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UFC D.C. - New Blood: The ‘Contender Series’ quartet

Battle of Belfast Fight Night Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

We’re down to just three Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) events left in 2019, which means only a handful of fresh faces can make their Octagon walks before year’s end. “Thanks” to the injury bug, we’ve got four of them hitting your laptops/screens in Washington, D.C., this Saturday (Dec. 7, 2019). On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where I get to feel like a proper analyst, we check out a quartet of “Contender Series” veterans.

Jacob “The Killer” Kilburn

Weight Class: Featherweight
Age: 24
Record: 8-2 (4 KO, 2 SUB)
Significant Victories: None

Kilburn got his “Contender Series” shot in Aug. 2018, taking on LFA veteran Bobby Moffett on Week Eight of Season Two. Though he had few answers for “The Wolfman’s” grappling, he bounced back in the Island Fights promotions with a pair of knockouts, extending his current run to 5-1.

He is one of two newcomers making their debut on short notice, replacing Chris Fishgold.

In a nice bit of alliterative analysis, Kilburn’s kicks are the highlight of his game. His head kicks in particular are lethal, thrown with no windup and often tacked onto incongruous combos for an unpleasant surprise. He’s also got some nice teeps in his arsenal, and pretty much everything he throws can be done from either stance.

By comparison, his boxing is a bit of a mixed bag, though still quite effective. He counters well as his opponents throw, which is a good way to encourage them to back off and open themselves up to kicks, but his habit of loading up on his right hand can limit his effectiveness. Plus, he’s overly fond of throwing spinning back fists after missed kicks. It’s a good trick, obviously, but if a knucklehead like me can recognize the pattern, so can his opponents. He did, however, show a lethal left hook in his most recent bout that he hadn’t demonstrated before. Keep an eye on that.

His Achilles’ heel, besides an ostensible lack of the cardio required to fight the way he does for 15 minutes, is grappling. His takedowns offense and defense are both underwhelming, and his striking approach doesn’t help. Moffett took him down from a naked kick in the first round and then did the same in the second when Kilburn tried a spinning back kick. He simply can’t be this reliant on leading with kicks with this level of wrestling, and UFC-level grapplers will feast on this weakness.

He also seems more eager to try submissions off of his back than look to stand. Not ideal.

I say he peaks at “action fighter.” He is young, though, and his kickboxing is legit, so it wouldn’t be out of the question for him to make a decent run.

Opponent: Fishgold was going to eat Billy Quarantillo alive on the ground, but Kilburn will have to deal with the The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) veteran’s endless pressure striking. Kilburn putting him away with a counter is feasible, but Quarantillo’s cardio edge will most likely prove decisive.

Tape: His “Contender Series” and Island Fight bouts are on ESPN+.


Billy Quarantillo

Weight Class: Featherweight
Age: 30
Record: 12-2 (6 KO, 4 SUB)
Significant Victories: Khama Worthy, Marc Stevens, Kamuela Kirk

Quarantillo put away Brandon Ricetti in the opening round of TUF 22 to claim a spot on Team Faber, only to run into eventual finalist Saul Rogers one fight later. After beating fellow TUF veteran Marc Stevens and falling to future UFC competitor Michel Quinones, he rattled off four straight wins to earn a spot on the “Contender Series,” where he knocked out the favored Kamuela Kirk in sufficiently entertaining fashion to warrant a contract.

I have a personal rule not to do these pieces for TUF competitors, as the Finales would ruin my life, but I’d say it’s been long enough since Quarantillo’s run to warrant a look.

Aggression is Quarantillo’s calling card — his mission is to march forward and punish the head and body until opponents say “no mas.” At range, it’s a looping right hand and cracking body kicks. Inside, it’s a vicious diet of knees, made possible by highly effective framing. It’s not the most polished attack in the world, but his bottomless gas tank and willingness to punish the body mean it gets exponentially harder to punish his missteps as the fight goes on.

That balls-out aggression does lead to complications with his striking defense and wrestling, though; he’s so upright and reliant on simply wading into range that his chin and hips are both wide open. The way he loops the right hand also presents a tempting target. To his credit, he’s got some offensive takedowns and submission chops of his own, including off of his back.

His style will lend itself to boom-or-bust fights, but when he calmed down against Kirk, he was less reckless but similarly effective with his pressure. If he fights like that more often, he might just become more than a curiosity.

Opponent: See above.

Tape: His “Contender Series” appearance is on ESPN+.


Joe Solecki

Weight Class: Lightweight
Age: 26
Record: 8-2 (1 KO, 6 SUB)
Significant Victories: James Wallace

Solecki came back from a knockout loss to future Cage Fury champion Nikolas Motta to win two straight, setting up a “Contender Series” appearance opposite James Wallace. Solecki leaned on his Brazilian jiu-jitsu to wrap up a guillotine choke late in the first, drawing both a tap and the approval of Dana White.

Solecki’s ground game may be his bread and butter, but he’s developed into a capable and fairly unique striker. His stand up is all about shifting combinations — he’ll switch stance mid-combo, doubling up on one hand or the other and delivering power from unexpected ranges. He’s more than capable of landing more traditional hooks and uppercuts on the inside, too, though he might could stand to kick a bit more.

The mat is where he truly shines. He’s adept at catching kicks for takedowns or landing reactionary ones, and he’s on his way to mount as soon as he lands on top. His guard passing is top-notch, and he has a particular affinity for a rolling back take from the seatbelt grip that puts him in prime position for his favored rear-naked choke. Even if you manage to escape from there, I’ve twice seen him tap opponents as they swept into guard, one via triangle and the aforementioned Wallace via guillotine.

If he’s got a standout weakness, I haven’t seen it. A bit more ground-and-pound could help, but he already has the tools to be a threat at 155 pounds.

Opponent: Back in his heyday, Matt Wiman had a knack for thrashing submission specialists. Nowadays, not so much. Solecki should be able to utterly dominate wherever the fight goes, though the finish may elude him.

Tape: His “Contender Series” fight is on ESPN+.


Mallory Martin

Weight Class: Strawweight
Age: 25
Record: 6-2 (1 KO, 2 SUB)
Significant Victories: Micol di Segni, Cynthia Arceo

A 1-2 professional start gave way to three consecutive finishes for Martin, which got her a spot on the latest season of the “Contender Series.” She ultimately walked away without a contract after a competitive bout with Micol di Segni, but successfully returned to Invicta less than three months later with a decision over Cynthia Arceo.

She is the other newcomer debuting on short notice, replacing Livinha Souza.

Martin is a persistent, upright aggressor anchored by strong wrestling and effective ground-and-pound. On the feet, she’s generally happy to move in a straight line behind a high guard and fire one-two combinations until she can either set up a double-leg or work her way into the clinch to use her solid variety of reaps. Once on top, it’s a steady diet of punches and elbows until she can get to a dominant position, from which she’ll posture up and dish out some real damage.

That’s the long and short of it, really. She’s said that she wants to be the “female Justin Gaethje,” but lacks the latter’s stopping power and overall dynamism, though she does share some similar defensive lapses. That said, she’s been effective in her career this far and is a serious problem for anyone she can get on top of; I’d peg her ceiling at maybe eking into the Top 15 for a bit with favorable matchmaking.

Opponent: Martin will have a tough time getting her top control going against Invicta champ Virna Jandiroba, a top-notch wrestler in her own right. The short notice won’t help, either. Though Martin’s the better striker, it won’t be of much use to her once Jandiroba gets her takedowns going.

Tape: Her “Contender Series” appearance is on ESPN+ and her Invicta fights on Fight Pass.

Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on ESPN 7 fight card this weekend right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” that are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then remaining undercard portion that will air on ESPN proper at 7 p.m. ET (main card begins at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN).

To check out the latest and greatest UFC on ESPN 7: “Overeem vs. Rozenstruik” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.