Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. Hairbrained, half-baked attempt to draw more eyeballs to Fight Pass, or a worthwhile addition to your weekly MMA-watching schedule? Well, based on the fight card for tonight’s (July 11) maiden show, it’s the latter.
Featherweight: Matt Bessette Vs. Kurt Holobaugh
Bantamweight: Boston Salmon Vs. Ricky Turcios
Heavyweight: Greg Rebello Vs. Zu Anyanwu
Middleweight: Charles Byrd Vs. Jamie Pickett
Flyweight: Manny Vazquez Vs. Joby Sanchez
That’s five solid fights featuring 10 men who have a legitimate claim to be good enough to be in the Octagon already, but, in a time when a bloated UFC roster flirts far too close to the 600 mark for Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard’s tastes, they’ll have to pass what’s being referred to ascalled “the world’s toughest job interview” to ink a deal to fight for the world’s top promotion.
There are three I’ve got a keen eye on, above the others on the show, and it’s these three I’ll be monitoring throughout the season.
First up, the main event’s Matt Bessette. The 22-7 Connecticut native is good enough to be competing at the highest level. He’s riding a seven-fight win streak, mostly for Rhode Island’s CES MMA, that run includes two victories in Bellator, so it is puzzling to think why they didn’t snap him up.
He’s powerful and accurate with his strikes, despite looking a little wild, and has some submission chops, too. He’s claimed to be the best 145lb fighter not in the UFC, and now he’s got the chance to prove it. He’s got a tough task tonight in Kurt Holobaugh, a UFC and Strikeforce veteran who looks like an improved fighter following his time in Titan FC, but that means a win will cement his credentials for a spot in a stacked featherweight division.
My second choice for one to watch is Boston Salmon. This guy would be undefeated were it not for one of the worst robberies of last year. Despite registering two knockdowns and controlling most of the fight, two judges still saw fit to score the bout for Zac Riley and hand ‘Boom Boom’ his first loss.
He’s been out of action ever since – that was his only contest of 2016 – but everything else we’ve seen suggests he’s got a very bright future. Assuming he’s continued to improve at Xtreme Couture, expect to see more of the former boxer’s heavy hands. He’s rangy for a bantamweight and rarely fails to land with serious force. If they’re offering bonuses on this new fight series, expect Salmon to be in the running to score one tonight.
Finally, Manny Vasquez. You might have seen him on the first season of Dana White: Lookin’ for a Fight, where he scored a stunning upset of favored Brazilian up-and-comer Ricardo Ramos on short notice. White and co. were interested in bringing him into the UFC then, but suggested he needed some more experience first.
Unfortunately, he was choked unconscious in his very next fight. But, with two wins since, the Illinois bantamweight looks to be back on the right track. From what we’ve seen so far, it looks like his striking could use some tightening, but his transitions and positional control on the mat are at a higher level than most of his peers on the regional circuit. He’s not the best on this fight card, but at 23, his future is as bright as any.
And if none of that appeals to you, there’s Snoop Dogg and Urijah Faber providing alternate takes to the rotating, ‘regular’ commentary team featuring Dan Hellie and Brendan Fitzgerald on play-by-play duties and Paul Felder and Yves Edwards providing color.
According to the UFC, this “ground-breaking” ‘SnoopCast’ will give “fans a chance to get even closer to the action.” At the very least, it’ll be worth a few laughs if the D-O-double-G’s previous MMA analysis efforts are anything to go by.