No finishes, but Baeza and Johns earn contracts on Contender Series


LAS VEGAS — For the first time in three seasons, a Dana White’s Contender Series show saw all five fights go the distance Tuesday night at the UFC Apex center. Nevertheless, the promotion president still awarded contracts to two fighters.

One of them was welterweight Miguel Baeza (7-0), who earned a unanimous decision over Victor Reyna (10-4) but came as close as possible to a finish in the second round. Baeza, of Florida, hurt Reyna badly with a knee to the body late in the frame, and Reyna fell to the canvas and rolled away from Baeza. But the horn sounded to end the round moments later.

Baeza tried to wave off the fight himself, signaling to the referee that Reyna was done. But Reyna eventually got to his feet and went to his corner.

Ultimately, the bout went the distance, and all three judges saw it for Baeza 29-28.

“Not very happy,” said Baeza of his performance. “I got to do a lot of work. Victor was tougher than I thought. Thank you to him and thank you to the UFC. I could do better.”

The near-finish was one of several knockdowns by Baeza in the fight. The 26-year-old also knocked Reyna down with a right hand in the first.

It is only the second time in his seven-fight career that Baeza has gone the distance. It’s worth noting that Reyna missed the welterweight limit by seven pounds on Monday, coming in at 178.

The second contract went to bantamweight prospect Miles Johns, who did everything he could to try to finish an incredibly durable Richie Santiago.

Johns (9-0), of Fortis MMA in Dallas, spent the better part of 15 minutes pummeling Santiago with boxing combinations and elbows on the ground, but Santiago (7-2) kept coming back for more. Santiago threatened to take Johns’ back a couple of times in wrestling scrambles, but Johns shrugged him off relatively easy. Final scores read 30-27, 30-27 and 30-26 in Johns’ favor.

“I was surprised. That’s a tough dude right there,” Johns said. “He took some shots. I tore my groin in this camp. I felt it pop in the second round, that took a little off on my feet. No excuses. I had to keep working through it. I’m alright with my performance.”

Santiago, who has fought exclusively on the Northeast regional scene, was noticeably hurt near the end of the fight, but he still stood up and raised his arms at the final bell. Miles went into the 135-pound bout as a significant 10-to-1 betting favorite.

Cunningham falls on Contender Series again

Light heavyweight Alton Cunningham (7-2) suffered his second career defeat on the Contender Series, as he dropped a unanimous decision to underdog Tony Johnson (8-2).

Johnson, who fights out of San Jose, California, nearly dropped Cunningham with an early right hand. Cunningham’s right eye swelled up shortly after and seemed to affect him the rest of the night. He began smothering Johnson against the fence, looking for short knees and elbows but also wanting to limit the damage to his face.

Johnson, 36, thwarted Cunningham’s attempts to take him down and ultimately won the bout via unanimous scores of 29-28. White credited Johnson for the win and his fighting style, but said he was disappointed in Johnson’s inability to keep Cunningham from holding him against the fence.

Cunningham had been invited back on the show despite a first-round knockout loss to Bevon Lewis in last year’s Contender Series. Lewis is currently with the UFC.

Gonzales outwrestles Zane in easy featherweight win

Former NCAA Division 1 wrestler Justin Gonzales (10-0) stayed perfect inside the cage, as he dominated Zach Zane (12-8) in a three-round decision. All three judges scored it 30-26.

Gonzales occasionally opened up on the feet, but it was his wrestling that completely dictated the fight. He took Zane down 12 times and landed punches to the side of the head as he rode his opponent from the back. Zane never appeared to be in serious danger of being knocked out, though, despite being in a bad spot for the entire fight.

“I knew he was tough,” Gonzales said. “We watched his fights. He’s a gangster. He brings it. He’s a good competitor. I was ready for war, and that’s what he brought.”

Gonzales, of Greeley, Colorado, had a shot at a rear-naked choke in the second round, but Zane managed to snake out of it. Although he’s suffered eight career losses, Zane went into Tuesday’s contest on an eight-fight win streak.

Daukaus seeks submissions, settles for decision victory

Philadelphia’s Kyle Daukaus (7-0) had his share of chances to submit Michael Lombardo (8-2) but could not quite get the job done over the course of their 15-minute middleweight fight.

Daukaus, 26, was at his best in the final round. He scored a takedown early and eventually moved into full mount. From there, he attempted a rear-naked choke, triangle choke, armbar, and then back to a rear-naked. The fight came to a close with Lombardo in major trouble, fighting off the final choke attempt.

Despite his inability to get a finish, Daukaus dominated the scorecards 30-25, 30-26 and 29-27.

“I’m happy I won, but I’m disappointed in my performance,” Daukaus said. “I could do a lot better than that. I had a lot of subs that I should have been able to finish. But he’s a tough guy.”

Lombardo, who fights out of American Top Team, did well defending himself and landed a few strikes early on, but his offense waned after that. It was his first loss since August 2017.

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