- MMA columnist for ESPN.com
- Analyst for “MMA Live”
- Covered MMA for Las Vegas Sun
It was a relatively slow night for Dana White’s Contender Series on Tuesday — until the main event.
For just the second time in series history, the first four fights of this week’s five-fight card went the distance inside the UFC’s Apex facility in Las Vegas. That left it up to middleweights Jordan Williams (9-3) and Gregory Rodrigues (7-3) to avoid a completely finish-less night, and it was the 29-year-old Williams — in his third appearance on Contender Series — who came up large.
Williams knocked out Rodrigues with a flurry of punches at the 2:19 mark of the opening round, and immediately screamed into the empty Apex, “Give me my contract!” Williams, who fights despite being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, competed on Contender Series in 2018 and 2019, but was not offered a contract. His highlight finish against Rodrigues, however, ultimately punched his ticket.
“Looks like third time’s the charm,” White said. “Get your ass over here and get your contract.”
Despite the lack of finishes, the UFC handed out three contracts on Tuesday, bringing the season total to 26. In addition to Williams, White signed featherweights Collin Anglin (8-1) and former amateur boxer Danyelle Wolf (1-0).
Wolf, 37, was a particularly interesting signing. The three-time USA boxing national champion has said she’s had difficulty booking fights on the regional circuit, and actually made her professional MMA debut on the show. She looked raw at times and committed several fouls, including grabbing the fence and extending her fingers for an eye poke, but her striking pedigree and experience were enough in White’s eyes. The UFC’s female 145-pound division is also extremely thin.
“That division is obviously light,” White admitted. “She needs more experience in MMA, but at the end of the day she’s got 43 boxing fights, she’s been in there, she’s been in fights, been in wars. The internet is freaking out, saying she lost the fight, but they’re not the ones who decide that. The judges do. She won, and I’m going to give her a shot.”
The most entertaining fight of the night was easily Anglin’s unanimous decision upset over Muhammadjon Naimov (5-1). Naimov won the opening round with sharp work on the feet, including spinning back kicks at range and knees in close. It was starting to look like a showcase fight for Naimov. However, Anglin battled back and took advantage of a tiring Naimov late. Naimov was badly hurt multiple times in the final round.
“This fight had heart, skill, determination, will to win,” White said. “Back and forth. This kid is 27, going into his prime. He’s 8-1. He showed me — they both showed me — everything tonight that I love and want to see when I come here on Tuesday night.”
Welterweight Michael Lombardo (11-2) and featherweight Kyle Driscoll (12-3) were the two winners not offered a contract. Both of them won their fights behind grappling-heavy game plans. Lombardo’s bout against the lanky, karate-based welterweight Korey Kuppe was so slow in the second round that referee Mark Smith called for more action several times.
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