Fighter to Watch

Predicting TUF 29: Bantamweight Cast

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As the return of The Ultimate Fighter draws nearer and nearer, fans are eagerly awaiting an announcement from the UFC about further details on the upcoming season, TUF 29. The show will be at the UFC Apex for the first time in the show’s history, as well as the first season to air on ESPN. Another interesting thing fans will be watching for is how COVID-19 affects the show.

So far, the fans only know that the show will feature fighters from the middleweight and bantamweight divisions. The fighters must have at least three professional fights and be between ages 21-35. As everyone awaits the official announcement, this article is the second of a three-part series that will serve to prime fans on potential names be on the lookout for. The first edition of the series featured the potential middleweight talent. For this edition, we will drop down fifty pounds to bantamweight.

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When considering TUF casting, there are important factors that often go into play. First and foremost, for non-international versions of the show, the fighters are almost always fluent in English. That narrows the field of prospects by a decent margin. There are also a number of prospects, like Levi Mowles and Zviad Lazishvili, that are likely to be signed to the UFC outright without needing to prove themselves to the UFC’s brass first. Lastly, the UFC generally does not offer these type of opportunities to fighters coming off of a loss, once again narrowing the list.

Potential TUF 29 Cast Members: Bantamweight

Mike Ekundayo

Age: 26

Record: 8-1

Notable Opponents: Jack Shore in 2018 (lost by TKO)

Fighting Out Of: Brixton, England

Gym: Great Britain Top Team

Although Mike Ekundayo lost a title fight to fast-rising UFC prospect, Shore, for the Cage Warriors vacant bantamweight title just two fights ago, he is still one of the hottest prospects at 135 from across the pond. The high-level grappler has finished five of his seven wins, and could feasibly make the move to the UFC without the need for TUF. Nonetheless, “Airline” Ekundayo would be a fun addition to the cast of TUF 29.

Xavier Alaoui

Age: 29

Record: 12-3

Notable Opponents: Josh Hill in 2016 (lost by split decision)

Fighting Out Of: Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Gym: Tristar Gym

“The Breadman” Xavier Alaoui is one of Canada’s brightest prospects. The judo practitioner comes from a good camp in Tristar Gym, and has excelled in great regional promotions like UAE Warriors and TKO. After losing three of four fights by from 2016 to 2018, Alaoui has gotten back on the right track of late and looks to be a viable candidate for the show.

Chris SanJose

Age: 31

Record: 8-1

Notable Opponents: Journey Newson in 2018 (lost by TKO)

Fighting Out Of: Eugene, Oregon

Gym: Art of War MMA & Fitness

Current CageSport bantamweight champion Chris SanJose may not be the most well-known prospect of this bunch, but he certainly has the skills to compete with the best of the best. Aside from the Newson loss, the Hawaii native has beaten the rest of a pretty solid set of opponents. Give him a shot on TUF so he can truly prove his abilities.

Faeez Jacobs

Age: 26

Record: 7-2

Notable Opponents: Nkazimulo Zulu in 2019 (won by split decision), Cal Ellenor in 2018 (lost by submission)

Fighting Out Of: Cape Town, South Africa

Gym: Top Gym Fighting Academy

If you’re looking for some intensity in the TUF house, look no further than Faeez Jacobs. The current champion of the South Africa-based promotion EFC Worldwide, “Troublemaker” Jacobs is a fan favorite for his all-action fighting style. They have not held any events since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and thus Jacobs has not had opportunities to fight. A TUF invite would give him the chance to fight sooner rather than later, while also giving him the opportunity of a lifetime.

Askar Askar

Age: 26

Record: 11-1

Notable Opponents: Kevin Wirth in 2020 (won by unanimous decision)

Fighting Out Of: Chicago, Illinois

Gym: Midwest Training Center

One of the top bantamweight prospects in America, Askar Askar recently rebounded from a sub-minute first round knockout earlier this year with a decision win over Wirth in a headliner for LFA in October. The Palestine-born Askar would presumably need to win a couple more fights to get to the UFC outright, but TUF would provide him with a chance to skip that process altogether.

Jordan Winski

Age: 31

Record: 11-2

Notable Opponents: Terrion Ware in 2019 (won by split decision), Andre Ewell in 2016 (won by unanimous decision), Tony Kelley in 2015 (lost by submission), Sergio Pettis in 2009 (lost amateur bout)

Fighting Out Of: Temecula, California

Gym: Team Quest

Besides having a great nickname, Jordan Winski has fought a bevy of UFC-level talent already. “I’m Gonna” Winski has not fought since May 2019, but Team Quest fighters are generally known to always be ready for a scrap. TUF would be a great opportunity for him to show that he has what it takes to make it in the big show.

Dwight Joseph

Age: 31

Record: 11-1, 1 NC

Notable Opponents: Jay Perrin in 2019 (won by unanimous decision), William Joplin in 2018 (ended in a no-contest)

Fighting Out Of: Sacramento, California

Gym: Team Alpha Male

Dwight Joseph picked up a pivotal win for his career last year when he defeated Perrin on the Dana White Contender Series. While UFC president Dana White did not give the Liberia native a contract that night, he followed that win up with another win by TKO last month on the regional scene. He has won eight in a row, and should get another shot to prove himself sooner rather than later.

Danny Sabatello

Age: 27

Record: 9-1

Notable Opponents: Taylor Moore in 2020 (won by unanimous decision), Irwin Rivera in 2019 (lost by TKO)

Fighting Out Of: Sunrise, Florida

Gym: American Top Team

“The Italian Gangster” Danny Sabatello was able to showcase his skills in front of the UFC brass just last month, picking up a dominant decision victory over Moore on the Contender Series. While Dana White did not offer him a contract, he surely is still on the organization’s radar. A solid showing on TUF 29 for the former NCAA wrestling standout could be plenty enough to seal the deal to get him into the UFC.

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Nate Freeman is from Birmingham, AL, and has been an MMA fan since 2013 after buying UFC Undisputed 2009 for $2 from a second-hand electronics store.

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