Diggin’ Deep on Dana White’s Contender Series – Week 4

This week’s crops of prospects for Dana White’s Contenders Series is a bit different from the other weeks. For one, most of the prospects…

By: Dayne Fox | 6 years ago
Diggin’ Deep on Dana White’s Contender Series – Week 4
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

This week’s crops of prospects for Dana White’s Contenders Series is a bit different from the other weeks. For one, most of the prospects are fairly inexperienced with only two of the ten featuring more than ten professional contests. Are we sure we’re going to get someone who is ready for the big show out of this crop? Plus, there are a couple of prospects whose field of strength is on the ground. Of the five prospects who’ve received contracts thus far, exactly zero are noted for their grappling prowess. It should be noted that none of the three competitors who have picked up submission victories thus far in the series have obtained contracts. Just sayin’…

The broadcast begins on Fight Pass at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT on Tuesday.

Phil Hawes (4-1) vs. Julian Marquez (5-1), Middleweight

Hawes has long been regarded as one of the better prospects in MMA. Being a junior college wrestling champion coupled with his rare blend of athleticism typically will do that to a youngster transitioning into a new sport. He’s had a few highly publicized stumbles, falling to Andrew Sanchez trying to make it into the 23rd season of TUF and tripping up against WSOF title challenger Louis Taylor. What many are forgetting is that Hawes’ losses have been to quality and experienced opposition, not fellow prospects.

Hawes’ issues have come in the striking department as he has yet to find a comfort level on the feet. He doesn’t fully commit to his strikes, often falling short of connecting by an inch or two. It often makes his wrestling more ineffective as opponents know it’s his only real efficient offense. Nonetheless, his form looks smooth, indicating he should become a hell of a striker once he is comfortable in that department.

Marquez possesses the skill set to make Hawes pay a heavy price if Hawes wants to test his stand up. A heavy hitter, Marquez stays up in his opponent’s grill, winging hooks with nothing but bad intentions. He’s innately hitable himself, but also has a hell of a chin, leading to him winning most of those engagements. Marquez has also shown sound takedown defense and has some grappling accolades, but he rarely if ever looks to take the fight to the ground.

Though I like the potential of both Hawes and Marquez, I don’t really want to see either one fighting for UFC employment quite yet as they don’t appear to be quite ready for the big stage. Nonetheless, I have to pick one of them. Marquez has shown a more UFC-ready game, but Hawes’ athletic gifts and wrestling background are serious hurdles for someone like Marquez to overcome. I’ll take the athletic freak to take the win, but I worry about how impressive he’ll appear. Hawes via decision

James Gray (4-1) vs. Kyler Phillips (4-0), Bantamweight

Interesting matchmaking for this contest. Everyone knows Uncle Dana prefers knock-down, drag-out slugfests, but Gray and Phillips are both grapplers…high-level grapplers. Perhaps Uncle Dana has a lot respect for these two as he has shown appreciation for grappling contests before.

Phillips has won a high school wrestling title and an IBJJF world championship, showing versatility in his ground abilities. He does a fantastic job of melding both skill sets into his MMA grappling, also mixing in a violent brand of ground-and-pound high-level grapplers often have trouble adapting to. When it comes down to it though, he’s still at his best transitioning from submission attempt to submission attempt. Phillips has confidence in his striking, but there are still plenty of holes to be found in it if he stays standing for too long.

Gray is a similar style fighter with great timing on his takedowns and a bit less physicality in his grappling. However, he’s also a bit of a mystery as it has been two years since he last stepped into a cage. Has he been honing his craft or has he been taking a break from the sport? Gray is very quick in transitions and shows greater versatility in his submission skills than Phillips, but much like Phillips, his striking has never been very efficient.

If I had some sort of clue of Gray’s progression, I’d feel a lot more comfortable on my prediction of this contest. Gray is a far more finished product thanks to his extended time on the amateur scene and I typically go with the more experienced fighter for this show. However, I’m very impressed by Phillips’ killer instinct and physicality despite his being only 22. It should be a good one. Phillips via TKO, RD3

Carlos Candelario (6-0) vs. Ronaldo Candido (6-0), Flyweight

Candelario and Candido are rarities for the flyweight division in that they actually finish their fights with only one of their twelve combined wins going the distance. Candido is the better known of the two thanks to his stint in the TUF house a year ago. As a BJJ world champion — as well as Jose Aldo’s BJJ coach — there is little secret about where Candido wants to take the fight. His striking is very stiff and merely used to set up his entries, though it has admittedly been a while since he last stepped into the cage. He could have made huge improvements since his last contest. Candido’s ability to get the fight to the ground isn’t that great either, but he’s very dogged in his attempts to take the fight where he wants it.

Candelario is the better athlete of the two with a tendency to finish off his opponent in a hurry with either a quick choke or some vicious ground-and-pound. His fast hands are his greatest asset, honed by some professional boxing experience. However, Candelario hasn’t faced much in terms of quality competition whereas Candido has defeated some proven talent and hung in there with current UFC flyweight Eric Shelton in a close contest.

Candido is a sizeable favorite thanks to his previous exposure and experience, but he can’t sleep on Candelario. I haven’t seen enough footage of Candelario to get a good feel for his wrestling, but I could see him catching Candido on the chin. However, I’m going to pick the Brazilian to eventually get him to the mat and find a way to submit the youngster. Candido via submission, RD1

Austin Arnett (15-2) vs. Brandon Davis (7-2), Featherweight

Thirteen wins in a row from Arnett has allowed him to catch the attention of UFC brass, with only three of those wins going the distance. He’s sizeable at 145 with a 6’0″ frame and a 73″ reach with the knowledge of how to use that length. Arnett is very aggressive, so he doesn’t always successfully keep his opponent at the end of his jab to prevent return damage, but he does stay active with it. Though his pace slows later in fights, that has more to do with him coming out with his hair on fire more than indicating a poor gas tank as he still throws as a healthy pace late in contests.

Not quite as long or athletic as Arnett, Davis could make up for that simply be being meaner. A bulldog in the cage, Davis moves forward with very little regard for defense, often leading to him eating a lot of damage. Fortunately for him, he shows an iron-clad chin and a very deep gas tank that often leads to him being the last man standing. He doesn’t have a lot of power and has been controlled by wrestlers, but Davis has shored up his grappling deficiencies somewhat in recent contests.

I have my questions about both these prospects, including coaching. However, that applies more to my thoughts on who will secure the contract more than who will win this contest. Arnett has a better understanding of distance and angles which should allow him taking damage more than Davis. Regardless, it should be an entertaining scrap. Arnett via decision

John Castaneda (13-2) vs. Cheyden Leialoha (6-0), Bantamweight

Punching his ticket to this contest by dispatching of UFC veteran Chris Beal, Castaneda employs an exciting kickboxing style that has reeled off three straight TKO’s coming into this contest. There isn’t a single area of his game that jumps off the paper, though he shows competency in all areas. What he does do well is capitalize on opponent’s mistakes, showing great killer instinct when an opportunity presents itself to end the contest.

Leialoha is another Hawaiian – the third to appear on the series thus far – and the youngest yet at the tender age of 23. Possessing a rangy 5’9″ frame, Leialoha has done a solid job of using his size up against the cage and from top control to wear down his opponents. He’s got an aggressive kicking game too, though his boxing game is still very raw. Most worrisome is his lack of quality competition as he has yet to face an opponent with a winning record.

I don’t like the chances of either competitor to get the contract. Leialoha reminds me a lot of Luis Raul Gomez Alvarez from last week’s edition: talented, but not yet ready for the big stage. Give him a couple more years to simmer on the regional scene and he’ll be ready, but Castaneda capitalizes on his green nature by takin a win. Castaneda via decision

Who gets the contract: It’s hard to get a feel for this week’s cast. Though I have taken a liking to the bantamweights on the card, I don’t know how much Uncle Dana will appreciate their grappling style. Plus, I fear their grappling abilities will cancel out one another’s opportunity to impress. I’ll take a shot in the dark, though I don’t feel good with whoever it is I pick. Ronaldo Candido

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About the author
Dayne Fox
Dayne Fox

Dayne Fox is a contributing writer and analyst for Bloody Elbow. He has been writing about combat sports since 2013 and a member of Bloody Elbow since 2016. Dayne primarily contributes opinion pieces and event coverage. Dayne’s specialties are putting together the preview articles for all the UFC events and post-fight analysis. Outside of writing on combat sports, Dayne works in the purchasing department of a construction company, formerly working as an analyst. He is also a proud husband and father. In what spare time he can find, he enjoys strategy games and is a movie enthusiast. He is based in Utah.

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