’ll need to do to be ready for the UFC.
Heavyweight: Jared Vanderaa def. Harry Hunsucker via TKO in Round 1 (3:34)
This was a decent heavyweight bout that went roughly as expected. Early on, it was clear that Hunsucker had the speed and striking advantage. He tagged Vanderaa early on with some stinging punch combinations that would have put many lesser heavyweights on the canvas. Vanderaa survived though, and once he got the fight on the floor, he was able to unload some vicious ground and pound to get the finish.
Vanderaa impressed me with how heavy he was from top position once he got there. It seemed like Hunsucker just couldn’t move until the referee told Vanderaa it was time to get up. Vanderaa also proved that he has a chin on him. As stated earlier, he got cracked multiple times by Hunsucker, but was able to stay upright. A good chin is a much-needed asset in the UFC heavyweight division.
At 28, Vanderaa becomes one of the youngest heavyweights on the roster and he will hopefully use the time he has left in the sport to improve his striking and striking defense. He seemed rather slow compared to Hunsucker, so I’d like to see him make improvements on that as well if at all possible.
I like where Vanderaa’s head is at though. Just minutes after his win, and before he officially got a contract, he already called out a couple UFC heavyweights that he would like to step in against. He called out the highly touted Tom Aspinall and Sergey Spivak in his initial interview, and then did a sneaky call out of Greg Hardy at the post-fight presser.
Featherweight: Luis Saldana def. Vince Murdock via TKO in Round 3 (0:44)
As predicted by many, the striking of Luis Saldana proved to be too much for Team Alpha Male’s Vince Murdock. Saldana looked a bit tentative in the early goings of the fight, stating in the post-fight presser that he expected Murdock to be more aggressive in the wrestling department. While Murdock had a few moments in the fight, it was largely a showcase for Luis Saldana.
Saldana was able to use his height and reach advantage to initially outpoint Murdock through the use of jabs, leg kicks, and a few hook flurries. Over the first two rounds, Saldana looked completely in control, but was seeming to coast on his positive momentum. In the post-fight presser Saldana expressed to the media that he felt great heading into the third, and since he felt that Murdock was wearing down, it was time to turn up the heat.
Well, round three didn’t last long, because Saldana was able to catch Murdock with a combination out of EA Sports UFC 4. Saldana threw and landed: front kick, jab-cross, front kick, cross. This combination sent Murdock to the mat, and Saldana continued his assault with ground and pound to get the TKO finish.
Saldana seems UFC ready, plain and simple. He stated in his interview with Laura Sanko that he is eyeing a possible move to bantamweight. Judging by how well he used his size advantage in this fight, I think that would be a great idea, assuming he won’t have to kill himself to make the weight.
Welterweight: Ignacio Bahamondes def. Edson Gomez via KO in Round 2 (2:31)
Sportcenter Top 10, here we come! Ignacio Bahamondes scored easily one of the best KOs in Contender Series history with his front kick knockout of Edson Gomez. While the finish is what people will come away talking about, the entire fight was actually pretty fun. The first round started off pretty competitively as Gomez was able to land a few of his signature power-punches on the chin of his younger opponent. As time went on though, those connections from Gomez dwindled and Bahamondes started to take over.
Bahamondes was able to use his range to pick apart Gomez, who seemed to not be in the greatest shape. Gomez missed weight by a significant margin and stated over and over in the prefight that fighting was only a part-time thing. Both surefire signs that Gomez didn’t prepare much and thought that his KO power would carry him through. It didn’t though, and Bahamondes was able to set up a rattling front kick that shut off Gomez, sending him to the shadow realm.
I think that Bahamondes, while young at only 23 years old, is the most UFC-ready athlete on last night’s fights. He did get reckless at times which put him into trouble, but if he is able to stay more disciplined, he has all the skills necessary to make a splash in the UFC welterweight division. I would like to see him against another Contender Series alum from this season, or a UFC vet on a downturn.
Light Heavyweight: Carlos Ulberg def. Bruno Oliveira via KO in Round 1 (2:02)
In the featured bout of the evening, Carlos Ulberg took on Bruno Oliveira, a Brazilian athlete who clearly wanted a knockout. I mean, if you watch the other fights of Oliveira, it’s what he is always going for. That makes him a pretty fun fighter to watch, and when he’s matched up with a striker like Ulberg, you know it’s going to be fun. And fun it was.
Oliveira continued to move forward, throwing kicks and punches. Ulberg utilized his defensive capabilities, answering the advances of Oliveira with check-hooks and lateral movement. Eventually though, one of the check-hooks of Ulberg connected and he followed it up with a stunning left hook and a clubbing right hook that sent Oliveira down in a faceplant.
The fight didn’t last long, but Ulberg proved he can strike at a high level in MMA. We already kind of knew that based on his kickboxing background, but he confirmed it for us on the Contender Series. He stated in his post-fight interviews that he needs to work on his overall MMA game since he is now a full-time UFC athlete. The City Kickboxing product will be in good hands in that respect and I’m glad that he’s honest about his current skillset. I would like to see Ulberg eased in a bit. I know that’s tough to do in the UFC, but I think we have a possible star on our hands here and it would be in the UFC’s interest to bring him up strategically.
And that’s it!
What a fun night of fights we had on week 8 of the Contender Series! Tune it tomorrow for a preview of next week’s card, which will be back to the normal day of Tuesday.
If you have any thoughts, comment down below or reach out to me at SparringPartnersPodcast@gmail.com.