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UFC Fight Night 146 - New Blood: ‘Contender Series’ wheels into Wichita

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Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) hits INTRUST Bank Arena in Wichita, Kan., this Saturday night (March 9, 2019), bringing with it a treasure trove of knockout artists and submission aces. Numbering among them are a pair of fresh faces coming off of dominant performances on the “Contender Series” showgram. Let’s check out Featherweight grappler Grant Dawson and Heavyweight boxer Jeff Hughes.

Grant “The Prophet” Dawson

Weight Class: Featherweight
Age: 25
Record: 12-1 (3 KO, 9 SUB)
Notable Victories: Adrian Diaz

Dawson won his first nine fights before suffering a questionable technical knockout loss, then picked up another pair of stoppages to earn a spot on “Contender Series.” There, he thoroughly dominated Team Alpha Male product Adrian Diaz en route to a second-round submission, but has spent the last 1.5 years tied up in a United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) case.

Dawson is a ground specialist and he knows it; even though, he showed some decent kicks against Diaz, he generally shoots in seconds, going to work with trip attempts on the cage. Once he gets his grappling going, he’s a delight to watch — using strikes, submission attempts, takedowns and passes in rapid sequence. He’ll use a guillotine to set up a trip, threaten a kimura to divert your attention long enough for him to pass your guard, and generally employ misdirection with incredible smoothness.

In addition to his submission and passing prowess, he showed off some quality ground-and-pound from guard against Diaz, which opens up the rest of his ground game even further. There’s just so much to like about the way he operates on the mat and I’m looking forward to seeing how well it translates to the big show.

Getting to the mat is the question mark. His entries have gotten better, but he hasn’t really shown what he can do on the feet when he can’t get the early takedown. In addition, he surrendered takedowns to Mike Plazola in his last pre-Contender Series bout, so it remains to be seen how his wrestling holds up on the defensive side.

Opponent: Dawson fights Julian Erosa, a vague gaggle of limbs that occasionally all move in sync. Erosa’s got height and reach on him and should be the better striker, but has had issues with range management and takedown defense. I’ve got Dawson winning this, albeit with a bit of danger.

Tape:


Jeff “Lights Out” Hughes

Weight Class: Heavyweight
Age: 30
Record: 10-1 (4 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Josh Appelt, Maurice Greene, Richard Odoms

Hughes — fighting out of Strong Style alongside Stipe Miocic — had more than one dozen amateur fights before joining the professional ranks in 2014. Three years later, he successfully challenged Richard Odoms for the LFA Heavyweight belt and proceeded to defend it against Maurice Greene in his first defense. This led to a spot on “Contender Series,” where he demolished Bellator veteran Josh Appelt in one round.

Once again, LFA’s lack of a video archive makes my life difficult. He went five rounds against both Odoms and Greene, which would have offered me plenty of material, but instead I’m stuck with the four minutes he had on “Contender Series.” Luckily, he showed a good chunk of his game against Appelt.

Hughes is primarily a combination boxer with decent wrestling, which he’ll mix in with his strikes as needed. He’s not outstanding defensively, having eaten a few bombs from Appelt, but he stood up to the punches without issue. What makes him interesting, though, is his motor — despite being a standard fluffy Heavyweight, he outlasted both Odoms and Greene. He also put the pace on Appelt despite a self-admitted proclivity for slow starts.

Considering the average Heavyweight’s conditioning, this alone is enough to get him pretty far.

I don’t see any glaring faults in Hughes’ game outside of the aforementioned defense. I’d like to see how his wrestling holds up against top competition before calling him a potential contender, though.

Opponent: He was going to fight Daniel Spitz, but an injury forced the latter to withdraw, leading to a rematch with Greene. Hughes has 10 fewer minutes to work, which could complicate things, but he’s still the stronger wrestler and a very capable striker. He should make it perfect (2-0) against “The Crochet Boss.”

Tape:


Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 146 fight card this weekend RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” undercard bouts at 5 p.m. ET, followed by the ESPN+ main card start time at 8 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Fight Night 146: “Lewis vs. dos Santos” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.