Two 20-year-olds were among those earning contracts on week five of the second season of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series.
Strawweight Maycee Barber, 20, middleweight Edmen Shahbazyan, 20, and bantamweight Domingo Pilarte, 28, impressed UFC president Dana White on Tuesday in Las Vegas, becoming the latest prospects to be picked up from the UFC Fight Pass program.
In the main event, Barber took the next step towards her goal of becoming the youngest champion in UFC history with a third-round TKO finish of Contender Series returnee Jamie Colleen (4-2). Barber improved to 5-0 with a methodical performance, finishing the fight with elbows from top position with 45 seconds remaining in round three.
From the start, Barber snapped kicks at Colleen and bullied her against the cage to neutralize Colleen’s boxing. When Colleen looked to up her output in round two, Barber took things down to the mat where she scored with ground-and-pound from inside Colleen’s guard. Barber turned up the pressure in the final frame to put the exclamation point on a one-sided match.
“We have a goal and that’s the timeline, but we’re just going to take it one day at a time,” Barber said of her plans to capture UFC gold. “We’re just starting.”
Shahbazyan kicked off the evening in spectacular fashion, needing just 40 seconds to shut down Antonio Jones (7-2), using a brutal Thai clinch to soften Jones up with knees before dropping him with a combination of punches. Managed by coach Edmond Tarverdyan and former UFC champion Ronda Rousey, Shahbazyan has now won all seven of his professional bouts by first-round KO with only one of those fights lasting longer then three minutes.
“It feels great, I’ve been dreaming about this ever since I was a kid and the moment’s here,” Shahbazyan said. “We’re here to make history and this is just the beginning.”
A bloody Pilarte (8-1) survived an early assault from Vincent Morales (7-2) to snag a comeback submission win and a deal with the UFC. The 6-foot tall bantamweight struck first, firing punches freely at a retreating Morales in round one, only to be stunned later by a counter right. Morales hurt Pilarte again at the close of the round and he unloaded on him with punches, but Pilarte showed enough awareness to avoid a referee stoppage.
Pilarte shot in to open round two and Morales made him pay with more short range punches. Somehow Pilarte was able to shake off the cobwebs and set up a finishing sequence by catching a Morales kick and tripping him to the mat. Pilarte went to work on a deep rear-naked choke that Morales refused to tap out to, resulting in him going to sleep at the 1:52 mark of round two.
The only downside for Pilarte was that he had to be hospitalized after his fight and was not on hand to receive the good news.
In other action, the most memorable moment of a middleweight bout between Chibwikem Onyenegecha (7-0) and Anthony Adams (7-1) was the lights at the UFC Training Center going out with just two minutes remaining in their fight. Prior to that, the two engaged in a low volume striking battle, with Onyenegecha making good use of leg kicks to keep Adams at a distance. Adams only mustered up the occasional burst of offense and he spent the majority of the bout circling the cage searching for an opening that never came.
The bout would resume and Onyenegecha went on to earn a pair of 29-28 scores to take a split nod. But it was clear when the final buzzer sounded that neither he nor Adams would be signing UFC contracts on this night.
Determined to shrug off any notion that his Contender Series opportunity came about due to him being UFC star Paige VanZant’s fiance, featherweight Austin Vanderford (5-0) showed a ton of grit and toughness in his win over Angelo Trevino (7-3). Vanderford was hurt badly at the end of round one, catching a right hook from Trevino that put him down on the mat.
Trevino, a protege of Urijah Faber and Team Alpha Male, pounced on Vanderford and achieved full mount, but Vanderford was able to weather the storm and slip out of the situation before the end of the opening frame. He turned the tables in round two, rocking Trevino with a straight right and a left hook. Trevino had to give up his back to avoid being mounted and Vanderford was eventually able to take the neck and secure a rear-naked choke submission 2:42 into the second round of an entertaining bout.