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The third season of the Dana White’s Contender Series kicked off with mixed results on June 18. The event was cut from five fights to four after Leon Shahbazyan-Brok Weaver was canceled due to Shahbazyan’s weight-cutting issues. Yorgan De Castro and Punahele Soriano were granted Ultimate Fighting Championship contracts, while fellow victors Brendan Loughnane and Hannah Goldy were turned down.
Episode 2 goes down on Tuesday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas with five scheduled bouts. Let us dig into the card.
As the current Legacy Fighting Alliance bantamweight champion, Johns is heralded as a true blue-chip prospect. The Texas native remains undefeated after getting past tough regional opponents like Adrian Yanez, Eric Ellington, Caio Machado and Levi Mowles. The Fortis MMA representative is a short, compact striker who holds tons of power in his fast punches. He loves to close the distance with a stiff jab and slide into the pocket, where he springs forward with powerful hooks and uppercuts. He sets up his attacks using several feints. He throws everything hard and sometimes telegraphs his strikes by loading up on his shots. Johns oftentimes fires off several hard leg kicks but ignores checking kicks from his opponents, choosing instead to try and catch them. “Chapo” was a state wrestling champion in high school and also competed in college. The 25-year-old has fast entries on takedown and excels at finding dominant positions in scrambles. He loves to lift and slam his opponents. From the top, he unleashes heavy ground-and-pound. Johns has surprisingly been taken down by less accomplished wrestlers and has made the mistake of giving up his back while trying to return to his feet. He likes to defend takedowns by attacking his opponent’s neck with guillotines and brabo chokes.
Santiago is 7-1 and has crafted his skills exclusively under the CES MMA banner. A former flyweight, he trains with the likes of Nate Andrews, Greg Rebello and Andre Soukhamthath at Tri-Force MMA. The “Milford Mauler” is a southpaw who works at a high pace. He is a serviceable boxer and does well at mixing in his kicks. His teep kick might be his best weapon. Santiago struggles with his striking defense, as he lacks head movement and hardly ever cuts different angles on his attacks. His toughness allowed him to forge a comeback against Miguel Restrepo in August 2017. Santiago often looks to take the fight to the canvas, even though he is not a powerful wrestler. He often shoots for a takedown without properly setting it up. The New Englander’s bread and butter is his grappling. He has grown adept at capitalizing on a mistake and quickly taking his opponent’s back, as six of his seven wins have come by rear-naked choke submission.
This represents a significant step up in competition for Santiago, who has padded his record against low-level competition. Johns is an explosive athlete who looks like the latest fighter in a long line of LFA champions to make the transition to the UFC. The Fortis MMA standout needs to avoid Santiago’s submission attacks, as the latter’s ability to endure a beating and continue to threaten with his Brazilian jiu-jitsu gives him a chance to spring the upset. However, Johns has already beaten better fighters than Santiago and should have enough tools to put him away. Johns catches Santiago early in the fight, finishes him with follow-up strikes and nets a UFC contract.
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