LAS VEGAS -- It was an abbreviated season opener on Tuesday night for Dana White's Contender Series -- just four bouts -- but even though there was just one finish, two fighters took advantage of their opportunity at the brand-new UFC Apex center.
Heavyweight Yorgan De Castro (5-0), who scored a major upset in the evening's opening fight, and middleweight Punahele Soriano (6-0), who was dangerous throughout but had to settle for a decision win, both were awarded contracts by White, the UFC president.
"Let me reiterate what we're looking for here: I'm looking for killers. I'm looking for killers," White said. "When you get on this show, this is it. This is your opportunity to show me what you have. You have to go bell to bell -- knockouts, submissions, whatever you have. You've got to go for the finish."
That is exactly what De Castro did. The 31-year-old was a betting underdog at odds as high as 5-1, presumably because his opponent, Alton Meeks (3-1), had shown an ability to get heavyweights to the ground. De Castro stuffed Meeks' early takedown attempts, however, then dropped him with a hard lower leg kick. Meeks crashed to the ground in pain, and the bout was waved off as a TKO at 4 minutes, 45 seconds.
Soriano describes roller coaster of emotions at DWCS
Punahele Soriano tells Brett Okamoto about his emotions after winning on DWCS and waiting to hear if he'd earn a contract.
Originally from Cape Verde, a country of islands off the northwest coast of Africa, De Castro has amassed a perfect professional record after losing four consecutive bouts as an amateur. In addition to the fight-ending leg kick, he scored a handful of uppercuts on Meeks early on.
"Loved his takedown defense. Loved the way that this guy fought," White said. "Finishes the fight on leg kicks, the biggest underdog on the card."
After being awarded the contract, De Castro said, "I was praying and hoping that he would give me the chance to prove I belong here. I'm very happy."
Soriano defeated Jamie Pickett (9-4) via decision in what essentially amounted to a home game for the Hawai'ian prospect.
Soriano, 26, was born in Oahu, Hawai'i, but he lives and trains out of Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas. And although he failed to get a finish against Pickett, Soriano did not disappoint his friends and family members in attendance, as he cruised to unanimous judges' scores of 30-26, 30-27 and 30-27.
Soriano slams Pickett
Punahele Soriano scoops up Jamie Pickett and drops him to the canvas in Round 2. For more UFC, sign up for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Pickett, of North Carolina, saw a two-fight win streak snapped. Tuesday marked his second loss on the Contender Series. He lost to Charles Byrd in July 2017.
It appeared as though Soriano was on the verge of a knockout late in the first round, as he caught Pickett with a hard knee to the body and a counter left hand moments later. Pickett was badly hurt and he retreated to the fence, but Soriano couldn't quite put him away before the final bell.
"I'm going to tell you what I like about Puna: Puna goes in to kill you," White said. "This guy goes in to knock your head right off your shoulders. Tonight I believe he was in the deepest water he's ever been in."
Soriano started to slow down late in the second round but still found a way to control the fight. He took Pickett down early in the final round and spent the majority of the frame landing ground and pound. It's the first time Soriano has gone the distance in his professional career.
After the decision was read, Soriano was despondent, even in victory. He wanted the finish.
Despite not getting the KO he sought, though, Soriano did impress White enough that the UFC president wants Soriano to work for him. "I believe Puna is a killer," White said, "and I gotta have him."
Hearing that, Soriano's mood changed. "I feel like I went from one extreme side of the spectrum to the complete opposite," he said. "Now I want to cry again, because I'm so happy."
Loughnane outslugs Algeo in third round
Brendan Loughnane lands a series of right hands in the third round en route to victory vs. Bill Algeo. For more UFC, sign up for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Loughnane nearly gets finish, does score victory
Loughnane, 29, has been campaigning for a chance in the UFC for years and has admitted several times he's nearly retired out of frustration. Given the chance to fight in front of White and the UFC's matchmakers, Loughnane did not disappoint. He walked Algeo down with his right hand and had him hurt late in the fight.
Algeo, of Pennsylvania, found his stride a little in the second round and managed to bloody Loughnane's nose with a pair of knees. But Loughnane continued to march forward, under the encouragement of his training partner and cornerman Dominick Cruz.
All three judges scored the fight 30-27 for Loughnane, who has won seven of his past eight contests. He's been fighting professionally since 2012.
Goldy finishes with a flurry
Hannah Goldy turns on the pressure late, landing variety of strikes to Kali Robbins. For more UFC, sign up for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Goldy goes distance for strawweight victory
Goldy, 27, expertly kept Robbins on the outside with side kicks and leg kicks, and dominated the clinch when Robbins built up the courage to rush her. She kept Robbins guessing by constantly changing the levels of her kicks and had her limping by the third round from inside leg kicks.
With the crowd behind her, Goldy tried to put Robbins away in the third round, but the Invicta FC veteran proved too resilient. Robbins managed one takedown in the second round and a good overhand right in the third, but was otherwise perplexed by Goldy's striking tactics.
Born in Vermont, Goldy went 3-0 in 2018. Four of her five wins have gone the distance.
"I'm happy with my performance," Goldy said. "I feel like I stayed composed. I did want the finish, but I also know that she's dangerous at any point in the fight."
There was to be a fifth bout, between welterweights Brok Weaver and Leon Shahbazyan, but the fight was canceled because Shahbazyan was declared medically unfit to weigh in. Weaver was at cageside watching and will be given an opportunity to compete later in the season.