After another exciting edition of the Contender Series, another 5 contracts were handed out. After grabbing WILD 1st Round finishes, both Claudio Ribeiro and Esteban Ribovics were clear contract winners. Nazim Sadykhov also dominated his opponent, grabbing a 3rd Round finish and a clear contract.

The other two winners, Hailey Cowan and Jose Johnson, had much closer fights, but managed to convince the boss they were worthy of a contract. All the fights, along with the BLÜ’s Power Rankings for the night, are described below.

Fight #1

Nazim Sadykhov def. Ahmad Suhail Hassanzada by KO in the 3rd Round

Sadykhov blitzed in immediately, hitting Hassanzada with a HUGE combo. From there he dragged him down and shredded him apart with ground and pound. Less than 2 minutes in and Hassanzada was busted up, bleeding all over the mat. Amazingly, Sadykhov was reversed after a few minutes, but he continuously dragged back his opponent back down in spite of all the slippery blood. Overall, a dominant 1st Round from Sadykhov.

The 2nd Round started with some more action as Sadykhov hit Hassanzada with a couple of big shots. Hassanzada was doing well, using his length, but got clipped pretty bad, moving the fight back to the ground. In contrast to the opening round, it was Hassanzada in the dominant position this time along the fence. As the round went on though, Sadykhov was starting to walk him down, landing these heavy, heavy combos. To really push the round in his direction, Sadykhov closed out the second with a knockdown from a huge body shot.

Not slowing down at all, Sadykhov opened with some WILD offence, slamming a spinning backfist to the chin of Ahmad. Both men had slowed down at this point, but it was clear that Sadykhov had all the cardio and power between these two. Finally, after countless shots landed, Hassanzada took one too many and was put to sleep by a BOMB from Sadykhov.

With an unreal performance like that, there was no doubt Nazim Sadykhov was on his way to becoming the first Azerbaijani signed to the UFC. He proved that he’s got the cardio and power to finish a TOUGH opponent in spectacular fashion.

Fight #2

Hailey Cowan def. Cláudia Leite by Split Decision

They both started off a tad slow, trying to find their range, but Leite made the first big move, trying to drag Cowan to the ground. Sadly, Cowan’s size may have been a problem. Cowan had Leite pinned against the fence, shutting down all of her offence. Using that position, Cowan sliced Leite open with an elbow. That didn’t slow Leite down, but it was a clear round for Cowan on the cards.

Leite came in a fresh fighter, going straight into a takedown, finally get Cowan down. Interestingly, Cowan had a few opportunities to just stand up as Leite was just landing kicks to a grounded Cowan, but stayed down there. Leite took that opportunity to get back on the ground, taking her back and working hard for a submission. Cowan was doing very well to defend, trying to stand back up, but Leite kept getting deeper and deeper submissions. She couldn’t quite grab the finish, but dominated the round on the cards.

Cowan came out harder in the next round, landing some kicks to keep Leite at a distance. Leite went in for a takedown, but was actually flipped by Cowan and found herself on the bottom. Cowan was doing well to hold her down and land some elbows, but it was a risky move considering Leite’s talent on the ground. It took her a while, but Leite managed to get on top with a couple minutes left in the fight. She gave it everything she had, trying to grab a finish, but the clock ran out. With such a dead even fight and dead even round, it could have gone either way.

Personally, because Leite finished on top and was working hard for a finish, I’d have given the round and the win to her. The judges were split, scoring it 29-28, 28-29 and 29-28 for Cowan.

I may disagree that she won, but I actually think both of them earned a contract considering the abysmal state of the bantamweight division.

Fight #3

Jose Johnson def. Jack Cartwright by Unanimous Decision

Johnson wasted no time, slamming kicks into the legs of Cartwright. Interestingly, Johnson started to get the grappling going against Cartwright. He was quickly reversed and found himself in a world of danger, getting strangled by Cartwright. As the round went on though, Johnson was starting to better in the grappling exchanges, perhaps tiring Cartwright out a bit. Closing out the round, Johnson was landing absolute BOMBS in a ground and pound onslaught. It was a strong finish for Johnson, but, with all that early work, Cartwright probably grabbed the round on the cards. 

Thanks to his success in the opening round, Cartwright opened the next round with an early takedown. The ref stood them back up from inactivity, but Cartwright quickly dragged Johnson down. This time though, Johnson was in the dominant position, landing some big shots, even threatening a fairly deep submission. Johnson closed the round on top, but once again it looked like Cartwright had probably taken the round. Johnson still clearly had his cardio in the final round, lighting Cartwright up with some good kicks.

From there, Cartwright went back to the grappling, dragging Johnson down once again. He was trying to get a finish going, but Johnson was the one landing the damaging shots, cutting him open with elbows. From there he even managed to lock in some DEEP submission attempts. It was close, but I’d have given the round to Johnson. That meant I scored it 29-28 for Cartwright, but I kinda felt like Johnson had won. The judges were unanimous in their decision, giving it 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28 to Johnson. 

He struggled with some of the impressive grappling exchanges coming from Cartwright, but he was gunning for a finish the entire fight. It’s that kind of attitude and skill that runs this kind of show. It was also his second appearance on the Contender Series after having a rough time the past couple years. Another easy choice for a contract.

Fight #4

Claudio Ribeiro def. Iván Valenzuela by TKO in the 1st Round

Before anything really happened, Ribeiro had DESTROYED Valenzuela with a counter, grabbing one of the fastest knockouts in Contender Series history. When it takes less than 30 seconds to knock someone out like that, you’re clearly grabbing a contract.

Fight #5

Esteban Ribovics def. Thomas Paull by TKO in the 1st Round

Both men came out guns-blazing, lighting each other up with MASSIVE combos. Ribovics landed first, but Paull responded with some BOMBS, stumbling Ribovics back a couple of times. Paull was getting a lot of respect with his heavy shots, but Ribovics landed his big shot first, flooring Paull and grabbing a great 1st Round win. Just like Ribeiro, with an explosive performance like that, it was clear he was grabbing a contract.

Contract Results

Nazim Sadykhov: Contract Secured

Hailey Cowan: Contract Secured

Jose Johnson: Contract Secured

Claudio Ribeiro: Contract Secured

Esteban Ribovics: Contract Secured

No surprises this week as all 5 of the winners grabbed contracts. Dana only hesitated on two of them. He wasn’t sure about Cowan because of the nature of the fight, but was convinced because of… something! He wasn’t sure what it was, but he said she’s a great athlete and has something special. I’d have to imagine it’s because the division is one of the least dense and needs a fresh injection of talent. The other one he wasn’t sure about was Johnson. He said it was a weird fight, but that his story convinced him to give Jose a chance.

BLÜ’s Power Rankings

1. Claudio Ribeiro

2. Esteban Ribovics

3. Nazim Sadykhov

4. Jose Johnson

5. Hailey Cowan

BLÜ’s Best of the Rest

Claudia Leite and Thomas Paull