Yet another season of The Ultimate Fighter came to a conclusion recently, but MMA fans were treated to more fights inside the TUF gym on Tuesday evening. Stripped away of the bells and whistles of TUF, Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series (DWTNCS) is a bare-bones version of the reality show. It’s the perfect example of how sometimes less is more.
The premise of the show is that some of the best fighters across the regional scene will get a chance at a UFC contract. However, it’s not as simple as win and you’re in. The contracts are handed out at the discretion of UFC President Dana White. Just as it is in the UFC, winning isn’t everything. With that in mind, 10 fighters descended upon Las Vegas, looking to earn a shot on the MMA giant’s roster.
As with TUF, the endgame always centers on the fights themselves. DWTNCS makes the fights the central focus for the show. The opening episode had five contests, featuring some of the best athletes from the top regional promotions. The Legacy Fighting Alliance in particular had its ranks poached. The fights were fairly entertaining. Three of the bouts even ended with a finish.
In the opening bout, Manny Vazquez, who once fought on an episode of Dana White: Lookin’ for a Fight, sought to impress White once again when he took on Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA’s Joby Sanchez. Vazquez took the opening frame and seemed to be on the verge of taking control of the fight. However, Sanchez made some great in-fight adjustments and wound up taking the final two rounds to earn the unanimous decision.
In the second bout, Charles Byrd took on last-minute replacement Jamie Pickett. Byrd earned the win by arm triangle in impressive fashion. Props should go to Pickett, who made the weight on just over a week’s notice. Odds are Pickett will likely get another look from the UFC down the road as a reward for stepping up to help the promotion out.
The third fight of the evening featured Boston Salmon — from Hawaii, not Massachusetts — against Team Alpha Male product Ricky Turcios. Salmon used his superior striking skills to neutralize anything Turcios hoped to get going. Turcios left it all on the line, but he simply couldn’t sustain any offense for extended periods of time. In the end, Salmon earned the unanimous nod.
The heavyweights were on display when Greg Rebello faced Zu Anyanwu. The two fighters were from the Northeast and very familiar with each other. Both men looked tentative early, as they remained weary of the other’s punching power. This concern would prove to be valid. Anyanwu dropped Rebello in the second round for a thunderous and violent knockout finish.
The evening’s main event featured Kurt Holobaugh and Matt Bessette. The fight proved to be extremely one-sided. Holobaugh was the superior fighter in the cage. He rocked Bessette early and swarmed for the finish. Holobaugh switched between head and body attacks before dropping Bessette face-first to the canvas.
The show didn’t feature a lot of glitz and glamour. Honestly, it was a nice change from the usual UFC events. There wasn’t any horrible Fox Sports 1 pacing. Instead, the episode seamlessly rolled along. The fighters made their entrance, sans music or fanfare, similar to the way they do on TUF.
Considering the fights were held inside the TUF gym, the only fans in attendance were family members of the competitors. This led to some heartbreaking scenes where the camera crew would show family members of the losing fighter before showing the winning fighter’s family and friends celebrating.
Speaking of family members, the pre-fight video packages were the perfect prelude to the action inside the cage. They provided just enough insight for fans to become invested in both guys and gave some background into the fighters themselves. There wasn’t any extended “I’m here to compete; I’m here to win” type of speeches from the competitors. Instead, we saw highlights from their MMA careers and just enough personal information to humanize the fighters.
The show won’t wow anyone with its production values, but that’s perfect considering the premise of the show.
Perhaps the most interesting part of this show, outside of the fights, is the commentary.
Dan Hellie and Yves Edwards did a great job of calling the action. Hellie was pulled from the NFL Network and provides a level-headed play-by-play role that fans of Jon Anik would appreciate. Edwards was great as the fighter-turned-analyst, sometimes calling a fighter’s next move moments before they did it.
However, the big draw was the alternate “Snoopcast.” Feeding off the popularity of his viral videos, the UFC brought rapper Snoop Dogg in for alternate commentary. The hip-hop celebrity clicked almost immediately with his broadcast partner, newly minted UFC Hall of Famer Urijah Faber. The two kept it loose, and their version of the commentary felt like two friends watching the fights from their living room. Fans of Joe Rogan’s popular “Fight Companion” episodes would almost certainly enjoy the alternate broadcast. Needless to say, the “Snoopcast” was an instant hit.
In the end, White chose to hand out two contracts. One went to Holobaugh, who ran through his opponent, while the other went to Salmon. It was shocking to see White not choose Anyanwu, considering the lack of depth in the heavyweight division and the impressive finish. However, White was told Salmon came in with a leg injury and still managed to win with ease.
The show is a welcomed change of pace from usual UFC cards in that it’s all thrills with little filler. The next fight takes place almost immediately after the previous one, meaning there’s very little wasted time in between. The fights were entertaining and featured recognizable names to MMA fans.
With the ratings decline of The Ultimate Fighter, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see DWTNCS take over the role of finding future UFC superstars. The company doesn’t need to put a lot of money behind these weekly shows, and it accomplishes the same goal. If you’re a fan who feels jaded on the drama between TUF coaches and the reality-show aspect of TUF, DWTNCS is the show for you.