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Dana White’s Contender Series Week 6

Contract Winners: Rodrigo Nascimento, Tracy Cortez, Aalon Cruz, Aleksa Camur

Michal Martinek vs Rodrigo Nascimento

The heavyweights start the evening off with Brazil’s Rodrigo Nascimento (6-0) taking on the Czech Michal Martinek (6-0). Martinek enters this bout with a significant reach disadvantage, being generally outsized by his opponent across the board. The striking exchanges begin early with the legs as the southpaw Martinek fires left kicks to the body, but in a slight level change as he transitions to his right hook he leans into a solid knee from a persistent Nascimento. The headshot connects with an undeterred Martinek as he continues to use his left kicks to set up his hands and measure the distance.

The combined reach and forward pressure from Nascimentos walking combos force Martinek’s back into the fence. Securing the position reversal with a right underhook, Martinek is efficient in the clinch with his left hand and knees. As soon as he abandons the underhook in the shuffle, Nascimento’s size proves to be too much and his leverage sends them to the mat with arms tied up initially as Martinek attempts to smother the ground attack. Nascimento again uses his length to separate and deliver long standing strikes as Martinek sits tight in his guard.

Nascimento’s reach allows for him to comfortably pummel from a standing position until side control becomes available. Nascimento locks up the right arm and pressures with right elbow strikes. He continues feinting a transition to mount as a lost Martinek looks to rest on his back. Nascimento senses the off rhythm Martinek is seeking a breather and commits to the arm triangle. The breather is cut short as Nascimento is able to secure the arm triangle choke and a UFC contract.

Daniel Rodriguez vs Rico Farrington

In this match up we again see a southpaw with a reach disadvantage in Daniel Rodriguez who takes on the lengthy Farrington. Rodriguez opens the bout attacking Farrington’s lead leg with outside kicks. Rodriguez looks to be the aggressor using his leg kicks to find a path to his hand strikes. His crisp yet fluid movement allows him to safely explore Farringtons reach and secure round winning points. Rodriguez is able to absorb his opponents best efforts as Farringtons shots from distance lack true power. We witness the first exchanges in the clinch. Grappling on the fence, Rodriguez is able to score an easy takedown before the first round ends. With Joe Schilling in his corner, Rodriguez is encouraged to continue with the takedowns and expose his opponent.

Rodriguez continues out strike and maneuver his opponent, working the jab to the body and transitioning upstairs with the hook. Conversely Farrington’s striking is still of little consequence and does nothing to deter a motivated and plucky Rodriguez. Scoring a second takedown and using his momentum Rodriguez crawls into full mount and finishes the match with staunch ground and pound. It feels like Farrington was leaving a lot of money on the table by not capitalizing on his strengths and allowing Rodriguez the breathing room required to fight his own fight. Rodriguez was confident and efficient throughout was never in any real danger. Despite his dominance in a unanimous decision victory, it wasn’t enough on the night to seal a UFC contract.

Tracy Cortez vs Mariya Agapova

The only female bout of the evening faces Arizona’s Tracy Cortez and Kazakhstan’s Mariya Agapova in the featherweight division. The striking exchanges hit hard and early with Agapova’s left hand connecting heavily, yet unfazing Cortez as she answers back with her own powerful right hand. The rangey war of attrition finally gives way to a clinch that Agapova does well to sprawl and defend against. It doesn’t take long before Cortez is able to finally lock her hands, lift and trip Agapova into the takedown. Cortez settles into control and flirts with several submissions only to have her position reversed. After the grappling walks back up the fence, Cortez scores a second takedown as the round expires.

Returning to her wrestling, Cortez waits for Agapova to launch the kick before shooting her shot and immediately scoring another takedown. While Cortez is firmly in control however the ground position changes, it isn’t until she barges into full mount ground and pound that a window opens for her. Maneuvering with Agapovas escape, Cortez is able to use the counter to secure a body triangle that provides lasting dividends for the round. Cortez is allowed to continually work the body shots from the back and ease her way into a rear naked choke. Agapova is stymied and her attempts to stay busy only serve the dominance of Cortez. Cortez displayed a strong chin and total heart as she calmly controlled the entire match to a unanimous decision (30-26,30-26,29-27) and UFC contract.

Aalon Cruz vs Steven Nguyen

Aalon Cruz wastes no time in putting his reach advantage to work for him as his rangey jabs set up a flashy front kick to the face of Steven Nguyen. While Cruz is dealing damage and finding success with his kicks early, it does little to discourage Nguyen as remains forward pressure. Cruz finds his strikes landing more often as he offers a challenging variety of attack. He poetically switches stance mid attack, stringing together spinning combos. Not to be outdone, Nguyen always seems to find a way to answer back patiently through the flurry of jabbing high kicks.

Cruz almost relies on his high kicks more than his hands in the stand up exchanges, remaining dangerous and offensive with any movement. His combos cascade from jabs, to front kicks, eventually to a flying knee to the chin of a fully erect Nguyen. These combos land directly and with power, but Nguyen boasts a proven toughness and an undeniable willingness to weather the storm to put himself in effective positions. Nguyen’s toughness allows him to patiently glean the rhythm of Cruz’s combos and wait for opportunities to anticipate the off beat and counter. Despite putting him behind on the scorecards, it is the most effective for Nguyen to get himself into a position to be his most effective.

As the fight continues and Cruz’s power starts to wane, we see him begin to occasionally peruse the takedown through shooting single legs. Cruz abandons the takedown attempts after the second round and maintains his focus on his striking. Nguyen catches up and becomes more dominant with his striking and even looked to control the end of the third round. With the clock expiring, a tired Nguyen begins to slow the pace every so slightly, allowing a lightning fast Cruz to deliver a picture perfect jumping knee to the head.

With Nguyen ratcheting down for the end of the round, he was finished by Cruz’s persistence and colorful unpredictability. This fight was an entertaining performance in every sense of the word. The inspired grace and creativity of Cruz provides him not only memorable performances but also statement victories, both of which will be key in building his brand and identity. While his flying knee knockout earned him the victory on the night, it was his captivating overall performance that won him his UFC contract.

Aleksa Camur vs Fabio Cherant

Aleksa Camur quickly justifies his position as a heavy favorite heading into his bout against Fabio Cherant. While the entire first round remains on the feet, we see most of the striking exchanges coming from kicks. Camur throws his legs with serious power and that dictate the control of the octagon. Although Cherant occasional answers back, he is significantly outstruck in the first round. Cherant is never really allowed to get any momentum together and remains on the back foot.

Cherant looks to rectify his complacency by beginning the next round much more aggressively. He gives Camur a beat to throw a few of his high kicks then begins throwing his heavy right. Catching Camur on the counter he is able to walk him down back towards the cage and initiate some much needed momentum. But it is short lived as Cherant stalks forward to deliver a headhunting left hook, Camur times a perfect jumping knee sending Cherant cannon balling back into the mat. A short yet obligatory ground and pound sequence ends the fight for a second flying knee finish of the evening. Camur’s impressive performance brought him his fifth consecutive victory and a contract that has him joining his teammate Stipe Miocic on the UFC roster.

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