After an anomalous second episode in which there was not a single finish, Dana White's Contender Series returned to form, with four fights ending inside the distance, and in an unprecedented move, all five winners punched their tickets to the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
In the opening fight, Jonathan Pearce (9-3) wore out, ground out and finally knocked out Jacob Rosales (11-5) in the third round of their lightweight affair. MMA Lab product Pearce was the sharper man from the beginning, though Rosales did threaten with a tight guillotine attempt near the end of the first round. Round 2 was a drubbing, with Pearce knocking an exhausted Rosales all around the cage with uppercuts and knees. The end came at 1:50 of Round 3, courtesy of a huge standing-to-ground right hand that separated the supine Rosales from his senses.
Maki Pitolo (12-4) needed only 1:37 to take down the much larger Justin Sumter (7-3) in a wild middleweight scrap. Both fighters had moments of success as well as peril in the minute-and-a-half of action, but “Coconut Bombz” backed the taller man to the fence and tagged him with a devastating string of left hooks to the ribs. Sumter covered up and Pitolo switched to hitting the head, but it was academic; Sumter was already going down and referee Chris Tognoni was there to wave it off. In the wake of the announcement that he had secured a UFC contract, Pitolo immediately affirmed his plan to drop back to welterweight.
Hunter Azure (7-0) dominated Chris Ocon (4-1) across three rounds of featherweight action, handing the 23-year-old prospect his first career loss. Azure demonstrated the wrestling advantages expected of a four-time Montana state high school champion but was also by far the sharper striker, tagging the Nashville MMA exponent with clean one-twos and some extremely hard leg kicks. Azure grounded Ocon in all three rounds, threatened with a variety of chokes and pelted him with strikes from mount and back control. In the end the judges saw the fight in favor of Azure via 30-27, 30-27 and 30-26 scorecards.
Antonio Trocoli (12-3) minted himself the UFC’s newest, tallest light heavyweight by making short work of Kenneth Bergh (6-1). Briefly bullied in the clinch by the burly Norwegian, the 6-foot-6 Trocoli used a nifty outside trip to toss Bergh to the canvas, then moved to the back, sank in both hooks and applied a painful-looking neck crank. Bergh asked out at 3 minutes, 57 seconds of Round 1. Even more impressively, replay showed that Trocoli broke his left foot when an early kick landed squarely on the point of Bergh’s elbow.
In a battle of lightweight grappling specialists, Joseph Solecki (8-2) thoroughly outclassed James Wallace (9-3), chaining submission attempts while moving from one dominant position to the next before choking the Mississippi native unconscious with an arm-in guillotine at 3:49 of the first round. Solecki was impeccable, tossing Wallace to the ground in the first 30 seconds and ending up in side control after a brief scramble. From there, he put on a clinic, never giving up dominant position for an instant while keeping Wallace completely on the defensive.