Dana White’s Contender Series 29 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 in Las Vegas.
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: Kenneth Cross def. Kevin Syler via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
Summary: Although I’ve been admittedly grading with a bit of a curve given all that these fighters are being asked to do in this current pandemic era, I still believe that a C is a fair grade for Kenneth Cross’ winning effort over Kevin Syler.
A well-rounded fighter who can both strike and wrestle, Cross started the fight strong, showing classic southpaw attacks from body kicks to counter knees. Utilizing level-changing shots to dissuade any unwanted Syler pressure, Cross was able to control most of the action outside briefly getting his back taken early.
However, as the fight progressed through the second round and into the third, it became clear that Cross – perhaps due to having to make multiple weight cuts in a one-month span – began to tire. I’m obviously sympathetic to the swings Cross has been through, but was still somewhat surprised that he chose to bottleneck himself into a grinding game plan given both the format of the show and the fact that he’s never been to the scorecards before.
Considering the latter, it’s probably a good thing that Dana White ultimately passed on Cross. Though Cross has way more to offer than what he was able to show last night, stepping into the shark tank that is the UFC’s lightweight division without ample experience in 15-minute affairs is a bigger gamble than many may realize.
I wouldn’t hate seeing either guy next season, but something tells me we might see these faces sooner rather than later given the current climate.
Weight class: Heavyweight
Result: Josh Parisian def. Chad Johnson via TKO (punches) – round 1, 3:43
Summary: In what was his second attempt under the Contender Series banner, Josh Parisan earns himself a UFC contract (as well as an easy A in my book) for making quick work of Chad Johnson.
Despite the fight not lasting long, I’d argue that Parisian was able to show a lot of his proverbial stuff in short time. The 31-year-old heavyweight was able to land some nice, damaging leg kicks on Johnson early, alternating between inside and outside attacks.
Johnson, who was the lighter and more athletic fighter, used his movement as best he could before making the decision to push Parisian toward the cage. And just as Paul Felder cited that as a bad idea from the broadcast booth, Parisian was able to drop Johnson with a crushing strike off the break.
Following his man to the floor, Parisian got in some nice ground-and-pound, as well as positional reps, before forcing a brutal stoppage from the mount position. Given that Parisian has already paid more than enough dues in a division with one of the lower barriers of entry, I was glad to see Dana White give him a contract.
For my money, pair him up with either Chris Daukaus or Chase Sherman for fun, action fights.
Weight class: Welterweight
Result: Orion Cosce def. Matt Dixon via TKO (strikes) – round 3, 4:42
Summary: Although you can easily accuse me of being too liberal when it comes to awarding A’s in this column, seldom will you ever see me hand out an A+.
First-round finishes may be the gold standard that Dana White has imprinted into the program (as it’s obviously his show to do so), but – as a fight analyst who tries to be objective – the short nights at the office ultimately tell me very little about how things will work out in the big picture. For that reason, experiences like accrued fight time or having to overcome adversity speaks much louder to me.
In this fight, Orion Cosce, who came in as the biggest underdog on the card opposite Matt Dixon, demonstrated all of those things.
Even though Dixon has experience in both boxing and muay Thai, the 24-year-old prospect from Oklahoma came out strong, leaning on the deceptively capable offensive wrestling chops that served him well on the regional scene. Dixon was able to score two takedowns and land some hard shots in transition to win the first round, but – akin to Kenneth Cross’ effort earlier in the evening – Dixon began to tire come the second round.
By the middle of the contest, Cosce (who had some wrestling experience himself) was able to make the adjustments that Urijah Faber was calling for in the corner, weathering the wrestling storm and pulling away in the strikes landed department down the stretch. And despite Cosce prematurely motioning for a fist bump to end the round (something I felt the UFC president unfairly reamed him for post-fight), the elder Cosce brother came out with more energy and urgency than his counterpart, reversing Dixon’s takedown efforts in order to score his own.
Once on the floor, Cosce relentlessly went to work with both submissions and strikes until earning a stoppage, showing no comfort or attempt to seek shelter by going to the scorecards. Cosce seemed to take White’s gassing and quitting accusations to heart, and who could blame him given that the fighter’s story, as well as his entire pre-fight promo package, was based around the fact that neither he nor his brother has yet to quit through adversity.
Nevertheless, I hope that those comments don’t unfairly interfere with Cosce’s psyche heading into his next fight, as I believe that his action-friendly style is aggressive enough to please the masses. Although they’re coming off losses, I wouldn’t hate it if the UFC matchmakers paired Cosce up with either Rhys McKee or Anthony Ivy, who both deserve full-camp opportunities.
Weight class: Strawweight
Result: Cheyenne Buys def. Hilary Rose via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Summary: In what was one of the most one-sided affairs of the evening, Cheyenne Buys earns an easy A for her ultra-aggressive effort over Hilarie Rose.
As someone who was able to watch Buys come up as an amateur fighter during her time spent at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, it was no surprise to see the now-Fortis MMA product make it to this stage. Her opponent, Rose, was a skilled grappler who was more than game to swing it out on the feet, but the speed and ferocity of Buys became quickly apparent both in the open and inside the clinch.
Rose was able to slap on a brief armbar scare early on in the contest, but Buys was able to escape and dictate for the majority of the fight, showing a beautiful ability to recover from a bad position and scramble to Rose’s back in the second round. Buys finished things strongly on the feet, as the battle being produced started to give me serious Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Jessica Penne vibes by the time the final bell sounded.
Whether it was the well-rounded skills she put on display or the firey attitude she showed when forcing Dana White to follow her on Instagram, Buys checked all the boxes in regards to maximizing her time. Although they’re on opposite ends of the age spectrum, I wouldn’t hate to see Buys matched up with either Alex Chambers or last week’s contract winner, Cory McKenna.
Weight class: Welterweight
Result: Louis Cosce def. Victor Reyna via TKO (punches) – round 1, 1:12
Summary: In what was another underdog success story, Louis Cosce earns an A for upsetting the odds with his first-round win over Victor Reyna.
Despite not having as much quality experience as Reyna (who was making his sophomore appearance on the Contender Series), Cosce came out like a man possessed, looking to finish the fight early. Although Reyna weathered the early storms in the open and against the fence, the 34-year-old southpaw was caught clean with a left hook over his right shoulder – a shot that tends to devastate lefties in open-stance matchups.
Sure, Cosce carries undeniable red flags in the form of fights that are exclusive to the first round, but – at the risk of being a hypocrite – I don’t hate that the younger Cosce brother got a contract. Maybe it’s a mix between this adverse background and athletic ceiling, but Cosce gives me some serious Ian Heinisch vibes in the sense that this is a guy who I could see overachieving in certain spots.
If I were playing matchmaker, I’d say match him up with another action fighter like Gabriel Green, who – despite technically coming off of a loss – made a great account for himself on short notice. Regardless of where Cosce gets placed, it’s pretty cool to have yet another edition of brothers under the UFC banner.