Dana White’s Contender Series 27 took place Tuesday in Las Vegas, and we’re grading the winners from the four-fight card, which streamed on ESPN+ from the UFC Apex.
With a refreshing but digestible format that has had the MMA fanbase responding, this series has shown to have legs in multiple ways while serving as a crockpot for contenders whom the UFC matchmakers can use for future events. So, with that trend in mind, I will once again be taking a look at the winning fighters regardless of whether or not they won a UFC contract, grading their performances in regards to their probability of returning to a UFC stage.
Weight class: Lightweight
Result: Jordan Leavitt def. Luke Flores via submission (arm-triangle choke) – Round 1, 4:15
Summary: In a somewhat surgical opening bout, Jordan Leavitt got to show off his brand of grappling opposite Contender Series alum, Luke Flores.
Despite having more professional and amateur experience on paper, Flores’ do-or-die nature earned himself bottom position quickly, as he was forced to work from negative positions early on in the round.
Although Leavitt – who recently earned his Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt – tried to get fancy for a second when attempting a boa choke (an arm-in guillotine variation setup from turtle), the 25-year-old talent made solid riding choices overall, demonstrating proper use of his wrestling base. Said positional play allowed Leavitt to raise the temperature of the fight to his preferred speed, which allowed him to slowly cook his catch to completion within the first round.
If you’re gonna be a ground specialist in the UFC without some major grappling titles at your back, then you better have a wrestling background that you can wield accordingly to your game. And though Leavitt appears to have a solid pairing of submission grappling and wrestling to work with, I do worry about inexperienced fighters being rushed to market – especially in a division as deep as lightweight.
That said, Leavitt seems like a smart kid who will hopefully have time to build around his game a bit more before we see him step into the octagon. There’s not much of a shallow end at 155 pounds, but I wouldn’t hate it if the matchmakers went a grappler versus grappler route by either booking Leavitt against Matt Wiman or – should all parties be interested – Max Rohskopf.
Weight class: Flyweight
Result: Jerome Rivera def. Luis Rodrigurez via unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
Summary: In what was the most entertaining and technically-skilled match of the evening, Jerome Rivera earned a controversial decision victory over Luis Rodriguez.
Rivera, who had a clear edge at range given his frame and shot selections, got off to a great start once capitalizing on a slip from Rodriguez – something that cost him his back. However, despite being caught in a full-body triangle at one point, Rodriguez was able to power through to face Rivera, eventually finishing the round on top.
The second round saw more grappling from each party, but it was both Rodriguez’s takedown defense and wrestling I.Q. that surprised me most, as the Mexican fighter smartly chose to re-wrestle for underhooks and takedowns off of Rivera’s failed attempts. In Rivera’s defense, the New Mexican native displayed some smart wrist controls of his own, as well as used a switch attempt to both counter a single-leg and deliver elbow strikes (something I’m guessing scored high with the judges).
That said, it was sad to see MMA judges, once again, ignore submission catches, as Rodriguez worked his ass off to get to the inverted triangle-armbar threat he established in the second round – a round that two judges scored for Rivera. And even though I still believe Rodriguez got the better of the scrambles and exchanges in the final round, both men did a fine job as far as demonstrating the will and skill that quietly flows strong at flyweight.
I believe it when Dana White says that both fighters are up for consideration in the future, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see Rogriguez get that call first.
Weight class: Lightweight
Result: Uros Medic def. Mikey Gonzalez via TKO (kicks and punches) round 1, 2:12
Summary: In what was easily the most memorable performance of the night, Uros Medic made a statement with his one-round drubbing of Mikey Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, who has a background in tae kwon do, looked to test Medic early with an onslaught of flashy spinning and hook kicks to start the round. Medic kept his cool as he marched through the fire to land his own kicks to the body, briefly dropping Gonzalez with a left hand.
To Gonzalez’s credit, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt immediately looked to attack and entangle legs once hitting the floor, but Medic smartly spun and turned in the proper direction, avoiding any de-basing or dislocations. Once back to their feet, it was more of the same from the southpaw, as Medic pressured Gonzalez back toward the fence before crumpling him with a crushing leg kick and follow-up punches.
Gauging talent from scenes like the Alaska regionals can be tricky, but Medic appears to have in-fight composure beyond his years, as well as the attitude intangibles that are needed (yet not all have) to be successful at this level. I still have reservations about a system that has the propensity to rush products to market, but wouldn’t mind seeing how Medic swims in styles matches with either Alex White or Luis Pena.
Weight class: Light heavyweight
Result: Dustin Jacoby def. Ty Flores via unanimous decision (30-26, 29-27, 29-27)
Summary: In what was somewhat of a tale of two fights, Dustin Jacoby earns a clear decision over Ty Flores.
Flores comes from a solid camp and also carries experience against UFC-level opposition, but unfortunately only got to show off his toughness on Tuesday night. Jacoby, who has been kickboxing professionally for the better part of the last decade, came out like a house on fire and never really allowed the Elevation Fight Team product to get going.
Whether Jacoby was throwing slicing elbows or spinning back fists, the 32-year-old fighter couldn’t miss for the first half of this fight. Jacoby even flashed some submission threats, looking to work front-headlock variations at multiple points of the contest.
However, by the end of the second round, it was evident that Jacoby was slowing, almost falling into offense that ended up costing him a cut over his left eye. Perhaps it was said damage from the end of the second that bled into the third, but two judges saw fit to give a slow final round to Flores, despite Jacoby arguably controlling the action and landing more shots.
The right party ultimately won, as I believe that Jacoby is ready for light heavyweight tests against names like Justin Ledet or Tyson Pedro.
Sure, fighters gassing themselves out from their own offense is never a good look, but I still saw fit to give Jacoby a higher grade given all the extra adversity and sacrifice that these fighters must be going through behind the scenes. For that reason, I hope both fans and UFC brass alike are kinder than usual to the fighters competing this season, as I’ll be admittedly grading with a bit of a curve.