The second time proved the charm for both Bevon Lewis and Jordan Espinosa.
Both earned victories on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series last summer. Lewis got a developmental contract; Espinosa didn’t.
This time around, there was no denying either entry the big show. Lewis, a JacksonWink middleweight and training partner of Jon Jones, needed just 3:01 to finish Alton Cunningham on Tuesday night’s edition of Contender Series in Las Vegas.
Espinosa, for his part, got a TKO of Riley Dutro at 4:58 of the final round to earn his spot. Both earned UFC contracts.
“I’m not thinking, I’m just looking forward to what is going to come after,” Lewis said. “I just felt more secure, I feel like I knew today was going to be the day.”
Lewis (6-0), a training partner of Jon Jones at JacksonWink, used Jones-like knees in the clinch to make short work of Alton Cunningham. Lewis took control in the outset and finished things off with three knees to the head in the clinch. While you could make a case the stoppage was a bit fast, it likely just spared Minnesota’s Cunningham (3-1) more damage.
Espinosa (12-4) got off to a fast start in the opening round of his bout, with an immediate takedown, a shift into side control, and an attempted D’Arce choke he nearly completed. Dutro (12-6, 1 NC) escaped and then things went back-and-forth in the standup, with both fighters landing knockdowns before the round was out.
Neither fighter landed much of note in the second round, but in the third, Espinosa showed urgency. Midway through the round, he dropped Dutro with a right hand and a high kick, but couldn’t quite get the finish. Espinosa dropped him again in the round’s closing seconds, and this time, it was waved off.
It was Espinosa’s fourth straight win, a streak which includes a victory over Nick Urso on last summer’s Contender Series.
“It’s awesome,” Espinosa said. “I’m super happy. All I want to do is come out here and give a great performance and win. It means a lot to me that they think highly of my skill and will bring me to the UFC.”
Both fighters beat each other bloody, in a high-intensity, hard-hitting battle, but Aguilar had just enough gas left in the tank at the end, and that likely spelled the difference. Aguilar got the better end of two out of three 29-28 scores for a split decision and his seventh consecutive victory.
“It feels amazing, I love performing in front of the crowd, especially when it counts the most,” Aguilar said. “Joey Gomez was a good guy, a strong fighter.”
Meanwhile, Ricky Palacios went the distance with Toby Misech in a featherweight contest.
The judges’ scores were 30-27 and a pair of 29-28s for a unanimous decision.
“I was gonna go high, but his hands was so high so the body was there,” Palacios said after his seventh straight win. “I kind of made him stumble a few times. I don’t think it was a close fight. I put it on him.”
The evening’s opener was a wild lightweight brawl between Jalin Turner (7-3) and Max Mustaki (6-3). Turner came out guns blazing and took it to Mustaki, dropping him and all but finishing him on the ground. A bloodied Mustaki, though, managed to get back to his feet and started returning fire, showing shades of Justin Gaethje’s style. At the end of the round, though, Mustaki had a broken foot, and the doctor waved the bout off, giving Turner a TKO win at 5:00 of the opening round.
“My performance was alright,” Turner said. “It was so-so. I could have been sharper. Under the big lights you get excited. I didn’t want to win that way I wanted to finish, finish impressively.”