Originally slated to be 10 consecutive weeks of hopefuls squaring off inside the UFC Apex in front of the UFC brass with the potential to claim a contract to compete inside the Octagon hanging in the balance, a change in plans means that this week’s event would be the last for a number of weeks.
Even with this truncated run, the impact of this season of the Contender Series is undeniable, as 23 fighters have garnered UFC contracts over the first six weeks. To put that into perspective, there have been 29 bouts, which means only half a dozen victorious fighters have left Las Vegas without being invited to join the UFC ranks, though many of them have been presented with the chance to return in November for a second crack at collecting a contract.
Additionally, the 23 contracts that have already been awarded placed Season 4 in a dead heat with Season 2 for the second-most contracts awarded in a single season, even before this week’s fight played out. While last year’s record-setting number of contracts (29) was impossible to match this evening, this season moved into sole possession of second place and closer to the top of the podium as the annual talent search goes on its five-week hiatus.
The UFC President handed out three contracts, awarding returning Contender Series alum Jordan Williams, featherweight Collin Anglin, and debuting featherweight Danyelle Wolf the opportunity to compete inside the Octagon in the not too distant future.
Here’s a look at what transpired on Week 7 of Dana White’s Contender Series.
Dinis Paiva vs Kyle Driscoll
Business kicked off in the featherweight division as New England regional staple Dinis “Sweetbread” Paiva faced off with Oklahoma native and American Kickboxing Academy product Kyle Driscoll in the opener.
Right out of the chute, Paiva connected with a right hand that put Driscoll on the canvas for a split second, showing the natural bantamweight carried his pop with him up to the 145-pound weight class. Driscoll closed the distance and looked to drag the fight to the floor a minute later, but the Rhode Island native fended him off and kept it standing, circling back to the center of the cage.
As soon as they reset, Driscoll drove through a takedown attempt, only to have Paiva once again pop back to his feet quickly. The AKA product stayed sticky, clinging to Paiva’s waist while driving knees into the thighs, searching for opportunities to sink in his hooks and fish for a choke. Paiva remained patient and circled free with a little over a minute remaining in the opening round, but it was Driscoll who remained the aggressor through to the horn.
Driscoll opened the second with a high kick that was blocked before the fight was halted momentarily for a low blow. On the restart, Driscoll continued to be the aggressor, connecting with a couple clean strikes before changing levels. Though Paiva defended the takedown well, he struggled to get any offense off as they worked in space to the midway point of the fight.
The action was paused once again due to an inadvertent eye poke, the second time Paiva was fouled in the frame. When the action resumed, the pace slowed as both men struggled to find a rhythm and pull the trigger, offering little more than single shots as they danced around each other in the center of the cage, leaving much to be desired as the bout headed into the final round.
Driscoll came out aggressively to start the third, pressing forward behind long punches and sharp kicks, keeping Paiva at a distance before landing a stiff shot that momentarily staggered the New Englander. Driscoll used the opportunity to press in for a takedown, but Paiva hit a beautiful switch to get back to his feet and into space, finding a home for a lead high hook on multiple occasions before sitting down Driscoll with a clean left hand.
Driscoll popped up and pressed in for the takedown, only for Paiva to again hit a slick switch and land on top in half guard, where he started attacking with elbows as Driscoll desperately tried to lock him up. Driscoll threw up an armbar attempt that Paiva easily sniffed out, briefly moving to side control, only to have the AKA representative recover guard and attack the arm again.
With just under a minute remaining in the round, Driscoll hit a slick butterfly sweep to put Paiva on the canvas, but he got overzealous attacking another armbar, giving Paiva a chance to land some more ground-and-pound right before the final horn sounded.
After tallying the tens and nines, the judges awarded the fight to Driscoll, who pushed his winning streak to seven and his record to 12-3 overall with the victory.
Official Result: Kyle Driscoll def. Dinis Paiva by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Danyelle Wolf vs Taneisha Tennant
Former amateur boxer Danyelle Wolf made her mixed martial arts debut inside the UFC Apex on Tuesday night, taking on recent Invicta FC Phoenix Series tournament winner Taneisha Tennant in the week’s most highly anticipated pairing.
Wolf took command of the center of the cage, looking to work behind her jab straight away, as Tennant worked on the outside, attacking with low kicks. A little over 90 seconds into the frame, Wolf came forward and connected with a right hand that pushed Tennant backwards, forcing her to scramble to open space and regain her balance.
Midway through the frame, Wolf offered a high kick that was blocked, but showed her superior athleticism and fluidity in the striking exchanges. Soon after, Tennant pressed forward into the clinch, driving Wolf into the fence, but she wasn’t able to do anything with it. Tennant changed levels late in the frame, but Wolf shrugged off the takedown, leading the duo to return to the center of the cage and resume their back-and-forth striking bout, where Wolf continued to lead the way through to the horn.
Tennant came out a little more active to begin the second, throwing with a little more urgency and snap, mixing up kicks and punches that began drawing reactions from the less experienced Wolf. She twice pressed into the clinch, looking to drag Wolf to the ground, but she showed impressive defensive skills, quickly shaking free before the bout was paused briefly after Wolf was poked in the eye.
Wolf looked to mix things up more off the restart, adding kicks to different levels to her output, but she continued to struggle to find her range, while Tennant stayed out of trouble and found a home for sporadic shots of her own. Midway through the round, Wolf caught a kick and “tree-topped” Tennant to the ground, but opted not to follow her to the canvas. Soon after, Tennant began finding a home for some clean punches, staggering Wolf and forcing her to cover up.
Though she couldn’t find a finish, it was a clear round for Tennant, shifting the momentum into her favor heading into the third.
Wolf came out aggressive to start, throwing sharp hands, while Tennant countered with kicks, only to have the bout stopped as Wolf poked Tennant in the eye, causing the unbeaten Invicta FC veteran to scream out in agony. The doctor was called in to examine the eye and Tennant continued, with referee Mark Smith warning both women about extending their fingers prior to the restart.
As the fight resumed, Tennant looked to close the distance and grapple, again making Wolf defend from the clinch, which she again did successfully. Wolf pressed forward looking to land a long right hand, but Tennant wisely clinched up again, trying to drag the taller fighter to the ground. With Tennant hunting for a single leg, Wolf locked up her hands and jumped guard, pulling into a deep guillotine choke, cinching her long legs around Tennant’s waist.
With a little over a minute left in the round, Tennant passed to side control while Wolf continued to hold onto the choke, giving Tennant an opportunity to hunt for a kimura and eventually scramble to top position. Wolf attempted to score with upkicks and did a good job of keeping Tennant off her, sending the fight to the cards.
For the second consecutive fight, the judges were tasked with determining the victor, and when their scores were added up, it was Wolf who came away with the clean sweep of the scorecards in her professional mixed martial arts debut.
Official Result: Danyelle Wolf def. Taneisha Tennant by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Korey Kuppe vs Michael Lombardo
The middle contest on Tuesday’s five-pack of fights took place in the welterweight division as regional veterans Korey Kuppe and Michael Lombardo locked up inside the UFC cage.
Much of the opening minute was spent with these two feeling each other out, as Lombardo looked for a way to get inside the six-foot-five Kuppe’s monstrous reach. He successfully closed the distance and worked into the clinch, eating a solid right hand on the way in, but successfully elevated Kuppe, putting his back on the canvas.
Working out of Kuppe’s guard, Lombardo landed some clean shots before the Michigan native worked a rubber guard, locking Lombardo down momentarily. After lifting Kuppe off the canvas, Lombardo returned him to the mat calmly, attacked the body with short shots and cracked him with a couple sharp elbows. With 45 seconds left in the frame, Lombardo let Kuppe back to his feet, where the long-limbed fighter locked onto a high-elbow guillotine choke that was close before the horn sounded, bringing the round to a close.
Lombardo quickly closed the distance to begin the middle stanza, driving into a waist lock, looking to elevate Kuppe and put him on the ground once again. The cat-and-mouse along the fence continued, with Kuppe defending and maintaining his balance, mixing in open palm slaps as Lombardo banged home knees to the calf and thigh while riding Kuppe’s waist and mixing in punches of his own.
Referee Mark Smith asked Lombardo to work and he promptly dumped Kuppe to the ground, landing in the guard and searching for opportunities to open up with ground-and-pound. He worked Kuppe’s ribs with hard shots and avoided his opponent’s attempt to shift his hips and create an opening, pushing Kuppe back into the fence and landing a series of solid blows before the round ended.
Kuppe started yapping at Lombardo about clinching and taking him down after the horn, telling him, “No one wants to see that ****; holding on for your life,” as if he had no say in how the fight played out, which his coach gently reminded him of in his corner.
Right out of the chute in the third, Lombardo again got in on the waist and looked to elevate Kuppe, who showed solid balance to stay upright. Interestingly, Kuppe turned into Lombardo and pulled guard, only to have the ATT product bury a series of short punches into his ribs while he struggled to create space from the bottom.
Midway through the round, Kuppe postured up, looking to land while Kuppe continued shifting his hips, searching for openings as Smith called for them to work. Lombardo remained tight on top, peppering with short blows as Kuppe landed short punches of his own from the bottom before getting back to his feet. That didn’t last long, however, as Lombardo elevated him once more to complete a high amplitude takedown.
Kuppe threw up a triangle attempt late in the frame, but there was nothing there, with the welterweights jawing at one another after the horn, showing more aggression towards each other than they did during the previous 15 minutes.
Lombardo came away with a clean sweep of the scorecards, earning a victory in his second appearance on the Contender Series.
Official Result: Michael Lombardo def. Korey Kuppe by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Muhammad Naimov vs Collin Anglin
Talented featherweights looking to build on their impressive records and impress the UFC brass clashed in this one as unbeaten Muhammad Naimov took on 7-1 Michigan product Collin Anglin.
Naimov landed a low calf kick straight away that shook Anglin’s balance and reddened his leg as both men came out looking to fire. After a minute of trading in space, Anglin closed the distance, hunting for a takedown, settling into the clinch along the cage before Naimov reversed the position, attacking with knees to the midsection.
Anglin broke free and circled to the center, resetting the action just prior to the midway point, where Naimov put his taekwondo background on display with successive spinning attacks. The American closed the distance again and successfully twisted Naimov to the ground, quickly taking the back and sinking in his hooks, with more than 90 seconds to work.
Naimov did a great job clearing the hooks and connected with a knee to Anglin’s chin as they stood, and he followed it up with a series of clean, heavy strikes. But when Naimov dropped to his knees late in the frame, Anglin flipped him onto his back, finishing the round in side control.
Naimov landed first to start the second, connecting with a right hand that straightened up Anglin, who countered by pressing forward and landing a good knee from the Thai clinch. Naimov pressed forward, closing the distance, but Anglin shrugged him off, returning to the center. Clinched in the center of the cage, Naimov blasted Anglin with a knee below the belt, bringing the action to a halt.
Anglin got back to work from the Thai clinch upon the restart, landing a series of solid knees, only to have Naimov counter with a solid left hand and a knee to the midsection of his own moments later. The duo returned to the center and continued trading blows, neither man building a considerable advantage.
With a little over a minute remaining in the frame, Anglin drove through a double-leg takedown, taking Naimov’s back and searching for a choke while mixing in ground-and-pound. He climbed into mount and buried elbows into Naimov’s grill before returning to ride out the end of the round, landing short punches from back mount.
Anglin appeared to be the fresher of the two to start the third, landing quicker shots as Naimov offered slow, labored punches. He followed that up with elbows and punches, backing Naimov into the fence and putting him on shaky legs, prompting Anglin to hunt him down and pick his shots as Mark Smith looked on, calling for him to fight back.
Though Naimov looked to fire back, Anglin saw his shots coming and continued connecting with sporadic shots. Naimov tried to press through for a takedown, but Anglin stuffed it and responded with a number of heavy shots that again prompted Smith to warn him of a potential stoppage. Anglin dumped Naimov to the ground with just over a minute to go, fishing his arm under Naimov’s chin, only to have Naimov reverse position and fire off elbows from top position through to the horn.
After a couple rough outings earlier in the night, this quality back-and-forth battle got UFC President Dana White out of his seat, and when the scores were totalled, it was Anglin who came away victorious, picking up his sixth career win while handing Naimov the first loss of his career.
Official Result: Collin Anglin def. Muhammad Naimov by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-27, 29-27)
Gregory Rodriguez vs Jordan Williams
Jordan Williams returned to Las Vegas for a third time on Tuesday night, hoping to finally secure a UFC contract as he squared off with Brazilian Gregory Rodrigues in the main event.
Rodrigues opened with a kick to the body as Williams looked to press forward and close the distance, eating a right hand on the way in as the Brazilian looked to get loose early. Just as he did in his previous two appearances, Williams seemed willing to eat punches in order to get in tight to land one of his own, as he continued to press forward through Rodrigues’ offerings.
Just over two minutes into the round, Williams blasted Rodrigues with a left hand along the fence that wobbled the Brazilian and gave him the opening he needed to finish the fight. A flurry of punches followed, with a right hand sending Rodrigues collapsing to the canvas and Wiliams into celebration mode.
Much like Jamie Pickett earlier this season, the third time was the charm for the 29-year-old middleweight.
Official Result: Jordan Williams def. Gregory Rodrigues by TKO (punches) at 2:19 of Round 1