Contender Series

Managers and top regional fighters discuss impact of pandemic ahead of the Contender Series

The world today is upside down and full of uncertainty. With the cancellation of UFC 249, the MMA world is at a complete stand still. Long before UFC 249 was cancelled, the majority of the regional MMA scene was put on hold leaving prospects looking to make an impression for the UFC matchmakers very difficult. Now, it might be even harder than usual for prospects to get attention of the UFC matchmakers for one of the coveted Contender Series bouts.

One of those many fighters was Adrian Yanez. Yanez has a 10-3 record and was scheduled to face Ricky Turcios in the co-main event of Fury FC. That bout against a tough opponent was intended to be the final item on Yanez’s pitch to UFC matchmaker’s, but when it fell through due to the virus, Yanez felt his chance to fight on the show was in jeopardy.

“I absolutely felt like it was in jeopardy,” said Yanez. “I believe the UFC loves active fighters and that’s what I was trying to do; stay active. On top of that, I was fighting a Contender Series vet and to me, that would have solidified my spot on the show.”

One of the few fighters who was able to make a more recent impression was Anthony Romero (record of 7-0), Romero defeated Jacob Miller at Ohio Combat League 7 via punches in the first round. He believes getting one of the last fights in, and an impressive finish at that, has given him an advantage in the pursuit of a coveted Contender Series spot.

“Yes, I believe it’s a huge advantage being one of the last fighters to make an impression,” said Romero. “My performance that night is something I’ve been working hard on with my coaches and I’m glad that my hard work is paying off just in time for the big show.”

It’s not only a difficult time for fighters, but it’s also hard on their managers who have to now not only manage expectations but utilize their network and hope they are able to secure the time of the UFC matchmakers who are now having to deal with uncertainty of events and the normal UFC roster which is always in flux, not to mention during this time. For Matt Dodge of Dodge Sports, the lack of fights to impress the matchmakers isn’t as much of a concern, but its more of a disappointment.

“I would not saw we were concerned, but rather disappointed for a few of the guys; Justin Wetzell was set to fight in a high profile LFA bout that would put him in a good position for Contender Series or even a short notice UFC replacement at 6-1. Cole Ferell was set to extend his undefeated winning streak to nine and really put the MMA world on notice; and a few of our fighters were in discussions for high profile regional shows (even title fights) which go a long way when matchmaking for Contender Series.”

Wetzell (record of 5-1) agreed with his manager (Dodge), that his opportunity for LFA was an important opportunity to impress the UFC brass. He was slated to fight Jacob Thrall, who is 6-2-1 and an LFA veteran. The fight not happening, was a small concern for him.

“Slightly (concerned), I felt I needed one more impressive performance before I got my shot to fight in front of Dana, and LFA 85 was my opportunity to showcase in front of a worldwide audience. I think beating up a solid opponent like Jacob Thrall would have significantly helped make my case that I’m ready for the big leagues.”

For managers, this time will prove critical as they have to make it clear, their clients are deserving of these coveted fights. To do that, Liam DeMond, co-founder of Cage Side Management, is trying to use his time wisely. With two fighters being touted as top prospects, heavyweight Brett Martin and lightweight Kenneth Cross, DeMond is looking to use this time to multiply their fans and get his fighters noticed by the UFC brass.

“With upcoming fights being cancelled, right now it’s time to promote the hell out of these guys the best way we can to continue to get their names out there. Both Kenneth and Brett have been continuing to make news in the MMA world for the next guys who should be getting the call this summer. We’ll continue to reach out to all of our media guys we know to keep the press on these guys rolling. The more articles that continue to get published on these guys the better. Also we can still work with Photographers, Videographers and Graphic Designers while still maintaining social distancing and staying safe so we can continue to create promotional material for the guys. It’s always been a goal of ours to create the absolute best promotional material we can for our guys.”

Publicist is not the only role managers are trying to manage right now in addition to their clients. They also have to be the person who keeps their client level headed and focused. Jason House, founder and CEO of Iridium Sports Agency has given a simple message to his fighters to do so.

“Don’t get discouraged; this is just a bump in the road. Be there for your family. Stay ready, stay working hard, because we’re working hard for you.”

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Staying ready isn’t easy, with the majority of gyms shut down, fighters are being creative to get their work in. Romero is lucky enough to have a little brother that is a Golden Gloves Boxing Champion. Yanez is doing a lot of roadwork and working with his brother who had trained for a while. Leomana Martinez (has a record of 6-1), who like Yanez was scheduled to fight for Fury FC, says he is actually still able to train at a high level.

“I’m able to continue to stay prepared by doing what I usually do, and that’s train/workout consistently,” said Martinez. “Having all this free time has allowed me to push myself and train even harder than what I usually do.”

And for top heavyweight prospect Brett Martin (record of 9-1), its back to how he trained as an amateur…in his garage.

“Growing up with so many young successful athletes, I have a great regimen of home workouts passed along from high school and college wrestling,” said Martin. “(I) Spent my Amateur career training in a garage with friends who also fought and getting gym time when I could make the drive or class. So, outside my professional career these last few years, basically doing the same styles of workouts I’ve used my whole athletic career to this point. Never been someone to over think preparations, just get ready to best of my ability and properly perform the things I’ve been working on my entire life. The rest of the fight you can’t train for, all about who you are and where your mind/heart lies.”

When all is said in done, its still unknown if the UFC will be able to hold the Contender Series, but Dodge is confident that the UFC will make it happen.

“Based on our conversations, nothing has been finalized or confirmed but we’re confident it will.”

The fighters are mixed, the majority aren’t concerned that there won’t be a Contender Series but a few, like Yanez believe there is a small chance there will be a delay or it might be cancelled. Either or, would have a big effect on regional fighter’s careers, but like many other fighters, he believes in the UFC and that his time will come.

“The UFC is resilient. Although I’m always a bit worried things might be cancelled, I try to keep a calm head about it and take it as it goes. I know I have a great team behind me, so it wouldn’t set me back any in my eyes. I’d just need to stay ready for a fight. I’ve been striving for the UFC shot for years and years, and if they told me it’s not in the summer anymore, that instead it’s in the fall. I wouldn’t be mad. Being patient is key for me in my entire career.”

The only thing that is certain is that nothing is certain in the world or in mixed martial arts.

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