Sure, a fighter might get the right management or backing from the start, and he or she may even be able to skip over those fights in a barn somewhere making $200 to show with no win bonus. But even then, there is a road to be taken where there are fights against lesser talents or no hopers on the regional scene, all in a quest to build a record and gain experience.
It isn’t as bad in mixed martial arts as in boxing, where a couple dozen of those fights may take place before a step up in competition is taken. But it was in the sweet science that UFC President Dana White may have gotten his inspiration for his new series, Tuesday Night Contender Series, which premieres on UFC FIGHT PASS on Tuesday, July 11.
Ask White about the old “Tuesday Night Fights” series on USA Network, which ran from 1982 to 1998, and he could go on all day about the great fights shown on a weekly basis that brought viewers both rising stars like Floyd Mayweather, Arturo Gatti and Oscar De La Hoya, as well as established names like George Foreman, Vinny Pazienza and Larry Holmes.
And not only did the series help build stars, but it also brought fans to the sport in droves. With DWTNCS, White is doing the same thing for MMA. He’s introducing or re-introducing up and coming fighters, but he’s doing it with competitive matchups that will only bring in more fans to watch on a weekly basis.
On episode one alone, three UFC vets – Joby Sanchez, Justin Jones and Kurt Holobaugh – will be back and trying to earn another call from the promotion.
“This means a lot to me because I have already been cut from the UFC before, and now I have this opportunity to fight again and continue on my road to becoming UFC flyweight champion,” said Sanchez, who went 1-2 in the Octagon in 2014-15, beating Tateki Matsuda while losing to Wilson Reis and Geane Herrera. Since then, the 25-year-old prospect has won two straight, and while a couple more wins on the local circuit would likely garner him another UFC look, a win against 23-year-old Illinois native Manny Vazquez could speed up the process.
And that’s the beauty of the series. A win on one of these weekly cards doesn’t guarantee a UFC contract or a permanent move from the regional circuit, but an impressive performance can be the ticket to shortening that time on the local scene and getting a chance in the big show.
Some fighters, like highly touted bantamweights Boston Salmon (5-1) and Ricky Turcios (8-0) have been seemingly destined for a UFC contract, so it’s almost as if it’s a matter of when, not if, when they meet on episode one.
But what about the folks that have been toiling for years, were late starters, or maybe didn’t get seen at the right time or lost a bout at a key moment? That’s the position shared by 32-year-old Matt Bessette (22-7), 33-year-old Charles Byrd (7-4) and 35-year-old heavyweights Greg Rebello (22-7) and Zu Anyanwu (13-4), and it puts a lot of weight on every fight in the series. Think of it almost as a TUF finale five times a night every Tuesday. A win could be life changing, and while it isn’t a shortcut to the big show, it could make that path a lot more bearable.
Dana White Tuesday Night Contender Series – July 11, Las Vegas
Manny Vazquez vs Joby Sanchez
Charles Byrd vs Justin Jones
Boston Salmon vs Ricky Turcios
Greg Rebello vs Azunna Anyanwu
Matt Bessette vs Kurt Holobaugh