Dana White’s Contender Series began back in 2017. Since then, the Contender Series has produced some big-name upcoming stars like Dan Ige, Sean O’Malley, Geoff Neal, Maycee Barber, and Edmen Shahbazyan. In short, it has been a huge success.
A Contender Series fight is one that has stakes like none other, where fighters must showcase their skills to impress the UFC president enough for a contract with the promotional giant. Holding the Contender Series with a smaller cage inside the UFC Apex venue makes for a tense atmosphere, and with only close friends and family of the competing fighters in attendance as spectators. Emotions always run high, as a limited number of contracts can be given out on any given night, and many fighters can potentially have their dreams snubbed out solely because of bad luck.
In rare cases, however, a fighter gets a second look. This series will examine those.
For this week, the 6th week of the Contender Series for 2023, the Redemption Series will be taking a look at multiple fighters including, Steven Nguyen.
Steven “The Ninja” Nguyen (8-1 MMA)
Age: 30 years old
Height: 5’11″ / Reach: 73″
Weight Class: Featherweight (145lbs.)
First DW’s Contender Series Fight: 2019 (Week 6)
Old DW’s Contender Series Opponent: Aalon Cruz (11-5 MMA)
Second DW’s Contender Series Fight: 2023 (Week 6)
Second Opponent: Theo Rlayang (5-1)
Third DW’s Contender Series Fight: 2023 (Week 6)
New Opponent: A.J. Cunningham (10-2)
First Contender Series Fight
It’s been over four years since the first time the Steven Nguyen competed on the Contender Series and it was prior to then that Nguyen cut his teeth in pro MMA, primarily under the Evolution Fighting Championship banner out of Wichita, Kansas.
Nguyen had finished five out of his six opponents with four of those stoppages coming in the first round. In Nguyen’s final fight before his first Contender Series bout, he won the EFC Featherweight Championship via fourth round stoppage.
Steven fought valiantly in his first fight on the Contender Series showing many promising attributes of a polished fighter especially on the feet with his solid cardio sting jab and quick jab straight.
Unfortunately, Steven was caught with a flying knee and KO’d in the third round by his opponent.
First Contender Series Opponent
In Steven’s first Contender Series bout he faced off against then 7-2, Aalon Cruz. Cruz had fought against solid competition including future UFC fighters Da’Mon Blackshear and Steve Garcia.
Aalon Cruz would receive a UFC contract as a result of his flying knee KO. Unfortunately, Cruz would go 0-2 with the UFC getting finished by both Spike Carlyle and Uros Medic before being released by the promotion.
Cruz would go on to finish a couple of fights in Fury FC before signing with Bellator this year where he is 1-1.
Both of Aalon’s losses in the UFC proved to be against solid competition.
This is a loss that has aged well for Steven Nguyen despite the fact that Cruz has gone 3-3 since then.
The Road Back
Steven took a year and a half off after his KO loss before coming back to face 5-2 fighter, Jorge Juarez on the main card of LFA 100.
Nguyen steamrolled his opponent finishing him in a quick 30 seconds of the first round and again putting him on the radar of the UFC.
Second Contender Series Opponent + Outcome
In Nguyen’s second shot on the Contender Series, he fought 5-0, Theo Rlayang. Theo came into the bout having stopped four of the four opponents that he had faced but with only one of those opponents having a winning record at the time of competition.
Nguyen delivered a solid and measured performance against his opponent showing off good cardio as well as great jab and offensive boxing. Nguyen was unable to land a UFC contract thanks in part to the lack of a finish.
The Road Back
This time around, Steven Nguyen has not competed in pro MMA since his last bout on the Contender Series and has been inactive for almost two full years.
Gameplan/ New Opponent
For his 3rd and likely final shot on the Contender Series, Steven will compete against 10-2 A.J. Cunningham. Cunningham is a two-fight veteran of the LFA and has finished seven of his nine wins. A.J.’s two losses (both decisions) are too Solo Hatley Jr., a two fight Bellator vet that shared the cage with Aaron Pico, and Javier Garcia, the current LFA featherweight champion.
It will be important for Steven to keep a high pace in this fight, he has been here two times before, close to half an hour on fighting on the Contender Series. He has high level cardio and that can be exceptionally dangerous with how educated his hands are.