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When the UFC announced in May that they would hold Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series every week on UFC Fight Pass, it’s aim was for it to be used as a platform for CEO Dana White to scout the future generations of talent for the UFC. Ten fighters would take part in five fights, in different weight classes for the chance to earn a UFC contract offer from White and take their professional MMA careers to levels they have worked tirelessly for and dreamed of.
Contract offers aren’t guaranteed. Only the five winners of the night are eligible to receive offers. Depending on how impressive their showing may have been, all five could have a pen put in their hands by White or perhaps only one. Which is what happened in week two of Contender Series on July 18th, when Tucson’s Casey Kenney (7-0-1) got in the cage and earned a resounding unanimous decision over CJ Hamilton. Although Kenney may have displayed the most well rounded and balanced repertoire of any fighter in the cage that night, he was upstaged by a brutal single punch knockout by Sean O’Malley that caught the eye of the UFC front offices.
A little more than two weeks later, Kenney’s phone rang with an opportunity to head back to Las Vegas and be a part of Contender Series’s week eight card. A member of the card had to be scratched and Kenney was asked if he was willing to take a fight on a 42 day turnaround and face Adam Antolin (12-3), fighting out of San Jose, California.
When we asked Kenney how his second chance at Contender Series came about, he said, “What I’ve noticed they’ve been doing is they’ve been bringing back guys that weren’t awarded contracts before, that have had dominant wins. Basically, if you don’t get a contract and they like you, they’re bringing you back to Contender Series.”
AST.com: In your mind, what do you have to do to get Dana’s attention and land that contract offer?
Kenney: If I do the same exact thing I did last time, I walk away with a contract this time. You know? Two performances in a row like that is guaranteed a contract. But I’m leaving no doubt in their mind. I’m looking for a finish. I get a finish and that contract is pretty much guaranteed.
AST.com: What have you seen in studying Antolin that leaves him open for you to finish him?
Kenney: He likes to dip his head a lot. I got some nasty stuff coming if he starts dipping his head. CJ Hamilton found out about that a few times. I think Antolin doesn’t survive a first round like the one I had against CJ.
AST.com: What do you anticipate he’ll try to do in there with you?
Kenney: He’s had some success working people to the body. I think he’s going to try to attack my body a lot. My coach, Chris Cariaso, and I were laughing about it. [Antolin] is just going to try to wear me down and kind of steal the show in the later rounds. Honestly I think when I’m moving 100%, he’s got nothing for me. I think he’s feeling that pressure a little bit, wondering what he is going to do to me. I’ve outstruck my opponents and I don’t think he’s doing to try to grapple with me. His only way to victory is to try to work my body, try wearing me down and steal the show in the later rounds. I don’t think he makes it to the later rounds.
In another interview, Kenney spoke of the fact that opportunities for fighters to crack the UFC ranks are rare and are most likely to never occur at all. Thousands of fighters dream of having one shot.
Kenney, against all odds, has been given a second.
Kenney is fighting after taking only 42 days off. Training out of Rise Combat Sports (7131 E Tanque Verde Rd) by Chris Cariaso, himself a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with a well established career in the UFC, Kenney told us the camp was focused. The short turn allowed Kenney to simply work on his cardio after taking some time off after week 2 of Contender Series and was essentially able to extend the previous camp he had before facing Anderson.
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