Philip Rowe made sure at least one Contender Series contract was handed out on Tuesday.
On a night full of steady, if unspectacular performances, Rowe (7-2) and Leon Shahbazyan (7-2) threw down in the Contender Series week 9 welterweight main event until Rowe finished the fight with an explosive burst in round three.
The conclusion of the bout was a reversal of fortunes from round one, where it looked like Shahbazyan was close to finishing Rowe. After catching a kick, Shahbazyan threw a sharp counter-punch and Rowe was the one who was sat down against the cage in the opening period.
Clearly hurt, Rowe entered survival mode and made it to the end of the round even as Shahbazyan continued to connect with punches. Perhaps that effort tired Shahbazyan, because he was unable to replicate that success in round two. Instead, it was Rowe who backed him up against the cage and after controlling Shahbazyan there, he opened up with a series of straight punches that had referee Herb Dean peaking in for a potential stoppage.
Shahbazyan saved himself with a timely trip, only to have the position reversed on the ground. From top position, Rowe focused on staying in control until the closing seconds of round two where he landed several stunning shots.
Smelling blood, Rowe came out hot in round three, cracking Shahbazyan with a pair of right hands and then rushing in with more accurate punches to cause Shahbazyan to drop to his knees against the fence and Dean to step in and wave off the bout.
At night’s end, Rowe was the only one of the 10 fighters competing Tuesday that was awarded a contract by UFC president Dana White.
With former UFC lightweight contender Joe Stevenson shouting instructions, Jamal Pogues (7-2) showed off a well-rounded game to top previously unbeaten Marcos Brigagao (11-1) by unanimous decision in the evening’s co-main event.
From the beginning, both men came out swinging and it was actually Pogues that got the worst of it at first. He quickly tied Brigagao up and then later scored with a takedown, setting the tone for the majority of the fight. Every time Brigagao thought he might be getting a bead on his target, Pogues ducked down and shot in to put Brigagao on his back. Brigagao showed little in the way of any significant takedown defense.
Pogues confidence grew as the bout went on and he made good use of his legs, throwing a flying knee and landing a clean head kick on an off-balance Brigagao.
Though Brigagao showed off plenty of toughness, it wasn’t enough to overcome Pogues’ intelligent work and versatility and the outcome was clear when the final buzzer sounded.
Steve Garcia’s Contender Series appearance was already off to a bad start after he missed the bantamweight limit by 3.5 pounds on Monday, but he impressed by picking up a first-round finish against Desmond Torres (7-2).
The larger Garcia (10-3) stood in the pocket with Torres and both men had some success in the early going, showing an eagerness to throw down and find a finish, no doubt looking to impress the UFC brass at cageside. It was Garcia who managed to close the distance and pour on the pressure, unloading on Torres against the cage and finishing with elbows on the ground.
Post-fight, Garcia apologized for missing weight and asked that White give him another chance, possibly as a short-notice replacement on a future card. White praised Garcia’s performance later in the evening and suggested that the 27-year-old move up to featherweight so the UFC can take another look at him in the future.
In a spirited, if somewhat sloppy strawweight bout, Mallory Martin (5-2) got the better of Italy’s Micol di Segni (7-3), winning a convincing unanimous decision after three energetic rounds of action.
What di Segni lacked in technique, she more than made up for in volume as she threw a steady stream of 1-2 combinations. To Martin’s credit, she consistently answered with counter-punches and scored a takedown in every round. Di Segni absorbed strikes on the ground, but defended well overall and was able to get back to her feet. Still, Martin’s grappling neutralized most of di Segni’s offense.
Di Segni did her best to find a finish, head-hunting with an overhand right and spinning backfist attempts, none of which caught Martin off-guard as she stuck to the game plan from bell to bell.
Ricky Steele (6-0) hasn’t fought since appearing on The Ultimate Fighter 27, a series that he was forced to bow out of due to injury, and in his second brush with the UFC he came out victorious, winning a close split decision Phil Caracappa (8-1). This was a clash of styles as Caracappa aggressively tried to power his way past Steele’s karate-based counters, only to find that Steele was more than comfortable grinding it out in the clinch and on the mat.
After a first round that was mostly controlled by Caracappa, Steele clipped him with a head kick to start round two and then caught him charging in with a straight right hand.
Round two was the easiest to score, a clear Steele frame, but there was plenty of doubt surrounding the final scores as Caracappa pressed forward and chased Steele for almost the entirety of the three-round bout. Caracappa flurried in the final minute, only to end up on his back with Steele on top at the close of the fight.
Complete results from week 9 of the Contender Series can be found here.