Every Tuesday over the course of the late summer and early autumn, MMA fans see some of the regional scene’s top fighters enter Dana White’s Contender Series. A handful of winners impress the UFC president, and those few go on to make a splash in the UFC.
Look no further than last weekend, as Contender Series alumnus Impa Kasanganay (7-0) opened his UFC career with a win over Maki Pitolo (13-7) to move to 7-0 and get his second win in less than three weeks.
Some of the hype for the stars of ‘Fight Island’ has begun to subside, so White and the UFC are depending on the Contender’s Series to continue to infuse more talent into the organization.
There are two undefeated fighters on Tuesday’s card, though there aren’t any so-called ‘super prospects.’ Nonetheless, there is plenty of name value on the event. The card is as follows:
- Melsik Baghdasaryan (4-1) vs. Dennis Buzukja (4-1)
- Jimmy Flick (14-5) vs. Nate Smith (6-0)
- Jose Johnson (11-5) vs. Ronnie Lawrence (5-1)
- William Knight (7-1) vs. Cody Brundage (5-0)
- Tucker Lutz (9-1) vs. Chase Gibson (9-4)
Below is a betting breakdown of the event, complete with this author’s analysis of the fights, their odds, and potential picking strategies.
*Editor’s Note: MMA-Prospects.com is not a betting website, nor can the site guarantee any outcomes or betting successes. The following analysis is information compiled by this author for entertainment purposes. All odds are sourced from BestFightOdds.com, an MMA betting aggregator with whom MMA-Prospects.com is not affiliated in any capacity.*
Melsik Baghdasaryan (+100) vs. Dennis Buzukja (-130)
There was no line on this fight until about halfway through the writing of this article, when a line was first posted. I figured Buzukja would be the favorite, and he is, but it is very close. With two relative unknowns, that seems about right.
What I like to look at for fighters with a lot less notoriety is where they are fighting, and with whom they train. Baghdasaryan is a 28-year-old Armenian and trains at Muay Thai America gym in Glendale, California. He is 4-1 with three knockouts, his lone loss was to a 2-4 fighter in Baghdasaryan’s professional debut.
Baghdasaryan also has a kickboxing loss.
Dennis Buzukja is also 4-1, but he trains out of the famed Serra-Longo gym on Long Island under UFC Hall of Famer Matt Serra and esteemed coach Ray Longo.
He is a winner of three straight in the Ring of Combat promotion. Lately, a lot of prospects have been coming out of the Northeast and the Serra-Longo gym in particular. Buzukja trains with two streaking, ranked UFC bantamweight contenders in Aljamain Sterling (19-3) and Merab Dvalishvili (12-4). That can only help him, especially as a fighter that has only been a professional for less than two years.
I would lean toward the guy with the better gym and training, in Dennis Buzukja.
Jimmy Flick (+145) vs. Nate Smith (-175)
Nate Smith (6-0) is an interesting fighter to study. He is undefeated as a pro at 6-0, but he was a paltry 9-10 as an amateur, so clearly something changed for him.
My guess is that it’s the gym with which he trains. He fights out of Elevation Fight Team in Denver, which has also been on a roll, starting with Justin Gaethje’s (22-2) interim lightweight title win at UFC 249. Smith has a notable win over Jeffrey Molina (after losing to him as an amateur), who we saw on last week’s DWCS.
Of Smith’s wins, he has three submissions (all by rear-naked choke), two decisions and a recent KO. In his win over Rakan Adwan (5-7), Adwan tried to take him down twice; Smith stuffed both, got him to the ground, and Adwan gave him his back twice, of which Smith took advantage. It’s going to be difficult for him to submit Flick, so I think he tries to keep it on the feet and keep his range.
Jimmy Flick (14-5) sounds like a really annoying point guard that comes off the bench and picks everyone up on a full-court press, a la my guy T.J. McConnell.
Flick is the opposite of Smith. He had just one amateur fight, and this will be his 20th as a pro. He has a win over Johnny Bedford (23-14-1), who has five straight bare-knuckle boxing wins and fought has in the UFC. Flick also has a notable loss to UFC fighter Chris Gutierrez (15-3-2). Smith is a good grappler with a lot of submissions, including a Von Flue choke and several arm triangles.
In all of his losses, he’s been knocked out.
But Flick has seen it all. Flick fought in the main event of an LFA card with eventual UFC signees Geoff Neal (13-2) and Miles Johns (10-1) on it, so that tells you what the flyweight can do.
This goes one of two ways: either Smith knocks Flick out, or Flick wins the battle of attrition and gets Smith to the ground and submits him; Smith has seven amateur losses by submission. I don’t like how much the line has moved toward Smith, but I’m going to pick Jimmy Flick by submission.
Jose Johnson (-205) vs. Ronnie Lawrence (+165)
I like to see guys like Jose Johnson (11-5), guys who have fought through adversity. He started 0-4 as an amateur and 0-2 as a pro. He didn’t fold up the tent and get a 9-5 job… he got better. As MMA-Prospects’ own Ryan Fortune pointed out in his great piece on the DWCS prospect, Johnson has been working and improving his game as a whole. His highlight-reel knockout in LFA was the culmination of that betterment. Johnson has been tested, and that is something that I believe he can benefit from here.
Ronnie Lawrence is 5-1. That might be the best thing I can say about him. He is 28 years old and has had six fights in almost five years. He was 3-0 when he lost to Steve Garcia (11-4) in Bellator, and the promotion didn’t appear to think enough of him to give him another fight. He is coming off a 16-month layoff and fights out of Nashville, Tennessee.
I’m all over Jose Johnson here, and I think this will be one where you watch the fight and think that he should have been a -500 favorite, not a -205 one.
William Knight (-110) vs. Cody Brundage (-120)
This is the fight that I was talking about when I mentioned name value at the top of the article.
William Knight (7-1) fought last year on DWCS and picked up a third-round knockout over the then-undefeated Herdem Alacabek (5-1). It wasn’t enough for White to grant him a contract, but Knight did remain on the UFC’s mind enough to get another chance on this Tuesday night.
Earning a second or third chance has been huge for a lot of fighters, like we saw last week with DWCS winner and UFC signee Jamie Pickett (11-4), who was profiled by MMA-Prospects’ Joe McDonagh here. Knight has the experience, has fought at the APEX, and comes from a good regional promotion in Classic Entertainment & Sports (CES) MMA.
Cody Brundage (5-0) is the husband of former UFC strawweight Amanda Bobby Cooper (4-5). The 26-year-old has three first-round wins, including a 12-second knockout and an arm triangle submission.
The fight scene in Brundage’s Michigan isn’t great; everyone good from that area has left to find higher profile gyms. I’ll be more interested in Brundage when he does the same.
Even as a member of ABC Nation, I can’t pick Brundage here. I like William Knight here in a pick’em fight to capitalize on this opportunity.
Tucker Lutz (-205) vs. Chase Gibson (+165)
Tucker Lutz (9-1) has won nine straight since his debut loss to Alvin Mercer (2-2). He also was 7-0 as an amateur. Lutz looks to be a well-rounded fighter with knockouts, submissions, and a decision to his credit. His last several fights were with Shogun Fights, a mid-level regional promotion based in Baltimore. He fights out of Reisterstown, Maryland, which is slightly northwest of Baltimore. Lutz has three wins over fighters with winning records.
Chase Gibson has the look of a fighter. Unfortunately, his record doesn’t appear to align with those looks. He is 9-4, but his last three wins are over fighters that are 0-1, 0-2 and 0-19, respectively. That’s ugly, to say the least. He has a loss to a fighter that was 2-4 at the time and one that was 0-2-1.
He is 30 years old and trains in California, but not at one of the several premier gyms in the state.
I’m not really crazy about either of these guys, but I’ll take Tucker Lutz.